I Used To Suck Really Bad.

I don't think there is a number in existence to tell you the amount of times I've thought about giving up.  Quitting.  Throwing in the towel.  I just couldn't bring myself to go through with actually quitting when the time came and the feelings overwhelmed me.  The one thing I cannot do aside from physically growing wings and flying over the moon is quit.  I can't quit. 

When I was a kid, I always sang.  I sang along to every song on the radio.  Memorizing the music I heard on the way to school or while waiting for my dad to get back to the truck became an everyday thing.  I even remember a specific instance, when I was probably about five or six, when I was sitting in the old Suburban we had.  The AC wasn’t working, and it was one of those sweltering hot Texas summer days when the sun shines so bright it hurts your eyes.  “It’s My Party” by Lesley Gore was on the radio.  I breathed it in, every moment, every word, and every note.  I sang along.  It was almost a game.  Hitting certain notes, whether high or low, became a challenge, and I unknowingly exercised my voice and developed my range.  I didn't know what I was doing - I just knew I fell in love with it, with music.  It was my constant.  It was my everything. 

Also, I sucked. 

I sucked ass.  I used to be really bad.  I would sing and miss notes constantly, and sometimes - and this is really bad - I wouldn’t even realize I had messed up.  My ear wasn’t trained, and I was literally just an average chunky little girl living on the edge of Tornado Alley with my family.  As I got older and continued singing for fun, I realized it was what I wanted to do.  I wanted to be “famous” at first, but as my knowledge about the industry and my passion grew, I realized I didn’t care about fame.  I’m thankful I put the idea of not being “famous” in my mind, because honestly, if I’d pursued any career just to be known, I believe that’s the wrong reason to do anything in life.  Also, I put aside the idea of fame at a young age, because I started hearing how bad I was… 

But I kept trying.  I started singing out in public, which was incredibly hard for me, because I had severe stage fright AND anxiety.  When I say anxiety, I mean anxiety to the extent of get-too-nervous-and-throw-up-or-faint.  Not exaggerating.  I had some serious stage fright - also another reason I was like, “Nah, I don’t really wanna be famous.  I just kinda wanna sing…”  I was fearful, and I think it was because I was so worried what other people thought of me.  Obviously I don’t care about that anymore.  I mean, I wear a dragon onesie out in public sometimes (I'm 26), and I’ve been spotted dressed as Spiderman, playing guitar in the laundry room back in college while waiting on the spin cycle to finish. 

There was a point in my life where I stopped myself and thought, “Well, if I don't want to be famous, and if I’m too afraid to perform, WHY am I doing this?  Why do I still pursue music?” 

That’s when I had one of my first “Eureka!” moments.  That was when I realized I was hopelessly, disgustingly, utterly in love with music.  I started practicing a lot more, and I began performing publicly just for the experience.  I didn’t move.  I was nervous all the time.  My voice was always shaky, at least during the beginning of a performance.  Hell, I was even nervous to go play out at a noisy bar where nobody was really paying attention to the music.  I realize now that I was super nervous because my music meant so much to me, and I wanted other people to like it too.  I was afraid of criticism back in the day, because I knew I wasn’t the greatest (still completely aware that I’m not the greatest by any means), and I was timid to be up on a stage and lay my soul bare for all to see and judge.  Plus, I was still learning and developing my style, and I didn’t write my first “real” song until I was 18.  With covers, the audience had something to compare me to - the original artist - and that scared me to death. 

My voice would crack.  Like a boy.  And I used to sing a LOT higher than I do now, which is weird, but whatever.  My voice was also not nearly as strong as it is now.  To work on my craft, I picked up violin.  Without a doubt, the violin is the KEY to my ear.  Learning to play that ridiculously difficult instrument is what taught me how to - what I call - “shade” notes and make them sound right, even though they may technically be out of tune… I attended numerous orchestral summer camps and took countless theory classes.  I still have a love/hate relationship with music theory. 

