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Can anyone learn to sing? The answer to this question depends on what kind of singing one is talking about.

Clearly, to become a professional at anything will require many years (or decades) of sustained effort and practice. Anyone earning their living with singing will tell you that it doesn’t happen overnight. It’s also highly recommended to get some formal training if you want to become a full-time working Vocalist.

People who sing as a hobby or just for fun might not want to work as hard at it or may just not have the time. They can still benefit from studying with a private lesson teacher or Vocal Coach, participating in community or informal music ensembles, a chorus, choir, or in church, which is where many young Singers get their start with singing. Many schools and colleges offer music programs or classes which may be open to the public.

Anything worth doing is worth doing well. Learning to sing will challenge you personally, technically, and artistically. Anyone with even a tiny amount of natural ability can learn to sing better.

To learn more about the art of singing, we talked to three of the country’s top Vocal Coaches:

  • Matt Farnsworth (Sara Bareilles, Carly Rae Jepsen)
  • Kevin Richards (Rod Stewart, Bette Midler)
  • Justin Stoney (Tony Shalhoub, Kevin Bacon, and Founder of New York Vocal Coaching)

They share advice and experiences based on their careers coaching celebrated Singers working on Broadway, in the film/TV industry, in opera theatre, and on concert stages.

If you’ve always dreamed of a singing career but have yet to dive in, this blog is for you.

Learning Singing Basics

Why should you warm up your voice before singing? Warming up your vocal apparatus before singing is important, to avoid injury, loosen the vocal folds so they can produce a warm tone across different registers, and to prepare for singing in different musical styles.

What are ways to warm up your voice? There are many different methods for warming up the voice, as practiced by professional and amateur Singers alike. Most involve humming, gentle stretching, performing vocal slides, lip trills, singing part of a scale while moving up and down in range, or singing through a straw. It’s also important to “warm down” the voice after singing.

For more on warming up the voice, see Mark Baxter’s YouTube videos.

Learning how to warm up and warm down the voice before and after singing are crucial skills for all Singers. Find instructional videos online from reputable voice teachers, or study privately with a teacher or Vocal Coach to learn how to do this properly.

What is a singing voice?

Tom Stein

According to Merriam-Webster, a singing voice is “the sound of a person’s voice when singing.” Another way to think about singing is that it is using the voice to produce musical sounds. Someone who sings is usually called a Singer or a Vocalist.

What are the 4 types of singing (vocal ranges)?

Tom Stein

i. Soprano: A high female (or boy’s) voice
ii. Alto: A low female (or boy’s) voice
iii. Tenor: A high (adult) male voice
iv. Bass: A low (adult) male voice

What’s the difference between vocals and singing?

Tom Stein

In popular music styles, the words vocals and singing can be used interchangeably. In classical music, a Vocalist usually sings the lead and has a powerful voice, while Singers can provide background parts or sing together in a chorus. Singers and Vocalists must sing in tune and be able to blend with other musicians singing or playing instruments.

Building Skills as a Singer

Do you need a vocal coach? If athletes at the peak of their game invariably work with a coach, so should Singers. A Coach will teach important techniques to avoid injury while singing, and also teach how to produce a good sound efficiently and consistently. There are many kinds of Vocal Coaches and finding a good fit is important. Some Coaches focus on a certain style of singing or can help with technical aspects such as breath support, posture, diction, or stage presence.

Working with a coach can help you to improve in all areas of your singing.

Is singing a talent or skill?

Matt Farnsworth (Sara Bareilles, Carly Rae Jepsen)

Singing is a natural gift and talent. However, singing can also be improved on any level. When is difficult to teach a Singer, it is usually because the person attempting to sing cannot match pitch. That does make teaching singing very difficult. However, people are born with different levels of ability. Some are just natural Singers where others need to practice more and spend more time learning.

