Well, for starters, I pretty much don’t believe in tone-deafness for most people! So there. You’re not getting off that easily!
Here’s the dealio:
Roughly 4% of the population has what is termed Amusia. It’s a musical disorder that affects mainly the processing of pitch, but can also affect musical memory and recognition.
There are two main types of Amusia:
Acquired - often the result of brain damage
Congenital - resulting from a brain anomaly at birth
4% of the population is not very many people, people! So if you’re not a special member of that 4% (I’ve yet to meet anyone who is), and you’re not deaf, then you’re not tone deaf!
Now, before we move any further, there's one thing that needs our utmost attention: OUR BRAINS AND BODIES HAVE AMAZING PLASTICITY! IF WE PUT OUR MINDS TO IT, WE CAN ACCOMPLISH INCREDIBLE THINGS. SO YES, I BELIEVE YOU CAN LEARN TO SING.
Want more proof that you probably just don't get to pull out the "tone deaf" card any longer? Good, cause I'm just getting warmed up!
Can you speak with the appropriate inflection? As in, when you speak your native language/s, do you sound like a native speaker (accents aside, we’re talking do you sound “normal”)? Probably! And you wanna know what that means? It means that YOU’RE MATCHING PITCH! Yes! Speech is a series of inflections of pitches, and if you can speak in the way that is customary for your mother tongue, it means, again(!), that you’re not tone deaf!!!
But wait! Like those bad infomercials, there’s more!
Yep. Try this one on for size! So, you have been practicing speaking since you were a wee little thing, right? And, like anything you practice, you’ve gotten good at it (maybe even in two or more languages!).
Now, you usually expect to get good at things you practice, and not at things you don’t practice. Right?! I mean, you probably wouldn’t bother beating yourself up for not being a great violinist if you’ve never picked up a violin, and if you ever did desire to learn violin, or neuroscience, or gymnastics, or any other major on-par skill, you would expect any of these to take years to master. Correctamundo?!
So why the heck don’t we apply the same logic to singing?! I mean, in my humblest of opinions, our society has really done us all a disservice on this one, by misleading many of us to believe that among the singing world, there are the haves and the have-nots.
And I’ve gotta tell you:
I simply don’t believe that’s true. Even if it was true, I don’t believe it's of very much consequence (ie, it's really not as important as the media wants us to believe it is). My experience helping people learn to sing tells me that people can learn to sing with the voice they've been given, and I’m here to share the good news with you if you haven’t heard it yet!
Let’s Break Singing Down (and not jump to any more conclusions!)
Ok, so take the previous logic ~ that you get good at what you practice and not at what you don’t practice ~ and apply it to singing. Have you ever:
• Practiced singing consistently?
• Had any helpful guidance?
• Received any positive or promising feedback?
• Sought professional assistance? (that wasn’t disparaging or discouraging, because, unfortunately, that kind does exist)
If you’re wondering if you’re tone deaf, and that’s why you’re reading this, then I’m guessing you’d probably answer “No” to most of the above points!
The sad truth is that many people don’t ever sing, either because of their own or other’s pronouncements about their lack of singing ability. They never really sing, and then, because on the rare occasion that they do try, they cough up creaks and groans instead of emitting glorious strains, they just assume it’s because they can’t sing! Now I’d call that jumping to conclusions!
The reality is that in order to sing better, most people simply need to LEARN HOW, PRACTICE, GET THEIR MUSCLES COORDINATED, GET THEIR VOICES IN SHAPE, and SING, LIKE, A BUNCH!
Not everyone has a voice built to sound like Luciano Pavarotti or Christina Aguilera, but does that mean that you can’t sing? NO! You can learn to use the instrument that YOU have. And our world will be richer for it!
Shows like American Idol ,The Voice, and X-Factor have done a great service to many. But they have also glorified fame, competition, and perfectionism, while sweeping other important aspects of singing under the rug almost completely, and making many people feel that they have no business singing unless they were “born with a voice.”
If we applied this kind of thinking to sports, then only professional athletes would be playing sports. The rest of us, who have very different lives that don’t allow for us to be elite athletes, well, we’d all be out of luck. We’d have to resign ourselves to watching the pros play sports instead of engaging in them ourselves.
That sounds a little ridiculous, doesn’t it? Because we all know that sports have intrinsic value apart from the Olympic Games or ESPN. There are all sorts of ways that playing sports enhances our lives and our health, whether we’re at the top of our game or not!
We also know that being an elite athlete requires a lot of time, attention, and practice; the whole “it takes 10,000 hours to become a master” thing. Well, singing is as complex a process as any I can imagine, and it’s certainly worthy of the 10,000 hours to mastery honor. Singing is an intricate art form that takes incredible skill! Like any art form that we haven’t tried, the uninitiated usually have no idea how much skill it takes.
