Several times I have heard that it takes about seven years to learn how to sing. Except when it doesn’t. There are a few people who sing well without studying, and there are many who have a ways to go after seven years. Should the natural singer skip lessons? No, not if they want to learn! Should the poor singer stop studying? No, not if they want to learn! It’s a question of “What is your purpose?” and “Are you engaged in a fruitful process to improve your singing?”
For the “natural singers”, some reasons for study:
- Get back what you had, due to a changing body, or recovery from an injury, illness, emotional trauma, or weight change.
- To adjust your singing to your body’s natural changes through time – aging, pregnancy, hormonal changes, etc.
- To develop your abilities further.
- To learn how to teach or conduct other singers who are not as gifted. If you don’t understand a process of vocal training and development, you are not going to be optimally effective as a teacher or leader.
For the rest of us:
- We need someone to show us how to work on our singing. Where do I start? How should I practice?
- Progress on certain difficult issues will only be made when we ask for help.
- You can’t know your potential without working on it. Many great singers could tell you that they weren’t “good” when they first started, and had to study for a number of years to begin doing great things.
- There comes a time when lessons can be less frequent, and eventually you might only want to sing for someone situationally. When the same person (teacher, coach, conductor, bandleader) hears us infrequently, they have a perspective on “how you are doing” over the long haul.
It is very important not to kick yourself if you are taking a long time to develop your voice, but you should stay awake and ask questions. You might want to ask people how long it took them to solve issue X. Sometimes, the answer is “It takes how long it takes.” Whether you are improving is what is important. Some issues are very difficult to solve and involve peeling away years of useless habits. Some improvements come as breakthroughs where a new level is attained quickly. Being engaged in an open and enthusiastic way with a good teacher will lead to faster progress than a disinterest in learning, lack of practice, or poor teaching.
If you feel that you are not improving (quickly enough or at all), ask your teacher: “What needs improvement in my singing? Based on my goal of ______, what do I need to be able to do to get there that I cannot currently do?” The answer can lead to a dialogue with your teacher that may help get things moving again, or you may find that you need to find someone else to help you. If you feel that your progress is stagnant, get a second and third opinion. Sing for a coach or conductor, and ask them those questions. You don’t know how you rank in the world unless you ask the world to rank you once in a while.
It is devilishly hard to predict who will become an outstanding singer and who won’t. Many a college freshman with problems has blossomed into a fine singer, and many a talented child has crashed or gone nowhere career-wise, or developed a problem in adulthood that caused them to give up. Reconciling your goals with your abilities is something that you have to check in with frequently.
Although voice lessons are the primary way to make improvements, “study” goes beyond that. Listening to other singers and all kinds of music is essential. Understanding the body, language, and repertoire can be greatly increased outside of voice lessons. Talking with other singers at all levels about the process of learning to sing can be very interesting. Be curious!
How do you define progress? Progress implies improvement based on some kind of scale. Possible observations that would show progress could be:
- “I like my voice better than before”
- “I am getting better results in competitive situations”
- “I can sing difficult things more easily”
- “Audience feedback is more positive”
Your singing goal can be joining the community chorus, singing professional opera, forming a tribute band, learning a difficult new role or work, teaching kids, or just “getting better” and enjoying the music you are making. If you are interested in progress, then you must work on building your voice, your experience, and your musicianship, and figure out a means of knowing whether you are arriving.