Today I want to talk about a topic that I consider really important for the practice of singing. Everybody likes to sing, and lots of people want to ‘get good at singing,’ but do they have what it takes?
What it takes to be a good singer:
The good news is that you don’t need to be born with a great voice.
- hard work
- hours of practice
- a change of lifestyle
- an open mind
- a willingness to explore in depth every possible emotion without becoming attached to them
- learning to be a good listener
- being ready to learn a lot about yourself without judging yourself
- being ready to confront your ego
- being present
- body awareness
In my teaching career I have found myself, many times, talking to students who assure me that they want to be great singers. Most of them also assure me that they have a natural talent for singing. Sadly, I would say that in most of these cases, those assurances are only words. Most students or potential students give up their singing training when they realise that there is actually some work involved. (More than words!!)
I remember so many cases. One teenager contacted me some time ago by email, telling me about her natural singing abilities and that she wanted to be as great as Ariana Grande. She enquired about lessons, but was only willing to take them if I travelled to her house instead of her coming to my studio. I offered her online lessons but she declined.
Another adult beginner, some months ago, assured me that he wanted to do Rockschool exams to make his dad proud of him, but then told me he didn’t want to do all of the exams (he wanted to skip some of them) as he didn’t want to spend many years completing them. He booked only 30-minute lessons each week and he missed more than half of them. The last lesson he cancelled (as usual, not in advance), he gave me the excuse that he didn’t have a car that day and didn’t want to use public transport. He also didn’t pay for any of the lessons he booked. Of course, I stopped teaching him after three months.
I have SO MANY examples of people doing this kind of thing. So many people want to be good at singing but very few people are willing to do the work that it takes!!
And I know from experience just how much work it takes. When I was a child, I begged my parents to take me to singing lessons, but it was not possible since I lived on a farm hours away from the city, with no internet connection. Then, when I was 16, after years of begging my parents, I finally had the opportunity to start taking singing lessons occasionally. I travelled two hours for those lessons. At that time I was also recruited to sing at church, and in a cover band too. All of this happened in a city very far from my home but I didn’t care about the effort, I did all I could anyway. I just wanted to sing!
When it was time for me to go to university, I went to live in a city where I could study music and singing. I did my music studies at university and at the same time I did all the workshops, seminars and masterclasses that I could, and trained with a private teacher regularly. I also read all the books about singing that I could.
After some years, I found the singing academy of my dreams in Buenos Aires. It was really hard to get in there, and it took me two years of hard work, and three auditions, to finally be accepted. When I was accepted, I kept on studying in La Plata, and also travelled every single day to Buenos Aires to do my singing studies at the academy. At the same time, I became interested in spiritual singing and improvisation, and found the perfect teacher for that, who was also in Buenos Aires. I started studying with her almost every day, too.
When I was 22, I was offered a job as a singing teacher in a music school, and I took it.
So, as you can imagine, at this stage all my time and money was dedicated to singing. I didn’t have a very active social life and I didn’t buy clothes or fancy things like normal women do; I didn’t go out often, I didn’t have any spare money, and I couldn’t even go to visit my family in the holidays like students in Argentina normally do.
But it was all worth it because singing has always been my biggest passion. I have no regrets about that.
I’m not expecting everybody to do the same, but if you really want to improve your singing, at least start with the minimum: commit to regular practice. Maybe one lesson or class a week; maybe one a month. It doesn’t matter, but honour the singing practice as it deserves to be honoured.
I have encountered many people that say to me things like, “You say everybody can learn just to get more students,” or, “You don’t know [how hard it is]; you were born with a good voice.” These are just excuses to not do the work. As I mentioned earlier, I was not born with anything extraordinary. But I did work even harder than I could and I sacrificed everything for it.
So don’t assume singing is only for those born with talent. This is never the case, even Michael Jackson (pretty much one of the only real born-talent singers I know of) worked harder than anybody to get really good at what he loved the most. Singing really is for everybody, but it is not an easy path.
It’s no different from other disciplines: think about the greatest musicians, the greatest athletes or dancers or even yogis — all of them devote most of their day to their practice.
So go ahead and honour your singing practice. Be humble. Find a good teacher. Find where your voice is at at this moment, without judging it, without getting frustrated or mad because you don’t sing like Mariah Carey, and without comparing it to the voice of others. And start working from there. Appreciate every single little improvement that you make.
I am very proud to say that I also have very good students. My regular students were not born with a natural Michael Jackson or Celine Dion voice, but they started from scratch and, with a lot of humbleness and trust, they got better and better every time. I have students that have been studying with me for years now, and it is so amazing to see their progress.
All of them have other activities like school or fulltime jobs, but they come to their lesson without excuse every week, they are humble enough to listen to advice and guidance, and they never give up, even when they find themselves in the frustration phase.
Not all of them practise at home, but all of them do honour their practice even if it is just the most basic one — coming to their weekly lesson. Of course, the more they progress, the more practice they want!
How to honour your singing practice:
As I said before, you don’t have to give up everything else in order to improve your voice. Start small. I’ll give you some tips that can help you get started:
- Decide what the minimum time is that you can dedicate to your practice per week and commit to it. Don’t find excuses to skip it! Fifteen minutes a day is better than one hour casually.
- Find a teacher who guides you. If you cannot afford it, find other ways to learn: Youtube channels, books, tutorials . . . You could even join a choir!
- Be gentle with your voice and honour it. Your voice is an expression of yourself; don’t say mean things (like, “My voice is awful,” or, “My voice is crap,”) about it! Love your voice, appreciate it, be thankful for all the things it gives you. Take care of it!
- Don’t get frustrated. Observe the things you like about your voice and work on what you don’t quite like. Don’t get stuck or focused on what you don’t like.
- Be humble enough to not expect to be ‘the best’, just doyour best (which is not comparable to anybody elses’). We sing to express and to create art, not to demonstrate superiority.
- Keep positive and enjoy your practice!!
- Do the best you can do at all times. One of my teachers once told me that being an excellent student is not doing everything amazingly, but instead giving your particular best that particular day. We can only aspire to that or get frustrated!
- Respect what and how your voice is at this very moment (resonance, ability, etc). Your life story brought you here, to this point. You can change it if you decide to. Also, the voice sounds different every day because we are different every day.
- Respect the voices of others without judging them.
- Take care of your voice by adopting healthy vocal habits such as not smoking, drinking enough water and avoiding caffeine
Remember… you get really good at what you practice every day 🙂
Image by Evan Forester