As an example, my boyfriend and I built ourselves a music studio this summer. It was prefab ~ how hard could it be? We thought we’d have it up in two days. Well, a month and a half later there’s still work to be done! Could professionals have put it up in a day? You betcha! Because they have years of experience behind them!
Well, the same concepts apply to singing!
First of all, there are so many wonderful benefits intrinsic to singing, and they can be enjoyed by the elite and non-elite singer alike. They are things like Community. Connection. Joy. Feel-good endorphins. Positive psychological effects. The fun of learning new skills and stretching our brains. Enhanced right brain/left brain connectivity. Creative thinking. Staying young at heart. Lower blood pressure. Greater self-confidence. Aerobic and mind-calming benefits of deep breathing. An increased sense of well-being. Mindfulness training. And I could go on!
As for the building skill bit, well, anything worth doing is worth taking the time to do. And singing certainly takes time to master. If the carpenters who could build our music studio quick as a jiffy had never played music and were asked to master a Beethoven piano sonata, I bet it would take them at least as long as it took us to get that little music room off the ground. Tit for tat! Ok, I'm kidding. But you get my point!
Ok, So Let’s Sum This All Up and Give You Some Practical Singing Advice
First of all, I believe that if you put your mind to it, learn the appropriate skills, and put the time in, then YES, you can sing! Will you be the next rising pop sensation? I have no idea. But I do know that if you want to enjoy singing, then that is totally possible. And learning to do it doesn’t have to be a drag! Is singing with the radio or in the shower a drag? I think not! Just imagine: you, too, can enjoy using your voice, singing along with iTunes, in a choir, or at the karaoke joint down the street. Wouldn’t you love that? I’m guessing that if you’re still with me, the answer is a resounding YES!
STEP 1: Change Your Beliefs
A good place to start is to begin to re-wire the thinking that has probably told you for years that you were tone deaf. You get to start talking back to that voice.
Tell it gently,
“Kimberly said that you’re trying to help me and keep me safe, but from now on, I am going to entertain different thoughts. It doesn’t mean that you have to DIE (thoughts get very afraid to die!). No, thought! You are perfectly free to go live happily somewhere else. There are plenty of other people who still believe in tone-deafness. You can go hang out with them! Have fun!
Meanwhile, I’ll be over here, choosing better feeling thoughts! Because I now believe that I can LEARN to sing, I can ENJOY my own voice, and I can have LOTS OF FUN with it!
So what if it takes time? All things worth doing take time. And I’m just going to enjoy the heck out of the process, and not get too concerned with 'getting there.' I’m going to enjoy the journey!”
Tell it something along those lines. Yes, you can make it cheesy. Why are we so afraid to make things cheesy, even with ourselves?! Just goof it up a bit. It will be even more fun that way.
STEP 2: Sing As Much As Possible
Sing whenever, wherever, however. But please, make sure that you keep yourself safe during the infant stages! Don’t put yourself in criticism’s way. There are many well-meaning people that will step on your fledgling skills. Keep your singing safe and protected as it matures. If you sing with people, make sure they get it and are supportive. (One of my clients was so excited, and sang to her husband after her first couple of voice lessons. He laughed, and it really set her back a bit. So just be self-nurturing during the early stages, ok! It takes time to get good at anything). A caring voice teacher would be a HUGE ally in this process. You've gotta go to the pros to get professional results. Take the time to do the research on a voice teacher, and don’t be afraid to try different ones out.
STEP 3: Develop Your Musical Ear and Sense of Pitch
If you’re having a very difficult time telling if you’re in tune, you probably need to enlist someone to help you learn to match pitch. It takes patience, repetition, and more repetition. Your vocal cords have to learn some pretty complex choreography. You'll need to develop muscle memory so that when your brain hears a note, the vocal cords can create that note. The process, like any muscle-brain training, can take time, and is best led by an expert.
STEP 4: Get Professional Help with Vocal Technique
Yep. You’re probably also going to need help with vocal technique - not only how to match pitch, but how to sing well. Believe me, you will be amazed by the process! If you find a good teacher, you will be so excited with the discoveries and the results.
Whoever you choose to work with during this process, make sure they know what they’re doing and are supportive of you. If they’re not, find someone else! Seriously! Find someone you enjoy working with, make progress with, and feel supported by. And remember that, with online voice lessons all the rage, the world is literally your oyster!
Ok, I totally hope this inspired you, especially if you’ve been wanting to sing but afraid to try. I really, deeply, truly wish you well on your vocal journey!
If you'd like even more information about tone deafness and singing in tune, here are a couple of videos in which I further explain both concepts.
Sure hope they're helpful! Let me know if you have any questions or observations in the comments below.
~ With Love, Kimberly
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