Is it worth it to take singing lessons if I am a truly horrible singer?
February 27, 2008 11:57 AM   Subscribe

All my life I've never felt comfortable singing and it sounds horrible. I don't know much about music but it seems like my voice goes flat and I have a hard time hitting high notes. My husband says it sounds like an alien trying to imitate the singing of earth people. I would like to learn how to be comfortable enough with my singing where I could sing karaoke and possibly Irish folk songs. Right now I am very very far from being able to sing in public. Is it possible to get better starting from being terrible or are singing lessons just for people who already can sing but want to get better?

I have a beautiful speaking voice and I'm hoping that somehow I could translate that to singing. If anyone has learned how to sing decently when they have started with a bad voice and no confidence I would love to hear them.

Also, would love to hear any recommendations for teachers in the Syracuse area.
posted by Melsky to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (17 answers total) 39 users marked this as a favorite
It is definitely possible to get better, I had a hard time singing my whole life as well, eventhough I've been playing music since I was 7, I just always was a bit flat myself. However last year I began taking singing lessons from someone I trusted as a singer, and a month ago I played my first gig with my country band. you can see a few vids if you want on my myspace page to see how far along I've come. If you want it bad enough you can do it, don't let anyone else tell you differently
posted by Slash_fan at 12:15 PM on February 27, 2008

The problem is that most people are never taught the basics of how to listen and how to sing. I thought I was tone deaf until a musician friend had me sing a note - any note that felt comfortable to my voice. Then she matched it so I could hear what it sounded like when two people were singing the same note, on key to each other. Then she sang my note and I tried to match her. I could actually hear the difference when between exactly matching and being a little off. Wow! I had no idea the way the sounds "locked in" when they matched. I know could have learned to sing decently if I wanted to keep going from that one lesson.

I have also heard to Tone Deaf Choirs - people who "can't" sing work together as a group until they good enough to sing for friends and family. Here is an example.

So, yes, I am absolutely sure that you can improve your singing to the point where you would not be embarrassed singing in front of friends.
posted by metahawk at 12:29 PM on February 27, 2008 [1 favorite]

Side note: to comfort yourself while you seek the answers to your questions, read William Goldman's funny, gorgeous The Silent Gondoliers, which is about a very special gondolier with a very familiar problem.
posted by waxbanks at 12:31 PM on February 27, 2008 [1 favorite]

The first thing to do, if you're gonna start on your own, would be to familiarize yourself with notes - octaves, fifths, major and minor scales. Be able to identify the difference between two notes, vaguely at least.

THen find a tone generator online. Play a note. Sing the note. hold that singing note, and play the note again - see how close you got to the mark. Also, play a note out of your range, and try to hit the octave note that *is* in your range. Once you've done *that* a bunch, start melodies.

Something I've noticed, is that people that can't hold a melody often have no idea, and cannot even hear octaves. These people include friends of mine that actually play multiple instruments.

Another thing to try is imitations. Moreso with male voices, but many "classic" country voices are very distinct - Waylon, Willie, Johnny, Merle, George Jones...trying to imitate the *timbre* of their voices helps you know when you're back at your own correct voice.
posted by notsnot at 12:32 PM on February 27, 2008

Treat your voice like an instrument, the more you use it, the better you're going to get.

I'm going to assume you're not simply tone-deaf, you mention you hear yourself being flat so that's a good start-- some people (hello cheap laughs on reality TV) simply can't distinguish that they're out of tune at all.

Practice against a scale. If you've got a piano/guitar etc, great, just hit a note and match it with your voice, you'll really hear when you hit the same pitch, if not I'm sure you can find some resources on-line that will play a specified note. For extra points, record yourself doing so, and play it back to yourself, generally you'll be able to be more critical of yourself that way.
Gradually you'll find it easier and easier to just hit the note you hear, after a futher while, you'll be able to do so without hearing the note at all.

Also, you might not be able to reach the notes you're singing along to at the moment, hence your voice breaking down. When you find your happy range, instead of trying to match the pitch of the singer, drop down (or up) an octave to something that best suits your range. Try to avoid jumping up to falsetto (think The BeeGee's) while you're practicing, if you have to, then drop your practice scale a little lower until it's within your boundaries.

