Why Are Singers So Different?
Music is unique. Music is something we as humans have developed from our body and mind’s standard functions. We have taken our dexterity to play complex instruments with incomparable co-ordination. We use our ear and souls to listen and communicate in a language that is universal worldwide, across ethnicities and class.
In the act of singing we have taken the primal function of the larynx (swallowing and shouting to gain attention or insight fear) and fine tuned it into beautiful and intricate melodies and harmonies. Thus singers are just as musical as musicians. Yet, singers are often classed in a completely different box. Do they class themselves in this way or is this something that has simply happened over time?
Now one could say that singing is unique to music. The voice is an instrument all humans have access to. You don’t need to go out and buy the finest vocal cords like you would a guitar or a piano as it comes with the conventions of being a human. Could this be why singing is deemed as a lesser skill? Because it is so accessible? But what makes the difference between a person who sings and a person who is a musician using their instrument.
The beauty of singing is it’s accessibility and it’s multitude of purposes. Singing can be used, as with any other instrument, to entertain, to evoke emotion and to awe the listener. It also can be a tool of the user. The singer can use their voice to convey feelings that are otherwise obscured. It has the ability to heal and bring joy to the user. Scientific studies have shown how singing can improve mood and that singing as a group is highly beneficial to human health and sense of community.
And maybe it’s this humanising nature of the voice that sets it apart from the “musicians” of the world.
So what can we do to bring more calibre to the singer, to set them on the same level as the musician. If singing is a standard ability of all humans, what can set us apart.
Many will argue that theory and instrumental study are non essential to the singer. That the words of the singer and the ability to follow a tune are simply enough. I would argue against this and bring awareness and understanding of music and the voice to each and every lesson. These skills can be taught in a musical and practical way without the need of heavy textbooks associated with other theoretical studies. Take the music of other cultures as an example. I often work with musicians from Kenyan tribes as part of a cultural diversity programme and these performers are some of the best I have worked with. They’re understanding of the flow of music may not be written with pen and paper but it has been instilled through careful practice and experimentation.
How can we expect to be a singer of high calibre without study and knowledge of the instrument we use. Time and time again singers pass through the industry with no knowledge of rhythm, timing, harmony or even knowing how they do what they do. Now the natural talent of any singer is of course not to be questioned. Far from it. Many people are naturally gifted with a musical feel, they can just know what to sing and when in certain circumstances. But wouldn’t these singers be the next level if they knew how they achieved what they were doing? If they were able to replicate their perfected skill time and time again without fail?
So in educating singers of today, we can give them the knowledge provided to use their voices to their fullest potential. We can give them the skill of musical conversation. We can provide them with the anatomical & theoretical study as well as musical abilities through practice and experimentation to bring their voice to the world.