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As a Music Teacher, I am occasionally asked if learning to sing is something anyone can do.

Of course, the short answer is “yes” and this applies to about 98.5% of the general population. Voice is considered an instrument, and most people have the ability to learn an instrument, so the same holds true for voice. This means there are very few people who couldn’t learn to sing if they tried. Almost all people have the ability to learn music, and learning all about music and singing can truly be one of the great joys in life.

Realistically, anyone who is prepared to put in some time and effort in learning to sing better will reap the rewards of seeing their abilities grow and their music-making skills improve, often by leaps and bounds. But there’s no getting around that it takes time, work, dedication, and real effort to learn, which is pretty much true of anything in life, and especially singing.

In this post, I’ll debunk some of the common myths about learning to sing, offer some useful advice about how to get better at singing, share some tips related to practicing and how to take care of your voice, and examine the mindset that leads to singing success. We’ll also hear from two experts on the art of singing: Pianist/Arranger/Vocal Coach/Associate Musical Director Michael Orland and Vocal Coach Adriana McPhee, both of American Idol.

Natural Talent Versus Practice and Hard Work

Do some people have more innate ability than others? Sometimes we call this natural ability “talent” and of course, some lucky people do appear to have it more than others. They seem to be born with a recognizable natural talent for singing.

Singing is a natural gift, but it also takes work to improve. An individual with a little bit of talent can go much further than someone with a lot of talent who doesn’t work to develop it. No matter where you fall on the talent spectrum, rest assured that your hard work and practice will pay off in the end.

Are there shortcuts to learning to sing or play an instrument? Yes, and that’s why we hire Teachers, to show us by example the kinds of proven practice and exercises most likely to help us grow as performers. Can you learn on your own? Yes, you can, and while it could save you some money it’s also likely to take much longer.

The cliché of the Four P’s applied to music and singing might read: Persistent Practice leads to Perfect Performance, and it’s true enough that anyone learning to sing should keep this in mind. The bottom line is that developing your singing talent will take some training, time, and effort, but will pay dividends, making all the hard work worth it.

What do singing lessons teach you?

Adriana McPhee (American Idol)

I think there is a misconception about singing: that you should be able to sing naturally without training and all you need is talent, that you’re either a Singer or you’re not. I disagree with that. Talent always helps, and there is such a thing as God-given talent when it comes to singing.

But there are only so many Barbara Streisands of the world–meaning, people who can open their mouths and sing with ease. And even someone like Barbara Streisand has dealt with major stage fright in her life, so perhaps that could have been something she could have worked on with a Vocal Coach.

What I see is, there are two kinds of people. There’s this first kind of Singer who wants to sing because they love to sing and it’s a hobby or passion. I see a lot of students who stopped singing when they were young because their parents were like, “You can’t do this for your career,” so they gave up and became Lawyers or Doctors and all that.

Then when they get to about 45-years-old, even 50-years-old, they feel the ticking of time going by and realize they really, really miss singing. It’s an outlet for their creativity, their emotions, all that good stuff. They want to bring that joy back into their life through music. So getting into voice lessons is great for them, because a lot of the time what happens with people who haven’t sung for many years is they have a lot of emotional baggage when it comes to singing.

When they work with a Coach, that Coach (if they’re a good Coach) helps them get rid of the weeds; helps them imagine themselves as Singers again. That person may never be Celine Dion — and that person usually doesn’t want to be. They don’t have a delusion that they’re gonna do this for their careers. They just really want to sing again.

Having a Voice Teacher and a weekly discipline is great. People do all kinds of fun things to express themselves. People take pole classes. They do aerial yoga. They jump out of planes. Voice lessons are that thing for people who want to bring singing back into their lives. Getting back into voice lessons and just singing again is usually a wonderful thing.

Then you have the other department, usually younger people, who want to become professional Singers and build their careers. There’s this misconception that you should be able to open your mouth and instantly be Lady Gaga, Ariana Grande, or Whitney Houston. In voice lessons, you should be working on your technique.

Young people hear the word technique and go, “Ahhh!” like I’m telling them to do their homework. In my teaching practice, I make sure that when I’m doing exercises with young students, they understand why they’re doing it.

In my young singing life, I had Teachers I was afraid of. They would say, “You’re going to do this and you’re going to sing this song.” I never felt like it was okay for me to say, “I don’t like that song,” or, “What’s the purpose?” I think it’s really important for young people, especially when they’re working on their technique, to understand the why.

If you want to be a professional athlete, you don’t just wake up one day at 18-years-old and say, “I’m going to be a professional basketball player. I have a talent, I’ve dribbled a ball a few times, and have a net in my backyard.” That would be absurd. That would be crazy.

In the world of singing, people sometimes have this delusion where they go, “I’m going to audition for American Ido or The Voice and I’m going to make an album.” Have you ever sung before? Have you ever practiced? “No, but my mom says I sound really good!” They have these delusions of grandeur of being this amazing Singer without going to practice.

In the world of athletics, and I’ll talk about dance as well, if you want to be a professional, you practice every single day no matter what. It’s not negotiable because that’s what it takes. There’s a whole system that says: “This is what you have to do. You have to be in this club and you have to do that.”

In the world of singing, there isn’t that same system. Personally, I went to musical theater school. But there is no university that’s like, follow these steps and you will become an amazing, Professional Singer. So the “university” is getting into voice lessons. Working with a Teacher you really like.