I'd think that a good singing teacher would work absolute wonders with you, the best time to start learning is when you're clueless, you can avoid all the pitfalls and learn how to manage your voice much more effectively.

I'm slowly getting better myself, singing along as I play guitar, and singing with a group of people each week at out our little music nights-- I can hear myself getting steadily, but it's going to be a long journey.
posted by Static Vagabond at 12:35 PM on February 27, 2008

My husband had the trying-to-imitate-earth-people thing going on too. Like, painful. He couldn't figure out how to find a note, or hear where he was in relation to a note. What has helped him immensely was getting an x-box game called Karaoke Revolution Party. It shows you the pitch of the notes onscreen and shows in real time whether you need to sing higher or lower as you sing along. Sounds goofy but it has really helped him. And it's fun! (There's also a game called Karaoke Revolution, but it doesn't let you sing duets--the best part.)

Singing (at least carrying a tune) is so teachable, so don't despair.
posted by Beckminster at 12:35 PM on February 27, 2008 [4 favorites]

Check your MeMail.
posted by LobsterMitten at 12:35 PM on February 27, 2008

When I was younger, I thought I had a terrible singing voice. As it turns out, I was just trying to sing way the heck out of my range, up high like all the other girls my age. Once I found a range that was more natural and comfortable for me, it made it a lot easier. (Also, lots and lots of practice.)

If you'd like to get comfortable with your voice, expand your range, develop your ear, learn proper breath control, etc., a vocal coach is EXACTLY what you're looking for. Good luck!
posted by tugena13 at 12:37 PM on February 27, 2008

metahawk: Then she matched it so I could hear what it sounded like when two people were singing the same note, on key to each other. Then she sang my note and I tried to match her. I could actually hear the difference when between exactly matching and being a little off. Wow! I had no idea the way the sounds "locked in" when they matched.

So very true-- when you match a note perfectly you can feel it-- it's especially fun when you're harmonising with someone else, just makes you want to smile.
posted by Static Vagabond at 12:41 PM on February 27, 2008

You can very likely improve, but you'll have to work hard at it and practice a lot. Find a good teacher, learn about music theory, and work with the ear training utilities at
posted by ludwig_van at 12:57 PM on February 27, 2008

You may find it useful to test your listening ability at The Listening Test.
posted by paduasoy at 1:15 PM on February 27, 2008

Improvement is definitely possible. I went from totally unable to sing to being in honors choir and playing the lead in our high school's musical in a matter of years. In my case, it was because all my friends were in choirs/glee club/musicals, and my social life depended on me being in them as well.

I sang in the shower, I sang in the car, I joined any musical organization that would take me. All that practice really paid off. I did not have a voice teacher back then, but I had one briefly in college, and I highly recommend it... they are full of weird little tips and tricks.
posted by Gianna at 1:45 PM on February 27, 2008

Plenty of people take vocal lessons with little or no singing experience, and that would probably help a lot. You would be better off, if you're ever going to take lessons, to start with them -- there are lots of bad habits you can pick up. I have met people who no vocal lesson could cure. However, I really doubt that you're one of them, because these people never have a sense of how they are actually singing, and it sounds like you do. The trouble with going flat and with high notes is probably a simple matter of breath support, which is one of the main things voice lessons would teach you.

(I miss taking voice lessons...)
posted by advil at 2:08 PM on February 27, 2008

A friend who does music theatre says that anyone who can hear can be taught to at bare minimum respectably carry a tune, so yes, you can get better. Definitely take lessons, singing is like learning any other instrument.
posted by biscotti at 2:41 PM on February 27, 2008

Response by poster: Thanks for all the replies, they are very encouraging. I'm going to find a teacher. Does anyone have any suggestions for how to look for a teacher? I imagine there's a lot of them at Syracuse University so I will probably start there.
posted by Melsky at 3:10 PM on February 27, 2008

Get the game Karaoke Revolution for the XBOX (possibly on other systems also). It made me MUCH less self-concious.
posted by Octoparrot at 4:29 PM on February 27, 2008

FWIW, a lot of people have unnecessary trouble singing because they try and force themselves to sing out of their range. Try pitching your voice higher (or lower) and seeing if that helps.
posted by jenkinsEar at 5:09 PM on February 27, 2008

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