Justin Stoney (Tony Shalhoub, Kevin Bacon, and Founder of New York Vocal Coaching)

That’s an easy one because absolutely it can be learned. We see people all the time who start from absolute scratch. I’ve had people who think they’re tone-deaf and can’t even match one note properly, then given some time, work, and training, they become–in some cases–professional-level Singers.

It’s true that some people have more of an aptitude or a talent for singing than others, just like anything else. But for somebody who’s starting off with almost nothing, they can, if they work hard enough, become a very good Singer.

Kevin Richards (Rod Stewart, Bette Midler)

It’s a little bit of both. There has to be some innate musical ability there. There has to be some sort of connection between what the ears hear, and what the brain translates and tells the larynx to do. Generally, if someone can speak well, they can sing well. It’s down to their interpretation of pitch–how they can hear pitch and reproduce it.

That’s built into some people more than others, just like playing basketball or some other instrument. Someone picks up a guitar and it’s their thing. They wouldn’t be a great drummer. For some reason that instrument just appeals to their brain. All of it can be developed, it’s just how far it can be developed.

It doesn’t matter how many years I practice, I will never be a major league baseball athlete. I’m not built that way. It’s just not part of who I am.

I get this a lot: “I have a lot of passion for it.” Well, passion isn’t enough. It’s good, but you can love the dream and it doesn’t have to love you back. Your best may never be good enough. And that’s a sad thing to tell somebody.

We’ve got a lot of people out there who have little or no training who are fantastic artists because there is some innate quality in them that just appeals to others. You could say, technically, they’re not an amazing Singer. Mariah Carey is a “technically” amazing Singer, but some people don’t like her voice. All the acrobatics don’t really impress them.

Then you have someone like Adele, who’s not as technically trained as Mariah Carey. But there’s something organic, something visceral in her voice that makes you want to listen over and over again. It has nothing to do with vocal exercises and scales. There’s just something about the way she sings a song that draws you in. That’s something that’s built into somebody. You can’t train that into somebody. If they have that ability, you can train that ability more. But it has to already be there to some degree.

In my 15 years of teaching, I’ve only ever turned one person down and said, “This isn’t for you,” because they just didn’t have it. They had absolutely no innate musical ability. None at all. They were attempting to write songs and I was like, “Have you ever actually heard music? Because that’s not how it’s structured and that’s not how it works.”

They wanted it so badly but it just wasn’t in them. And that’s the only person I’ve ever told, “Singing isn’t really for you.” Everyone else I’ve told, “You have something there, we can develop that.”

So there has to be something there that can be trained, and then how much that grows is dependent on many factors. The ability to be open-minded and train a lot. To do the work. To do the process. Do they have something to offer? There’s not a lot of music that’s unique today, but do they have something to say? That has to come through in the song.

You can have all the technical ability in the world, but if you can’t communicate, if you can’t sell that song to somebody else … it doesn’t matter how many hours you train a day or how many years you put in if nobody wants to buy what you’re selling. And that’s most people. There are only so many people at the very top. You can be just under the top, but even that’s a very selective amount of people. That’s the unfortunate part.

The odds are stacked against you even more now than they used to be. There are so many more people doing it and the access is so much easier. You can just throw yourself on the internet and everyone can see you. So the market is flooded with a lot of very subpar people. You have to rise above the noise. You have to work really hard to do something that catches somebody’s eye.

So again, it has to be partly there and it can be trained. There’s always something there that can be developed. It’s just how far do you want to go? People have different levels. You may be able to achieve it, you may not. But you have to try.

As the uncle/mentor/surrogate grandfather that I never had said: “If you’re going to do this and you feel you really need to do this, you need to do this 100%.” There’s no 90%. Give it 100%. That’s what I tell all my students. You have to want to learn. Because I’m going to challenge you a lot.

What is the best age to start learning how to sing?

