"No Sing Along For Me"
BY MIKE PODSEDLY
I enjoy the great music of my generation that is played nonstop on Inside The Gates Radio. I experience the emotion and memory produced by the music that has been documented in earlier articles. One thing that is missing is my ability to sing along in a pleasant voice that the music deserves. I elicit groans and pleas to stop when in the company of others. This condition has been consistent throughout my life and has led me to be a closet car and shower singer.
I can trace this lack of ability to sing to an event that occurred back in the fifth grade. My class was to perform a choral presentation at a school function. We had a tiered platform, robes and the works. After the music was selected it became imperative to rehearse for the upcoming show. I had memorized the words and was ready to go. After a few practice sessions I was pulled aside and directed to pantomime instead of singing. This evaluation was to plant the idea that singing was something I should avoid at all costs. This feeling has persisted into my senior years.
While helping launch ITG Radio I began to listen to music more often. I heard many different vocal styles that I had not paid attention to before. I wondered why my voice did not come close to being within this rather wide range of recorded musicians.
So, I put on my research hat to determine the cause of my seemingly outlier of a singing voice. I first came upon a test for being tone deaf on musical-u.com. I put on my best noise cancelling headphones and began the test. It was divided into three sections, all comparing two tones. First was responding whether the tones were the same or different, second consisted if the sequence of tones went up or down and lastly if the tones were higher or lower. I was surprised by my score of 83% correct. I could eliminate being tone deaf as a reason for my poor singing voice.
On the musical-u website they offer training to improve your musical ability. They state that there are two aspects to singing in tune, voice control and hearing the notes. Voice control is about 20% of what it takes to sing while the ability to hear the note you should sing compared to note you are singing makes up the other 80%. As in most activities, the brain must be trained to recognize pitch and tuning.
I found another article that supported the assessment that that pitch accuracy is primary cause of bad singing. There is an interview with Sean Hutchins, while he was at BRAMS (International Laboratory for Brain, Music and Sound Research), studying the neuroscience of music. “Hutchins says that even though nearly all of us are equipped with the biological hardware to produce a wide range of notes, bad singing is rampant. ‘Singing is a complex expression,’ he explains. ‘The majority of people, around 60 percent, have a difficult time’ with it. (Discover Magazine, Can't Sing? Blame Your Brain, James Dziezynski, June 22, 2014). The problem was not the perception of a note but the ability to reproduce the sound with their voices. Hutchins’ conclusion: “Our brains have the ability to signal the voice to produce the correct note, but have mapped out the wrong output to match a perceived note. ‘Our brains are quite good at perception, which is why so many of us enjoy listening to music without being great musicians,’ he says. But those same brains give our vocal cords faulty instructions.”
There are many articles debating whether musicality is an innate or acquired skill. Aside from those rare individuals who are born with perfect pitch, I believe it is a skill that requires both an aptitude and practice. People born with physical assets such as height, speed, stamina, etc. are drawn to sports activities if they wish to exploit their advantages. The same holds true for people that test well may focus on academics. I have heard comments from musicians about the need to practice regularly or they see deterioration in their skill level in a relatively short time. This complaint is often repeated by participants in sports such as golf, tennis and many others. After several interruptions to my golf game, I would remark that it felt like I was starting over when I got back to the course.
It appears that for me to improve my singing voice it would take a vigorous and sustained effort to train my brain to match the notes in my head to those coming from my vocal cords. Given my age and a myriad of other interests, this will not happen for me. I will proudly continue in the company of the 60% of the population that are considered “bad singers”. I will continue to experience the music on Inside The Gates Radio library, the greatest music of our lifetime!
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