The great thing about our world now is that you can work with anybody around the world on Zoom. So if you live in a small town and you don’t have access to a Teacher you like, you can find people and work with them on Zoom.

Going back to the initial question, what does one learn from voice lessons? What does one not learn? I think that it’s enormously important for young people to understand that you don’t need to be able to instantly open your mouth and hit all the high notes. And understand that if you can’t do that, it doesn’t mean you’re bad or untalented.

That’s a complete misconception. You just have to practice. You want to get to the Olympics? You practice every day for years and years. You want to be a professional Singer? You practice every day for years and years.

Michael Orland (American Idol)

I recommend singing lessons for anybody who wants to be doing this because, without the technique, you become a hit-or-miss performer instead of being solid and hitting the mark every time. I think taking lessons is the biggest thing you can do for yourself because it teaches you to have a work ethic, which is so important in this business, and to be on the ball learning new songs, learning old songs, and just perfecting your craft.

You have to have some technique to do that. It’s like when I was taking piano; we had to learn classical because that’s the basis for everything.

Is it hard to learn to Sing?

Tom Stein

The answer to this depends on how predisposed you are to singing through your experiences and natural ability. Just about anyone can learn to sing basic songs in tune, but to really sing, at the highest level your potential will allow, is going to take a lot of hard work. Research conducted by a number of universities has shown that the training and practice is more of a factor than natural ability in learning to sing. This means that wherever you are on the talent spectrum, to increase your level is going to take focused hard work, and by definition, hard work is hard. Of course, this doesn’t mean you shouldn’t pursue it. There’s great satisfaction to be had from working towards a difficult goal and in achieving it. Start with the basics and then move gradually to more challenging goals with your singing.

Some Popular Myths, Debunked

Now, let’s take a look at a few of the more common myths about learning to sing:

Are some people “tone-deaf?”

This is a common belief that really isn’t true. Or at least, the condition, called amusia, is exceedingly rare according to some studies, as it appears in only about 1.5% of the general population. Amusia can be the result of brain or neurologic damage or be a congenital disorder from birth.

People with this condition are unable to discern differences in pitch. Since it is so rare (about one person in 70), the vast majority of people can improve their ability to match pitch with guidance from a good Teacher and enough practice.

Am I too old or too young to learn to sing?

Research shows that children experience music starting in the womb. Listening to classical music can (temporarily) boost cognition and intelligence, sometimes called “The Mozart Effect.” People of any age can enjoy music, whether listening to it or creating it.

There are plenty of examples of people who came to a singing career late in life, and children of any age can be adept learners if the instruction is developmentally appropriate. This means you should ignore anyone who says you are too old or too young to learn to sing!

Is it ever too late to learn to sing?

Adriana McPhee (American Idol)

No. It’s never too late. With that said, if you’re 28-years-old and you’ve never taken a voice lesson and you say, “I really want to create a career in singing,” I’m going to give it to you straight and say that’s gonna be rough. I’m not in the business of delusion because I don’t think that’s helpful for people.

It’s not helpful to them for me to say, “Oh yeah! It’s gonna be so easy for you!” I’m also not God and I don’t know people’s destiny, so I’m going to give it to them from my perspective. I would say most of the time, even when people ask if it’s too late to sing, they have sung at some point in their life, so it’s not like it’s a totally new thing.

If you decide to do that, embrace the beginner’s mindset. That’s difficult for certain personality types and that has nothing to do with age. Someone can be 70-years-old and have a really wonderful acceptance of the fact that they’re starting something new.

The biggest thing you have to think about when you’re in the “it’s too late” mindset is, what is the story you’re telling yourself? Usually, it happens with really young people. Like, they’re 22 and think they missed their chance. If they get into lessons, they’re bringing all of their drama into the lesson.

If I try to teach them something, they get frustrated that they’re not learning it quickly. They just want to sing like Mariah Carey, and when I say to them, “You’re not Mariah Carey,” they don’t like that. They kind of want to live in their own delusion, and that’s okay. I’m not about judging that. If you want to sing, sing! The world is going to decide if you’re going to be “successful” or not.

That’s the biggest piece of advice I want to give to people who ask, “Is it too late for me to sing? Is it even worth it?” I would say, you have to approach it with a beginner’s mindset and not drag your stuff into it. I think about myself; I used to dance. I’m 38-years-old now and I stopped dancing when I was 22.

I was a dancer in college and danced five hours a day. It would be absurd for me to think that if I can’t get my leg up to where I used to, I’m such a failure. That would be illogical. I’ve spent the last 15 years not dancing. That’s just not how it works. Every day you practice. You work. You practice. You work. You accept the beginner’s mindset. I’m going to act as if I don’t know how to do this and I’m going to enjoy the fact that I don’t know how to do this.

It’s really important that you work with a good Coach. A lot of the time with Singing Teachers, they teach technique. But singing is so psychological and so emotional. People have a lot of emotion when it comes to it. Find a Coach who understands what’s going on with you psychologically so they can bring you back.

I always say, singing in public is not for the faint of heart. And when I say “in public” I don’t mean for your family. (Sometimes singing for the family is also not for the faint of heart, depending on your family.) What we do as Singers is we get up in front of a group of strangers and take our heart and soul and pour it out and