I hear this diatribe at dinner parties, social gatherings, and informal conversations with (non-singer) friends all the time.
This ‘belief’ has been repeated enough to now be accepted as an unspoken truth. Fortunately, it’s untrue.
I work with singers that in their first lesson cannot match pitch at all, and within a few weeks are targeting pitches successfully around 90-95%. That’s a pretty rapid growth for something that they didn’t have ‘talent’ for (according to society’s standards).
As a profession of voice teachers, we MUST reject the vocal prodigy myth, whenever and wherever we hear it.
I began to work with a personal trainer last fall and he asked me pointedly, “Can you teach anyone to sing?” My immediate response was that, in most cases, “Yes! everyone can learn to sing well.” It does not mean that they will go on to have a major career as a singer, but it does mean that they will be able to ‘sing.’ When I explained to the trainer that I teach muscles indirectly, he understood me instantly. He also works with people that want to become stronger and more fit. His clients would not be competing in the Olympics, but they wanted to live fuller and healthier lives, and meet their fitness goals. Same with singing.
As the body can be strengthened, toned, and brought to a high state of health through diet and exercise, so, too, can the voice. What it requires is patience on the part of the student, as well as the willingness of the teacher to help the student ‘find’ their voice. It requires moments of clumsiness, confusion, and gentle prodding.
I’ve heard too many stories from students of their rejections from studio after studio. They’ve been told the teacher ‘couldn’t help them at all.’
Unless the student has a clinical condition called amusia, there is a way to help anyone that wants to sing. Teachers must be more honest and simply say, “I’m afraid I am not willing/unable/don’t have the time to help you with your pitch accuracy.” It’s a softer psychic blow than being told “You have no voice.”
Talent is BUILT day by day. It is constructed in every voice lesson based on the student’s current level of ability.
Can anyone learn to sing? Yes, in most cases.
It is our job as teachers to be honest and ask ourselves if WE are willing to take the journey with those that struggle with the most rudimentary of skills.