The third common myth of singing: “I sound really bad when I sing, so I cannot be taught.”

How many of you have said or heard “I sound really bad”, “I’m tone deaf”, “I could never be taught.”? the most common one I hear is a comparison to an animal, like a dying duck or a drowning cat.

A lot of people have grown up being told by someone, normally a choir master, a family member, friend or teacher, that they are awful singers. What they need to realize is that these people telling them are often not singers themselves, nor know anything about singing.

You need to remember that trying to sing without any prior experience or teaching, it is like sitting down to play a violin without knowing the name of the bow or the purpose of the strings. Singing is not about opening your mouth and making noise, it’s about engaging with your body and committing to a delivery of a piece of music. To do this, you need considerable training and you need to commit to the art; the same way a artist spends days, weeks or months on their work and pours their soul into it, so too does the singer.

I would argue that there are only a few exceptions to not being able to sing. They involve serious medical issues and have nothing to do with simply ‘not being able to sing’:

  1. Diagnosed tone deafness: This is a form of brain damage. It is a condition. To be tone deaf means you have an inability to hear tones. For example, if I were to play an obviously low note and an obviously high note on a piano, a tone deaf person would not know the difference. Someone who lacks musical training may say that they can’t tell why, but one note sounds lower than the other.
  2. Deafness: If a person has severe internal ear damage, they may be partially or fully deaf. This makes it extremely difficult to hear tones. Someone who is partially deaf may still be able to sing, but would have to rely on sensation rather than sound. Someone who is completely deaf may have difficulty even perceiving sound at all.
  3. Considerable vocal damage: This is where the vocal cords have been severely damaged. This may be a result of abusive vocal technique, or as a result of having their larynx crushed due to injury (e.g. a car accident).
  4. Diaphragm paralysis and other paralysis (e.g. stroke).

Outside of these reasons, if you can hear the difference between tones and produce a tone, you can sing.

The simple fact is this, in theory, if you go through the following steps, you can sing:

  1. Find a good teacher who can teach you a good, standard technique that includes correct posture, breathing, open throat and placement.
  2. Find a good teacher or vocal coach (someone who teaches you the music) to help you with music theory, appreciation of style and better awareness of pitch.
  3. Listen to as much music as possible and practice safe technique every day.
  4. Have a considerable amount of dedication and love for singing.
  5. Know when to sing and when not to sing; i.e. where your limits are depending on your level of skill, whether you are sick or not and level of commitment.

Assuming that each of these things are done correctly, you will become a singer, I can guarantee it.

We all know, however, that this never happens perfectly. At some point, everyone is likely to have a teacher who does not understand good technique or how to convey good technique. Financial difficulties may arise, events will occur that make us question why we are singing and there are some songs that we just do not have the instrument for. For instance, as a spinto tenor, I cannot convincingly sing fast leggerio tenor repertoire.

Our self identity also has everything to do with it

I started this blog entry with a few scenarios: “I cannot sing”, “I sound bad”, “my choir master told me I was bad when I was young.”

Your attitude also has everything to do with whether you can sing. If you want to sing and you are of the mindset that you ‘sound awful’, then you need to go to your local music store or onto google and search for teachers in your area or ask singers you respect in your area for their recommendation.

You then need to say “I am committing to becoming a singer, whether as a professional or for fun, I am, from now on, a singer.” I don’t care if you are preparing for a performance for a small community theatre or if you are Lady Gaga. If you have made the conscious choice to sing, you must commit to it. There is no other way.

Whether you can sing has nothing to do with what other people have told you, it is to do with; what you choose to do, how committed you are and whether you choose good influences and support. Throw in a bit of luck to count for people who just seem to ‘have it’ when they start learning. However, as someone who did just ‘have it’ when I started learning, I can tell you this; being good at the start of your training can be a trap. The teacher may be less concerned for your vocal development and may simply want you to involve yourself with more events. Do not fall into the this trap.

Please join us in our musician’s health section. We have a lot of information on overcoming stage fright and we offer new, modern perspectives on becoming a singer in the modern world.

Have a wonderful weekend!

Michael

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