What Singers Can Learn from Barbra Streisand

Barbra Streisand
Barbra Streisand viewed singing as “a means to an end”, but became one of the greatest vocalists the world will ever know –says Jaime Babbitt.

I just became a singer, because I could never get work as an actress – Barbra Streisand

(*Stops typing on laptop, walks to nearest wall, bangs head repeatedly while screaming obscenities, stops, sighs, shuffles to pantry, gets chocolate, eats chocolate, returns to laptop.)

Of course, you’ve heard Barbra Streisand sing. What? Not really?

(*Stops typing on laptop, walks to nearest wall, bangs head repeatedly again, feels too much pain, returns to laptop.)

Please. Listen for a moment. I’ll wait. Keep in mind that she was 21, live and without Auto-Tune:

Hence the head-banging. Barbra Streisand, the top-selling female artist in the history of American recordings, who loved acting and viewed singing as “a means to an end”, has become one of the greatest vocalists the world will ever know.

Her approach is unique and confounding: she barely warms up, didn’t study except for a time or two when she was in vocal trouble and doesn’t read music at all. So, how is this, how is she possible? And what can we take away?

1. Learn to love words

Ms. Streisand (calling her Barbra seems impolite somehow) has said so in interviews, but you can tell that she truly does by the way she lets them roll around in her mouth almost playfully before they reach our ears and hearts.

Loving words can come in handy on lots of occasions: when acting, writing, speaking to others, trying to get a gig…you see where I’m going?

See how you can let your love for words grow: read more often, write more often, listen to audiobooks more often, learn new words more often, and try enjoying the words you sing more often! I know I am!

2. Learn to act

Not that you need to become the next DeNiro or Streep here, but acting can open you up to entirely different routes and freedoms of expression (who am I to tell you what to be? If you want to be a kick-a** actor, go for it!)

One school of acting describes it as: “living truthfully under imaginary circumstances.” Just like those circumstances we find in songs! So, we can perhaps take a class, read some books (Stanislavski’s “An Actor Prepares” is a great start) and start seeing top-notch plays, movies and TV shows to see how it’s done.

Watch for the actors who make you forget that you’re watching anything; they possess the kind of freedom and ease with which you can learn to sing …capiche? And BTW, “House of Cards” – WOW!


3. Learn to stop making things so difficult for yourself

Many of us have experienced self-criticism and doubt. We don’t know if we have what it takes to be a singer: if we’re talented enough, if we sound good enough, if we have the drive.

We watch mega-stars like Adele and Gaga and Pavarotti and say, “I’m nowhere near that good so why bother?” Well, how do you even stand a chance unless you bother?

Barbra Streisand was a kid from Brooklyn whose dad died when she was a baby, who had singing in her blood and wanted to, in her words, “be somebody and get out of Brooklyn.” So, she took what she had and ran with it.

What do you have? What can you run with? She didn’t watch endless YouTube videos to compare herself to others; she got out and auditioned for things. She didn’t even spend years studying; she just told herself she could hold notes and she did. I know. She’s Barbra Streisand. But still….

What can you tell yourself that will be productive instead of destructive? How can you get out of your own way? How can you focus on your strengths? How can you stop telling yourself, “NO”?

(*Stops typing on laptop, leans back, smiles, sighs, goes to pantry, gets chocolate, eats chocolate, smiles again, walks to piano.)

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