Perfectionism: The Enemy of Good Singing

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Sometimes, the things that improve our singing the most have nothing to do with singing at all. This couldn’t be truer than when it comes to the standards we set for ourselves and why I believe that perfectionism is the thief of good singing.

Yes, we all want to sound good but at what point does that tip into perfectionism and how can you know? Here are a few questions to ask yourself:

  • Do I set standards way higher and more demanding for myself then those I apply to my friends/colleagues/family?
  • Do I ever find that I have all-or-nothing thinking where I feel “almost perfect” as a failure?
  • Do I ever have difficulty taking pride in my accomplishments because I’m so focused on tiny perceived mistakes or imperfections in my work that I have trouble acknowledging the larger achievement?

If you answered “yes” to any of these questions, you, my friend, just might be a perfectionist. Welcome to the club! Illustrious members include Steve Jobs, Mozart, and Flaubert so you’re in pretty good company.

The thing is, while perfectionism may work for some people, it’s disastrous for singers. When we feel we have to be perfect, its fear-based based. For a perfectionist, being perfect is the best defense against fear.

READ: Dealing With Insecurity in Your Singing

Perhaps we think being perfect will insulate us from failure. Perhaps we believe being perfect will bring us success, accolades, or even love and adoration. We fear that if we’re not perfect, we’ll lose what we have or not get what we want.

We strive to be perfect out of an illusion of control rooted in fear. That fear lives in our body as tension and over-control, which, as you know, affects the way the body is able to tap into our most efficient production of sound for singing.

But the idea of “perfect” is just an illusion. Perfect is not real; it is entirely our own creation.

One of the most glorious things about being human is that our perception shapes our reality. When we’re able to get quiet and tap into our awareness, we have the ability to reshape our perceptions and in doing so, reframe our idea of perfection.

So how do you undo years of attachment to perfectionism in your own singing (and maybe life in general)? My solution is to ask myself on a daily basis to be perfectly imperfect. When I’m being perfectly imperfect, I remind myself that I’m human, I have flaws, and I make mistakes. With that awareness, I can exhale.

I no longer hold on so tightly when I sing from that energy and as a result, my technique works way better.

But when I sing from a mindset of perfectionism, I force and manipulate because perfectionism leaves no room for error and I over-control because it also leaves no room for trust. For me to truly sing well and reach the maximum potential of my instrument, there’s a level of letting go and trust in my technique and my talent that’s required.

As you go forward in your singing, can you let yourself be perfectly imperfect?

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The views expressed in this article are solely that of the individual(s) providing them,
and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Backstage or its staff.

Arden Kaywin
Arden Kaywin is voice teacher, vocal coach, and vocal producer in Los Angeles with over 10 years experience working with developing singers and nearly 20 years as a professional singer herself. She holds a master’s degree in music and vocal performance from the Manhattan School of Music in NYC, where she studied classical voice and opera.
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