Singers Vs. Musicians

My son takes music lessons and I was talking to the teens in the music store. Since its a music store its all “band” kids and they were saying there is an argument between the band kids and the choir kids where the choir kids think singing is just as much hard work and demanding as band. Whereas the band kids say its way harder to learn to play an instrument than it is to sing.

As a person who’ s struggled with the trumpet and guitar I agree. Singing is mostly just singing and you either can or cannot but requires no real hard work or hours of practice.

What do you all think?

I can’t sing well, but speaking as someone who’s watched a nephew and two nieces make it to the state choir: to sing well requires a great deal of practice and dedication, just as it does to learn to play a musical instrument well.

I imagine that there are a small number of singers who are just naturally gifted, just as there are a handful of musicians whose gifts allow them to quickly pick up a new instrument and be able to play it well within minutes. I strongly suspect that they are the exceptions to the rule.

Singing is definitely a skill but playing an instrument is a much more demanding skill, IMO. Playing an instrument and singing at the same time is very difficult: Frank Zappa couldn’t do it, for example.

B.B. King was another who felt that he couldn’t do both at the same time.

My first BS degree was a double major in music and education. My major instrument was tuba/low brass, and I double minored in piano and voice. The human voice is as much a musical instrument as is any brass, woodwind, percussion, keyboard, or stringed instrument. I sat first desk tuba in marching and concert band, wind ensemble, and orchestra for most of college; as well I was first desk tenor in the school’s show and madrigal choirs during the same time.

I have taught and directed school and church bands and instrumental ensembles, and also church choirs, all necessarily amateurs, with varying levels of success both in my mastery of the teaching and the performance values, and my ensembles have shown the same variability.

My opinion is based on my experience. That opinion is that vocal/choral performance is every bit as demanding as “instrumental” performance, and they require equal levels of talent, skill, preparation (practice), and determination to arrive at satisfactory musicality.

I’m a singer rather than an instrumentalist because I was too damn lazy to practise enough on an instrument to get good. Yes, singing is easier.

On the other hand, you can improve your instrument’s sound by buying a better instrument. You can’t buy a better voice.

I started in band. We had band in junior high but no choir available until high school.

a) There’s a longer learning curve for instrumentalists to get from just barely being able to play “Old MacDonald Had a Farm” in unison, really slowly, up to the point of being able to do decently musical stuff. That’s simply not the case with your voice. While you will definitely learn things and grow as a vocalist, you start off miles ahead of barely being able to limp through singing “Old MacDonald”.

b) Learning how to count, to read passages of music from the page, to listen for the correct blend with the other musicians, to follow your conductor, are more or less identical for choir and band/orchestra people.

c) For some instruments — not all — the parts that tend to be written don’t give you much opportunity to grow very rapidly as a musician. I started off on cornet (we were mixed in with the trumpets, undifferentiated) which was fun but there were lots of other trumpet players, and then my Dad convinced me to switch to french horn, of which there were fewer players. It got me moved ahead from Beginner to Intermediate band pretty quickly, but I spent a lot of time over the next three years playing freaking off beats. Offbeats (for any of you who don’t know) is where you play on the 2nd and 4th beat of a 4-beat measure. umm-BLAT-umm-BLAT, umm-BLAT, umm-BLAT. Adds a general rocking-along feel to the music but boring as shit to play.

Choir, on the other hand, doesn’t stint on giving you nice parts for any of the vocal parts, although I think the altos get the least attractive deal overall. But even altos get to carry the lead or an interesting countermelody or harmony part decently often. So overall a choir musician may be learning more about how to be a better musician, being stretched to do more etc, than at least some of the people playing in band (and perhaps orchestra, although I’m less familiar with what they cope with).

There is a big difference between pop singers, who are often just emoting using little technique (they are often more actors than singers in my opinion), and a trained classical voice. I added one and a half octaves and a whole nother tonal quality to my already good voice when I took voice lessons. I practiced every day for at least an hour, usually more (I broke it up into several sessions so as not to strain my voice). It was real work all right. However, choral singing is not as difficult as solo singing. Not only are you hopefully supported by the other singers in your part, but rarely is the music anything like as challenging as opera arias or lieder.


Thread relocated from IMHO to Cafe Society.

Sorry, I find it hilarious that a tuba player would sing tenor for some reason.

I’m also a tuba player. Sang bass in chorus/choirs, and baritone in barbershop quartets.

Having been in (and directed) school choirs, church choirs, high school choirs, college choirs, community choirs, theatrical choirs, and professional choirs; school bands, college bands, dance bands, military bands, community bands, marching bands, jazz combos and theatrical orchestras, I must say…

Most musicianship transfers between instruments, and voice is just another instrument.

