I Can Sing — Now What?

There used to be a weekly ad in Back Stage that said, “If you can sing, you don’t need a teacher. If you can’t sing, no one can teach you. If you are in between, I can teach you to sing”. (I’ve mentioned this ad before). It always made me laugh because there was then and there is still now a group of people who believe this nonsense.

In India, I’ve been told, (if I am wrong, someone please correct me in the comments), that people think “either you can swim or you can’t”. They don’t seem to have swimming lessons in India.

If you open your mouth to sing and you “sound good”, what do you do with that? If you are Adele, you write songs and perform them and eventually you get noticed, have a great start to a major career and then get vocally injured. Oops.

She certainly is not alone. Many others have had similar experiences, but not everyone. Some people are lucky. They sing well, they stick to what they can do easily and they don’t take chances. They just do what they do and keep doing it!

If you are someone with a good voice, someone who is musical and expressive, someone who is comfortable in front of an audience, you could go a very long way just on these things. If you don’t have a big career, if no one presses you to go past your comfort zone in any way, you could do quite well without assistance from anyone else. But if you have no idea of how you sing because it “just happens” and you do have trouble, any kind of trouble, you will be at a loss as to how to help yourself. That’s a big black hole.

Conversely, what if you have worked hard to develop vocal chops and have reached a level of professional competence such that most of your engagements are not causing any problems for you? Should you be content with that and stop there or should you keep going, exploring new territory? You might feel like you are stuck in a rut and can’t find a way to break out and explore new territory. You might need outside help to find a new path that emerges from the one you have just traveled. Yes, you can sing, but now what?

A good teacher should be able to help someone who naturally sings well stay singing well without re-inventing the person’s voice or vocal identity. A good teacher should be able to take a professional (or professional calibre amateur) and help him to go beyond his limits without losing what he already has. A good teacher should be able to challenge any performer to be more of who he is, to do more of what he does but also to do what he does not yet do, or to let go of things that he does not need.

There is no “final destination” with singing. You don’t get to a place where “there is nothing left to learn”, not until you leave this earth. If you are stuck in any way and your teacher cannot help you go past this block, get another teacher.

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