“I love singing, but I just don’t have the talent”; “I’ve always wanted to belt, but my voice just isn’t meant for that.” “I’ve always wanted to act in musicals, but unfortunately, I’m just not a singer.” These are all comments I’ve heard from new students and other people in my life, and I want to dispel this myth once and for all. One of the most common (and damaging) ideas a singer can have is that their voice simply is what it is. That is, that if their singing voice sounds pleasing, it’s because they’re somehow meant to sing, and if their singing voice doesn’t sound pleasing, it’s because they are not meant to sing. This idea is not only wrong; it’s detrimental to your improvement as a singer, your versatility, and even your performance ability.
Why Is This Idea So Wrong?
When you’re a singer, your voice is your instrument (an extremely versatile instrument!) that you can learn to play in a wide variety of ways. There are countless very manageable actions you can learn to perform to alter the sound of your voice. You can control your degree of nasality by learning to move your soft palate; your belt by learning to use your cricoid and areoeppilglottic spynchter (I promise these words sound more intimidating than they are in practice); your pitch matching just by working on it and building it into your muscle memory. When you look at the number of actions you can take to produce different sounds, the idea that your voice is just an essential part of you that can’t be altered is silly.
Why Is This Idea So Destructive?
1. It’s Self-Fulfilling
If you think that the voice you already have is your singing voice for life, you’ve just decided that training your voice isn’t going to do much. If you decided (without having ever played the piano before) that you are just not a pianist because your piano skills aren’t very good, how likely is it that you’ll take the necessary steps to learn to play? Same goes for singing. If you’ve decided ahead of time that your voice is just your voice and that there’s nothing to be done, you’re probably not going to open-mindedly do what it takes to improve.
2. It Inhibits Versatility
Let’s say, for a second, that you actually don’t think your singing is hopeless. Believing that your singing voice is what it is can also inhibit versatility. If you think that you have a beautiful, ringing soprano voice perfect for Rogers and Hammerstein musicals but that you could never pull off the belty pop music you wish you could sing, you’re probably not going to spend much time trying to improve your belt. I was one of these singers for many years. Bell-like soprano came very easily to me; intense belting did not. I wish I had believed I could learn to do it earlier, because I wouldn’t have waited until my 20’s to figure it out.
3. It’s Terrible For Performance Anxiety
Let’s face it. Performances are anxiety-provoking enough. When we think of our voices as some preordained aspect of ourselves we don’t really control, how much more anxiety-provoking is a performance? What if this gift we have suddenly goes out the window at the wrong moment? What if we open our mouths and really aren’t as good as we thought we were? Normal, controllable performance anxiety that we can work through suddenly becomes an unspeakable terror we have no power over. If instead of believing we have no control over our voices we realize that we need to think harder about certain actions to get the sound we’re looking for, performances are much more psychologically manageable.
Then Why Do Voice Teachers Always Say That Your Voice Is Unique and That You Shouldn’t Try to Sound Like Anyone Else?
Well, there’s certainly some truth to this. You still have physical limitations based on your anatomy. A trained singer with a very long vocal tract and thick vocal folds will probably be able to create a thicker, heavier sound than a trained singer with a very short vocal tract and thin vocal folds. To make the example even more extreme, a soprano will never sound like a baritone, no matter how she learns to use her voice. Your voice is still your own. You will probably never sound exactly like Adele, or Pavarotti, or Barbara Streisand, and that’s a good thing. The world is much richer for the many unique voices that are out there. But that doesn’t mean that with your unique voice, you can’t create an incalculable number of different sounds, from soulful pop, to passionate classical, to brassy musical theatre. It just takes a lot of work, patience, and open-mindedness.