Can I learn to sing?
May 19, 2004 7:36 PM   Subscribe

I am a bad singer, although I really like to sing; we are talking William Hung levels of badness. Are there any good books or online resources? Is it worth it to get voice lessons if I just want to not embarrass myself at church and at karaoke? And just how much singing talent is inborn?
posted by Jeanne to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (6 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
I am not saying you'll be able to teach yourself to *really* sing but it's pretty easy for a bad singer to get better.

I took guitar lessons for a few years (jazz) and at some point it came out that I could not sing AT ALL. When I sing something and it sounds flat, I would try to sing "higher" but it just came out "louder". When learning to play by ear and improvise, a good sense of tonal intervals is crucial, and if you can sing it, you can hear it.

So, we went through several weeks of singing lessons, of a sort. He'd ask me to sing two notes an interval apart, or hum them, or whistle them. Singing is easier so we'd do that. I usually could not do it. So, to start he'd have me play them. When I heard them I could usually sing them. After a while he wouldn't let me do that any more.

The trick that I used, and that many others do too, is to take a song that you know well, that has a very distinctive part in it. Like "Here Comes The Bride".

This is probably not the kind of singing training you're looking for. But it's a long winded way of saying that I eventually learned to carry a tune without deviating too far from the melody. And I can "hear" music so much more clearly now.

I took lessons at a local place called the Dallas School of Music. Lessons were reasonably priced, about $120 a month for one lesson a week an hour long. $80 or $90 for 4 half hour lessons a month. There is probably something like that in your city as well.
posted by RustyBrooks at 7:43 AM on May 20, 2004

What you describe, RustyBrooks, is a standard part of ear-training. The first hurdle in learning how to sing comes in training your ear - then control over your voice will follow.

If you want voice lessons in a relaxed environment, you may want to see if your church's choir director teaches private lessons - many do. Or, like RustyBrooks, see if your local university/college has some teachers.
posted by Sangre Azul at 8:06 AM on May 20, 2004

I'll save myself some typing by just pointing to this rant I made in an earlier thread. Basically, the quality of your singing depends on 1) your physical instrument, vocal chords, shape of nasal cavities, etc and 2) your ear - how well you can hear the notes you're trying for. Factor #2 is by far the most important.

The good news is that both factors can be substantially improved by training. (Of course, the shape of your vocal cavities won't change, but you can certainly improve the strength and flexibility of your vocal chords.)

Bad news is that it takes work and time. The less natural talent you have, the more work and time you need to get to a given place. You can get to the same point as the naturally gifted singer, but you may have to work 5 times as hard.

And just how much singing talent is inborn?
As much as talent for any other skill - natural ability for singing, skiing, reading, karate, nursing or computer programming is distributed pretty much along a bell curve. That doesn't mean you're stuck at the same level you start out in any of those skills.
posted by tdismukes at 8:10 AM on May 20, 2004

This book has some exercises for teaching tone-deaf people to sing, and helping people who think they're not musical to understand music better.
posted by fuzz at 8:24 AM on May 20, 2004 [1 favorite]

fuzz - Have you read "Listening Book" yourself? If so, what's it like?
posted by tdismukes at 9:10 AM on May 20, 2004

I'm someone who has loved music deeply since I was a child but only first started trying to make some in my 30s, and for me it's the best book about the actual experience of music that I've read. You have to be able to swallow some New Agey passages to get through to what he's really saying. It's not a formal music instruction book, more of a series of short personal essays and simple exercises in paying close attention to what your hear, from speech to ambient noises to the sound of your own singing voice or a single plucked string to harmonies and overtones.

If you're already an accomplished musician, you won't get any new techniques out of it, just a few motivational ideas here and there. But if you love music, you'll feel everything you hear more strongly after reading it.
posted by fuzz at 10:31 AM on May 20, 2004 [2 favorites]

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