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Think You Can’t Sing? Science Doesn’t Believe You

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These words break our hearts every time we hear them: “I’m tone deaf. I can’t sing.” It’s usually accompanied by a smile or laugh, but the message is both clear and absolute. And wrong.

A great story on Toronto’s Ludwig-Van.com classical music site delves into the widely-held misconception that most people cannot sing.  

“That’s a blatant lie.”

Of all creative endeavours, singing is perhaps the most poorly understood. To the chagrin of vocal teachers everywhere, singing is the one pursuit where you will be told, you can’t sing, so don’t bother. Parents will readily pony up the resources for acting lessons, or soccer, but when it comes to the ability to sing, many people are still under the impression that it’s something magical – you either have it, or you don’t.

A study of undergrads at Queen’s University, found that about 17 percent reported themselves as being tone deaf. It’s such a common fallacy in our society that it has led to a world of singers — the small minority — and non-singers — the vast majority. But is that really based in reality? Science — and those vocal teachers —  say no.

Sean Hutchings is the Director of Research at Toronto’s Royal Conservatory of Music. His lab looks into how music affects the mind, and how the mind affects music, in essence. He calls singing a “structured coordination of vocal muscles” at its most basic level. “Just like any type of muscular activity, it’s amenable to practice. We know that practising motor control can help. You can certainly learn to be better.” As he points out, speaking is already a form of muscle control. So, why is it that our society has put singing into such a rarefied category?

“Part of the reason that there has been a source of anxiety over singing is inadequate music education.” He points out that in older generations, in particular, the sole emphasis was on performance. When school children who couldn’t naturally hit the right notes, rather than training them, they would simply be told to mouth the words, and not sing at all. “There’s no better way to make sure someone is bad at something than to tell them they can’t do it.”

Read –and share — the entire story at Think You Can’t Sing? Science Doesn’t Believe You.

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