by Spencer Welch
You’ve always appreciated singing, good singing. You’re drawn to it. A great singer comes on TV, and your ears are tugged, your heart transfixed.
Could I do that one day?
You admire, half-resent that friend–you know the one who never practices. They just open their mouth and mellifluous tones float out.
Singing looks fun. And fulfilling. But maybe you either can do it or you can’t.
So you’re left with two questions:
- Can I learn to sing?
- And if so, how?
Let’s address the first one for now.
Yes, you can learn to sing. Studies show only 4% of the population is actually tone deaf, and even then it’s possible this small segment still could learn to sing. Might just take them longer.
But don’t people either “have it” or they don’t? Why do some hardly work at it and still sing beautifully, while others crawl down the path of progress?
There are incalculable variables that could affect your ability to sing. In the age-old debate of nature vs. nurture, research suggests both your genetics and your environment probably play a part. We have to consider both the quality of the instrument itself and the skill of its player.
The voice is an instrument much like, say, a violin. Every instrument can play music, but some are better designed for the task. A Stradivarius and a Craigslist special both can fiddle along to Vivaldi, but the workmanship of the Strad makes it easier to play. The quality of structure impacts the quality of sound.
Voice scientists tell us the shape and ratio of your throat to mouth not only affect the resulting resonance, but can also assist (or not) your vocal ease and power. It’s not fair, but just like Michael Phelps’ skeletal structure screams: Put me in a pool! so some voices are better built for singing than others.
Beyond physical makeup, we also might have neurological differences that affect our ability to discern and interpret musical information. It’s still too early to know.
But let’s not forget the other side of the equation!
Singing is a skill. Even a student violin is elevated in the hands of a virtuoso. Why? Training, plain and simple. Perseverance practicing specific motor skills. A violinist trains their fingers; a sprinter, their legs. Singers train their ear, brain, and throat to work in concert.
The growing field of neuroplasticity suggests we don’t have a fixed level of talent. When your brain wrestles with new riddles, it transforms. When you pit your body against bigger obstacles, it grows. If you ask your lips, fingers or feet to try new coordinations, the possibilities of the mind-body connection might surprise you.
Your talent is not sealed into your genes. It lies waiting to be cultivated in sinews and synapses.
So get busy! Find a qualified singing teacher, and get to work. There’s no reason to go another year without singing.