Voice Practice: “Free Singing”

December 10, 2013


In North America we are pretty comfortable with songs that have a structured form.  Whether it’s the classic 3-minute pop song—three verses, a bridge and a few rounds of chorus—or a classical symphony in four movements, something in us resonates with the predictability of form.  Even in genres like jazz and gospel, the improvising soloist will be playing over top of a predetermined chord progression played by the other musicians. The prevalence of structured song, beautiful as it is, often contributes to people thinking they “can’t sing,” or “don’t have a voice,” i.e. if you can’t hit all the notes “right,” or if you don’t understand musical form, you are excluded from sharing your voice. Music becomes a spectator sport, rather than a participation activity.

“Free Singing,” as I like to call it, is another thing altogether.  It is a highly unstructured, spontaneous practice. It is sounding without any set form or song, without any predetermined set of notes or chords or lyrics.  It is as simple as breathing in, and then sounding out on your out breath.  It can: push your expressive edges; transform emotions; and open space for new sounds, ideas, and states of being to emerge.  Anyone can free sing.


-Stand with feet shoulder-width apart, hands one on top of the other, just in front of the pubic bone.  Close your eyes and bring your attention to your breath for a few cycles.

– Imagine that you are surrounded by loving, supportive, curious mentors who only want to hear you, however you sound.  Breathe that in.

– When you feel ready, open your eyes.  On the out breath, release whatever sound wants to emerge.  You might begin with a soft sigh and build from there.  Or you might be surprised at a loud or wild sound emerging on the first breath.  Be curious and let it come organically.

-Let the sounds merge into a continuous flow of sound.  This is like brainstorming or doodling with your voice: do not censor. Your judging brain turns off.  The only task, the only focus, is to keep sounding.

-Sound for a set period of time.  It could be one breath or one minute, five minutes or 30 minutes.  If your schedule is time-sensitive, set a timer to go off one minute before you need to complete so you can draw it to a close.

-Note that your voice might change over the practice, or stay the same.  If you commit to this practice several times over a week or month, each time might be different.

Hints & Extras

-If you’re not sure how to start, ask yourself a question like one of the following:

How am I right now?

What song might I sing if I had just been born this minute?

What if this was the last song of my life, my “swan song”?

Who am I? What do I long for?

Then forget about the question and start with the first step of the process, letting your body answer rather than your head!

-Movement helps. Once you have centered yourself and have begun sounding, let your body move as it wants to.  Sometimes movement generates sound and vice versa.  Just make sure that you are safe and there are no obstacles in your way.

-Background music. It can help to have a drone sound playing in the background.  There are various drones available.  One option is Chloë Goodchild’s Eternal A (available on iTunes). Another is the iPhone app iTabla, which allows you to either capture a comfortable “home” note and then create your own drone, or use the instruments on the app to create a drone.  You can also find recordings online: you might try YouTube under “musical drones” or “tanpura drone” (tanpura is a stringed Indian instrument used for meditation and classical music).

-Practice with a friend.  If you have a friend you trust who is willing to share this practice with you, take turns.  One of you is the Singer, one of you is the Witness.  As the Witness, you simply sit, listen with your ears, see with your eyes.  No commenting or analysis during or after.  Simply bow to each other when one person’s process is complete, and move on to the next person.

You can also have an agreement that you will gently and with minimum interference encourage each other if either of you gets stuck or hesitant or embarrassed to keep singing.

This is one of the many practices we explore in the one-to-one Essential Voice Package.

And I’m always keen to hear how it goes.  Drop me a line at Say Hello.






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