Overcome Negative Attitudes About Your Singing

Images of singer Linor Oren performing
Performer and teacher Linor Oren shares how to reach a positive place about one's singing.

Linor Oren learned to challenge negative judgements about her singing from herself and others. Despite being told she shouldn’t study singing, she became a soloist with Jerusalem chamber choir, performing worldwide. She also sang title roles in different opera productions around Israel and Europe.

Linor has toured in Germany, Austria and Switzerland, with Phantom of the Opera – in the role of Carlotta. She was also a member and Co-founder of the first Israeli female Barbershop quartet, Tiltan, performing worldwide. Today Linor coaches singers not only on vocal technique but on how to change their attitudes about their singing. 

When did you first experience negative attitudes toward your own singing?

My teacher and best friend told me I shouldn’t apply for college for the vocal department because I wasn’t ready (what I heard was: “I was no good”). I was 21 and just made the decision to pursue singing professionally. 

Did these attitudes become worse before they became better?

Yes. My friend then continued to tell me I wouldn’t make it as a singer, and my teacher’s criticism became harsher every time auditioning for college came up in conversation. She once told me that they don’t like “little voices” in college, therefore they probably wouldn’t admit me (for the record, my voice developed to be rather huge…).

What made you move ahead despite these judgements?  

I felt I had no other choice; my passion for singing was too great, I couldn’t take their advice, I had to go for it. But I let their lack of faith in me slow me down.

It’s worth spending time on moving past our self-criticism

Why do you think that singers are especially vulnerable to self-criticism?

Our voice IS us. It exists in us, a part of us, made by us, and it’s the main means for self expression. So when there is any shadow of a doubt about the merit of our voice, there is a doubt about us, personally. The fear of being criticised by others about our voice makes some of us try and prevent it from coming. We will be our own severest critics as a self defense mechanism. That can escalate the greater our need for singing is.  We then lose patience for our vocal learning process since we constantly feel inadequate and frustrated. 

What are the most common forms of self-criticism you’ve come across amongst the singers you work with?

The most common: “I sound bad”. Second most common: “but I switched to head voice, I can’t keep my chest!” After that it’s mainly stuff like “why can’t I do this?? why isn’t it working?” (referring to a certain technique a singer wants to use). Important note: I experienced all of these messages while studying.  All of these thoughts are unproductive at best, so it is my long life mission to replace them with other thoughts. 

Is it possible to laugh at our self-criticism?

It sure is! In fact that might save your ass! (Pardon my “French”). We need to recognize the phenomenon of self-criticism for what it is: common, human yet unhelpful. Then give a wink and use a different approach instead.

Is escaping from self-criticism a long process – or can it happen quickly?

I think it depends on how harsh and ingrained it is in the individual. If you are used to putting yourself down for a few decades, the process will take a while. That was the case with me. It’s very natural for me to bash myself. But if you are relatively young and tend to be more positive, you may just need to follow some guidelines and you’ll adjust your attitude in no time. 

You’ve spoken about using mantras – what’s a mantra?

A mantra is an idea, usually in the form of a word or phrase, which is repeated in order to achieve a desired state of mind (I just made that up!). I use mantras constantly to correct unproductive and destructive thoughts which get in the way of good singing. Mantras are a lot more powerful than one might think – at the end of the day, it’s self-persuasion. We use that many times to diminish ourselves – we can use it to empower ourselves instead!

Many singers use a mantra to help reach a more positive self-attitude.

What are some of your mantras and why do they work for you?

The best mantra which helps me practice is: “It’s ok, you got this, I got you.” Yes, this mantra is me talking to myself as if I was a separate person from myself. And I pretend that I am talking to a good friend or to my child. These people I’d forgive anything, I want the best for them and I think the sun shines out of their…you know what. I need that kind of love to keep me going. 

Do you have a mantra you use for performances?

Yes: “I am here to give the audience an experience.” And “mistakes don’t matter, just keep going”. The latter I use on the spot, if the thought “oh no, that was wrong!” crosses my mind. These mantras work because they keep my focus on what makes a good performance – and a good performance is NOT about zero mistakes or me being judged; it’s about me delivering art to others, and giving an audience the gift of a complete piece of music, non-stop, start to finish. 

Any other wisdom on mantras for singers?

We must remember the function of these mantras: to correct a deprecative state of mind. mantras will differ to match the different issues going through our minds. Therefore there is an infinite number of them. This is a big topic in my stage course, and I recommend using the mantras as often as needed, and especially backstage before a performance.  

After all of your work on yourself and with other singers, do you still fall into self-criticism?

Yes. Because I am human :) But the goal for me is not to reach utopia, rather to know what to do when trouble comes. Now I have tools to help me when I “fall”. 

What is a simple plan a singer can put into action to feel more positive about their singing?

Good one. There are a few crucial principles which can help remedy the miserable state of negativity: 

  1. Don’t waste time judging your sound while you sing. it’s not reality (the sound in your head is different from what others hear). Most times it’s not as bad as you think. 
  2. Get used to your own recordings, and make a habit of recording yourself and listening back. Then learn a way to evaluate your vocals and improve your technique, I recommend taking as neutral, emotionally uninvolved approach as possible.
  3. A mantra for you: It is impossible to learn how to sing while sounding good 100% of the time. Sounding less good is a necessary part of improving. Don’t linger on it, and don’t let “bad notes” hold you back. 
  4. Fake it till you make it! I recommend finishing a practice session with a “sing through session”. As in: singing a song without correcting or improving the voice. Instead – we pretend that we are already good at what we do. Use a performance exercise which puts you in a mental state of power and competence. This works wonders, every time, gets you out of your head. 
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