Learning how to sing well takes time, practice, and patience. While it may come naturally to some singers, most will need to put in some solid work to improve their skills. Read on as Saint Paul, MN teacher Justin S. offers his advice…
“How long does it take to become a better singer?” she asks, desperation grasping at her already fatigued vocal cords. I know that this is my chance to be a beacon of hope, a voice savior, if only I can find the right words to inspire her…
“As long as it takes to become a perfect singer,” I reply. Does that answer the question? Am I just giving more mystery to an already vague subject? Surely, there must be a solid answer passed down from the great singing teachers of the Old World; those Italian giants of the 18th and 19th centuries who carved the study of voice as we know it today!
Great. It turns out that, of course, the answer is that there is no answer. “How long does it take to learn how to sing well and become a better singer?” “As long as it takes.”
This is a scenario that I find myself treating very often, as a large portion of my studio is made up of beginners — and a large portion of those beginners are middle-aged who are taking this adventure for the first time. Understandably, as a beginner, there is a certain expectation that we will be able to rapidly develop into what we hear on the radio, on the oldest and best recordings, and in the concert halls simply because we made the correct first step — finding a teacher. Surely that teacher will have no problem directing a crystal clear path to success… right?
In reality the road is much less clear than we would like — and that reality seems hard to live in sometimes by beginners and professionals alike. When you think of becoming a “better singer,” are you thinking of yourself paired against someone else? (Most likely Beyoncé, let’s just stay honest here.) Or are you thinking in terms of self-betterment?
The proper question then to ask is “How do I become a better singer?” The answer to this question is never measure in length of time, but always in amount of effort. Balance, flexibility, freedom, consistency, sustainability, dynamics, fluidity, musicianship, coordination, tone — all of these things and more measure our capacity as a singer, as a musician, and as an artist.
To physically achieve these goals takes time, but not just because “that’s how it is.” The voice is an instrument made up of many complex muscles, tissues, and systems that need to be trained both individually and as a unit. Many of these muscles are involuntary, or reactionary, and we need to train ourselves to influence those muscles properly to produce the most efficient sound. Taken from that perspective, it’s no wonder that it takes quite a while to achieve the goals we want! Hopefully, the more the voice evolves and develops, the more our goals evolve and develop — it is perfectly acceptable to be a greedy singer; you should want more every sound that you make.
So are you doing your part? Do you practice? Remember that a teacher assigns “exercises” to do, not “warm-ups” — that means they have a long-term goal, and need to be both repeated and improved upon each day. Treating vocal exercises as warm-ups is the equivalent of expecting to get stronger by only lifting 10lb weights week after week for five years — you’ll get really good at 10lb weights but it’ll never get you where you want to be!
“How long does it take to become a better singer?” she asks, desperation grasping at her already fatigued vocal cords.
“I’m not sure,” I respond, “I’ll let you know I get there. It’s a long road, but we’re in it together; just remember to put one foot in front of the other, then again, and again, and again…”
Happy singing, happy practicing, and happy betterment everyone!
Justin S. teaches music performance, music theory, singing, and songwriting, in Saint Paul, MN. He received his Bachelor of Music from University of Wisconsin- Stevens Point, as well as his Master of Music from University of Minnesota. Justin has been teaching students for over five years. Learn more about Justin S. here!
Photo by < J >