You can have all the vocal technique in the world, but if you can’t conquer your mental fears and roadblocks, you will struggle to perform at your best.
Becky Gilhespie, a leading voice teacher in London, and now Australia, has published a new book, Singing for the Self-Conscious, to help singers breakthrough their mental hurdles.
In this episode, John and Becky discuss the everyday mental struggles singers face and the steps to breakthrough to confident singing.
Episode 190 – Singing for the Self-Conscious
Hey there, this is John Henny, welcome back to another episode of the intelligent vocalist.
I do so appreciate you spending this precious listening time with me.
John: Today, I want you to think about just for a moment what singing means to you. For me, it’s always been obviously very important. But with recent world events, it’s become an even greater source of joy in my life. Singing is something that can pull you away from the stress of current headlines, and world events, and just the uncertainty of the future. And I can just give you wonderful moments of self expression of self improvement, of achieving goals and feeling breakthroughs. Even the wonderful process of frustration and having to figure something out and looking for answers. The world of singing is just this beautiful microcosm and a beautiful example of a life well lived. The discipline and the focus that it takes to sing is something that will spill into the rest of your life and can only have a positive effect. However, the human voice is a very unique instrument in that we somehow feel that we should be able to do it right away, or that when we have issues with our voice, it reflects badly on us, as a human. I’ve said this before, but when you’re first learning an instrument, like the guitar, you don’t feel shame that you don’t know a G chord or that you can move smoothly. From a G to a C chord.
John: There’s nothing in your experience that would allow you to do that without some work in some study. And yet we feel that we should be able to sing to a certain level. And if we can’t, if we struggle with our voice, there is a level of embarrassment with that. And this embarrassment can become crippling. And this feeling of being an imposter or not having talent or not being able to do this of being ashamed of your voice of feeling really self conscious about your singing can rob you of this wonderful, safe space, and this beautiful place of creating music and self expression. And so today I am speaking with Becky Gilhespie and Becky is a voice teacher who has taught successfully in the UK. And now she’s in Australia. And Becky is a rather remarkable person because she comes across as very humble and soft spoken. And yet she’s an absolute adventurer.
John: I first met Becky over a decade ago when I was teaching in London. And one of the teachers I met was this young woman with an American accent. And I thought, oh, what are you doing here and she explained that she had gone to the UK on vacation, a little trip to reward herself for having graduated college and decided to stay and became a successful teacher there, got married and then decided to move to Australia and in the meantime she has competed on master chef in the UK. As she has worked professionally in high level kitchen. She’s a very accomplished chef. And now she has turned her attention back to singing. And
John: Becky is very honest in her own struggles with singing in her own feelings of being self conscious about her voice and how she has broken through those barriers and she has a new book called singing for the self conscious, which I highly recommend, just go to Amazon and do a quick search and you will find the book. And if you are struggling with singing, I think this will be a very important episode for you. And I think what Becky has to say, is extremely important and needs to be heard even by singers who are experienced in a conversation and upcoming episode I just had with a very successful musical theater performer. But he even talked about the crippling anxiety that can hit professional singers. So whatever level of singing you are at, you need to get this book. Becky is really refreshing on this topic. I love the way she approaches it. I love her spirit. And I think you will, too. So without further ado, here is Becky Gilhespie.
John: I am on with Becky Gilhespie. Becky, welcome to the podcast.
Becky: Thanks, john. Such an honor to be here.
John: I’m so happy to talk with you. And congratulations on the book. I know from experience. It’s not an easy thing to do.
Becky: No, that’s right. Yeah, it was, it was quite a process writing the book. And in some ways it flowed. I had this idea for that was growing for many, many years and then the time was right and actually over locked down. I wrote the book. And I just thought you know what, I’m going to put this idea into something and I started writing and I just chipped away day by day. And then I started researching and adding more and more to the book. So yeah, it’s been fantastic.
John: And right now it’s out it’s paperback, not Kindle yet. Yes.
Becky: I’m starting off with paperback. And then I’m just going to add to it. I’m going to do an audio version and you know all about this. Don’t you bring in your books life?
John: Oh, the audio version? Oh my gosh, yeah. Yeah, I mine was torture because I tried to create like this little quiet room, if you will. And so I put the mic in it in a box and I put foam in and then I put a moving blanket over my head. And then I had to turn off the air conditioning. So there wasn’t any sound with that. So I’m under this blanket just dripping sweat.
