Saturday, September 8, 2007


As I was watching footage from Pavarotti's funeral today, I started thinking about how I feel about learning to sing. I feel very strongly about it and I'm sure I'll end up talking more about it later. In short, I believe that everyone can learn to sing. Not everyone will sound like Pavarotti, but it is truly possible for anyone to learn how to make a nice sound. It's all muscle coordination - and you use the muscles for singing when you speak every day. Singing muscle coordination comes more naturally to some than it does to others, but it is possible to make a good sound that you enjoy and that others around you can enjoy listening to. It's the same as any other physical skill. For example, I can practice my basketball game as much as I want, but I will never play as well as Michael Jordan. I can still have fun playing though. Especially if I can play basketball without constantly comparing myself to Michael Jordan or anyone else that has more basketball skills than I do.

Really, it comes down to three elements:
1. Proper Breathing (including having good posture so that breath can move through you and support the sound)
2. Vowels (good open ones that allow the sound to come out in the right shapes)
3. Courage

I used to talk to my junior high kids about this all the time. To make a good sound, you have to have all three elements. When all three elements are there, you are making a beautiful sound. Some people breathe correctly and have good vowels, but don't have the courage to share their voice with those listening. That lack of courage can come from many different places, but regardless of the cause, these people don't sound as good as they could when they sing. Some people have all the courage in the world, but they are missing element number one or number two. Or both. These are usually the people you see singing in karaoke bars and during the early audition rounds of American Idol. You know - the ones who were told by their mothers that they have excellent singing voices and then Simon crushes their dreams. But they are going to keep chasing that dream no matter what Simon says because he doesn't know anything. (There are usually some curse words somewhere in that sentence.)

I had posted a video clip of a man singing "Amazing Grace" in his church that was sent to me by a friend. It was a little demonstration of someone like an American Idol auditioner - great courage, no technique. I don't think I've ever seen someone sing with so much conviction who had so little singing skill. I was amazed and a little bit entertained by how wrapped up he was in his own voice. However, it's pretty tough to watch if you are someone like Diggity who can't bear to watch people perform when he feels more embarrassed for them than they should for themselves. Because of that, I decided I should take it down. I do believe anyone can sing and I didn't want it to seem that I was making fun of this gentleman. You can probably find it on You Tube if you would like to see it. Let me know if you want help finding it.


Sarah Jane said...

Macy, I am so glad that you are blogging! Great post! I am so with you on the idea that everyone can sing. It is really amazing how simple the principles are, but that doesn't mean that it is easy! It takes so much self awareness! You are a great teacher, and I hope that you can teach again...if you aren't still. Shrewsbury could use some good talent I am sure! I love your blog, and G-man (cute nickname:) is so darling! I will be back! Keep posting! We miss you!!!!

Whitney Johnson said...

Macy --

Yes, he definitely has courage, but it is difficult to listen to this gentleman singing, partly because it doesn't sound that good (I just listened to the Wintley Phipps version), and partly because I'm embarrassed for him.

As for everyone learning to sing, well, I think I believe you -- but I think the teacher is very rare indeed who can teach people who don't naturally sound good and help them sound good.

If you could ever teach me how to learn how to sing -- I would be so happy!

Yvonne said...

I'd love to believe you, Macy, but sorry--I don't think everyone can sing. One day I'll sing for you and you'll know it's true. Compared to me, that young man sounded pretty good ; )

Macy said...

Sarah - You're right about the self awareness, for sure. What is funny to me is having taught people how to play tennis, it is so strange to try to explain what something should feel like instead of just showing them what to do. Or standing behind them with my hand on the racket and swinging with them. If only the muscle coordination for singing was that easy to teach. :)

Whitney - I can teach you because I know how much you want to find your singing voice. I'm exploring the idea of doing some group classes. It's a very cool, affirming way to learn. If that doesn't work out, I'm going to slowly start up my private studio again this winter.

Yvonne - I don't think everyone can naturally open their mouth and have beauty come out. Like I said in my post, the muscle coordination to sing comes more easily to some than others. I don't remember learning how to sing, really. I just always could. So, because I feel like my voice is a blessing I was given, I try to be a good steward over it and learn as much as I can about it, practice it to make it stronger, and I work very hard to be willing to share it whenever I have the opportunity. That said, I really do think anyone that wants to learn, can learn to sing. I know you never agree with me on this point, so I guess you'll just have to agree to disagree with me. :) But the muscles in your fingers that you trained to play the piano are the same kind of muscles that are in your throat that allow you to be able to sing. And you have a nice speaking voice, so singing isn't a far jump from that. And with some training in breathing, good vowel shapes and finding the courage to share your voice (which is the hardest part for everyone, I think), anyone can learn to make a good sound. I've seen it happen with many of my voice students and in the group classes I took at BYU. It's an amazing thing to witness.

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