Developing technical mastery of your vocal instrument is a life-long project of dedication and determination.

However, hyper-focusing on technique can cause us to lose touch with the pure joy of singing.

In this episode, John talks about keeping the passion for singing alive while continuing to gain technical ability.


Contemporary Voice Teacher Academy

OHNI Vocal Masterclass

Episode Transcript

Episode 81 – Don’t Lose the Joy

Hey there, this is John Henny welcome back to another edition of the intelligent vocalist. I do so appreciate you spending this precious time with me or your precious time. I’m not sure how precious this time is, but maybe I’ll try and make it somewhat precious let me try. But a few things first, a couple of housekeeping items. So my audiobook, I just got back the edited files about an hour or so ago. So I’m going to be spending time listening to myself droning on, about all things teaching since I’ve now written the book and recorded it and now have to listen to all of my recordings. So I’ve spent a lot of time with my book, but the audio book version hopefully will be available in a couple of weeks. I know the audible process takes a little while. Once you submit to get approved, once that is approved, I will indeed be letting you know. 

So you can have the audiobook version of my book Teaching Contemporary Singing, which is available at Amazon. You could just go and search my name. I’d love it if you get a Kindle copy or even a hard print copy. It’s not a hardback paperback. Speaking of that, the signed copies are currently sold out, but I’m going to be getting some more in. So if you want a signed copy, send an email to [email protected] and Tracy can let you know how to get one of those and then my contemporary voice teacher Academy. As of right now, when I post this podcast, on a Tuesday is open for enrollment, but it’s only going to be open for a few days. So go to the show notes for this episode, /81 and there will be a link there and the reason I want you to go to that link is I’m throwing in a couple of extra bonuses. 

A couple of free courses. One is a piano for voice teachers course that will take you from not being able to play at all, to being able to play teaching scales and accompany your students. The other one is a course on understanding voice acoustics, and it’s a really good introduction to the science of that and as well you get the full contemporary voice teacher Academy and if you are one of the first 20, you will also get a free 20 minute consultation with me where I can go through your teaching goals, your business goals. I’ll get on the phone one on one you or over Skype, zoom, whatever and we’ll go through and give you a road map, to grow your business, deal better with voices, whatever it is that I can help you with, I am happy to help you with. 

So if you jump on, go to and the link will be there and if you hear this in time, the doors will be open. I believe I am closing this Thursday. I think I should know this, but it’s not open that long. So you’ll want to act quickly. Also, the price is $49 a month. That will be going up later this year, but you will not have a price increase if you jump on now and remain a member. Later this year in June. In June, I’m going to be teaching at this amazing voice conference. So if you’re going to be in Los Angeles, I’m going to be part of this amazing group of presenters who are coming around this great cause for the Osborne Head And Neck Institute. They have this wonderful foundation where they go and they give ear, nose and throat doctors we’ll fly out and help underprivileged people in other countries deal with horrible, problems, health issues and tumors and all kinds of things, that they’re specialists in underprivileged countries and they just do absolutely wonderful work. 

This is being put together by Dr. Reena Gupta, who wrote the amazing O H N I voice book. That’s a fantastic reference and Mindy Pack who’s a wonderful voice teacher and friend and she’s currently on tour with Justin Timberlake as her, as his vocal coach. So, and she’s just fantastic, she’s not only a celebrity coach and not all celebrity coaches are great, I can tell you, but she’s actually one of the really smart ones who really knows the voice and she’s just assembling this fantastic three day, study course for voice teachers. And I am honored to be presenting a couple of classes there. So go to the show notes for this episode forward /81 and I will have a link, to get tickets as well. That is going to sell out rather quickly. So you’re wanting to jump on that. 

All right, today’s topic is about not losing the joy of singing and I will tell you a little personal story during my own study of the voice and when I was taking lessons really intensely and improving one of my big issues as it is with the a lot of singers and especially guys, we like to muscle things up as I would get a little heavy, I’d get a little shouty and I could make the note, but I’d pull in fatigue, the voice. So I did a lot of work on getting a lighter through my mix area and adjusting the vowels so they weren’t so broad. But it got to the point where it was so hyper-focused and I had this feeling of like I was almost like the game of operation. You remember that and you have to take the tweezers and you take out the little guys funny bone and if you move to either side and your tweezers accidentally touch outside of the hole, his nose lights up and you get this buzzer. 

And I felt vocally, like I just had such this narrow thread that I was allowed to be in and if I move one fraction on either side of it, I just be told no, no, that’s wrong. No, no and it got to the point where, and it was part of my training and it was also just me in the practice room. So not wanting to be wrong and trying to be so careful and so precise and just I lost our, I began to lose a sense of musicality, if you will. It was so much about being technically correct that I really stopped enjoying singing and this is something I’ve heard from other singers when they begin to study and really take their voice seriously is there is a certain amount of joy lost and I still remember distinctly one day I’m sitting at the piano practicing a song. 

What’s that song? Oh my gosh and you got there are going to be people yelling at their device anthem from chest. I was going to say the song, the Russian guy sings from chest Anthem. So you don’t have to scream Anthem at me and I just in frustration, I just sang that song full-out. Full-out I didn’t care about making mistakes and I sang part of it wrong and maybe a bit of it was too heavy, but I just allowed myself to fully sing and when I finished, I started crying and it was this cathartic, breakthrough of just throwing technique out for a minute and allowing myself just the joy of singing and this is the danger that we step into as singers is we risk getting as we step into formal study and getting serious is we risk extinguishing what we truly do love about singing. 

