Can Anyone Learn to Sing?
Anyone with the ability to speak can learn how to sing. Singing correctly is about avoiding bad habits ingrained over the years and turning a speaking voice into a singing voice. To do such requires a lot of practice and control over the entire body. Singing lessons can also prove to be very useful.
The myth that some people weren’t “born” to sing is just that: a myth. Unless you have a severe medical condition that prevents you from singing, you have all the things you need to become a good singer. So, why do so many people struggle with singing while others seem to do it so effortlessly?
According to Penn State’s music education professor Joanne Rutkowski, exposure to music while growing up is the number-one factor influencing one’s ability to sing. For that reason, it’s easier to teach a child how to sing correctly. However, it’s never too late to learn how to sing.
What is good singing?
Good singing is subjective, but these are the fundamental requirements that generally characterize good singers:
- Good singers sing in tune: singing in tune is about hitting the right notes at the right pitch.
- Good singers are relaxed: relaxing is more important for singing than most people think, and it shows in a singer’s performance.
- Good singers have a clear voice: regardless of the microphone, good singers should know how to project their voice so it can be understood.
- Good singers have great diction: a good singer should sing words that are clear and distinctive, allowing the listener to understand a song’s lyrics.
What influences one’s singing ability?
Five main aspects influence one’s singing ability: the quality of the voice, breathing, diction, pitch, and rhythm. While some of these factors are inherently connected to our bodies, all of them can be improved with enough training.
The quality of the voice
Everybody has a different speaking voice, and the same goes for singing. The quality of one’s voice is affected by stuff like lung capacity, the size of the mouth, or the size of the nasal cavities. That’s why all singers have a different timbre, even when they’re singing the same song or using the same singing techniques.
This may suggest that some people have a more beautiful “natural” voice than others. And sure, there are many great singers out there who were gifted with a beautiful timbre. However, anyone who can speak should be able to sing correctly regardless of his or her timbre.
In the same way that fuel moves cars, air moves singing. Correct breathing is what allows one to be in control while singing.
Breathing affects the singing volume, note reach, ability to sustain longer notes, and overall relaxation of a singer. In pretty basic terms, breath is what the sound we produce while singing is made of. Correct breathing is about learning how to produce enough air to sing.
There are countless breathing exercises for singers out there. But the three main principles involved in breathing for singers are: singing from the diaphragm, inhalation, and exhalation. Singing from the diaphragm concerns the origin of the breath: it should come from our lungs, not our vocal cords. Inhalation is the process of filling the lungs with air, while exhalation is the process of releasing it.
Breathing can also be affected by the muscles in the body. Correct breathing requires full-body relaxation, that’s why singers are incentivized to sing while standing up, with their face facing forwards, and their shoulders aligned.
Diction is defined as “the style of enunciation in speaking or singing.” But in simpler terms, it’s about saying words correctly so other people can understand them. While mumble rap fans would disagree that everybody needs to have great diction to be a great singer, the people listening to a vocal performance must understand the lyrics of the song to have an emotional reaction to it.
There are many exercises for actors that improve diction, and these should be great for aspiring singers too. Doing something as simple as reading out loud is a good way of working on our diction.
Pitch and rhythm
I decided to put these two together because they relate to singing not in a bodily way, but in a technical way. Pitch is about singing the right notes and rhythm is about singing such notes at the right time. To improve pitch and rhythm, it is necessary to improve one’s understanding of music.
Singing at the right pitch and with the right rhythm may require practice, but it helps to be familiarized with music (learning music theory can also be useful).
How can you improve bad singing?
Singing is a skill and, like all skills, it’s about practice, practice, practice. However, there are a few common mistakes that aspiring singers make that can drastically hurt their singing, and even their throats. The following are some of the most meaningful.
Trying to imitate others
One of the first recommendations vocal teachers make to their students is “Stop trying to be someone else.” We all have voices with different qualities and unique timbres, and we should embrace our own even if we don’t feel like it’s good enough. Trying to copy the voices of our favorite artists is not advisable.
For one, using our voice to try to be someone else puts an unfair restraint on vocal performance. Trying to sound like Frank Sinatra when you have a high-pitched voice is way harder than simply singing a Sinatra song in your natural tone.
Also, it’s important to keep in mind that most vocals we listen to on the radio were highly processed during mixing and mastering and don’t always reflect how voices authentically sound. Many recording artists even rely on pitch-correction tools for staying in tune.
Vocal coaches agree that diaphragmatic singing is the best breathing method for singing. Controlling this technique is about understanding that the air should come from the lungs (expressed by the movement of the diaphragm) and that it shouldn’t involve the muscles of the upper body (like the shoulders and the neck).
You can practice your diaphragmatic singing by placing one hand on your stomach and inhaling and exhaling. Do it in front of a mirror to make sure that your shoulders are as still as possible. With enough practice, breathing from the diaphragm will eventually come naturally.
Singing out-of-range notes
A vocal range is the set of pitches a human voice can produce. Imagine a standard piano: it has 88 keys, meaning it can produce 88 pitches. Just like the piano, our voice also has a limited number of “keys,” and it varies from person to person.
Most people can sing about three-and-a-half octaves, which makes for roughly 40 notes. This should be more than enough to sing any song. People can have a lower or higher vocal range. The Guinness World Record for the highest vocal range belongs to Tim Storm, a man from Missouri who can sing a whopping ten octaves.
How effective is vocal training?
Vocal training can be extremely effective, as there are plenty of examples of people who have improved massively after taking on the services of a professional vocal coach.
In the video below, the YouTuber Tristan Paredes shared two samples of his before-and-after singing ability, and the difference between the two is huge.
Naturally, the efficiency of vocal training depends on one’s motivation. For vocal training to be effective, one needs to practice and study the core principles of singing with time and dedication. Vocal training, like most types of training, works, but only when students apply themselves.
Don’t let anyone say you don’t have what it takes to become a singer! Singing correctly isn’t a given, something some people can do and others don’t. It’s merely a skill, something that can be learned over time by everybody who can speak. Even Ed Sheeran can vouch for that.
With proper breathing and bodily control, you can turn your speaking voice into a singing voice as long as you put your mind to it. Learning how to sing can be tough: but there’s no musical instrument quite like the human voice!