Before you read any further, there’s one important thing you should know – anyone can sing! While some people may have more natural musical ability than others, and an even smaller subset of those people have a voice that’s worth training for potential professional use, there isn’t a single person out there who can’t learn how to sing, especially with a good private teacher and a lot of hard work and enthusiasm!
Quick Steps – A Basic “Can I Sing?” Test
So how can you find out where you fall on this scale? You might want to work through a few steps on this basic Can I Sing Test to see what your current abilities might be:
Switch on your radio, and find a familiar song – sing along (at the appropriate octave for you), and try to keep on pitch with the singer. If you’re not sure if you are, ask someone with a good ear for music to help you. Don’t be discouraged if you’re out of tune with the radio; it could just be that you need to develop your ear more to hear differences in pitches.
Next find a song with a strong rhythm – and again, sing along. Now turn the volume down for ten seconds, but keep singing. When you turn it up again, are you still singing in time with the song? If not, don’t worry – developing a strong sense of rhythm takes time and practice.
More Advanced “Can I Sing?” Test Steps
If you’ve done well at the “Can I Sing?” test above, you might want to look further into training both your voice and your ear – one won’t develop without the other! Try some of these steps to gauge your current level of ability for both:
Testing Your Voice
Find a song that suits you – this can be any genre, but should have a simple melody line, be well within your current vocal range, and preferably already quite familiar to you.
Using the sheet music (search online if you don’t already have it), study the tune, paying attention to pitch, rhythm, and an even tone. Avoid any vocal decoration that isn’t on the printed page – and if you can’t read music, ask someone (like your teacher) to help you.
Make sure you aren’t breathing in the middle of sentences (unless there’s a comma), or worse still, in the middle of words!
Finally, ask someone to listen to you – ask for constructive criticism, with particular attention to whether you had a decent tone, enunciated the words, and stayed with the rhythm.
Basic Ear-Training Exercises
Play a note on the piano and sing the pitch back – some novice singers find this hard to do at first, as they’re used to “tuning in” to the overtones in the human voice. Being able to sing pitches played on an instrument is the most important piece of basic ear training you can do, especially if you want to sing your songs with accompaniment, join a choir, or form a band.
Play a simple tune on the piano – no more than eight notes or so (you may wish to get someone else to do this for you). Sing the tune back, paying special attention to getting not only all the pitches and intervals correct, but the rhythm, too.
Learn to identify basic things about songs – are they fast/slow, happy/sad (generally in major keys for happy and minor keys for sad), and so on. This will help you work out what you need to know about new pieces to learn them quicker.
Training Your Voice – The Ultimate Test
As with most skills, you can only get so far by yourself, and that’s particularly true with studying an instrument or learning how to sing. It’s not possible to hear our own voices with the same degree of accuracy that an outsider can, and a trusted pair of musical ears is always going to give you a more honest answer than recording equipment – besides, recording equipment can’t advise you what to do next if things aren’t sounding right!
Even if your aspirations as a singer don’t extend beyond joining a choir or the chorus of your local amateur operatic society, and you never intend to sing solo in public, it’s easy to get frustrated by the limitations of your voice when faced with more complex and demanding music.
When looking for a voice teacher, someone with experience in teaching beginners is useful, and it can also be desirable to look for a teacher with a similar range to you, i.e. a soprano for a soprano, and a tenor for a tenor. However, the most important quality you should look for in a teacher is someone who will help you find your voice – after all, it doesn’t matter whether you’re fronting a metal band or singing at the Met, the best part is incorporating your unique style once you’ve learned the singing basics. Good luck!