Music is one of the best human inventions, so why would you want to ask anyone to stop singing ever? Unfortunately, we don’t live in a Disney movie and it’s not always appropriate to burst into a song just because. It would be awesome, though.
Hopefully, you know by now when you should keep your musical talents hidden. But how do you get others to do the same without coming off as Squidward’s grumpy(er) cousin?
Politely explain the reasons why someone should stop singing. Unsuitable places or adult lyrics next to small children would be justifiable reasons, but not if you miss talent in this hobby singer. If possible, let the singer enjoy himself and go to a more relaxed place.
Next, we’ll take a look at 5 scenarios in which it is completely appropriate to bottle up their inner diva, plus 3 times when it’s the complete opposite.
Scenario 1: Someone is singing while you need to concentrate.
“Hey, this is important. I usually enjoy your singing, but I can’t seem to get into the flow and get this work done. Can you throw me a bone here?”
Imagine the scene: a deadline is looming, your mind is wandering, and the person close to your starts singing the catchiest song ever. That’s it, you’ll never finish your work. Right? Wrong!
All you have to do is politely explain your predicament and the singer will most likely be accommodating.
If there’s a need for compromise between you two (ie, singing helps them concentrate), ask them to hit the pause button until you can get yourself removed from the situation (switch places, put on noise-canceling headphones, etc).
Remember, the magic words will work only if you turn “the blame” on yourself. Never make it their fault that you can’t concentrate. If you do, it will not only make you seem unreasonable, but it will also make the singer less willing to be mindful of your needs.
Scenario 2: Explicit lyrics.
“Whoa there! Our bleeping machine is on a vacation in Cancun. Can you keep it PG before we’re sent to a naughty step?”
In this case, it’s not the person singing that’s the problem, it’s what’s coming out of their mouths. A lot of contemporary musicians have potty mouths. All respect for the freedom of artistic expression, but some things are just not appropriate for the “polite society”.
You have to keep it light when you confront this singer.
First, if they made a mistake because they spend a bit too much time enjoying this type of music and got desensitized, it could be just an innocent slip. There’s no need to preach and try to make them feel bad about it. Turning it into a joke (and yes, a dad joke would be perfect here) will make it feel like you’re laughing with them and not at them.
Second, it will reduce the chances of making them confrontational. When called out or “corrected”, some people feel personally attacked and may not react well. This can lead to them either starting an argument, throwing expletives on purpose, and/or storming off.
Unless they wanted to be offensive on purpose (see below), all that can be prevented by just coming off as a preaching prude.
Scenario 3: The song is offensive and/or evokes hate and violence.
“Anyway, this reminds me, the drive here was quite pleasant…”
Sad to say, but this singer is looking to offend. They are seeking confrontation and take pleasure in your anger and disgust. It may sound stale, but the best thing is to ignore them and not engage.
Sometimes the most polite way to deal with provocateurs is to make them feel like they are punching cotton. They will get tired when they see no reaction and walk away.
You have to remember that most likely they are not there to start a rational and constructive debate. If you give in and confront them, you will eventually slide into an argument or even a screaming match. Might look entertaining on TV, but not so much fun in real life.
If you need to remove them to make them less awkward and/or distressing for the people around you, you can try this trick. Look them straight and say, “Thank you for your input”. This may turn you into a target, so they will leave with you if you leave the room.
This way, if there is to be an escalation, it’s not happening in front of others and it’s saving them from that unpleasant experience.
Scenario 4: Wrong place, wrong time.
“I’m afraid this will be your toughest audience to date.”
These magic words must be followed by you taking the singer to the side and discreetly explaining why it’s not appropriate for them to sing right this moment. In no way you should do that in front of everyone: it will only make it seem you’re treating the singer like an unruly child and scolding them.
Sympathize with their need to burst into song because they might do it out of sheer awkwardness, or simply because it slipped their mind. It happens.
Even if someone tries to be inappropriate on purpose, being polite and gracious is always the way to go (see above).
Also, sometimes people fail to read the room properly and start singing (for whatever reason). If you start dressing them down, you will come off as a bully, so it’s far kinder to swoop in smoothly and help them exit the situation without any embarrassment.
Keep your tone light, and maybe even make a joke. Whatever you do, don’t just ditch them after explaining things because it will leave them feeling embarrassed.
Scenario 5: You’re in a bad mood/overstimulated.
“I’m sorry, it’s just one of those days. Can you, please, stop singing now. I’ll make it up to you with a karaoke night out/in. Drinks are on me.“
You don’t have to be on the spectrum to have the sound of another person’s voice completely overwhelm you. We all have our moments when we find additional input and stimulation completely overwhelming. However, it’s on you to seek refuge on your own and try to deal with it all.
There’s no harm in asking people to give you a bit of space until you can do so.
By the way, if you are on the spectrum, clearly communicate with the person in question that this is one of your triggers and politely ask them for understanding. As long as you don’t make unreasonable demands, people are usually more than willing to give you a helping hand.
The magic words above work mainly because you are clearly communicating your needs at the moment. Offering to make it up to them shows that you’re not demanding utmost obedience and don’t feel entitled to being catered to.
You may offer anything else to make it up to them, but make sure to follow through. It’s important to show people around you that you appreciate them when they do things for you, even when it’s something small enough as not singing in your presence.
That way, they are far more likely to comply with your future requests, plus even forgive you if you are rude and snappish one day (btw, remember to properly apologize if that does happen).
Times when it’s not OK to ask someone to stop singing
It’s equally important to recognize when you’re the one in the wrong. At times, demanding someone to stop singing can make you seem rude, entitled, or even heartless. In the best-case scenarios, you’ll be a party pooper.
It’s a party/celebration/pop or rock concert.
Everyone is out to have fun, and it’s completely rude to rain on their parade. These types of events will always include someone who starts singing, and if you don’t like it, tough luck.
As mentioned, it’s a completely separate issue if the lyrics are offensive or rater R in a PG crowd.
But, if someone is just singing to the song everyone else is listening to at the time, leave them at it.
…and someone is a really terrible singer.
Not everyone has a voice of an angel. Even worse, some of them don’t know it and can’t hear what we all hear.
Honestly, so what? Music is good for the soul after all.
You’ve paid for professional entertainment and they sound like cats in February? Speak up. You’re putting a band together and your vocalist is beyond terrible? Speak up. You’re a judge at a singing reality TV show? Speak up, but maybe don’t be Simon Cowell.
Other than that, bear with it, or get a pair of earplugs. Who knows, you probably don’t sound like Luciano Pavarotti or Beyonce either.
It’s someone’s coping mechanism.
We all use different methods to cope with stress, pain, anger, and sorrow. Some of the best pieces of music ever written came from very dark places.
It really makes sense that someone may also use that music to express how they feel at that moment or to fight those emotions.
Unfortunately, if you struggle with reading people, you may not pick up on signs that this person simply needs to vent right now. Don’t worry, it’s okay.
If, by mistake, you ask someone to stop singing in this situation, apologize and leave them to it. If you’re feeling up to it, take a moment and ask them what’s wrong, or even show silent support.
Sophie Hammond is a journalist, psychologist, and freelance speechwriter for people in politics and business. She lives on the edge of the Rocky Mountains with her dog and a lifetime supply of books. When she’s not writing, she can be found wandering through nature or journaling at a coffee shop.