Arts + Leadership = Success
What if Singing was Like Reading?

What if Singing was Like Reading?

I recently came across an article on the BBC website claiming that everyone has the ability to sing, even those who claim to be tone deaf. This surprised me and I wanted to dig deeper, because some statistics claim that up to 70% of the North American population claim that they ‘can’t sing’, ‘can’t hold a tune’, or ‘aren’t a singer’. When I sat down with long time friend and Opera Singer, Brooke Dufton, I posed the question to her. Can everyone learn to sing? “Yes!” was her enthusiastic answer.

Through her Phd research at the University of Toronto and her own experiences teaching ‘non’ singers, she believes that the notion that there are singers and non-singers is cultural. She informed me that current science shows that everyone has the ability to sing. She explained that ‘tone-deaf’ is a misnomer because the matching of pitch is a physical coordination issue. Those who are labeled as tone deaf, can actually hear tone, they just need training to be able to create the sound with their voice.

Indeed, music education researchers Helen Richards and Colin Durant claim in their frequently cited article, To Sing or not to Sing, that, “in the often musically elitist context of Western society, it [singing] is perceived as something that you either can or cannot do.” They also claim that everyone has the ability to learn to sing.

Brooke postulates that if singing were treated as an essential skill that can be learned just as reading is, then there would be far fewer adults who claim to be ‘non’ singers. Lets follow this analogy for a minute and pretend that singing is just like reading, a skill that takes training and a lot of practice, but that is considered by society to be an essential skill that everyone must learn.

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  1. Interesting question. I think society would change in that we would have less of an appreciation for singers and the arts. When I think of reading as a skill, I think of it as a given. I expect that most people know how to read (although I totally realize that it is not a given depending where you are brought up). If singing were like reading, I, too, would see singing as another given. I wouldn’t see singing as a special skill/gift because everyone would be doing it. I think we would view the arts as a profession in a very different way. On the flip side…there would be a lot of people singing “Happy Birthday” with confidence! :-)

  2. I don’t entirely agree. We all read at differing levels of skill and qualities of vocal production. Think of Roseanne Barr and James Earl Jones. (Yes, I’m American) Which would you rather hear recite Dickens or the Bible? So, continuing that analogy, I’d rather hear Katherine Jenkins over Taylor Swift sing Ave Maria. Yes, we might have the ability to produce the sound, whether reading or singing, but it takes a special gift to create the musicality of the spoken or the sung words. Just to give you a background, I am a previous classroom teacher, now an arts teacher, who studied voice for years.

  3. This encourages me to re-think my own “I Can’t Sing” voice. I love to sing and rarely do, as I was told as a child that, being tone deaf, I should sing quietly or not at all. You are sharing a great idea and I would encourage it. I believe singing is healthy and a good way to express oneself, but I usually listen and sing in my head, if at all. I have been a costume designer and visual artist, a mother and now, grandmother. Would love to find a way to bring singing back into my life on a daily basis. That said, wonder how I will do it? Yes, let’s teach singing (and drawing and dancing), like reading, as a way to communicate and express oneself. Yes, let’s encourage singing and learning how to do it for those of us that don’t know and think we can’t ever know. I know everyone can learn how to draw but that it takes practice, and can be taught. and of course, there are many skill levels and differences in abilities (and vision). Looking at this idea – hearing that singing can be taught, can be learned and shared by all – this is empowering for the individual and society. This is the kind of change that can have positive effects at many levels.

  4. Music is the first teacher.

  5. If singing were so so common and pervasive a feature of life (as language is), I’m wondering if we’d soon apply the conventions of conversation to it. When we exchange words, we don’t just launch off into random made-up language, our sentences track and refer to what the other person has said. But there could indeed be musical conversations…several people ‘talking’ at once need not be cacophonous…models for ‘harmony’…many more emotional shades available…

  6. Thanks for your comments, Nicky, Carol, Michelle, Cynthia and Hannah. I really appreciate learning your perspectives on this idea.

    Artistically yours,

  7. As a piano teacher, I often sing in the lessons I teach and have my students to sing with their playing. Some sing readily and some are reluctant because they have trouble matching their voice to pitch. I encourage them anyway. My college piano teacher told that if I could sing it, I could play it. I also take Suzuki viola lessons and we sing to learn the music. Thank you for your article. Singing is such a mood and confidence booster. Our society would be so much more positive and relaxed if people sang.

  8. I learned through the performing arts that we sing (vocals) on vowels, the part of the word “singing” is the vowel sound. Language can often be learned easier with song. I think everyone can sing in that way!
    Can everyone “really sing”? I think the debate is wonderful because it calls attention to the important difference between taste and expression, accents and regionalisms, Standard/ General American and individual style.
    Singing (vocals) often leads to other skills like reading music, doing math, and active listening. Even if you are “bad” or even if you can’t sing. Thank you so much for your “Top Ten Skills Children Learn From The Arts” and continuing the conversation! -Amie S.

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