Becky: Oh my god.
Becky: Yes. And to do I’m planning to put my clock put it you know, mattress in my closet. But we’re right on the train line. So probably like a big freight train will go past and.
John: yeah, why’d you get helicopters flying overhead and planes? Yeah. So I just for the listeners, give us a quick history of you in singing.
Becky: Yes, well, with singing, I moved to London, I grew up in America. And singing was very much a part of life in Kentucky, you know, bluegrass, and it’s sort of everywhere. And so that was nice. I had a lot of exposure. And I moved to London, though after university, I didn’t study music. I don’t know in Kentucky, maybe it’s not you don’t think that you’re gonna go into music, it’s maybe not a career choice that too many people do. But when I went to London I am. I really was drawn to music. And actually I felt kind of I was going through a period a rough patch of depression and anxiety and music really was the pool for me. And I felt alive when I listened to music and listened to singing. And I started training my voice and at that time Speech Level Singing was moving into London, and that was fantastic. So I was right there with that and trained with some amazing teachers such as yourself. And yeah, I trained my voice a lot. And I did some gigs. And I was trying out, you know, singing jazz and all along, I sort of had this feeling inside of being kind of a faker or fraud or I never really felt comfortable. And I felt that I was always maybe trying to get to an end goal but I never could. There was a massive filter there. And yeah, it just stifled me and even you know, say say when we were training we had the best training you know, and intensive work in my voice and I often felt like a failure during those moments as well because technically, I felt that I could do a lot of things you know, I could seem strong and high and but I always felt hang on this summer there that’s blocking me though it’s sort of I would get a lot of praise, maybe within the lessons, but I would sort of feel like, Oh, this is something’s not right.
Becky: So I realized there was something inside me. And what I really wanted to do was explore this, but I didn’t know how to by myself, you know. So I am I then kind of, I don’t know, I just pulled out. And, you know, as you know, I kind of then went on a different path, I still saying, but I started to become a chef, I went to master chef, which was fantastic. But I started to move down that path. And over time, you know, I moved to Australia, I had kids my life to this different term. And now, coming back to it, I’ve now decided that I wanted to come back to Vocal Coaching, in particular, because it was such a fantastic career. And, as I’ve come back to it, this whole world has opened up and everything sort of lined up, when I realized that back then, when I was feeling these, I was feeling self conscious. And you know, it’s like these guys who pull out their guitars at the party, you know, I’m not one of those people. And I started to think about and reflect on my life. What happened? Why wasn’t I like that? And why are some people able to do that? You know, what is the difference? So that was that my book was born out of that. And I researched mindset. And I’ve gone through it myself, as well, I’ve actually been taking my own advice that I bring in the book.
John: And so your, your book, has you wrote this in mind with a specific reader? Yes. Like, like the person that you want to help. And your book is also results driven. Like, when someone goes through your book, you they are you they can expect if they do the exercises, and everything to get a certain result, they want you to talk about the results that you want the reader to get.
Becky: Okay, well, first of all, I just want to go back and talk about that results driven thing. I just realized, over the years, I just gathered so many fantastic tips and training. And what I realized is that it’s the doing, you know, I really believe it’s to get through something you have to experience, you know, and the book is a step program, I decided to write it in that way. So that it can be smart, you know, that acronym? Smart? specific, measurable, achievable, realistic to time. So, yeah, so it starts with awareness. You know, I feel like when you go through something, you really first need awareness and acceptance. So, and then I draw on so many things that I’ve learned over the past and all the musical experiences that I’ve had and help from I’ve sought help from Lynn Hilton, who’s a mindset, resilience coach Performing Arts. And, yeah, so the results that I would want for anyone reading the book would be to feel freedom, you know, to go through these steps, and to feel like they can open up and feel more comfortable. And I really wish that I would have gone through this process. So that’s how I’ve written it as well. So I’ve realized it’s awareness and acceptance. And then it’s looking deeper at some negative self beliefs that we all have underlying. And it’s amazing when you start looking at this, how it can affect our daily decision making process, these underlying subconscious beliefs that we don’t even realize are there, but it’s huge.
