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Can Anybody Be Taught To Sing?

Updated: Sep 27, 2023

Have you ever been told that you can't sing? Strap in, because this gives me THE RAGE. 🤬

Firstly, if anyone has ever told you, or your child that they "can't sing" or "shouldn't sing" or should "just lip-sync"  they are talking absolute rubbish. My brain is galloping with all the things I want to say about such advice and the people who give it, but I'd have to censor my own article.

Telling a child that they can't sing does irreparable damage, and too much of my teaching career is spent on fixing this damage. I have students who only pluck up the courage to try singing lessons in their sixties and seventies, and the stories they tell me about "the teacher who told me to mime" make me weep. The catalyst for this particular rant was hearing this morning that a child had auditioned for their primary school choir and hadn't got in. Please insert all the expletives you know at this point. I wouldn't mind betting that the person holding these "auditions" thinks they know a lot more about singing than they do. Isn't there a saying about a little knowledge being dangerous?

Singing isn't rocket science. If it were, I wouldn't have succeeded at it. Like any muscular activity, it requires co-ordination. Essentially, singing is an extension of speech in that the same mechanism is used for both. Air exiting the lungs passes through the vocal cords which creates sound. This is amplified by the larynx and mouth, and we use our tongue and teeth to form language. With singing, we add pitch.  So, if you possess the co-ordination required to make speech, you are perfectly capable of singing too. If you're differently abled through genetics or an injury and struggle with speech, that doesn't mean you shouldn't try singing to see if it helps you. The therapeutic value of singing is a reason in itself to give it a go. You don't have to be "good" at something to enjoy the benefits.

I've been teaching singing for over 25 years now, and I've never met a student who can't sing. In my experience, working on the co-ordination by highlighting the "process" of how we make sound works wonders. Next, through repetition of the healthy "process", we create new neural pathways and muscle-memory. This is exactly how we approach rehabilitation after injury or illness. Whether it's physical rehabilitation after surgery, for example, or vocal rehabilitation after a stroke - your therapist will help you to relearn the "process" which allows you to regain control over the muscles needed. Then come the exercises which cement the muscle memory. 

As one of my students taught me recently, "practice makes permanent". 

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