We all have a future ideal self we strive towards – the singer we will someday hope to be.

But staying focused on this ideal can often cause us to become discouraged, as it seems so far away and, at times, unattainable.

In this episode, John discusses how best to measure your progress to keep a positive, motivated mindset for your singing.

Episode Transcript

Episode 95 – Beware the Gap

Hey there, this is John Henny. Welcome back to another episode of The Intelligent Vocalist. I do so appreciate you spending your precious listening time with me. And today I’d like to give you a little lecture/pep talk. So I’ve got a smaller soapbox here that I’m going to climb up on and I want to talk about the idea of the gap. Now this comes from Dr. Benjamin Hardy, who’s a very good blogger. I’m not sure what his PhD is in, but he focuses on human growth, potential, mindset, all of those things that we all need, including myself — constantly trying to keep myself in a good mindset, reevaluate how I look at things, how I process things, what things mean — and he recently wrote a blog about the gain versus the gap. And the gap is a trap that I see not only my students fall into, but I occasionally will fall into myself.

And it really is just human nature. We are goal-driven machines. We want to accomplish things. We see things and we think, how can I do that? And we set about doing it. The problem becomes we’re always facing forward and we create this ideal. Someone will say to me. “Oh, I want to have a voice like Whitney Houston or Ariana Grande. I want to sing like Steve Perry, or I want to be signed by a record label. I want to star in a musical on Broadway.” I mean we get these very lofty ideas that start to become not so much goals, because goals are broken down and they’re achievable and goals are step-by-step. So saying that I want to be the president of the United States is not a goal. A goal would be first finding a local office that I could get elected to and then putting together a team and then spring boarding to a next higher office and getting the experience. You know what I’m saying. There are all these steps.

To say I want to have a record deal or I want to be a pop star– That’s not a goal, that’s an ideal. Your goal would be, okay, I need to now write some original material and then I need to showcase. I mean, you start putting together the achievable steps. So he talks about this idea of your ideal and where you are now. That’s the gap. And every time you look at and you focus on this gap, you are going to feel some degree of discouragement. Perhaps some of you get motivated by looking at the gap, but I don’t think it’s many. Goals can motivate you because goals are achievable. But there’s an abstract ideal out there that I want to be a pop star. That’s a huge gap, and when you look at the gap and then you look at your idols and see what they’re doing or what other people are doing and you’re not there, that’s where the internal dialogue is going to crank up and the inner critic’s going to start wailing on you.

And I’ve said before, if you knew someone who spoke to you the way your inner voice dies, you’d never talk to that person again. They would be the cruelest person in the world and you’d have nothing to do with them. But unfortunately we have to live with this voice inside our head and we are setting up this voice– We are setting up our brain to look at the gap and then look at us. We’re not there. Look at the distance. It starts to seem insurmountable and you start to feel really bad about yourself and your singing. And I can’t hit the high notes like this singer. My voice isn’t as big. I’m not as flexible. I don’t have the runs. Whatever it is, it just becomes a session of beating yourself up. So he talks about looking back at the gain, and this is very important because you need to look and see where you started and how far you’ve come.

I don’t care if you’ve been singing for 10 months or 10 years, there is going to be progress, and in some areas of the voice the progress will be pretty profound. There are things that you can do when you are beginning to learn to sing and really learn to sing properly that have huge gains and benefits, and by just employing those, you get with a good teacher who can begin to show you just how to unlock certain parts of your voice, you’re going to start to feel rapid improvement. Now here’s what happens, is as you feel this improvement, your concept, as you work on your voice, your concept of singing is expanding. Your knowledge is growing, your ears are getting a bit more sophisticated and a bit more critical. And now when you see someone make the mistake that you were making a few weeks before, your ear picks up on that and you’ll probably become critical of that person.

I know I do this nonsense thing where I’ll learn a new word and then, when I find someone a few days later who mispronounces the word I’ll start to think, “Hmm, why don’t you know that?” Rather than going, “Hey man, a week ago you didn’t know the word, why don’t you sit down?” But we tend to get up on our high horse a little bit. We get a little bit critical because your ear is getting better. You have knowledge that you didn’t have before. But that knowledge now, that improved ear and that greater knowledge, you’re going to start applying it to your current condition and now you’re going to start to find your voice less than. You’re going to start to realize other areas where you’re lacking, or it’s the area you’re trying to improve, but now it’s not as good as you want it to be.

And you start looking at the gap. You start thinking about some blurry vision of what you, the great singer, should be and sound like and be capable of. And now your better and better trained ear is picking your own voice apart and finding all the ways that you don’t measure up, is finding all the ways that there is a gap rather than looking back at where you started and embracing the gain, celebrating the gain, using the gain to keep you motivated and excited to show that this is really working. So that when you look back and you go wow, three weeks ago, I couldn’t sing this E above middle C without straining and now I can actually sing this note. Yeah, I can’t really sustain on it too much and it’s not ultimately as strong as I want it to be, but by gosh at least I’m not struggling on it and it doesn’t feel like my voice is going to explode when I try and hit it. And you have to see that gain. Keep your eye on the gain and then you can always have this further, I won’t say goal, but your ideal. That ideal is okay as long as you realize what it is and then you start setting up goals.