Throughout the years, I kept practicing my fiddle.  I joined a symphony orchestra when I lived in Rhode Island - actually I joined about three different symphonies simultaneously - and I joined the different choirs offered in my school.  I immersed myself in music, because I wanted to soak it all in and learn as much as humanly possible.  The next thing I knew, the conductor had asked me to sing Nat King Cole’s “The Very Thought Of You” accompanied by the symphony.  I died and was reborn that day, because I was so scared I’d screw it up but also because it was such an amazing, huge day for me.  I’ll never forget it.  I practiced that song so intensely, and my voice shook so hard at the beginning…but it leveled off, and I did it.  It was an amazing experience, and I grew a lot from those four minutes on stage. 

When I moved to Alabama, I joined another symphony.  I auditioned, and I screwed it up.  Bad.  I also sucked at violin.  I had started doing a lot of things by ear as opposed to by the book, so in a way, I was “cheating.”  I didn’t hold my wrist the right way.  I didn’t switch hand positions correctly.  I did what worked for me, which tended to be “wrong” (fun fact: I actually play guitar incorrectly, according to the classically-trained teachers I've had while attending a university :) I would play the "right way" when they were watching, and immediately go back to how I play the instant the teacher would turn their head!).  I hit sour notes all the time once I took up the finger tape, and it only got worse when I started learning third through fifth position.  We played “Suite from the Polar Express” and I had to go into eighth position.  I just want to take a moment of silence for the horribly high note I didn’t know that I had to hit that day. 

… 

Okay, so I lost my mind when I got the callback that said I had made it into the orchestra.  I’’d played a three-octave G scale…by ear…for my audition, along with some failed sight-reading and a memorized passage with two or three detrimental squeaks.  I think I actually cried.  I was almost last chair.  I think there was one or two other people in the last few seats, but I was most definitely in the back. 

Each year I played in the symphony orchestra, I moved up a few chairs.  One day, I got a phone call after rehearsal, and my Maestro asked me if I “wanted” first chair of my section.  I said yes, and then I went in my room and cried because I couldn’t believe I just made first chair.  There had been so many times I had practiced violin (this also applies to singing) and I listened back to what I had played in a recording or listened intently as I played, and it was just BAD.  I heard everything wrong.  I heard the roughness.  The squeaks.  That sound the fiddle makes when you don’t have enough rosin on the bow and it sends that sharp, shooting sound down through your ear drums and you think you’re going to die because it’s so shrill.  I seriously thought about quitting way more than once.  I just couldn’t.  I kept practicing, even when I had a bad day. 

Learning and performing on the violin taught me how to listen closely to pitch.  I didn’t realize it at the time, but I subconsciously began applying the music theory I used with my violin-playing to my singing career.  I started doing little vocal exercises.  Warm ups.  I made a routine before gigs to prep with both my fiddle and my vocals.  The two instruments started crossing over each other and, before I knew it, they were helping each other and helping me hit my notes more effectively and efficiently.  I even learned how to breathe while I sang because I breathed when I played violin (there’s a technique about breathing to keep in time during rests, etc.). 

I have failed so many times.  If I had quit just because I failed, I would have only guaranteed my failure.  If I allowed myself to give up, I’d probably be a pretty unhappy human bean right now.  Who knows what I’d be doing…I’m not actually good at anything else, but I’m only good at what I do because I’ve been working on it for so long.  I failed The Voice.  I lost American Idol.  I’ve been told “No” by countless venues and individuals.  But every “No” leads you to the single “Yes” you need, and I have learned that denials and bouts of failures are actually blessings in disguise.  Take them, learn from them, and move forward.  You’re still breathing, and you’ll make it. 

You can always get better at whatever you set your sights on.  When you hear “Practice makes perfect,” it’s true.  Nobody is born out of the womb being the best singer, writer, violinist, artist, contractor, entrepreneur - anything.  We all start out as a wee little baby that has no freaking clue.  YOU MAKE YOURSELF.  It’s about how many times you think about quitting…and don’t.  It’s about how many times you fall down and pick yourself back up, because you can’t count on anybody else to do it for you!  Bless the helping hand who comes to aide, but don’t expect it.  It’s about getting bloodied and bruised and breaking bones so they can grow back even stronger than before.  In all that you do, give 200%.  Or, as I like to say, “Don’t half-ass anything.  Always use your whole ass.”

1 comment

  • Marrisha

    Marrisha Baltimore, MD

    Inspiring! :)

    Inspiring! smile

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