Sunday, June 05, 2011

“Everyone can sing” – what the hell does that mean??!!

There is a proverb from Zimbabwe (apparently) that says: “If you can walk, then you can dance. If you can talk, then you can sing.”

Zulu nation

Zulu nation by nualabugeye

Exactly! The whole of my work is based on my belief that everyone can sing. But what does that mean in practice?

call that singing??!!

It’s choir night and you’re standing next to that guy in the basses with the loud voice and he just seems to be singing at random. He’s all right when the basses sing on their own, but as soon as the other parts come in, he’s all over the shop. It’s really off-putting!

You’re in a singing workshop and there’s a woman in the tops who has such a screechy voice that it just cuts through everything else. She doesn’t seem to be aware of it and just keeps on going. Not nice at all!

It’s mid-evening and that boy next door is off again. Singing at the top of his voice he thinks he’s the next Justin Bieber, but his voice sounds so rough and he just can’t get those high notes without really straining. Not very pleasant.

You’re watching your local community choir perform and there’s a woman standing right in the middle who has a really loud voice and it’s just off. She’s out of tune, out of time, and seems to be in her own little world. Doesn’t anyone realise?

You’re driving along and a guy comes on the radio singing a pop song, but it sounds like he’s got marbles in his mouth and he has that squeezed operatic tenor voice that you just hate. Is that really singing?

So what do we do with these people? Can they sing or not? Should they be opening their mouths in public or should we just shut them down?

I say that everyone can sing, but clearly these people can’t. Or can they?

the two extremes

A while back Robert Whyte commented (rather snippily) on a post of mine:

“Anyone can get up and sing in Mr. Rowbury’s workshops just as anyone can get up at a wedding and shake their tail. Dancing on stage as a trained performer takes much more discipline and years of training.”

In his view, saying that everyone can sing is meaningless. Of course everyone can open their mouth and make a sound, but it may not be what we would want to call ‘singing’.

Mr. Whyte implies that anyone who wants to sing needs “discipline and years of training”.

So we have two extremes here:

  1. anyone can ‘sing’ by just opening their mouth and making a noise. It doesn’t have to be ‘nice’ or ‘trained’ or even ‘in tune’
  2. only people who are disciplined and have had years of training can really ‘sing’

Of course, most of us are somewhere between these two extremes.

what I mean by “everyone can sing”

When I say that “everyone can sing” I mean that everyone is capable of singing fairly pleasantly and in tune. Not always right off the bat. It takes some people longer than others. After all, it takes a few years to learn to walk or talk or drive a car, why should singing be any different?

The trouble is, many, many people think that because they don’t have years of training under their belt, or immediately sound like Justin Bieber or Lady Gaga or (*insert your favourite singer here*), they aren’t entitled to sing. They shouldn’t dare sing out loud or inflict their horrible voice on people until they are trained and can read music. Try telling that to folk and traditional singers around the world!

But what do we do with the loud random-singing bass, or the screechy top or the tuneless choir member or the awful boy next door (or the highly trained opera singer trying to ‘do’ pop) – can they really not ‘sing’?

Of course they can, they just need to develop a few skills and be patient.

First of these is self-awareness. The best gift a singer can have is to be aware of when they are slightly off the tune or louder than everyone else or if they have a vocal quality that is different from those around them (or if their technique is getting in the way or the style they’re using is inappropriate to the material).

That’s the first and most important step to learning how to improve your singing voice.

Sometimes it’s not possible to give people individual attention in a choir or singing workshop. If they are putting everyone else off (simply because they are at a different stage of development than the majority), then they need to be give some individual attention away from the group.

don’t be quick to judge

The reason why I bang on about this so much is that people are so quick to dismiss those singers who might be slightly out of tune or rough around the edges when they start out (see my recent post Are you tone deaf? Very unlikely!). It can so easily put people off even attempting to sing or join a choir or singing workshop. Such a shame!

In this quick-fix world we want to be marvellous immediately. We set our sights on the highest achievers and best-known celebrities without giving ourselves the chance to grow and develop.

And we all criticise. Next time you think that someone can’t ‘sing’, take a moment and respect the fact that they are on a journey and may not come up to your high standards for a while. And perhaps take a moment to think where you are on that journey and how far you’ve come (and how far you still have to go).

do you believe that everyone can sing?

I know a lot of other people believe that everyone can sing and should be given the chance to make music with others. But what do you think? Do drop by, leave a comment and let us know if you agree or not. I’d love to hear from you.


Chris Rowbury's website:

Chris Rowbury


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