Why I Don’t Let My Singers Use the Word “Can’t”

As a voice teacher, I get the opportunity to work with young singers all the time. A pesky word will pop up every now and then. My singers will tell me that they “can’t” do something. It is not within the realm of possibility. They should not even try. It really bothers me when my singers use the word.

It is not to say that human beings don’t have difficulty doing things. I have had to work hard to achieve things in life. We all have. Sometimes, those achievements only come after years and years of concerted effort.

I’ll use a common example from my voice studio. A girl struggles to sing a high note that I know she is physiologically capable of singing. That struggle is normal. Singers have all had to work on range extension. It may take a while to strengthen and coordinate the vocal mechanism to be able to sing that high note.

All too often this type of girl has told me, “I can’t sing that.” This is why I have a rule in my lessons and rehearsals. My singers must not use the word “can’t.” Why? Because it is a cop-out. They are much more capable than they think.

I do not believe in giving up easily, which is what the usage of this word frequently amounts to. My singers want to give up, even though I can tell that they would be able to sing that work with just a little more time, instruction, and effort. It’s as if they think I’m going to ask them to do something they will never, ever, in a million, bazillion years, be able to do.

So what do I let them say? I tell them to say, “I find this difficult right now,” or something similar. The phrase “right now” communicates to their mind that this present difficulty is temporary. The singer will be able to perform it eventually. They need to try a few more times.

Little efforts train us for the big efforts. When we learn not to psyche ourselves out concerning easier problems, such as learning to sing high notes, we learn not to be scared about seemingly insurmountable ones.

Life is hard sometimes. You have to push through the difficulty in order to succeed. When we stop ourselves from attempting something because it becomes hard, we are doing ourselves a disservice. We are teaching ourselves to surrender at the first sign of hardship. Many of the best things in life require arduous, even herculean effort to attain.

(Photograph can be found at Flickr. Photographer: Kumon. License: Creative Commons)

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