Do you avoid karaoke? Would you never consider auditioning for American Idol? Perhaps some long ago embarrassing singing moment prompted you to silence your tune crooning for good.
(Effort and intensity can help; Credit: phaewilk)
There's hope, however, because "you likely sing better than you realize," according to Lawrence Rosenblum, professor of psychology at the University of California, Riverside. Rosenblum's fascinating new book, See What I'm Saying: The Extraordinary Powers of Our Five Senses, explains that "most of us can carry a tune when given the appropriate context."
Rosenblum mentions a recent study, where individuals were randomly approached in a Montreal public park and were asked to sing the Quebec version of "Happy Birthday." The impromptu versions were then later computer analyzed for pitch and tempo errors.
"The results showed that a large majority of these park goers sung with few tempo errors, and only some slight errors in pitch," Rosenblum wrote.
A follow-up experiment asked subjects with zero musical training to sing this same song at a slower rate. Surprisingly, 85 percent of the singers nailed the tune, with "errors so small as to rival those of a group of professional singers."
So how then, you might ask, do moments like the below happen?
Rosenblum shares a few tips that these American Idol wanna-be's might have tried.
First, try singing slower. This "likely provides the novice with greater vocal control, including the ability to make quick corrections soon after a note is initiated."
Second, do not try to match the singing of your favorite music star. He said that "inexperienced singers are notably worse at matching pitches," but do better when left to choose their own preferred key and range.
If you sing karaoke, pick songs that best match your own natural range. Most people do little homework before grabbing that public microphone, but a little preparation can allow you to impress your friends.
Singing is a form of communication, so even if you feel nervous and are inclined to divert your eyes, try crooning to individual audience members that are really paying attention. Your presentation will likely seem more natural then, with more true feeling.
Rosenblum writes that if "you do decide to improve your singing by active rehearsal and instruction, chances are that you can make positive changes in your singing, and in your brain."
He explains, "Improving singing can facilitate greater activity in brain areas associated with pitch control and general processing of music. In turn, these brain changes likely enhance the intensity, timbral, and vibrato control characteristic of practiced vocalists."
"So with some serious practice and guidance, your brain and voice will be ready for karaoke and American Idol," he adds, with a small footnote.
About 10 percent of the previously mentioned singing test subjects "made consistent pitch errors, missing nearly every note by a substantial amount." It's not so much that these people are "tone deaf," but they may lack the anatomical chops for better vocal control.
Nevertheless, there's a good chance you're not in that 10 percent probably-shouldn't-sing group.
"So as your go through your day humming, whistling, singing or even thinking of your favorite song," Rosenblum concludes, "you can now have the confidence that you are doing so with quite respectable pitch precision and in a key and tempo very close to that of your favorite musicians."
Britain's Susan Boyle started out singing at smaller venues, such as the Fir Park Social Club in Motherwell, Scotland.