The ‘not-so’ Impossible Dream
Can anyone learn to sing?
I cannot tell you how many times in my twenty-year teaching career that I have been asked this question: can anyone learn to sing? It will come as no surprise, given my vocation (and passion) as a singing voice specialist, that I unequivocally believe it is the birthright of every human being to sing.
Sadly, in western society, we have come to accept the notion that humanity is made up of those who sing (singers) and those who do not sing (non-singers). What a load of hogwash (excuse the agricultural French)! If you have the function of speech, and most of us do, then you have the inbuilt capacity for singing. The one and the same mechanism, the larynx, performs both tasks, speaking and singing.
Sure, Dr Dan. I hear you, but why don’t all voices sound equal? Ah. Now we are getting to the crux of the matter. Why indeed? Well, several factors contribute towards one singer being perceived to be ‘naturally gifted’ to sing while others seem less so. Allow me to nominate three points for your consideration:
Anatomy of Singing
There’s no denying that your anatomy will contribute to your vocal capacity and singing potential. Consider for a moment the game of basketball. Now picture my five-foot-eight stature playing the game that is typically reserved for people of six-foot-plus. My anatomy, over which I have no control, significantly impacts on my capacity to play the game. Does that mean that I shouldn’t ever play basketball? Of course, not. It never stopped Earl Boykins (5’5”), the second shortest player in NBA history. Similarly, you do not require the vocal tone of Eva Cassidy or the note-perfect agility of Luther Vandross to sing. Your anatomy shouldn’t stop you from giving voice to your unique heart and sound.
Realise Your Potential
As the previous illustration suggested, my potential to play professional basketball may be somewhat thwarted by my height. The reality of life is that my potential is not the next person’s potential. However, the unhelpful and unhealthy game of comparisons only serves to reduce my potential even further. If Earl Boykins had chosen to compare himself to his towering teammates, he would never have measured up; nor would he have played a fourteen-year career of professional basketball. His potential was not found in his height (anatomy) but his self-belief and passion for the game. And so too it is with singing. You may not sound like Rhianna or George Michael. Anatomically, their potential may be far greater than yours, but that should not stop you from singing.
Doing the Time
I have had the great pleasure and privilege of teaching thousands of voices. Nothing gives me greater joy than working with an anatomically average instrument housed within a human being who refuses to cap their potential by comparing themselves to others. It has been my observation that often the greater levels of achievement come from those singers who are willing to ‘put in the time,’ clock the ten thousand hours and develop their voice. More often than not, the better sounding voices, are those that have been crafted away from the cacophony of adoring audiences. For most singers, vocal skill is formed in a quiet practice room over many years; not weeks or months.
At the end of it all, singing should not be reserved for the gifted or the talented.
One final point…
…in recent years, I have noticed an unhealthy development among young people. This generational nuance suggests that if you cannot excel at something, don’t try it at all. When I was a kid, I played soccer (football). We trained once a week and then played a Saturday competition game. I loved it! The aim wasn’t to win, but to have fun. These days, even the younger aged teams, train three to four times a week with the clear and often stated aim of winning the premiership. Success first, fun later. Sadly, I have seen the same attitude affect the activity of singing.
Once upon a time people stood around a piano on a Sunday afternoon and had a grand old time belting out a few tunes. Now, for some, the idea of singing is never contemplated outside of a professional music career. How sad, when singing can bring us so much joy. Why should the professionals have all the fun?
Can anyone learn to sing? Unreservedly, yes. Can you learn to sound like Frank Sinatra or Janice Joplin? No. Their voices are already taken. However, you can become the best singer that you were born to be. Embrace it and sing. If you’d like to read more about developing your confidence in singing…then read on….
Sing well, Dr Dan.
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