My money is on Musicians. The instruments make good weapons.

Gatopescado makes a good point.

Projecting the right pitch, tone and volume is an equivalent skill between voice and instruments. Call that a draw.

Instruments also have a completely separate aspect: fine motor skills. Singing just doesn’t have that, and therefore playing an instrument clearly requires more skill than singing.

Think of it this way: Everyone can sing. Not necessary sing well, but they can physically sing. Most people can’t play an instrument other than maybe a Recorder. I don’t mean they can’t play well, I mean they can’t physically play it. For some instruments, a novice couldn’t even make it produce a sound.

I have to disagree with the OP. Everyone can sing, true. But for most people, singing *well *takes time, and hard work, just like playing an instrument.

I know this from experience: I’ve been a musician and singer for over forty years, and used to teach guitar. These days, musicians I hear playing in bands are more accomplished than when I was young. I think this is due in part to the widespread availability of instruction materials, and of media in general. It is *way *easier to learn the basics these days.

However, I hear lots more incompetent singers than I used to. I think this is due to a number of things: to some extent, a person’s voice can’t be changed. I know extremely accomplished musicians whose pitch is outstanding (even perfect). But they don’t have good singing voices.

I also blame karaoke: people are more used to hearing lousy singers, so the public’s standards have been lowered. (In contrast, people who’ve never touched a guitar are less likely to pick one up and try to play it in front of a crowd, so we’re less likely to hear lousy musicians). So when a band today is looking for a singer (the demand for which is high, with all the accomplished musicians out there forming bands), they’ll accept someone who would’ve been turned down forty years ago.

One cause of disaffection between musicians and singers is hardly mentioned. Look, drummers buy their drumset. Guitarists buy a guitar and amplifier. Singers rarely have their own PA system to contribute. He may not even own a microphone or stand.

Singers *are *musicians. The distinction you’re looking for is “singers vs. instrumentalists.”


Also, there is a difference between someone who can sing (i.e., everyone) and a singer. Just like there is a difference between someone who can play “Chopsticks” and a pianist.

I had my first voice lesson when I was 16. I’m lucky to have a naturally good voice, with a pleasant enough tone and the ability to stay on pitch, but I have worked off and on over the past 31 years to be a *better *singer and a good musician – especially in the past 9 years, since I started singing jazz. I’ve spent just as much money and time on voice lessons and workshops and master classes and have done just as much practicing and have worked just as hard as most of the instrumentalists I know. (I also played the flute for a couple of years and have been playing the piano since I was 7, so I know what it’s like to learn an instrument.)

Singers do get a deservedly bad rap sometimes, though, because not everyone believes that they *need *to get better. The ones who don’t think of themselves as musicians are a huge pain in the ass to the rest of us.

Any given voice can improve – often dramatically – with instruction and practice.

The good ones have their own gear. I have my own mic, cables, stand, and PA system, as do most of the working jazz singers I know. But how much money the gear costs is a ridiculous reason for an instrumentalist to look down on a singer. You have no idea how much that singer might have spent on lessons, workshops, charts, etc. The bad ones, of course, will just show up with little/no investment and high expectations. The rest of us, though? We’re spending our money and time just like any other musician.

This reminds me of discussions I’ve seen, here and elsewhere, about the difference between an opera and a musical: in an opera, the performers are trained singers, while in a musical, they’re actors who can sing.

I find singing very frustrating. It requires daily warmups and constant practice for me to stay in shape to perform.

Guitar and piano are reading to go whenever I need them. I practice regularly but missing a day or two doesn’t matter. I never worry about straining or damaging my instrument. My voice gets tired after too much singing.

It’s true instruments require more music theory to play them well.

I’d say overall they both require a lot of work and patience.

You want fine muscle control? What do you think about all those little muscles you have to move in extremely tiny increments in order to sing correctly? We have to make the same changes to handle agility–there’s a reason that most instrumentalists can play faster runs than most singers can sing. But we can’t often can’t directly control those muscles–that’s why vocal instruction uses so many metaphors.

Sure, simply using your voice to hit a pitch is arguably easier than getting a note out of some instruments–particularly brass. But vocalizing in a way that doesn’t damage your instrument permanently is more complicated. In fact, I am actually someone who is permanently damaged.

I get competitive kids having this “debate.” But I expect working musicians–whether vocalists or instrumentalists–to know that both are equally difficult.

As for your kids, Urbanredneck, I suggest that the choir pick a piece that they can easily sight read, hand it to the band kids, and give them the starting pitches, and see how well they can pull it off. No, it’s not a perfect comparison, but it’s good enough for kids.

That’s something my band director would have done if he heard the band people trashing the choir people. Though, since a good chunk of us were in both, that didn’t really happen.