Okay, my goal is now to work with this on a regular basis. Maybe I just took a couple of voice lessons. Now I’m going to find a way to study every week, maybe just a half hour, but I’m going to take weekly lessons and I’m going to work on this and after two months I want to try and tackle maybe this song. Now we’re starting to talk about goals and then we look back a week, two weeks later and say, Oh, you know what, I’ve actually gotten a bit better on that. And yes, you’re going to have your ups and down days. It’s not constant gain, so gain is a bit on a longer view, but as you keep working your voice and keep working in the voice, the view back will get longer and your gain graph, you’ll be able to see it in more detail because you’re going to keep a focus on it. You’re going to use it, you’re going to celebrate your gains. You’re going to stay in a positive mindset. I know it’s kind of this little Pollyanna rah rah. But if you are going into the creative arts, if you have been blessed and cursed as a creative person, then you need every ounce of positive energy you can find because the world– before the world celebrates you, the world’s going to beat you down a little bit and the world’s going to resist you.

And every great artist has to go through that. And as you’re honing your craft, it’s going to be tough. And you may have situations where you run into some criticism and it’s painful and you may want to stop. I’ve seen people do it. They just get broadsided. They put something out and rather than celebrate the gain and the step of courage of putting it out, they just look at the negative feedback. And rather than learning from it, deciphering whether it’s valid criticism or not, and then learning and adjusting, it just– the pain becomes overwhelming. And then they start to look at the gap and they see how far they are from where they think they should be or who they’re supposed to be as an artist. And just know that this ideal, you’re never going to reach this because this ideal is ever changing.

And the more you sing and the more you get in touch with your voice and understand who you are as an artist, this ideal, it’s a shapeshifter. It morphs, might even change moment to moment. It’s never something to be reached. What it is, is this distant light that you can look at, a North star, if you will, and then you create goals that take you on the path so that you’re headed due North. And you can always kind of look at this ideal occasionally to make sure your goals are taking you where you ultimately think you want to go, that you will never reach. But let it be fluid, let it be flexible. Let your gains and how you’re getting the gains and what gains you tend to enjoy–

You know, what is it you enjoy about singing? What is it that you feel you have to say? I mean, if I asked that question and you shrug your shoulders and go, I don’t know, I just want to be famous, then you need to do a little more soul searching. You need to start taking long walks and you need to start thinking about music. Not listening to music, thinking about music, and you within it and what it is you want to say. Even if singing for you is never going to be more than singing in your bedroom, playing guitar, singing some songs, maybe throwing some stuff on YouTube here or there, or just the act of getting better at singing and you love that challenge. You really want to understand what it is that you love and why you are doing it. And so you can find this course, and find this ideal that you’re not going to become fixated on, and then set your goals. And then keep looking at the gains, embrace those gains, and the gains should inform you as to where your ideal is.

And just know that the gap will always be there. You’re never gonna close it. Why would you want to close it? One day you just get to the end, like finishing a video game. Oh okay I guess I’ve mastered music. I’ve mastered singing. No, this is your entire life. And then as you get older and the voice begins to change, how do you adjust your voice, adjust your singing, adjust your routine, what it is that you do. Find new strengths, you know. Because when you’re– as you get older, whatever your highest money note is right now may not be the money note in later years. But how do you create money notes? How do you create this excitement with your voice in other ways and other styles? And so the gain informs what we’ll call the gap, as a nod to Benjamin Hardy, and that gap is defined by this nebulous little future ideal you that’s no longer going to cause you grief.

Do not be taunted by that idea. Do not let that idea make you feel less than. Just let it be this fluid guidepost that you move towards as you stay in your positively charged mindset and move forward and embrace the struggle. I should do a podcast on this, but what makes singing great? It’s great because it’s hard. You want this to be hard, otherwise everyone would do it. This singing is a skill that when you sing, other people just– their jaws drop. It is something I believe almost everyone wants to do. Most people think they can’t do it, which I don’t agree with, but then even those who want to do it, it’s a much, much smaller group that steps forward and begins the journey. And it’s an even smaller group that stays on that journey and so you need to just stay on the journey, and celebrate this and celebrate why it’s hard because that’s why it’s special.

I’m going to now climb down off my smaller soapbox. Soapbox got a little bit taller as I was speaking. And if you want more information on me, what it is that I do, go to johnhenny.com. J-O-H-N-H-E-N-N-Y.com, and you can see the different courses I offer there. You can sign up for my email list. I always put out notices when there are new podcasts available, etcetera. Also, if you want to support the podcast, please consider going to where you listen and leaving a review. You can tell friends about it, you can share it on social media, you can blog about it, however you feel comfortable getting the word out. I so do very much appreciate it. And until next time, to better singing. Thank you so much. Bye bye.