The plethora of talent shows adorning our television screens have given many the idea that they can carve out some kind of career in the entertainment industry. Alas, the early rounds are usually the preserve of the bewildered who are trotted out for us to laugh at, both for their general lack of talent and, incredibly, their lack of awareness of this fact.
Some consolidation might come their way, however, via a recent study that shows that singing is something that we can most certainly improve with a little practice.
The study suggests that singing well is not a natural gift as much as it is a skill that can be learned. They believe that the ability to sing well is mainly down to the kind of practice we do, and in that sense has much in common with the learning of musical instruments.
“No one expects a beginner on violin to sound good right away, it takes practice, but everyone is supposed to be able to sing,” the authors say. “When people are unsuccessful they take it very personally, but we think if you sing more, you’ll get better.”
The research looked at the singing ability of three groups:
- Kids in kindergarten,
- Sixth graders, and
- University age adults.
The participants were asked to listen to a single pitch repeated four times, before then singing it back. Their performance was graded using a common procedure for measuring singing accuracy.
The results revealed a large improvement in performance from the kindergarten children to those in sixth grade, which is a time when children are generally receiving some kind of musical instruction. Those gains were typically reversed, however, by the time people got to university, because the amount of instruction drops. It’s literally a case of using it or losing it.
“It’s also a skill that can be taught and developed, and much of it has to do with using the voice regularly,” the authors say. “Our study suggests that adults who may have performed better as children lost the ability when they stopped singing.”
Use it or lose it
The authors revealed that around 34 percent of young children receive music tuition in the US, although the figure drops as they grow older. This drop-off is particularly strong when children are told that singing talent is natural, and therefore something you either have or you don’t. Being accused of being tone deaf, for instance, is an easy way of putting someone off trying to improve.
“We first need to understand what is ’normal’ in terms of age-related singing development,” the authors say. “What can we expect from a 5-year-old? A 10-year-old? Once we know that, we can identify areas where children are struggling and provide them with resources.”
The authors believe that singing can provide people with a low-stake opportunity to get involved in music in that it doesn’t require the time (or cost) that often comes with playing in an orchestra. They highlight the Can’t Sing Choirs that have emerged in Britain as a good example of how this can be achieved.
“People need a place to sing and have fun without worrying about how good they are,” they conclude. “You see it in college all the time; a class about the history of rock or jazz is packed. It’s not that people aren’t interested in music; it’s what we offer them.”
If you want to get better at singing therefore, the message seems clear that practice is something that can achieve some very tangible results. So, don’t be put off by naysayers opining that you lack the gift and keep at it.