One of the most important lessons I ever learned about singing didn't actually come from any music teacher, voice coach or singer.
In fact, I didn't learn it from any kind of performing artist. No, I learned this lesson from a Krav Maga instructor. (Krav Maga, if you haven't heard of it, is a self-defence system used my the Israeli military. I trained in the civilian version for a year, and it was most definitely an experience.)
"Embrace the Suck"
One of the saying s that trainers always repeated in this class was "embrace the suck."
What did they mean by this?
Well, the people in that class weren't naturally violent, or geared towards punching somebody - even in a self-defence situation. And if you've ever trained in any kind of martial art, you'd know that there's a whole lot more to throwing a punch than just punching. So all of us had two choices; we could be upset that we weren't naturally good at Krav Maga and find a different sport, OR we could accept the fact that we weren't good at Krav Maga and start working towards getting better.
And that's what "embrace the suck" meant. When you find something that you're not good at, you don't have to avoid it. Instead, you can embrace it - and when you embrace something that you suck at, you (very slowly) start to get better.
Getting Better at Something You're Bad At
So I sucked at Krav Maga. I sucked very, very much. But I decided that I'd try and get better at it. My first step to improving was to accept that I wasn't very good in the first place and start practicing with people who would help me get better. My instructors and classmates were amazing at helping you figure things out once you started to work at it, but I can guarantee you that if I decided to stop training in Krav Maga because I was bad at it, I would never have improved.
How Does "Embrace the Suck" Relate to Singing?
Actually, this lesson from my time in a self-defence club relates very closely to singing!
There's this attitude that I've come across in a few singers which I like to refer to as 'the cycle of hating your voice.' It's where someone says to me that they hate their singing voice. Because they hate their singing voice, they refuse to sing. Which means they don't practice. Which means their singing voice never improves. Which means they still hate their singing voice. Do you see what I'm getting at here? If you want your voice to improve, you need to practice. And if that means singing with a voice you hate (to start with) then guess what? Use it anyway!
Breaking the Cycle
Here's the deal, if you suck at singing, you can get better at it. But first, you have to let yourself suck. You have to sing the wrong notes and get the words wrong. You have to use the wrong technique and then learn the right one.
Maybe you hate your voice - embrace it anyway. Use it. Notice what it is that you don't like and learn how to change it. Try to find something in it that you like - even just a little bit. I promise, your voice isn't nearly as bad as you think it is.
Don't think you have to be good at something to learn to get better
If you only ever do the things you're good at, you will never get better at the things you're not. That's just how it is. So if you're great at singing everything except high notes, then guess what you need to start doing? Yep, start singing high notes. Eventually, you will get better at them - but ONLY if you let yourself suck at them first.
So please, don't think you have to be good at something to learn to get better - that's a lie. And remember - even the best singers in the world had to learn something. Once upon a time, they probably sucked too.