Matt Farnsworth (Sara Bareilles, Carly Rae Jepsen)

I don’t think the kids who are less than ten years old have the attention span to be in a technical singing lesson. (They for sure can be in a lesson where they’re singing for fun.) It is usually best to allow children to sing naturally when they are young. Real singing lessons can start around twelve years old.

Kevin Richards (Rod Stewart, Bette Midler)

Teens. Mid-teens. Before that, your voice is too unevolved and there are too many unknown factors.

Your voice changes as you go through puberty. The larynx physically grows and all that. Attention span is kind of limited under fourteen. Especially now. It’s really hard. I don’t take any students under fourteen. I tried, for hour-long lessons. Ten-year-olds who want to do thirty-minute-long lessons, that’s fine. That’s about the limit of their attention span before they’re thinking about what games they want to play.

Teens are where we start to understand that process of achievement. Especially if they play extracurricular sports and things like that. You understand the team gets better the more you practice and the more games you play. The more you do the thing. People have tried to bring me students at age seven and I’m like, just let them sing at home. Save your money.

Teens are the best time because their attention span is starting to get a little bit longer and they can think in more abstract terms. They’ve been through school long enough to know about processes and to know that it takes time to learn something and you don’t learn it right away. You don’t learn it overnight.

It’s also really good if they’re learning or have learned another instrument because they understand that process. You don’t immediately pick up your guitar and know how to play it. You have to learn to look at the book and move your fingers. Just like everything else, there’s a process involved. And it takes time because you’re learning a physical skill.

With a cognitive skill like learning math, it goes up exponentially. Whereas learning a physical skill, it goes in stages. You have a flatline for a while where you feel like you’re not really getting any better, and then you get this uptick in abilities where something you couldn’t do last week, now you can do. That’s physical.

A lot of people don’t understand that. Once they get on that plateau, they think they’re not gaining anything from the process. They don’t understand that their brain is figuring this all out in the background, then one day it goes, “I got it!” And then you get that uptick in ability.

You have to wait for that uptick. A lot of people lose interest when they plateau. You kind of have to love the plateau. Kids don’t really think in those terms until fourteen or fifteen.

Justin Stoney (Tony Shalhoub, Kevin Bacon, and Founder of New York Vocal Coaching)

My mindset for this one is kind of funny because it’s when you’re ready. The reason I say that is I’ve had 4-year-olds come through my studio that were ready. They get it and they practice and they do the exercises and they’re driven. They record their lesson and they come back and they’re better. Then I’ve had 30-year-olds that weren’t ready for whatever reason.

So there isn’t really an ideal age. It’s when the person is feeling passionate about singing and they say, “I want to dial in and work on my voice and make this a craft.”

If we’re talking muscularly, there are lots of changes that go on in the teen years. So teens sometimes struggle because their body is changing. You ask somebody out on a date and your voice cracks and you’re like, “What happened?” A teenager is sort of running into walls, and lanky, and things like that because their body is changing all the time. Their voice is also changing all the time. In that sense, those years can be tricky because there can be some inconsistencies.

On the other hand, that’s a great time because it’s when you’re finding your identity, and the voice is one of our greatest tools for self-expression. When we develop our voice, at any age, we start to find new kinds of confidence and new ways of being in touch with our personality and who we are.

In that sense, even if there’s some rockiness physically in the teen years, there’s this great opportunity to find oneself through singing. That’s the only thing I would consider muscularly. You have your voice when you’re a kid, and then it changes in those teen years and there’s some flux. Then you’ve got your adult voice and all is well. Anytime is good if a person is ready.

Improving as a Singer

What are signs that your singing voice is getting better? It’s important to record yourself when singing. Listening to the recordings will give you a good idea of where you need to improve. While nobody can sing absolutely flawlessly, there are ways to turn technical weaknesses into assets, or at least covering them up.

A Vocal Coach, music teacher, or fellow musicians in a band can also give you some feedback. If you sing in front of an audience, you will get visual cues from them about your singing in the form of facial expressions and body language, and sometimes they will talk to you afterwards and give candid opinions of your performance ability.

