Probing Question: Can anyone be taught how to sing?

Jul 26, 2012
Probing Question: Can anyone be taught how to sing?

Think back to the last birthday party you attended. When the candles were lit, did you join everyone else in belting out the "Happy Birthday" song -- or were you too self-conscious to do more than mouth the words? Our everyday lives are full of situations where we are expected to sing: parties, worship services, and even sporting events, where the national anthem is often played. (The Star Spangled Banner is notoriously difficult to sing, with a range of one and a half octaves.)

Is a decent singing voice a toss of the genetic dice or can anyone learn to sing?

"Everyone who can speak can learn to use a singing voice," said Joanne Rutkowski, professor of music education. "The quality of the voice is dependent on many factors; however, barring a physical vocal disability, everyone can learn to sing well enough to sing basic songs."

While some factors are genetic, Rutkowski says growing up in a musical environment strongly influences whether someone sings well and confidently. "We have evidence," she noted, "that the primary factors are growing up in an environment where parents, other adults, , and other children are singing and interacting with a child musically."

So how does a self-proclaimed "bad singer" learn to sing? "Many people who have difficulty singing are trying to sing with their talking -- the voice they are used to using," said Rutkowski. "We typically speak in a lower and limited range, and the singing voice is higher than our speaking voices. So it's a matter of learning to relax the vocal mechanism and use supported breath to produce the sound, rather than trying to make the voice 'do something.' That only causes tension and keeps the voice in a low register."

So, once you've learned to use your singing voice, does that mean you're ready to audition for "American Idol?" Not necessarily, added Rutkowski. "Everyone who can speak can learn to use a singing voice, but not everyone will have a fabulous-sounding voice. Once the vocal instrument is working, the ability to sing with good intonation is dependent on musical aptitude and musical achievement."

Like many other skills, it is easier to teach a child to sing than an adult, Rutkowski noted. "The longer a person tries to sing with a speaking voice, the harder it becomes to break that habit. So the earlier, the better. Teaching children to use their singing voices in an appropriate healthy, and musical way is a primary goal of elementary general music."

If you are well past elementary school, but tired of lip-syncing "Happy Birthday," consider joining a nonauditioned community choir or a choir at a place of worship, if you attend one, advised Rutkowski. "These groups typically have singers with a variety of backgrounds and abilities, and the directors often know how to work with 'emerging' singers."

No matter your age, voice lessons are also an option. Just be sure to clearly communicate your needs and goals to the instructor, Rutkowski said. "Are you a beginner who needs to learn how to use your singing voice? Or can you already sing, but are interested in learning how to make your voice sound better? If you communicate your needs before beginning lessons, the instructor should be able to tell you if she or he is the person to help you."

Finally, part of the process is simply learning to become comfortable with the unique voice you have, Rutkowski added. When the message of the song is heartfelt, a spirited sing-along is always music to the ears!

Explore further: New research shows sportswomen still second best to sportsmen... in the press

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Showing the Mechanics of Making Music

May 03, 2007

Why do some people sound good enough to compete on American Idol while others can't carry a tune? With a lab full of tubes, wires and computers, Nandhu Radhakrishnan uses speech pathology to help others become better actors ...

A sing-song way to a cure for speech disorder

Oct 04, 2010

Hindustani singing, a North Indian traditional style of singing, and classical singing, such as the music of Puccini, Mozart and Wagner, vary greatly in technique and sound. Now, speech-language pathology ...

Warbling wrens don't just tweet, they sing duets

Nov 03, 2011

(AP) -- They may not be Sonny and Cher, but certain South American birds sing duets, taking turns as the tune goes along. "Calling it a love song is probably too strong a word," says researcher Eric S. Fortune ...

Singing During Pregnancy May Be Harder Due To Hormones

Oct 07, 2009

The question of how hormones affect a woman's voice is relevant to professional singers because hormonal fluctuations may place them at risk of injury. Knowing when the risks are greatest would help singers avoid performing ...

Choir sing their own genetic code

Jul 14, 2010

(PhysOrg.com) -- A choir in London, England, has performed a new choral composition in which the choir members sang parts of their own genetic code.

Recommended for you

Beyond human: Exploring transhumanism

Nov 25, 2014

What do pacemakers, prosthetic limbs, Iron Man and flu vaccines all have in common? They are examples of an old idea that's been gaining in significance in the last several decades: transhumanism. The word ...

User comments : 1

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

ACW
1 / 5 (1) Jul 28, 2012
With "rap" becoming so popular, many people have demonstrated that one can make money in the music industry without talent.
Some new age artists do have skills, but many do not.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.