A few years ago, I read the fascinating book “Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking” by Susan Cain. The premise of the book is that our nation values extroverts over introverts, gregariousness over contemplativeness and that the more dominant extrovert often is the one whose ideas are heard, even though they may not be the best. Citing studies, she also states that our nation values collaboration and team work over solitary creative endeavor. Therefore, many introverts (of course, many people are a mix of introvert and extrovert) might feel stifled creatively if forced to be in big group “think” situations.

According to C.G. Jung’s personality types, an introvert is a person whose “interest is generally directed inward toward her own feelings and thoughts, in contrast to an extrovert, whose attention is directed toward other people and the outside world. The typical introvert is shy, contemplative, and reserved and tends to have difficulty adjusting to social situations. Excessive daydreaming and introspection, careful balancing of considerations before reaching decisions, and withdrawal under stress are also typical of the introverted personality. The extrovert, by contrast, is characterized by outgoingness, responsiveness to other persons, activity, aggressiveness and the ability to make quick decisions.” (Encyclopedia Britannica).


I give singing lessons to kids in Marin County and often it is in a classroom setting. In a recent Broadway singing class with elementary school children, I saw Cain’s thesis in action. Children after school usually need to release their pent-up energy, so I start with fun vocal/physical exercises: One of them, which I got (surprisingly) from a famous soprano, is “Popcorn, huckleberry, ko.” I encourage the children to “pop” – jump up in the air as they anchor their singing voice in their lower body. We may not get the best vocal sound, but, hey, they have a good time. I noticed that one little girl, who had been extremely reticent to get involved in the activity, at first stood by the sidelines. Then before I knew it, she threw her jacket to the side and started jumping too. However, as the class progressed, she retreated, often saying “no” to some of the exercises that the other girls eagerly took part in.

I watch the children a lot during the class, and it’s fun to guess who are the extroverts vs. the introverts. Generally, the extroverts are chit-chatting more when they should be listening, exaggerate their singing voices, usually to the “loud” level, and often need to move their bodies more than not. Sitting on the floor peacefully is difficult, as they want to roll around and sometimes playfully knock into others. The introverts will sing, at times softly, be more self-conscious of their bodies and those around them and are often physically stiller. Being silent while instructions are being given is often easier for them.

So, as a teacher in a singing class – and often in one-on-one lessons – it is important to strike a balance between the extroversion inherent in singing for others and on the stage and honoring the introversion and peacefulness needed to sing well. If your extroversion gets you all excited and you get an adrenaline rush, it can speed up breathing, cause dryness and create other obstacles to centered singing, such as pressing on your vocal folds. On the flip side, an introvert may need to connect to the physicality of singing, needing to experience their bodies as organic sound-makers. A breathy, whispery singing voice is common with quieter folk.

And, a teacher needs to manage the extroverts’ dominance to allow the introverts space to express. For instance, I like to teach children the difference between singing and speech. We talk about how singing has melody and rhythm. So, we have a “singing conversation.” (It sounds a little bit like opera recitative!) I sing a question, such as “What did you do over spring break?” and each child sings back what he or she did. It always gets lots of laughs. However, I noticed that one little girl, who was very shy, was asked and she didn’t reply for a long time. The extroverted girls started chiming in, but I asked everyone to wait. First I asked if she wanted to participate and she said yes. Then we waited. And, what came out of her was lovely to hear. A very thought-out sung answer.

Summer musical theater camps are notorious for extroversion. A few years back, I music directed classes at one local theater company. Camp started at 9 a.m. I was amused by the 20-something interns who started the day acting like cheerleaders, bouncing up and down and getting the kids moving. And there were many campers, some perhaps not quite awake, perhaps a little more introverted, seemingly apprehensively looking at all the activity. I wondered what they were thinking. Well, this summer I will be continuing to teach voice lessons for adults and kids. But I’ll also be joining Throckmorton’s summer camps in Mill Valley as a music director. As I’m more introvert than extrovert, I guess I’d better buckle up!