Science, the brain, and singing...

Has science does much study on how singing ability works? My presumption, based on what I know about the brain from a pretty strong interest leading me to quite a bit of “pop culture” science education about it, supported by some heavier research, is that an ability to sing, meaning to control one’s voice to produce a pleasing melodic sound, is not an ability that is tied to one’s vocal cords, but rather to one’s brain. It is the brain wiring that controls the vocal cords to cause them to produce sounds “correctly” (in tune) or fails to.

As I stated, I am presuming this, because most of what we consciously control in terms of our abilities is a result of our brain’s ability to make our body do things. So I assume with singing.

Is this correct, or do we know for sure?

Part of the reason I presume this is because of my personal vocal abilities: I can’t sing (though within a very narrow range I can momentarily seem to…) but I do have a natural ability to do accents. I have had this ability since I was a young child, and it is something I cannot begin to explain or teach because it comes completely naturally to me. I feel very certain this has zero to do with my voice or my throat or my mouth having any kind of particularly special structure or ability, and everything int he world to do with the way my particular brain processes the sound of human speech and then reproduces it.

And I think of singing as a very similar thing, since most people who are able to sing, as far as i know, are like me with accents: they just CAN, they don’t have to think about it, it’s just there.

There’s quite a bit known about the brain and singing. Unfortunately, I don’t know it myself.

I do know that the brain works in a way utterly unlike the way I would program it, were I making a human being. I would assume that poetry is simply speaking made to follow patterns of stress and rhyme, and that singing is basically such poetry set to a system of notes. But that’s not at all the way the brain processes it.

People with non-fluent aphasia, for instance, can sing phrases that they cannot speak prosaically ( https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Expressive_aphasia ) I understand there are types of brain damage that leave patients able to sing or speak in meter, but not to converse normally. ( http://www.pri.org/stories/2015-01-02/these-stroke-victims-cant-speak-theyre-still-singing )

Thats very interesting stuff! But theres singing, and then theres singing in tune…Even people who can’t sing in tune can still “sing” (American Idol auditions taught us that). As I say, I can’t accurately carry a tune outside of a very tiny range, but I can make sounds that indicate I know what it should sound like…

It makes sense what you are saying, sometimes I sing beautifully, I have been told I have perfect pitch but a close friend who is a professional singer. Most of the time I sing so so in a narrow range and sometimes I can’t carry a tune. I am convinced it is a state of mind.

Country singer Mel Tillis has been very successful with his singing career but famously stutters when he talks.

Kind of. Everybody can learn to sing. Not everybody can be Pavarotti or Streisand. There is some element of talent, just like with anything that people do.

I question the truth of this statement. I have wanted to be able to sing my entire life, I do sing all the time when I am alone. And I know how hard I have tried to sing in tune and how truly helpless I feel when I hear myself fail, and even worse on those occasions when I have recorded myself because it seemed like I was singing well and then I heard in a recording how badly I was singing I felt incredibly helpless because I wasn’t even aware of how badly I was failing while I was singing, so how could I possibly learn to correct that?

I had a singing teacher offer me the opportunity to study once and it didn’t happen I don’t remember why, and I would’ve been interested. Again I compare it to being able to do an accent… I cannot explain to you how to do accents. Furthermore I have had people try to explain to me how to do accents that I do not know how to do and their explanations never helped me achieve the accent. (For what it is worth, there are accents that at one time I felt I could never do yet overtime and especially listening to the accents I eventually found that I was able to do them, purely via exposure. Australian and South African, particularly. When I was young those were rarely heard accents and try as I might I couldn’t do them. As the years passed and I got more and more exposure, one day I just found I could do them… Sadly this is never occurred with being able to sing in tune…)

Since I have not studied, I cannot say for sure… I’m just explaining The basis for my doubting the statement that everybody can learn to sing.

Oh, and another weird thing about trying to sing in tune and comparing it to doing accents: I can hear perfectly inside my own head whether I am doing a good accent or not, and I have had it confirmed on the outside that I am hearing it correctly as well as hearing it on recordings. However often when I am singing my singing sounds perfectly fine inside My head, yet when I hear it on recordings, no it is not fine I am sucking… I wonder why I hear myself relatively accurately doing accents and so frequently inaccurately singing… inside my head, I mean since I am perfectly capable of discerning the difference when I hear the recordings.

Anyone can sing and anyone can learn to sing better. That’s how much the conscious mind matters in the deal.

But having talent, and having an instrument (as singers say), is what makes the difference between the pros and the schmoes.

I used to teach a ceramics class in beginning wheel and you can spot the kids with talent right away. It’s not that they “just know it” it’s that they figure it out quicker and their hours of practice get better results than the same amount of work done by the norms.

There’s also usually an element of passion. Throwing isn’t something they work at as much as something they just naturally love doing, and getting good is as much about having that passion as it is spending the hours at the wheel.

I once heard Eddie van Halen say, “I never practiced a day in my life. I just loved playing the guitar, so I did it all the time.”

You don’t get to pick your passions, they pick you.

I don’t know if he addresses your specific question, but you might want to look into this book.

Yes, anybody can be taught to sing - not professionally, of course, but enough to enjoy it. From here, some of the difficulties people have are:

If you take some lessons, practice 15 to 30 minutes a day, and convince yourself you can do it, you’ll be able to.