Sing like you speak? Riddles

“Singing and speaking use the same instrument.”

Singing and speaking use the same body, but I could argue that the voice is not an instrument at all when it is not being used musically. Most people have a clear idea of the difference between speech and singing when they hear it. Why is that? What is different about them? Most people who have listened to a lot of singers can also tell you when someone has a huge or tiny difference between the way they sing and the way they speak. Musical instruments have certain acoustical properties that make them recognizable. If someone speaks with those acoustical properties missing, are they really using a musical instrument? Can our voices sometimes be musical instruments and other times merely signaling devices?


“Si canta come si parla – One sings as one speaks.”

Some do, some don’t. Beverly Sills, Jim Nabors, Franco Corelli, Adam Lambert, and Susan Boyle all had/have quite divergent voices in speaking and singing. I have known a lot of people with horrible speech habits who are quite good singers, and vice versa.

Most singers will tell you that they are in a different mental state when they sing compared to casual conversation. Also, there is a physical energization needed for singing that is rarely used for speaking. I think these account for why one’s speaking and singing can sound and feel so different from each other.

I took a workshop a few years ago in extended vocal techniques. We did one exercise that was unforgettable and a lot of fun. We deliberately mixed physical and vocal messages. First, we jumped up in the air, pumped our fists upward, smiled widely, and screamed “NO!” at the top of our lungs. Then we did the opposite. Slouched, crossed our arms, stamped our feet, furrowed our brows and said “yes, I’d love that” while trying to sound happy vocally. Try it, especially with a friend or family member. It feels very strange and is harder than it seems. It is also hilarious for the person you are communicating with.

There is so much more to speech and singing than emitting a vocal noise. It’s not all the same. Context, intention, posture, and perhaps even the parts of our brains we use can be very different between the two. Don’t be hard on yourself or your voice student if a speech concept or exercise doesn’t seem to help the singing. I invite you to consider how much these two activities intersect. Can you start a sentence speaking and turn it into a sung phrase? How do you do it? How do you know whether you have crossed the line?


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