Are you scared to sing?
Many musicians are.
They see the human voice as just another instrument, and since they already play one instrument they feel no need to learn that one too.
If asked to sing they tell you that they’re “not a singer”.
But here’s why every musician who doesn’t sing should seriously reconsider that choice:
Your first instrument. No, not that one!
The voice is everybody’s first instrument, including yours. Whether or not you were a natural singer from childhood, and whether or not you have spent time developing mastery of your voice, it is the instrument you always have with you, which you started using first, and which you use (albeit in a limited way through speaking) every day of your life.
Singing has been proven to have significant emotional and biological benefits, even for those with no musical training.
So that explains why singing should be a natural choice of instrument, and how beneficial it can be to anyone – but it doesn’t explain why a musician should feel any obligation to sing. Why must a guitarist, a pianist, a saxophonist, a drummer be a singer too?
The answer is that your voice is the instrument most closely related to your musical hearing. As a musician you rely on your ears, and if you’re visiting this site you probably have an appreciation of the power and importance of training those ears to be at their best.
Singing and ear training
You can train your ears without using your voice – but it’s like fighting with one hand tied behind your back.
You may not realise it, but there is a powerful feedback loop between your ears and your voice. This means that ear training exercises which involve not just listening to notes but singing them back too are particularly effective for improving your musical listening skills.
This is of course most true for relative pitch ear training. If you are learning to recognise the sounds and sizes of intervals, singing those intervals is a great way to internalise their sounds and get a physical sense of their size. This goes doubly if you are using the powerful solfège approach, and actually learning the association between syllable pairs and the intervals.It’s not just relative pitch which can benefit from using your voice. If you’re developing your sense of rhythm, you’ll find that spoken or sung rhythmic exercises can be just as good as (if not better than) clapping or tapping out the patterns.
Even audio ear training can benefit from vocal exercises, as you learn to appreciate the natural frequency filters which create different vowel sounds and how you can intentionally alter the frequency makeup of your sung notes and listen to the effect. The timbre differences across different singers and between male and female voices generally are also rich areas for critical listening practice.
Why musicians don’t sing
If you think you can’t sing, there are probably three contributing factors in play:
- You have difficulty judging pitch, so can’t reliably hear when a sung note is too high or low
- You have poor vocal pitch control, so can’t adjust your sung note quickly and easily to reach the target note
- You have emotional or psychological hangups about singing, so you don’t sing, or do so with a gentle soft voice (which is harder to control)
The balance of these three components will vary across different people, but it’s generally some combination of the three which causes a person to believe they can’t sing.
If you are a musician, it’s most likely number 2 and 3 which are to blame. Without practice singing, there’s no reason you would have good vocal pitch control, even if you are a good musician. And if you are a good musician, the psychological barrier can be particularly powerful as you feel guilty for not being better than you feel you “should be”. As a result many musicians simply refuse to sing so they can avoid confronting this issue.
A small number of people are truly tone deaf, which is a more significant problem – but it is a very small number indeed and you can take a tone deaf test if you have concerns about it.
Aside from that, all three of these factors are solvable problems: Some ear training will improve your pitch sensitivity (1). Some short singing lessons will improve your vocal pitch control (2). And as you begin to match pitch reliably and realise you can in fact sing well, the emotional issues (3) will quickly fade away.
Want proof? Just check out the choir who can’t sing.
Why every musician must sing
In conclusion, your singing voice is a powerful asset in your ear training toolkit. You can make progress without it, but you are limiting yourself unnecessarily.
Note that you don’t need to be a good singer to benefit from using your voice to train your ears. You must master basic pitch control, but there’s no need to become a vocal performer. Nobody is asking you to get up on stage at the next karaoke night! In the private of your own home, start using your voice to train your ears.
So why must every musician sing?
Because every musician deserves to reach their full musical potential. That requires ear training and to do train your ears most effectively, you must take advantage of your first and most personal of instruments: your voice.