The research has been done, and studies show that if you want to learn how to sing better…you should sing more! Northwestern University researchers found that singing on key is a learned skill that can decline over time if you don’t use it.
I know you may have been looking for something more technical from me: that to sing better you need to learn good breathing techniques, find your areas of resonance, work on vowel modifications…. And this is all true. If it weren’t, I’d probably be out of a job as a voice teacher. But just singing a lot is a major component in improvement.
The study reaffirms a few things for me about my philosophy as a voice teacher:
Students Should Learn Music They’re Excited About
You might love pop, it might be classical, and it might be yodeling, or Irish punk. It doesn’t really matter, as long as it moves you. If you work on music that excites you, you’ll sing it! Sure, you might have a strong work ethic and force yourself to practice that piece you hate every day (and you’ll, of course, make improvement!) but if you love it, you’ll sing it all the time and won’t even need strict, regimented practice hours.
Don’t get me wrong. I think it’s important to stretch yourself part of the time. How else will you find new music to love? But if you already know that singing Broadway tunes, or crooning along with Frank Sinatra, or belting along with Katy Perry is what makes you feel the most alive, do yourself a huge favor and don’t put that aside in favor of music you feel you should be learning.
Students Shouldn’t Be Made to Feel Paranoid
Unfortunately, voice teachers can be fear mongers. You’ll hear scary stories about nodes as if they’re some kind of monster that will come out of your closet and attack you the second your larynx rises a little. Yes, nodes are real. Yes, they suck. No, you shouldn’t sing (or talk) until your throat hurts. But don’t get too paranoid. Nothing squelches the love of singing, and nothing stifles improvement like being paranoid about every note that comes out of your mouth. You’ll drive yourself crazy, you won’t progress as quickly, and honestly, you probably won’t be as happy a person. Not to mention that vocal injuries are more likely to happen when you’re tense and singing less freely.
Students Should be Encouraged to Just Sing
The more barriers we put up for when it’s appropriate to sing, the less we’ll sing, and the less we’ll improve. If you feel that singing must be done in a certain location, at a certain time, when you’re feeling a certain way, when you’ve done the appropriate warmups, and when you’re already comfortable with the “correct” technique, you’re probably not going to be singing very often. Yes, practice the technique you learn with your teacher. Yes, try to get your warmups in…they’re boring, but they really do help, I promise. Most importantly though, just sing! Sing in the car when a song you like comes on. Sing in the shower. Sing with your voice teacher, at a karaoke event, and around the campfire. Just sing.