Is Your Vocal Defense Mechanism Holding you Back?

September 6, 2019

What’s the number one problem singers have? If you guessed breathing, projection, singing in tune, tone, trouble with high notes, endurance, sounding unique, lack of dynamics or emotion, you’d be wrong! Read on to find out what this problem is, how it’s getting in the way of your singing, and what to do about it.

Here’s the number one problem most singers have (drum roll, please): your Vocal Defense Mechanism is in charge, not your conscious awareness. Your Vocal Defense Mechanism (VDM) is the part of your subconscious mind that reacts to various types of information when you’re singing. 

Your VDM developed in response to experiences that scared you, hurt you, or embarrassed you in the past, and its sole purpose is to protect you from further trauma when you use your voice. Its main functions are to:

• prevent you from embarrassing yourself

• prevent you from injuring yourself

• prevent you from overworking

On paper, that sounds great. No one wants to be embarrassed, hurt themselves, or work too hard when they sing. The problem is your VDM doesn’t like it when you feel vulnerable. If you’re not sure about the first note of the song, your VDM triggers and it puts the brakes on. Not enough support or power and your note may sound tentative, pitchy or breathy. 

But at least it wasn’t so obvious because you weren’t as loud as you wanted to be…

Here comes that high note you’re not sure of, or that tricky run, or the note you want to belt out, or anything else that feels like a gamble. Your VDM puts on the brakes and minimizes the potential for disaster.

It also, unfortunately, puts the brakes on you owning your power and “putting your best voice forward.” So how do you override your VDM and sing like you were born to? By having targets for any problem areas in your singing.

If you decide the first note of your song needs to be at a 5 volume on a scale of 1 to 10,  practice hitting that target while recording yourself (Smart Phones are an easy way to do this.) If you don’t hear a 5 volume when you listen to the recording, re-record using a little more power. Do this 3 or 4 times in a row until you know exactly (on a scale of 1 to 10) how much power you need to sing a 5 volume on that note.

You can then do this with any other problem area that arises. Put a number target on it, record yourself singing it, listen back and re-record if you need to. In this way you are taking control of your singing instead of leaving it up to you Vocal Defense Mechanism.

Someone once said, “Your chances of hitting the target dramatically increase when you aim at it.” Want to overcome your Vocal Defense Mechanism, the biggest problem in singing? 

Move from being a hopeful singer, “I hope I sing in tune, I hope I hit the high note…,” to being an intentional singer: “I know exactly how much power to use to sing the first note the way I want.”

Mark Bosnian

Mark is an award-winning songwriter and professional voice coach with 30+ years of experience teaching people how to take center stage. He has toured nationally with the 80's hit band Nu Shooz and coached Grammy award nominees, American Idol semifinalists, and singers on The Tonight Show.