This article was inspired by the many voice students who insult their own voices. Comments like, “I want to learn how to sing, but I have a terrible voice,” or “I’m bad at singing and I hate my voice” exasperate me. You might think you have a bad voice, but your voice is probably perfectly fine, and there is no reason to disparage it. You just don’t know how to use it yet.
Don’t Blame the Instrument
People have similar reactions after hearing a world-class pianist. “She is such an amazing musician,” someone might say. “What incredible skill!” others might point out. But no one is likely to cry, “What a beautiful piano!”
After hearing a world-class singer, on the other hand, the reactions are quite different. “What a beautiful voice,” most people say. “He is so talented, his voice is so impressive,” others might suggest.
Do you notice the difference? Singers garner more compliments for their actual instrument (their voices) than for their skills. But in truth, while the instrument is important, the musician is just as – if not more – important.
The Instrument and the Musician
If someone gave me a clarinet, I would have no idea what to do with it. I probably couldn’t even make sound on it, and if I could, I’m sure it would be horrific. But if I said something like, “This clarinet is terrible!” I would obviously be wrong. That same clarinet, in the hands of a professional, could produce beautiful music. In my hands, however, it would be useless.
It’s the exact same way with voice.
A voice, like a clarinet, is an instrument. If you try to sing and it does not work, you may say, “My voice is terrible!” That is the same as if I blamed a clarinet for my inability to play it.
If you magically switched voices with an incredible singer, guess what? You still would not be able to sing! It would be like handing me, the inept clarinet player, a very expensive clarinet instead of a standard one. It would not make me a better clarinet player.
On the other hand, if you switched voices with an incredible singer, the singer would be able to sing wonderfully with your instrument. That is because the singer is a great musician.
Improving Your Musicianship
This concept probably doesn’t occur to most people because we cannot, in fact, swap voices (although I sometimes wish I could borrow a bass-baritone’s voice for a few days, just for fun). However, the fact remains that your voice is an instrument. If you don’t know how to “play” it, you have no idea what it is capable of.
Learning how to sing is just like learning how to play any other instrument. No one ever picked up a violin for the first time and started playing like a pro, and there is not a singer on the face of this earth who ever sounded exceptional with no practice.
Singing is hard work. You have to study breathing like wind instrumentalists. You have to learn how to access different notes within your range like string players. You have to gain control over all of the tiny muscles of the throat, face, jaw, and mouth. It doesn’t matter how “good” or “bad” your instrument is; you still need to learn these concepts.
If you learn how to sing, you might discover that your voice is actually wondrously beautiful. And if someone ever tells you that you have a great voice, you will know that your technique also deserves a compliment.
Photo by Barry Lenard