I have a quick story to tell you today about one of my students, who I shall call “Mary” for the purposes of this post.
As with many of my students who have never had lessons before, Mary came to her first lesson pretty nervous and pretty certain she wasn’t very good. Some of the warnings I get from new students regularly include: “I’m probably the worst you’ve ever heard” “I don’t know if I can even sing in tune” “I sound really bad” etcetera.
I am sometimes a little nervous when a student tells me they can’t sing in tune, as that would be a challenge; however thus far, having had many students over the years I’ve been teaching, I have not yet come across a single individual who was tone deaf. It seems to me that the vast majority of humans have a good sense of aural pitch. If anyone has trouble singing in tune, it is usually not due to an aural problem, but simple lack of control of the voice.
The first thing I do when a student very bravely but nervously sings me a song for the first time, is usually reassure them that they are not terrible, definitely not the worst I have ever heard, and that they can sing in tune. It takes a little while for them to believe me, but as I teach them how to control the simple physical mechanisms of the voice, I see their self-confidence improve as they realise singing is not some esoteric talent you either have or don’t have; but a physical skill which just takes understanding, practice, and good teaching to control.
Mary came to me having already started doing a few solo gigs with her guitar at a local pub, so she already had an inkling that maybe she had something decent to work with, but she was definitely nervous. We developed a good rapport, and after a few lessons, I noticed something in the way she referred to herself regarding singing that I hear often. She would say things implying that she was not “a real singer” or “a real musician”.
So I sat her down and told her firmly: You use your voice. You sing. You play songs on your guitar and you sing them. You even do live performances in front of an audience.
YOU ARE A MUSICIAN. YOU ARE A SINGER.
I must note here that although Mary does, you do not have to perform live to be a musician or a singer. There is no official qualification you can get; you do not need a Bachelor of Music to be a musician. If you sing, if you love singing, if you enjoy singing, whether it’s alone in your bedroom or just for your family or in front of an audience, YOU ARE A SINGER!
And it is my firm belief that almost every human is, or has the ability to be, a singer and a musician. It is part of our genetic makeup, it is part of what it is to be human. Rhythm is in our heartbeats. Music is in the sound of our voice regardless of whether we are singing or speaking. Every human culture on the planet has music. In our society, music has become something of which you are either performer or audience; you are either the person who makes music or the person who listens to it. Many areas of music become elitist and snobbish. People who don’t study music institutionally or don’t have lessons all their life and perform on stage hold this belief that they aren’t, and could never possibly be, a musician. That could not be further from the truth.
Send your mind back not too many years in the past, when music was a communal happening; a family activity; a community experience. We sing to our babies. We gather around the piano in the parlour. We play drums around a fire. We strum 3 simple chords on a broken guitar. We sing in church. We hoot and holler at the moon. Nowadays we gather in the thousands to listen and dance to our favourite musicians, we feel the unity in the room, brought together with thousands of strangers by a love for music; but you must know that you have just as much of a right to create music as the person on that stage does. Music matters, whether it’s for one person or millions; and it belongs to everyone.
You do not need a certificate to qualify you as a singer. That being said; I recognise that sometimes external validation is a helpful step in us believing something about ourselves.
So I made Mary this “Certificate of Legit-ness”
(again, not her real name):
(click to enlarge)
Mary was pretty stoked with this and apparently got it framed.
Whatever it takes to help my students and fellow humans believe that they have a right to music; I will fight this battle gladly!
Til next time!