Can anyone learn to sing? You could be forgiven for thinking “no” is the answer to that question, especially if you’ve seen episodes of TV talent shows where singer after singer mumbles in a tuneless monotone, or wails off key with confidence, but little ability. Closer to home, you may have sung in a choir, or even attempted singing lessons, but became frustrated as you found that your voice didn’t match up to your expectations. However much you might want to sing, you might have made the decision for yourself that you can’t sing.
Now ask yourself that question again – can anyone learn to sing? In reality, the answer is a definite “yes.” Just as true perfect pitch – the ability to identify a note without any point of reference – is exceptionally rare, less than one in a thousand people is genuinely considered what is termed as “tone deaf,” meaning that they cannot distinguish one note from another. Do you enjoy music, have favorite bands, and look forward to new releases from your favorite artists? Then you can definitely learn how to sing!
Five Steps to Take You From Non-Singer to Singer
You might be surprised to learn that most of these steps don’t involve you singing a single note. However, just as you might have prepared for school exams by reading over material and thinking about the information, anyone who sings for a living will tell you that much of their singing practice is actually silent work.
Stand up straight – Your posture can make all the difference. Look at yourself in the mirror, or take a selfie so that you can take a close look at how you hold yourself. If you slouch forward, tend to hold one shoulder higher than the other, or even have a habit of leaning on one leg, all of these will affect your ability to sing well. Start to view yourself as a musical instrument; after all, a clarinet with a knot in it won’t play very well, so a person with a similar barrier to making a sound isn’t much different!
Pay attention to your body – If you’re not sure what to do with your hands or arms if you’re in a public speaking situation, try standing with your hands in your pockets, and see what it does to your posture. Quite frequently, taking the pressure away from what to do with your hands encourages you to relax your shoulders, and removes a lot of neck tension.
Listen to music, preferably live – The best way to become a singer is to listen to other singers. Listen with a very critical ear and observe with a similarly critical eye; do they make a sound that is free, and without obvious register breaks? Do they stand straight and look relaxed, or are they hunched over and going red in the face with the effort? Extend your homework to recordings, and make a note of what you think is good about how various singers sing. Listen to music outside your comfort zone, and become acquainted with the truth that good singing is good singing – it doesn’t matter what genre they’re performing in. As you listen with a more critical ear to one or two candidates on talent shows, you might start to wonder if anyone can learn to sing.
Talk to other singers – Ask friends and acquaintances who sing how they got started, and what pitfalls and potential problems they wish they’d known about before they started. Ask them how they approach their practice regimes, and how they fit it into their lives if singing is their passion rather than their profession. Talk to them about local choirs and amateur operatic societies, and what benefits you might expect in terms of your vocal development by being in a group singing environment.
Find a teacher – However many years of experience you have at singing along to the radio, nothing can beat a trusted pair of ears with just as many (and probably more) years of experience at teaching and singing themselves. You may think you’re singing with no tension, but in someone else’s teaching space, you might discover that you are forcing notes that are outside your natural compass, which can lead to vocal damage or injuries. A good teacher will give you exercises to help you improve quickly, and suggest appropriate repertoire for your current level of development.
As you improve as a singer, you’ll no doubt get asked that question yourself – can anyone learn to sing? – and you’ll be able to answer them with a resounding “yes”!
Photo by Dave Catchpole