Has anyone heard an amazing transformation?
January 13, 2010 8:14 AM   Subscribe

Has anyone seen, or should I say heard, an amazing transformation?

Okay, so I'm taking singing lessons. I've long played the piano and now play guitar as well. And more and more I play with other people. Thing is, I sing often but I don't sing well. And to be frank, I just don't have the structure and physical gifts to be great. But I believe I have enough to be adequate. I believe. I'm not sure.

I know there have been past threads about singing lessons but my question is this: Do you have any personal experience where someone you knew sang badly but then substantially improved? Was it you? I'm sort of looking for a "wow, I've heard John sing before and he sucked but man, something happened because now he's pretty good" kind of thing.

I know my teacher is telling me it will happen, but anecdotally, I can't find anybody who has ever heard it happen. Please give me hope.
posted by lpsguy to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (15 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
As someone who hasn't done a lot of singing but would like to get better at it, I can relate. I haven't really taken any steps to make it happen, but my impression is that a HUGE part of it is simply self-confidence - I have heard plenty of buskers who aren't what you'd call good singers, but make up for it with pure chutzpah.

I wouldn't really call it a "transformation", but in the last year or so I've been surprised to find myself joining in on the choruses of songs at the open session I regularly play at, which is huge for me, and pretty much entirely a self-confidence thing.
posted by usonian at 8:42 AM on January 13, 2010

It happened to me! Well, a very long time ago anyway: when I was a kid I was one of those glee club/choir geeks, and wanted to get better. I have absolutely zero musical ability, but I began taking weekly voice lessons at 13 and by my mid-teens I was singing solos.

If you stick with it, you'll really improve. If you stop - in my case, I developed vocal nodes and stopped - things will deteriorate quickly. I think it's like any other physical activity - you can train your body, your muscles, etc over time but you can also get out of shape pretty quickly.
posted by chez shoes at 8:43 AM on January 13, 2010

I've heard amazing things happen within a session of Alexander technique training. The hard thing is making it stick, so that the great "supported" sound occurs all the time, not just with the teacher. But Alexander technique can really help.

The other thing that really helps is focused, constant practice :)
posted by amtho at 8:43 AM on January 13, 2010

I have a friend who went from being pretty good to Wow, Amazing, Opera-quality good with training. I don't know if it translates further down the chain, so to speak, but yes, I have heard a substantial improvement in someone's voice.
posted by peanut_mcgillicuty at 8:44 AM on January 13, 2010

I am a singer and a choir leader. My ex-boyfriend claimed to be tone-deaf and unable to sing when I met him. In fact, he was in a band, and they wouldn't let him sing backing vocals as he just couldn't make the grade. Even his family had a running joke about how bad he was.

I am a firm believer that almost anyone can sing with encouragement and practise, so I coaxed him to try it a bit now and then, and when he took to it, he flew.

Nine months down the line, we split up, but he is writing songs, recording them himself and singing backing vox for his band! His dad was utterly gobsmacked when he sang to him on a trip we went on, whilst playing a song he had written on the guitar.

Amazing transformation, down to two simple things: practise and confidence. You'll need both, in as much quantity as you can get. You'll get there :)
posted by greenish at 8:53 AM on January 13, 2010 [2 favorites]

This happened to me. I was heavily involved in theater from elementary school through high school and was always frustrated during musicals. I was functionally tone-deaf; I couldn't match pitches, let alone perform a song. I took voice lessons in high school, and then I took up guitar and took lots of guitar lessons, and took more voice in college, and sang in choirs, and wrote songs and performed and recorded them, and very gradually I made very large improvements. I am no opera singer, but I can hold my own to say the least. If you'd heard me sing at age 15 you might've thought there was no hope.

The biggest things that helped me were learning lots of music theory, which of course involves lots of ear training, and also recording myself. The former taught me how to listen. I think that's really important -- to me, learning to sing is more about learning to listen than learning to make sound. The latter helped me get used to my voice and learn its quirks and strengths and weaknesses. It'll be horrible and frustrating and make you want to give up, but keep at it. These days it's fun for me to record my singing.
posted by ludwig_van at 10:37 AM on January 13, 2010

Me. I've never taken lessons, and I'm no Pavarotti. Other posters have it. Once you can carry a tune, it's all confidence.
posted by cmoj at 10:49 AM on January 13, 2010

Best answer: When I went to college in Richmond VA in the '80's, I used to go see local bands on the weekends. I remember going to see one performance by an out-of-town band that sucked so badly I avoided going to any show where they were on the bill for a long time afterwards. The really sucky out-of-town band was the 10,000 Maniacs, and their really sucky lead singer was Natalie Merchant.

I eventually became a big fan - after some friends of mine pretty much dragged me to one of their performances a few years later.
posted by nangar at 10:55 AM on January 13, 2010

Ear training (so you sing on key) and breath support (so you can make a good sound) will help anyone sing well enough. Beyond that you can learn more about phrasing and interpretation to bump you up another notch to pretty good or better, depending on natural aptitude in all the categories mentioned.
posted by Billegible at 11:01 AM on January 13, 2010

It happened to my best friend when we were growing up. She had an OK voice and an artistic bent. After singing lessons, she was a soloist in our well regarded junior high and high school choirs, a perpetual lead in our school musicals, and went on to a career as a cantor in synagogue.
posted by bearwife at 11:06 AM on January 13, 2010

Best answer: Nthing everyone above, you can go from "don't quit your day job" to "wow!", but it will take practice, perseverance through the inevitable plateaus where you don't think you're not going to improve, and opportunities to perform. This last one is important, because most people need a goal to work towards. Plan performances for yourself, even if it's just something informal. The confidence will grow as you perform and practice more.

