Singing: A Journey Not A Destination

20130609-DSC_3886“How long does it take to get through the book?” an adult singing student of mine once asked. She was referring to the “textbook” and accompanying exercise CD’s that I often recommended to my voice students in those days. I had only been vocal coaching for a couple of years and had not previously come across this question. It had me momentarily confused and stuttering for a response – and I’m not the type to be easily rendered speechless.

There is a long-standing misconception about singing.

It’s the idea that singing well involves learning the “rules” to singing. Once you learn the rules, then you can sing (and if you learn the rules and still don’t sing so well, it’s because you weren’t born with the ability to sing and you should just stop now).

Untrue on all counts.

Singing used to be something all humans did naturally, as part of rituals and celebrations. Somehow we’ve moved away from that to this idea that only a special few have the ability, and therefore the right to sing. I have never had a potential keyboard student call me and say, “I’d just like to play for you a little and have you tell me whether I’m good enough to take keyboard lessons.” But I get that all the time from potential adult singing students.

Singing is a journey, not a destination.

Why did all humans have the ability to sing at one point? Because individuals did it so regularly that they honed the skill. Put it out of your mind that singing is about learning rules. Now replace that thought with this one:

Singing is a sport and singers are athletes.

Have you ever said to yourself, “I’d really like to take golf lessons but I’m not already good at it so I won’t”? Or, “I love to ride my bike but I’ll never be as fast as Lance Armstrong, so what’s the point?” If you enjoy riding your bike, you should ride it. And guess what? The more you ride, the better shape you’ll be in, and the faster you’ll go.

Singing is a sport.

Like all athletic activities, you have to get in shape, develop the appropriate muscles, and habitualize your motor skills. This is exactly what singing is about. It’s not about learning rules. It’s not about how quickly you get through the textbook. You can’t take ten weeks of lessons and cram them into three weeks and expect an equivalent amount of progress.

Singing, like all sports, is about integrating changes over time. And those changes are nothing but great for your overall health and wellness. Singing is good for you physically, mentally, and emotionally. But that’s fodder for another post…

So, what did I finally tell that adult student (once I stopped stuttering)? I told her that she could use that textbook for weeks or for years. It was up to her whether she saw singing as a journey or a destination. Of course, I strongly recommended the “journey” option.

What does this mean for you?

If you’re someone who loves to sing but doesn’t go for it because you’re not already good enough, I encourage you to reconsider. Singing is for everyone and anyone who is called to it. If it brings you joy, make it part of your life. You will most likely end up impressing yourself. And maybe you’ll help me shatter this unfortunate misconception.