I’m not a real musician

Today’s blog is about finding your musical creativity despite your limitations. You know, the self-diagnosed level of musical genius you do – or don’t – have.

Even more than that, today is about finding your musical creativity within and because of your limitations.

Many parents in my groups say that they are not musicians, that they don’t sing well, that they have a terrible voice, or that they can’t hold a note.

 

Here’s the thing: Your babies don’t care. And musicality is part nature – but it’s also part nurture. It can catch up with practice.

I know what it’s like to not think of yourself as a musician.

 

I’m not a musician if you ask me. I’m someone who brings music to families – my own and music in general, but I’ve got major imposter syndrome.

I feel this way partially because I got into music quite late.

I only picked up a guitar when I was 24 years old. I never got the classical training that others got in their childhood or the harmonic training that people got in college.

 

The truth is: I started to play guitar because I wanted to sing jazz songs. Okay, yea and because paying a jazz musician to accompany me was expensive.

And then I started to write songs because, well, jazz songs are really hard to play.

 

My music was born out of limitation.

That’s the secret to art in my opinion. All art and creativity are born out of some limitation. Creativity is making something out of what you’ve got. If we have too many options, then it’s overwhelming.

So it’s worthwhile to investigate what your limitations are and how you can play within them. Here are some common ones but ask yourself what your own limiting thoughts are. I bet they’ll come to you pretty easily.


Three Common Limitations

1. “I sing off key.” or “I can’t hold a note.”

If you feel you can’t sing in the melody of a song you may have heard songs sung off key growing up. Or, maybe more likely, you have not had enough practice doing it.

What’s required is to sing along with music – with others or alone, ALOT.

But you may have been told not to sing as a kid, which made you stop. Sadly, we often only need one person to tell us that we’re not a good singer to make us stop singing for good.

Either way, there’s a Snowball Effect. It just gets handed down through generations.

The kid becomes a parent and doesn’t sing to their kids and then those kids don’t get enough practice either.

Want to go a step further than singing along to Stevie Wonder? Get some singing lessons.

Sometimes it is about learning how to use certain muscles in our vocal cords so that we can match what we hear. Having someone else who can mirror back what we are singing in a supportive way can also help us become aware of the discrepancy between what our voice sounds like on the outside versus you’re hearing in our heads.

 

2. “I don’t have a good voice.”

Once again, this one has to do with what we were probably told as kids. Often it’s more related to the melody/key issue in the first limitation above.

But assuming you are singing on pitch and still believe you don’t have a good voice, then I give you all of these examples: Bob Dylan, Cyndi Lauper, Tina Turner, Elvis Costello, Bjork, Rickie Lee Jones, and ME.

My voice is a little raspy and always has been. When I was young I would sing with my cousin all the time. Her voice was smooth; she could hit all the high notes; and her singing seemed to flow like a cool stream of water.

Meanwhile, although I did have an ear for music and could sing harmonies, I got the message from those around me that my voice was not as pretty.

(In fact, when I remind my mother of this story now she cringes: When I was in sixth grade, I auditioned for a part in a musical. My mother suggested that I add some dance moves to my song because my voice “wasn’t my strong suit.”)

Here’s what I say to all of you who feel that your voice is not pretty – it’s exactly that “unprettiness” that makes it so unique. So please -continue singing.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

3. “I’m not a musician.”

Okay, so this is a big one and I’ve already told you that I feel the same way. The good news is that it can be liberating. Knowing that you are not a musician means that you will not be trying to outdo any of the music out there that you love. It means that you’ve given yourself a pass.

Now let’s use that pass.

To you I would say: Why not try to pick up a ukulele or a guitar? All you need is three chords to play most songs out there. Since you are ‘not a musician’ you will never need to play them very well. You only need to play them well enough to have fun.

 

Have you spotted your limitation? Now, use it. 

Get creative as if you only had a candle, a roll of tape and a hairbrush to make it out of a locked room, Macgyver style. You would probably figure it out and find your way.

Here’s how I use my limitation:

I write songs that are in my key and that I can sing easily. They don’t have a wide range, they don’t have fancy twists and turns.

I also write songs that are fairly easy to play. They don’t have a lot of chord changes. And, when I am inspired, I learn some fancier ways to play to push me to write a particular song.

I write lyrics that I can fully relate to – about my life, my feelings, what I imagine my kids to be feeling. I write about what I know.

 

How can you use your limitations? Assuming that most of you are not planning to become professional musicians our task today is not to dwell on whether you may have the talent that will bring you to Carnegie Hall.

Our task is to find just the right amount of musicality to bring to your baby that is inspired by your limitation.

When you say “I don’t have a nice voice” or “I can’t sing on key,” see if you can use that in your music with your baby.

Write songs that fit your “pitchless” voice perfectly.

Show your baby the uniqueness of your voice. Trust me. She will love it more than any Bob Dylan or Adele.

 

So now tell me – How do you get creative in singing with a limitation? Only sing folk music and not pitch-changing pop? Add your unique raspiness to a chorus? Comment here and share with all of us non-musicians.

Got a friend who’s definitely said one of these limiting statements? Send him/her this blog so they know they’re not alone. They can sign up for it here:

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