Lots of my clients ask me about how far someone’s “natural” singing ability can be improved or how someone who seemingly “can’t sing” could find that they could sing reasonably well after all. How is it possible that we are so convinced that a naturally gifted singer has nothing to learn and someone who’s never taken any lessons is right in assuming they are ‘no good’ at singing?
The first rule with any question like this is – test your theory. For example, if I am convinced I cannot sing but have never had lessons, where am I getting my information from? How can I be convinced of something I’ve never tried? Or worse still, how can I be sure I “can’t sing” purely from my conclusion about what things other people (who also have never had singing lessons) have told me over the years? The only answer is to go and have some lessons with different teachers, assume that I know nothing about singing and see what happens.
So, if you have an un-tested theory about your singing, that’s one good reason to have singing lessons. Another is, if you have been struggling in some way with your singing and you can’t seem to fix the problem yourself. For example, if you have trouble finding enough breath to get through your favourite but challenging song at the original tempo, maybe you have some bad habits with your breathing technique for singing. On the other hand, if you’re having breathing trouble and you’re a smoker, you may just need to quit smoking and that will fix 99% of the problem. If you’re not sure, hire a singing teacher and find out!
Also, if you are someone who finds it hard to motivate yourself to practise but you are enthusiastic about improving your singing, it can be beneficial to work with a voice coach just to get into a systematic pattern of singing practice and learning new songs to build up your repertoire at the same time. By having regular lessons booked in advance, you commit to having this month or two to focus on singing as your main goal, which is key in making progress. Only consistent practice with a clear goal in mind will help you make progress quickly but solidly.
If you have other milestones on the horizon such as a performance or audition, it can also be incredibly helpful to have singing lessons in the lead-up to it, in order to help build your confidence and stamina for the kind of work you’ll need to be able to do under the pressure of a live audience. (And remember – even in the studio, you have the ‘live’ audience of the sound engineer to sing in front of, so it’s advantageous to get to the point of feeling comfortable singing in the presence of other people.)
You may also need help in choosing the right kind of song to sing for an audition and a vocal coach will probably have a wider knowledge of suitable songs than you.
Where it can be unhelpful to have singing lessons would be when you’re too busy to fit in regular practice between lessons or where you’re embarking on singing lessons with a teacher who teaches a completely different genre of singing than the style you’re aiming for. Sometimes it can be useful to get a different perspective, but if you have a clear idea in your head of wanting to be great at singing jazz ballads, then you’d be disappointing yourself and probably your teacher too, if you’ve signed up for opera singing classes. Be aware of what you want to get out of the lessons. The more you know about what you want to be able to ‘walk away with’, the more you can weigh-up the offers the vocal coach has displayed on his or her website or advert and see if you’d be a good fit for each other.
Additionally, if you’re quite happy singing along to the radio while you’re doing the washing up or driving in your car but you’ve no particular goal in mind of wanting to improve or sing other songs, then it’s perfectly ok to leave things as they are. Speaking as a vocal coach myself, there is nothing wrong in using singing in your day-to-day pottering about without having to go to a teacher for lessons. No good vocal coach would want to teach a student with no goal in mind other than to just ‘continue singing’. If you’re already doing that without problems, what’s the point? If it ain’t broke…