If you are working consistently on improving your singing, studying, and practicing most every day, and getting out on stage to perform, you will definitely notice progress over time. Everyone progresses at their own rate, so try to avoid comparing yourself to others. Remember that “persistent practice leads to perfect performance.”

Be persistent and consistent with your effort and you will see yourself improve over time. Emphasize your strengths and learn to hide weaknesses, while also learning how to practice the right things.

How can someone improve their singing voice?

Justin Stoney (Tony Shalhoub, Kevin Bacon, and Founder of New York Vocal Coaching)

There are lots of different ways to improve the singing voice, but how we usually like to work is through really good vocal exercises. These are best done if they are designed for the individual because it’s just like working out.

There’s a serious muscular and athletic component to the singing voice. It really is, at the end of the day, training a lot of little muscles. But they’re not big, obvious muscles like what we do at the gym. They’re all these little muscles on the inside that need the training.

You might have different strengths or weaknesses with your voice physically, and different exercises can help you work out those areas. There are exercises for improving the range of your voice. There are exercises for improving the strength, agility, resonance, tone. For the freedom of the instrument. For the stamina and longevity. Some people will just be naturally stronger or weaker in different areas. But if they do the right vocal exercises, they can develop strengths in those different areas.

Finding good exercises (or working with an instructor to guide you to what those exercises might be) is always a good thing. Also, doing lots of listening to artists that you really like. It’s not a bad idea to find aspects of what they’re doing and basically copy. There are some limitations to that because you want to be singing with your own voice and not just a mimic.

But a lot of Singers actually get really good by playing their favorite artist, identifying what they like, and trying to get those things down. It might be riffs and runs, or vibrato, or a certain kind of tone quality they like. There is great value in doing a lot of listening and then doing healthy mimicking. Again, not trying to change one’s voice from what it naturally is, but identifying those stylistic elements that make good Singers great.

I would say from there, [it’s] finding repertoire and songs that are appropriate for where you’re at as a vocalist. Not pushing yourself too far to things you’re not ready to handle, because that can build some tension and strain. Not feeling like you have to sing “Happy Birthday” or something, but pieces that are an achievable goal, a moderate challenge, and building from there. Instructors can obviously help with that, but some Singers can figure that out on their own and select good material to be practicing.

Folks are often looking for, “Well if I just do these 5 exercises or these 10 exercises then I’ll be a great Singer.” It doesn’t work that way. If I wanted to be a great athlete, it’s not like I go to the gym and do my bicep curls and my bench press. I can’t just follow a routine and expect to be a great athlete. I have to know something about what my voice needs, and that can change over time, and [you can] target those areas with good exercises.

That’s where a Voice Teacher comes in, much like a Personal Trainer, to say, “What’s going on with your body? Let’s do these exercises to make sure you become this kind of athlete.” That’s how it works with the voice. And people have different goals. Somebody might want a lighter pop mix. Somebody might want to be an Opera Singer. Those are all different kinds of athleticism, and you need to do different exercises and different work to make sure you’re achieving that kind of sound.

Matt Farnsworth (Sara Bareilles, Carly Rae Jepsen)

Your singing voice can be improved with some very simple steps. The first is learning how to breathe correctly. Learn about the diaphragm, and the larynx and the way they function together. Any good Teacher should be able to help you with this.

How long does it take to learn to sing well?

Kevin Richards (Rod Stewart, Bette Midler)

Minimum a year. You’re probably looking at two years. Again, because it’s a physical skill. It’s a physical skill you can’t see. Learning piano or guitar is a little bit different. You can actually see your hands moving and when you go to play a G chord, you know you’re going to get a G chord when you hit the strings because you see your fingers in the right place.

With the voice, it’s all invisible. So it’s a very weird instrument to train. It’s odd because you have to describe a sensation to people. “It feels like this. Do you feel it here? Do you feel it there?” And people feel pr