Singing: No More Excuses

What is singing? Is it just musical speech? It is like speech. We communicate ideas and express ourselves with words. But it’s different from speech because we also use melody, or organized sounds (which is the definition of music), rhythm and rhyme to deliver our words. Singing, even without words, can convey meaningful impressions which listeners interpret and understand. When you hear someone humming a sad tune, you know it’s sad! Why? Because the song is in a minor mode and we know from our listening experience that songs sung in minor keys are sad. If someone is whistling a bouncy tune, we know they’re happy because they’re singing in a major key. Music is a communication tool in and of itself. Singing is combining two communication modes, speech (words) and music (organized sound)

Why singing? It is the most immediate and direct music making activity we have available. You don’t need an instrument. You don’t need other people, although it’s more fun with others and singing is a great community builder. Singing is innate and natural to young children. Singing is pro-active and expressive. Singing is the foundation for all music making. “If you can sing it, you can play it.”

“But I can’t sing!” you say.  Not true. Maybe you have trouble finding/matching the starting pitch, but if a song like Old MacDonald is familiar enough, I bet you can sing it, (maybe in an unknown key) but I bet you can produce a fairly accurate rendition of the song.  Why? Because you’ve heard the tune a thousand times. You are familiar with its pattern of tones and their relationships to one another. You are familiar with its rhythm. It is ingrained in your head. Take a moment and hear the tune in your head. Don’t sing it out loud just hear it play in your head. Have you ever had the experience of hearing a song and then not being able to get it out of your head? That’s audiation — one of the key tools for both speech and singing. Audiation, like visualization, is essential to learning to talk, read, write, sing, make music, to communicate.

“But I still can’t sing!” you say. Consider why you’re embarrassed to sing. Somewhere along the line you acquired a notion that you were not “talented” and you couldn’t sing. But you were born with the ability to sing and make music. Kenneth Guilmartin and Lili Levinowitz, both national authorities on early childhood music, based the development of their internationally acclaimed Music Together® Program upon brain research into how children learn and acquire music. They learned that “musical aptitude or talent is normally distributed in a bell curve manner; that is, musical aptitude is distributed throughout the population just as talent in language, math, visual art, architecture, computer engineering, dance, and other areas are. In fact, 84% of the population is born with enough musical aptitude to play in a symphony orchestra, and only 2 % of the population is born with either exceptionally high or low music intelligence!”

Now, singing is a skill or competency that needs grooming. We need experiences to strengthen it. Kind of like a muscle. So when you say you can’t sing and you have trouble staying on pitch, the problem is not that you don’t have ability to sing, the real problem is that you have not trained or honed your ability. You’ve let your music muscle become flabby! But you can do something about it. When you want to get better at doing something, like dribble a ball, what do you do? You simply do it. Over and over. You practice. You don’t put the ball in the closet and give up! Especially if you want to teach young kids how to dribble.

But that’s exactly what we do with singing. We put it in the closet, never practice or use it, and we excuse ourselves saying “Well we can’t sing.” “We’re not talented!” and let others do the teaching.  Even worse, we rely on media like cds and music downloads to do our singing and role modeling for us. What we are really doing is reinforcing the concept that singing is something only the few talented professionals do, not average people. As a result, our children grow up thinking they can’t sing. Please, don’t pass this this negative legacy on.

So take your voice out of the closet and start singing. Start with familiar tunes. Sing along with recordings, with the radio. Sing along with other people. Sing alone in the shower, your car, while doing chores. Sing with and without accompaniment. Start making up you own tunes. I believe that given experience and exercise, you will develop an ear, the ability to compare and contrast sounds, and over time to produce sounds more accurately. More importantly you will be a role model of active music making for the children in your care.

So, no more excuses—just sing!