A beginner's guide to: Overcoming your fear of singing

This week Geraldine Carton overcame her lifelong fear of singing, with the help of grammy-nominated Celtic Woman, Eabha McMahon.


For as long as I can remember I’ve had a distinct aversion to singing. Maybe it was because of that time a primary school teacher ordered me to mime in the school choir, saying I was “putting the other girls off key” with my tone-deaf bleating… Who knows.

(Note: That teacher is 100% to blame for my lifelong hang-up about singing.)

As someone with cripplingly low vocal self-esteem, you can imagine how I felt about doing a one-on-one singing lesson with Eabha McMahon (one-quarter of grammy-nominated Celtic Woman) for this week’s challenge.

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Do you realise what you're dealing with?

I try to warn Eabha in advance about what she would be dealing with, but no matter how much detail I go into; “When I sing babies cry. My voice is like the sound of a slow death. My choir teacher told me to mime, goddamnit!”, she just smiles and assures me that “there’s a singer in everyone”.

I’m not sure my primary school teacher would agree, but I accept the encouragement all the same.

Celtic Woman performing earlier this year

Celtic Woman 101

The room we are doing the lesson in is in the Celtic recording label in Rathmines. All around the walls are framed LPs of the various Celtic Woman albums that have gone platinum over the years. I try to stay cool, but I am suddenly quite starstruck.

I had always known about Celtic Woman, in my head they’re like Enya, Riverdance and Tayto crisps - a lucrative national export. I never realised just how successful this group is, however. The reality is that Celtic Woman have been a Billboard #1 twelve years in a row, they’ve sold ten million albums worldwide, and their popularity stretches from America (they're HUGE in America), to the likes of South Korea, China and South Africa too.

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But enough about their success, the reason we’re here is to teach me to do the impossible: to sing (in key) with a grammy nominated singer. Easy.

Whoopi Goldberg-meets-Gollum

From the get-go, my voice sounds like something between Whoopi Goldberg and Gollum from The Lord of The Rings. Nonetheless, Eabha is encouraging and pretends to not want to chop her ears off as soon as I start squawking (although I can tell the bread knife lying on the nearby plate is looking increasingly tempting as I go on).

Eabha brings me through a selection of exercises that she assures me will help (her favourite is humming a tune into a plastic straw, which somehow helps to loosen out the vocal cords). At the beginning my voice continues to go in and out of tune like it’s fashion. “Don’t worry, it will come. Singing is all about confidence and finding your range”.

Eabha McMahon

Vulnerable and embarrassed

I feel so vulnerable and embarrassed at this point that I might as well be standing there naked. But as we continue humming into the straws, Eabha brings the key down lower, lower, and lower again, until suddenly I start to notice myself hitting notes that sound somewhat similar to what she is singing. The straw trick is actually working! I can’t hide the excitement I feel with each correct note I hit, especially as the notes get higher and higher.

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Eventually I surpass even that which Eabha can reach, leaving her dumbfounded and crestfallen all at once.

Ok, that last bit doesn’t happen, but I genuinely do suddenly start to sing somewhat on key, and the buzz that comes with realising I’m not vocally cursed, brings with it a newfound surge of confidence.

Double thumbs-up

Eabha continues to encourage me to sing louder; with more conviction; and then, terrifyingly, she suggests that I sing without her accompaniment. It feels like I’m being pushed onto a dual carriageway mere moments after only unhinging my stabilisers, but she’s giving me a double thumbs up, and if anything’s going to encourage me to keep going, it’s a double thumbs-up. So on I go, and I am shocked when I catch my reflection at one point; I am singing. In front of people. And they are smiling and giving me double thumbs up!

It turns out that while most people’s voices fall into either the soprano or alto grouping, mine is “contralto”; ie. a level below even the deepest of altos. We are a rare breed, by all accounts, and Eabha says that this is why I’ve found singing so hard all throughout my life. “So… You’re saying I’m like a young, female Leonard Cohen of my generation?” I offer.

“Eh..” *laughs nervously* “Sure!”

Confidence is key

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I leave that record label building on a complete and utter high. Eabha had said it was all about confidence and finding your range, and though I doubted her, it seems she was right. All I needed was a bit of direction and a sprinkle of confidence, and I was off.

To anybody who’s dreamt of learning to sing but thinks themself a hopeless case (as I did), I implore you to do the unthinkable; to rip those stabilisers off your imaginary bike, and fling yourself onto that dual carriageway (metaphorically, not actually). I’ve no doubt that you’ll find yourself flabbergasted by your own ability, and when you do, you’ll feel like a total superstar.

A damn shame

All things considered, it’s a damn shame that Eabha is too busy performing at sell-out concerts and making fans dreams come true with her mere presence (some hardcore fans have named their cats, and children after her), because she would make a great teacher.

In fact, I know one specific choir teacher who could learn a thing or two from her example.

To see the video footage of Geraldine's singing lesson, check out the InstaStory on her highlight reel.

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