What Do You Already Know?
Anyone reading this who can also hear and speak has the capacity to do something much more powerful. You can sing. Singing provides physical, psychological and spiritual benefits. Singing will increase your quality of life. Everyone who possibly can should sing. If you don’t know how, you can learn. Some of you who can speak and can’t hear can learn how too. If you think you can’t carry a tune, you can learn that. If you don’t have much natural aptitude for listening and repeating with accuracy, you can learn to listen with greater focus. There are only two general things you need to figure out in order to pursue this goal to be a good singer. Both are vital.
1.) How much natural ability do you already possess?
2.) What kind of singing inspires and excites you?
If you’ve only read my past tirades against American Idol, you might think I’m some kind of musical snob. I’m not. I really believe what I said in the first paragraph. I think the bad singers on American Idol know the answer to #2, and skipped over #1. In order to know how much natural ability you have, you have to do some experiments. You have to run some tests, real tests, with an academic basis. You have to learn some music theory basics, just a few. This is not as hard as it sounds. I’m only trying to distinguish it from doing things like singing along to Karaoke tracks or your iPod or CD player or singing in the car or shower. All those things are fine and can be fun, but they don’t provide enough information to answer question #1. You need to check out your voice in comparison to something or someone outside yourself.
The most reliable source of information is a teacher. If you know the location of a public school, the school usually has some kind of a music teacher. You can contact that person and make an appointment with them to find out your vocal range and level of ability. If you have no problem going into a church, they also have music professionals. You don’t have to join the church to ask for this kind of help from an organist or choir director. If you can’t follow either of these alternatives, there are teachers you can pay, however there’s a risk involved in paying just to audition. Paid vocal coaches have a vested interest in having you continue to pay, for lessons. They might not be honest with you. It’s not that hard to find a teacher or a musician who will help you for free. Music teachers want there to be more good singers in the world. That’s why they became teachers. They will be happy if you want to become a better singer, no matter how little you know at the start.
Here’s what will happen. The teacher will probably use a piano. They will hit notes on the piano and ask you to sing those pitches. You’ll sing notes as high and as low in pitch as you can. That’s your RANGE. Almost everyone is able to sing one OCTAVE’s worth of pitches in a major scale, which is also called IONIAN MODE. That’s the “do-re-mi-fa-so-la-ti-do” thing. Those with more aptitude might be able to sing two octaves or more. The gifted singers will have three octaves, and maybe more. Where those notes lie on the piano determines whether you are a (from high to low) SOPRANO, ALTO, TENOR or BASS singer. There are subdivisions within those four types and some classifications that overlap ranges too, but let’s keep it simple for those who are starting out and may be scared.
If the teacher is also a singer, or a conductor of singers, they will be listening for your TONE. They will be checking how solidly you can hold a pitch, whether or not you have vibrato and how “round” your vocal tone is. By round I mean dark-sounding, pure, rich, deep, clear, focused. Your voice is an instrument, one of the most flexible, adaptive and expressive kinds in existence. The teacher is comparing your voice to their knowledge of other instruments, and other voices. They have training in the physiology of singing, and can teach you how to produce a better-sounding tone. They will be checking your ability to follow a sequence of notes and how long you can sing without needing to take a breath. Depending on your level of natural ability, improving these things can take mere months or many years of practice. It doesn’t happen overnight. If you want to be a good singer, you have to do it, period. The best motivator is to explore question #2 and determine what kind of singing turns you on.
Coming Up in Part Two – The World of Singing Traditions