Can Anyone Learn to Sing?
Yes! A resounding yes! Anyone can learn to sing!
And here’s how…
The first step on the journey of learning how to sing is understanding some foundational principles of singing, such as: How does singing work?
What follows is going to sound like a lot! But bear with me. I’ll show you how to conquer it all by the end of this blog.
One of the greatest voice scientists in the world, Dr. Ingo Titze, explains that his entire career as a voice scientist was inspired by his own personal quest to learn how to sing opera better. He wanted to know how singing works in the physical body in order to be a better singer. And in the process, he discovered more than he could have ever hoped. You can hear the story directly from Dr. Titze in Every Sing Podcast, episode #16.
But learning about the physical mechanics of singing is just the first step on the path. The next step is to understand what physical skills you need to develop. Once you know what physical skills are needed for singing, you can learn them and invest your efforts into building the necessary physical coordination.
Of course, discovering what you physically need to do in order to learn how to sing better is only half the battle: The other half is the mental half. What mental skills and disciplines do you need to develop? What do you need to do for your brain to help you sing more to your satisfaction?
And finally, get a handle on your goals for singing. There are many, many different reasons why people want to sing. In a moment, we’ll look at a few of those to get an idea of how to prioritize and allocate your time and energy.
As you’re now discovering, the answer to the question, “Can anyone learn to sing?” is a bit more complex than you might have imagined. But by taking a good look at the different parts, you’ll find that they add up to an absolute answer of “Yes, anyone can!”
What Physical Skills Do You Need to Develop?
When looking at physically building a voice, it’s helpful to think of the actual mechanics of the human voice. Have you ever thought about what’s inside your Adam’s Apple that allows you to sing? It’s a good idea for a singer to know, and it’s not hard to find out. A quick Internet search of the phrase “anatomy for singing” will lead you to dozens of articles about the physiology of singing. If you click on the video tab of your search engine, you’ll see lots of animated and real human examples of what exactly goes on inside your “voice box.” You can take a deep dive into this topic and not surface for hours. It’s fascinating stuff!
But for now, let’s keep it simple with this description: Inside the throat, down below the back of your tongue, are two flaps called vocal folds (commonly called “vocal cords”). They are each made up of a muscle and a ligament surrounded by a few different layers of skin cells. The skin layer is loose on the muscles, like the skin on the back of your hand. The vocal folds close like a gate over your windpipe, also known as your esophagus (or oesophagus). The primary job of the vocal folds is to act as a gateway. They are there to keep food and liquid out of the lungs and to help build air pressure from below if we squeeze them shut.
But lucky for us (and most animals), we can also make sound with the vocal folds. We blow air past them and they flap in the breeze to create sound waves. Now, “flap in the breeze” is pretty imprecise, but the cool thing is that humans, more than any other animal, have learned how to control that flapping to a super high degree [external link]! We make the tiniest adjustments to the muscles or the airflow and we get a different pitch, loudness, or sound color.
How do you make your voice perform better physically? You train it. You train it. You train it.
Voice training means listening to the pitch you’re trying to reproduce and learning how to reproduce it exactly like you want. Some of the different challenges and solutions a person might need to apply are:
The voice isn’t flexible. Solution: Consider vocal fold health, do daily ‘stretches’ and rapid note exercise to increase flexibility.
The voice isn’t strong. Solution: Daily strength training (singing loud and strong).
The voice is breathy. Solution: Barring any medical reason for the breathiness, exploring the transfer of skills from times when your voice is solid (like howling, calling, or zombie sounds) to train the brain and muscles for the clearer sound you want.
The voice is off pitch. Solution: Simplify how you create the sound by relaxing the tongue, neck, and jaw. Getting those muscles to chill out might make you sound a bit worse at first, but will pay off big time in the long run.
By far, the best way to build your physical skills is to sing more and be picky about doing it well. A basketball player could practice all day, but they will not get better if they allow themselves to double–dribble or travel all the time. Make an effort every day to sound your best and you will start to build up your physical skills. You can start with my free vocal training exercises and you might want to check out this accompanying article on Vocal Boot Camp.
What Mental Skills and Disciplines Do You Need to Develop?
A whole lot of singing is brain stuff. And one of the biggest things is listening. Great singers listen relentlessly. When a person is just starting to sing, that person should listen to themselves while singing. A beginning singer needs to check in with their voice constantly, not through headphones, but just listening to how they sound in the room.
After a while, though – once the singer trusts they are pretty darn good most of the time – they need to focus away from listening to themselves and focus instead on the ensemble, their audience, and their story.
Another mental skill to develop is pitch awareness. It will be difficult at first, but hearing a pitch in your mind and then creating that pitch with your voice is a great way to grow that part of the brain. It can also be useful to use one of the many apps – like Voxercise for iPhone and Android - that listen to you sing a pitch and tell you how close you are to the target pitch.
What Is Your Goal For Singing?
Where you go from here depends on what your goal for singing is. If your goal is to sing Happy Birthday in a group with confidence, mastering the things I’ve discussed here will get you a long way toward that objective.
If you feel like you’ve accomplished the Happy Birthday goal and want to see what more you can do DIY, check out my book Singing 101: Vocal Basics and Fundamental Singing Skills for All Styles and Abilities [internal link if you want it to take the reader to the Books page of your website or external link if you want the link to take the reader directly to the Amazon page]. It’s highly regarded and has been a fantastic tool for thousands of people wanting to learn to sing.
There are also free vocal exercises on my website, or if you buy the audiobook version of Singing 101*, the exercises are included.
But if your goal is loftier, then your best bet would be to immerse yourself in a singing environment for an hour or more each week. That basketball player who double-dribbles would do well to go to a pick-up game or join an amateur team to learn from others. You can do the same with singing: Joining an amateur choir, song circle, karaoke group, or participating in an open mic night might be just what you need to get to the next level.
And finally, the Big One - the one that would take you through every step of this journey from beginning to end - would be individual singing lessons. Good voice teachers know how to help you with every part of this formula. And with modern technology making live online lessons a truly effective way to learn voice, there are no longer any excuses. You can search for qualified teachers in the National Association of Teachers of Singing (NATS) teacher directory.
Can anyone learn to sing? Absolutely! Take it one step at a time, build the physical and mental skills, and see how great the reward can be.
*This post contains affiliate links. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.