Becky: And you can actually uncover them, and then you can eliminate them. So that’s what I’ve been working on in the book. And then after that, I feel that one must hone their craft, you know, so it’s not a technique book, because as you know, technique is so huge, but I do give a so many great tips and tools and just ideas and concepts and exercises that students can go through so they can start to hone their technique, and then they can start to look at style. And then the firt the the letter steps in the book are is to turn your focus outwards. And that’s a big thing too. When we feel self conscious, we’re focusing inwards. We’re focusing on how we feel and how we feel uncomfortable. And I noticed that actors you know, they don’t seem to feel this way or if they do, they don’t show it at all. All. So I kind of drew from, like an acting framework and and sought help from from experts in that way to help myself and then to write from my readers to help you turn your focus outward. So you feel more comfortable. And another step is video in yourself. I mean, how can you expect to feel comfortable if you don’t have awareness of what you look like what you sound like, this is huge, too. So going through that step of you know, there’s so many things, the book is absolutely filled to the brim with great concepts and ideas and exercising, I’m glad you enjoyed it, and you thought it was helpful as well.
John: Oh, absolutely. And you bring up you touched on it there. But what I found when people experience performance, anxiety, stage fright, they are focused on themselves. And it’s almost this fight or flight, you know, is the idea of long ago, in our time on this planet, if you were cast away from the tribe, you would die. And so rejection was a very real fear. And now but we still carry that, so that when we go to expose ourselves and give of ourselves to others, the fear of them rejecting us is so profound. And and so when you step on a stage, and you’re just thinking about yourself, yourself, you’re really doomed. And it’s only when you’re able to turn that off and make it about the people who have taken the time to watch you and give you their attention.
Becky: That’s exactly right. And I feel like it starts with mindfulness, you know. So one thing I was just going to say, like, performance, anxiety is a real thing. And I don’t want to discount anyone who’s experiencing, you know, feelings of anxiety and fear and panic. I mean, this is huge. But really all of these, what we can do is start with mindfulness. And what mindfulness is, is a quietness and so that you observe these thoughts. So they’re not just like, Oh, I’m having these thoughts. You know, you go and code, you do go within and you observe what is this thought? What is it telling me, and that’s how we can begin that process of choosing something else, we observe the thought, we allow it, we don’t resist it, then we can make a different choice. So that’s, that’s what I found that’s very powerful, and easy that we can, the first step that we can do is start with mindfulness. But what you just discussed about that was a huge turning point, in my own development was that idea of, it’s not about me. And I put a whole big section in the book about that, because what I remember this one time, I just got it, I was like, Oh, it’s not about me, it’s about how I make that person feel. And that’s pretty powerful when you can get your head around that because you know, you’ll give your goal as a performer is to take your listener on a journey. And you can take yourself through that too, and bring out what you want to say and the emotions you want to express your giving yourself, which is a beautiful thing. But really, you’re focusing on making that listener enjoy and have a good time, you’re not concerned with how I’m feeling on the inside.
John: And as a vocal coach, and I’m sure you’ve experienced it from the vocal coach side as I have. But you can get a really musically gifted student who really can get the technique quickly, has a wonderful instrument, they find balance. But if they’re caught in this, this self conscious trap, it really doesn’t come together. And then you get people who are less talented, but they don’t have those trappings. It’s just not part of the software that runs in their head. And they’re able to perform and sing and move people even though they don’t quite have the same grasp of the tools is the more talented student. I mean, the breakthrough that you’re talking about is so fundamentally important in singing, and it’s something that’s really almost unique to singers. Nobody picks up a guitar for the first time and expects to be able to play a G chord. And if the first time they play the G chord, if it’s not good, they’re not ashamed, but with the voice. There seems to just be this instinct shame if you’re not great right away.
Becky: That’s right, and I feel That. Number one, I say this to my students all the time. Those guys who pick up the guitar and just play well, we haven’t seen all the steps that have gone on before they’ve Yeah, they’ve practiced they’ve rehearsed. And what makes the voice different. The voice is a very complicated instrument, as you know. But what makes it so much more complicated is that our voice is attached to our sense of self. And this is huge. And yeah, I became a little bit obsessed with this. It’s huge, but it’s also incredible. That’s what makes the voice touch us so much. Because when someone is expressing themselves, you know, it’s fantastic. It’s amazing. But it also does when you when you are the singer, if you have those underlying negative self beliefs, or that negative chitter chatter instantly gets in the way. And it’s such a shame. But yeah, I totally agree with you. I’ve really noticed in my own self as well about that, that filter and just not being able to let go. So I suppose this book is for anyone who feels that anyone who feels that kind of stifled, I can’t let go. But I know, there’s something great there. You know, and I feel like a lot of singers have experienced this.