And speaking as a sometime vocal coach and choir director, it's likely you won't hear yourself improve, because your progress will seem imperceptible to you. Do yourself a favour and record yourself regularly (just for your own use, not for a CD or anything). Go back in a couple of months and listen to the recordings you made when you started. You'll hear yourself as others hear you - and you'll see/hear how much you've improved over a short time.

Best of luck, and hey, post something to MefiMusic when you feel ready! Everybody over there is supportive and only wants to help you improve.
posted by LN at 2:22 PM on January 13, 2010

"don't think you're going to improve". I need to remember to preview!
posted by LN at 2:24 PM on January 13, 2010

Best answer: I have been singing for a long time, so I've been watching other singers for a long time. Here's a ton of people who got better and one that didn't:

I knew a girl in high school who was seriously terrible, terrible at singing, to the point where you didn't want to listen to her because it was so painfully off-key. She loved singing though and she practiced constantly and did all the activities she could and now she's enrolled in some vocal program at a music school. She had to audition, so I'm assuming she sings well now, though I haven't personally heard.

My husband didn't sing well at all when I met him, but just by singing with stuff in the car and going to karaoke with me, he actually sings pretty well now, to the point where people are surprised when he sings something at karaoke.

I had another friend in high school who only played piano and didn't really sing, but he would sing along with Chinese pop songs and make piano arrangements. In early college he actually had a nice enough voice that my husband and I were surprised by it, but it wasn't anything phenomenal. After college we met up with him again and he is an AMAZING singer. I've been singing nearly since I could talk (then I started taking lessons when I was 4 or 5) and one of the coolest feelings in the world for me is to sing a duet with this guy because it's not so one-sided.

I have two other friends, guys who are twins, that only sang kinda okay, sometimes bad, early in college. After constantly going to karaoke for a couple years, they both got good. A few years later and they're very good.

So as you can see, it happens faster for some people than others, but it tends to happen.

On the flipside, I knew another girl for a long time from childhood. She sang all the time and never got better. The choir director let her into one of the lower level choirs in high school and even after singing regularly for a couple of years she was still really bad. :-/ Like off-key *and* terrible tone. If I had to guess why she didn't get better, it's because she wasn't critical of herself; she did not seem to be able to hear herself when singing -- which is something people have varying degrees of success at -- and she thought of herself as a good singer. In other words, she had some sort of disadvantage when listening to herself, which normally can be overcome at least to some extent, but psychologically she'd already told herself she didn't need any improvement.

People who are really good singers tend to record themselves even when they already know they're much better than average, just to hear what they can't hear when they're singing. That's what that girl did not do. I'm quite good at hearing myself when it comes to notes and most aspects of tone, but there are some aspects of tone I just cannot hear while I'm singing, particularly sounds near the back of my nose, such that every now and then I will think I did really well or really poorly at a song and it will be the opposite. This is after over twenty years of singing; that's how fallible your own ears can be if you're working out a new tone -- you can hit all the notes but for some songs it will still sound like crap if your tone is just a little off. If you record yourself, play it back, and keep trying different things based on what you heard in the recording, you'll learn how a song should physically feel when you're singing it, even if you can never hear the changes you've made as you're singing, or even if the changes sound like something else in your ears. After years of this the feel is second-nature and it feels like part of the process of hearing yourself; it's odd and kind of hard to explain. But always have humility about your skill, even once you're to the point where people freak out at how good you are. You won't get better unless you're constantly looking to improve. If you can impress people, make your new goal to give them chills. If you can give them chills, make your new goal to make them tear up. If you can do that, make your new goal to make them faint. (I've never made someone faint, but oh my god, that would be cool. And so I keep trying.)

Also: once you have the basics down, once the notes are in place and the tone is good, all that matters is energy. In fact, good energy can make a mediocre singer worth listening to. Lack of energy can make a good singer agonizing to listen to. I think this is something that's on the side of beginning singers, really, because everyone has emotions and if you can just throw a little into whatever you're singing, it will be much improved.

If you want to get good, practice as much as you can. Don't assume for yourself you'll be one of those people who, for whatever reason, never gets better; just from my anecdotal evidence of observing other people go from singing badly to singing well, the odds are very much on your side.
posted by Nattie at 5:01 PM on January 13, 2010 [3 favorites]

I couldn't tumble at all as a kid. Then I started doing circus lessons the past year, and I can tumble forwards and backwards. I can sometimes manage a handstand too - and this is coming from a total nonsporty couch potato.
posted by divabat at 12:03 AM on January 14, 2010

Response by poster: Thank you all. I am heartily encouraged. I think the recording yourself thing is key for me. Santa brought me a little Zoom H2 mic/recorder and I've already started laying down some baseline recordings to monitor improvement. I liken it to trying to learn to drive in total darkness. Someone can teach you all sorts of ways to get back on the road if you've strayed but if you can't even see when you're off the road, none of it is any good. I like learning things. But it occurred to me that this is the first thing I've tried to learn for which I had no real affinity. I've given myself a year to see improvement but I didn't want to waste it if I didn't think it was ever going to happen. You've given me encouragement that it can. See you on MeFi Music in a few months.
posted by lpsguy at 8:21 AM on January 14, 2010

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