There was, I’ve probably told this story on the podcast but this so profoundly, brought the joy of singing home to me. I was walking around in Camden in North London and I walked by a pub and there was a whole group in this pub and they were all drunkenly singing an Oasis song and at the top of their lungs, and they were having an amazing time. Just connecting with singing and releasing emotion was singing and it was this whole group experience and I was, and it wasn’t really good. I mean it sounded like a bunch of somewhat intoxicated people just shouting out a song but there was such an energy to it and such a joy that it really struck me that the whole point of doing all this study and doing all this work is so that at the end of it you can come back out and be where that pub full of people were and just be within the joy. 

Just you’re going to sound better than they do, but you don’t want to lose what it is that they have. They weren’t worried about being under the pitch, they weren’t worried about having a wide vowel or if they’re closed compression of the chords were too high or where their Formance worried. They just were being completely human and just allowing, being a conduit for musical expression and it’s just a beautiful thing and I know on the podcast where I’ve talked about working things very, very specifically and working like a musician, getting that microscopic focus and working on a technical issue in isolation, not just singing a song from top to bottom, but I feel I need to temper that with, at the end of the day, nobody cares about that other than there’s very, very small community of voice teachers and singers and people who’ve really trained themselves to do that. 

The people that you are going to sing for, the people who are listening do not care. They need to just be taken away somewhere. They need to be communicated with on a higher level than just speech and they need the vibrations of music and the vibrations of your emotion through your voice to allow them to set aside their problem and as you are singing and they’re absorbing what it is that are saying, it gives them permission to feel their own emotions in a way that’s safe. And it’s a release I mean, music is just a wonderfully miraculous communication that we’ve come up with and the technical aspects, they don’t care. Now if you can’t hit a note and you’re completely out of tune and you sound absolutely awful, then you’re going to pull them out of that magic trans. 

But some of this nuance, it’s really just for us and it’s just to make it easier for you to communicate, but you need to set aside some time in your practice to just experience music for the joy of music, to sing a song that maybe he’s not totally in your wheelhouse, but you’re just going to go forward and you’re going to set all of your judgments aside as long as you’re not grinding your vocal chords to a pulp and it’s painful. It’s okay if you’re wrong here or there. If it’s a little heavy, if it’s a little wide, if you don’t quite get the note, if it cracks it’s all right. I am giving you permission. You need to have that. You need to have that joy. You need to have that release and then when you come back to the technical, there’s a reason to work through the technical. 

There is an endgame and the endgame is that joy. The endgame is being in that pub singing that Oasis song with a whole room full of people you don’t know except for the fact that you enjoy alcohol and this one song. And that’s what I want for you. I want you to be able to hold that, to experience that, go back into the technical work that and then go back into the joy of it and there really is this balance and I don’t want you getting caught up in the technical there’s a ton of work to do there. It takes a lot of focus. It takes a lot of dedication, but that in and of itself can become a trap and you can also start getting so caught up in the technical that if you’re not technically perfect, you hold yourself back from going out and singing from recording from performing and that really defeats the purpose in popular music. 

You know, I was thinking about this in terms of classical music versus popular music and not sure everyone will agree with me, but the aesthetic of classical music is there’s this real refinement of almost technical perfection and then from the technical perfection, if you can also communicate emotionally well that’s when you’ve reached the highest level. But technical perfection really does stand somewhat at the forefront and classical singers. It’s really within the culture. There are no self-trained classical singers or they’re very, very rare. I mean you understand that from a young age you are going to have formal study and coaching and language and all of these things that you need to work within that art form. Whereas in popular music, I would say a good percentage of not the majority of popular singers through the years have no formal study because the aesthetic there is it’s communication first. 

Then if you can work in some technical perfection as well that’s a higher level. But communication stands at the forefront and emotional connection and since we’re dealing ideal mostly with popular music, most of my clients are, that’s what I’m usually discussing in these podcasts. You need to keep that at the forefront don’t go down a technical rabbit hole and the other problem with being technique focused is it can give you an excuse. I’ve seen this with singers where they’re afraid to get themselves out there. They’re afraid of the judgment, they’re afraid of getting on stage and allowing others to hear them. So the technical becomes their excuse. They hide in lessons, they hide erase in the practice room. And I tell people, you know, if you don’t get out there and really work this if you just come for lessons, you’re really not gonna reach your potential. 

You’ve got to get out and perform there. That you have to test this by fire and put yourself out there. That’s an, unless this is just a hobby, you know, if it’s a hobby and that’s what you enjoy and you just want to practice and you just want to go to lessons, fine. But if you really want to sing, do not make lessons. Your excuse to not perform, do not make Oh, I don’t sing as well as Ariana Grande or whatever or any singer. So therefore I can’t go out there. No, you got to find songs that you can sing now or write songs that you can sing now and get out there and experience being with an audience and that energy and that energy exchange and you’ve got to put yourself out there and you gotta risk it. So you can’t get stuck in technique. 

As an excuse you can’t get stuck in technique for some idea of perfection. It’s never going to happen. Technique it’s just a tool to help you express things better and seriously. Do not lose the joy of this. This is singing is joyous. That’s we started singing and when we can’t use words to express emotion, we start to sing and that’s it. Don’t lose the joy. 

Hey, I really wanna thank you for spending this time with me. Please share the podcast. You can mention it on social media. You can go leave a review on iTunes or Stitcher or wherever you subscribe. You must be doing something out there because the listener of the podcast is growing rapidly. I’m very, very pleased with that. So please help spread the word that’s how you can help support this podcast and until next time to better sing. Thank you so much bye bye.