John: And you say something in the book that I love, but mistakes are important.
Becky: Absolutely, if I didn’t give myself time to just play around this is the nature of creativity is to allow yourself freedom to just play and to make mistakes, who cares? And so just having awareness of that. And one thing I actually got from Wendy Parr, she said, Oh, you know, what I do, I actually write permission slip. So I thought, that is a fantastic idea. So I actually put that in the book, you know, so anyone reading the book has to sign the permission slip, that it’s okay to make mistakes. And from that, what I’ve done in my own singing, is I scheduled myself 15 minutes of just playing around so that I allow myself to do that. No bounds, just pure creativity. And that’s been great feels so free, you know,
John: I think it’s important in any instrument. Even here, at my music academy, sometimes, let’s say kid just is just taking a piano or drums, and the parents will say, Yeah, but when they first get on for the first 10 minutes to just making noise, and I say, let them make noise, they’re exploring the boundaries of what this instrument can do.
Becky: That’s exactly right. So you’re not putting any expectations on them. And that’s such an important part of just being making music, making any kind of art and I feel like maybe we’ve lost that along the way. Because we’re all so results driven, we’re so focused on the outcome of everything we do, when really, we should just maybe focus on the present and just have fun in the present.
John: And the other thing, I think that people do, is they take great performers, and they we love to romanticize and almost make them superhuman. So that and we think like, they just all have just this natural, pure talent, and they were just unleashed upon us mere mortals. And that’s rarely the truth. they’ve all gone through struggles, I’ve all had periods where they didn’t sound good when they were first figuring out their instrument. And many of them but you know, and the reason that you will have people in pain and dealing with addiction and all these things that people that you think have everything they would want is they sometimes feel like a fraud. Like this doesn’t just affect the amateur musician or the up and coming someone who’s learning the instrument, it can affect everyone. That’s why I think that what you have to say is incredibly important on all levels of singing.
Becky: Yeah, definitely, I think with learning anything. Just going back to that being present. I was just listening to a podcast yesterday from Oprah Winfrey and Eckhart Tolle it and they were saying about, you know, how we’ve lost that sense of just being in the moment. So we’re not actually yeah, we’re so focused on where we’re going, that we’re actually lost, you know, so, yeah, and anytime that I’ve ever worked with any kind of fake name, musician or singer, I always am struck by this sense of this human that is a human in front of me with imperfections and flaws. Just like me. myself. And you’re right. Those people also face that the imposter syndrome is huge. It’s really real. And it really hinders people at different levels of can stop them from moving forward.
John: So where can people find out more about you more about your book?
Becky: Well, yeah, so um, the book is available. Now I just got word from Amazon. It’s like, oh, there it is. Okay, it’s ready. Yeah, I can I can give you the link or you can just literally,
John: I’ll put a link in the how notes. Yeah. And then your website if people are interested in studying, or?
Becky: That’s right. So I teach private lessons. And you know, I teach online, I’m one of these people who have kind of embraced this new age and because you know, I live now in the countryside in Australia, so I thought, well, I need to kind of do this online, or else, I might not have very many students, and I’ve found it to be fantastic. So I teach singers all over the world, and it actually works so well, I find that people are relaxed in their own home. So I’m always happy to receive more students. And yeah, my website, you can go in there and find me that way. And you can download the first chapter of my book if you’d like to read a little preview.
John: Again, the name of your website, the URL is
John: Great. Becky Gilhespie for everyone.
Becky:Ah, there’s everyone off.
John: Fantastic. Yeah. And I highly recommend everyone get the book.
Becky: Wow. I mean that that means a lot to me coming from you, john. It really does. Thank you so much.
John: Thank you. And thank you for coming on the podcast.
Becky: Yeah, it’s a real honor. Thank you.
John: Hey, if you want to know more about me, please visit my website, johnhenny.com. I have all kinds of resources on there for not just singers, but also voice teachers. If you are interested in teaching voice, I highly recommend my online voice teacher Academy. I’ve had a number of students go through the course and they are finding great success with their teaching. And be sure to check out my new book beginning singing just search your local amazon for the book. And you can get it right now for just 99 cents. I’m going to have it for 99 cents for a limited time. So that’s going on right now as I publish this podcast, and until next time to better singing. Thank you so much. Bye