“Can Anyone Learn To Sing?”
Camille van Niekerk
Despite what you may have been told: yes, anyone can learn to sing. Let’s talk about why that’s true, but first: why so many people think it’s not!
People think singing is an inherent ability, something you need to be born with, because some people seem to have it and others seem not to. You’ll often hear phrases like “Oh no, I can’t sing!” or “She can really sing!” But think about applying that same mentality to another skill, and the logic begins to fall apart.
Would you say some people can play golf, while others inherently can’t? Would you reject an invitation to learn a new game, just because you didn’t already know how to play it? Of course not!
Singing is a physical and mental skill, more similar to sports than most people recognize. And like sports, some people will have advantages in playing that specific sport or position. Are you tall? You have an advantage when learning and playing basketball! Are you light, with muscular shoulders? You have an advantage in rock climbing and gymnastics! And of course, there are advantages for singing, too. Those include:
- Anatomy: the size and shape of your vocal folds and vocal tract
- Early exposure: how much music (and singing specifically) was part of your childhood
- Natural interest: how excited and intrinsically motivated you are to sing
People with these advantages working in their favor are more likely to experience early success singing, which encourages them to continue. Those same people might receive training at an early age, sing at church, or join a choir. They may continue singing as a hobby over the years. All of that adds up to an incredible amount of experience! So if you’re a brand-new singer, it’s unfair to compare yourself to someone who’s been singing their whole life. These are the people we label “natural singers” or “talented people”. But remember: it’s not talent you’re comparing at this point; it’s years of experience! You don’t have control over your anatomy or early exposure to singing, but you do have control over what you do now.
When people ask the question, “can anyone learn to sing?”, there are often two more questions they’re not asking. The first question is: “Is learning to sing going to be a waste of time for me?”, and my answer for that is: “not if you enjoy it!”. I don’t practice yoga because I’m assured that I’ll be a “great yogi” some day. I practice because I enjoy it, it’s good for my body, and it’s inherently fulfilling to challenge myself and make progress. Treat singing the same way, because like most things in life, the journey matters far more than the destination.
The second unasked question is: “Can anyone learn to sing well?”. Most people might agree that the basics of singing can be learned; but what they want to know is whether or not their voice can actually sound good? My answer for that is: your voice can sound objectively better than it currently does, and the only way to find out how much better is to put in the time and practice! Again, treat singing like another hobby or sport. Can I guarantee you’ll be able to do the splits (or not) after seeing you stretch one time? No! Can I predict exactly how much your voice will grow and develop after hearing you sing once? Again, no!
The real question becomes: do you think you’ll enjoy the process of improving your voice, and are you willing to try?