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?
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.
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?
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.