The main reason that most people get singing lessons is often because they struggle to pitch notes correctly. They are then told by people around them who don’t know any better that this means they can’t sing.
PLEASE NOTE THAT THIS IS WRONG.
Being able to hit the right note 100% of the time is a learned skill. Some people are better at teaching themselves this skill than others. Very often they have grown up with music constantly around them and have learned to differentiate and copy notes at a very early age. However, make no mistake – it has been learned, it is NOT an innate skill. If in any doubt, listen to small toddlers singing and the range of noises that they make. Very, very few of them make anything like a true copy of the notes that are being sung to them. Go back to the same group of children in 10 years time and you will see that 80% or more have learned to more accurately reproduce a note or series of notes sung to them in the intervening years. Now go back in another 6 years as the same children leave school after going through the normal teenage phases of listening to music, taking weekly music lessons, singing hymns in assembly and so forth. I’d be surprised if you found any more than 5% who had real problems holding a tune. Interestingly, another ten years after leaving school and getting into the workplace, the situation will change again, and those who could sing accurately will have lost the ability, or find it considerably harder. Why? Because they simply aren’t doing it regularly anymore and their skill has diminished with practice.
Having seen this pattern repeatedly over many years as a teacher of Early Years & Primary students, a parent of teenagers and a choir leader for adults, I can say with certainty that the key is practice and habit. The more you listen to music, the easier you will find it to hit the correct pitch. The more you sing out loud, the easier you will find it to hit the correct pitch. The more you listen to yourself, the easier it will become (but listening to yourself is hard, I know).
There are a number of very real reasons why you may find it hard to sing in tune:
- Tension & fear: If you’ve become nervous about singing out of tune, your system floods with adrenalin and the ‘flight or fight’ syndrome kicks in. You will have less control of your muscles, particularly your vocal muscles.
- Hearing problems: Much more common than you’d think. Some people have real problems hearing certain pitches and this makes it much harder to replicate a sound. Technology can often get around this.
- Lack of breath support. Without the air with which to control your throat muscles, you are fighting a losing battle.
- Untoned vocal muscles. Like any other muscle, your throat needs to build up to be stronger so that you can control it with enough accuracy to hit the notes you desire.
- Ear training. As mentioned above, some people never get the very early training in terms of hearing music, and need to start from scratch when they are older. Don’t be put off – contrary to popular myth, adults learning *much* faster than most children!
The most important thing is to be easy on yourself. Understand that the way you are going to learn music is completely different to most people, because everyone is different. You will learn at a different rate, and need different exercises and aids along the way. Just because you find something hard now is no reason why you should continue to find it hard in a year’s time.
We’ll look at things like ear-training and exercises in more detail in the upcoming weeks!