Is singing a natural talent/gift or can it be learned?
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, I believe that people are born with different levels of ability. Some are just natural Singers where others need to practice more and spend more time learning.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.