I have two students, both middle aged men, who came to me with no background in singing who wanted to sing and who, two years into the process, now sound very good. They practiced, they were disciplined, they were dedicated.
I write this because there is an idea out there that a person can be “too old” to learn to sing, especially technically. This is nonsense. Anyone can learn to do anything if they really want to and put in the time. True, not everyone is going to end up at a professional level, but you can come close in people who are hard workers, naturally musical and have determination.
This is also true about people who “can’t match pitch”. I’ve heard all kinds of teachers complain about how hard it is for their students who can’t match pitch to learn to do so. That’s because the teachers are always trying to fit the poor hapless student into their pre-existing box instead of going to the place where the student lives and seeing what’s in their abode. Doesn’t work. I can usually help someone sing a five note scale in a half and hour. Hm.
Teaching any skill requires that you understand not only what the skill entails but how the various ingredients fit together. People who are naturally good at something don’t make very good teachers. That’s because they are “talented” meaning they can “just do it” right off and don’t struggle to get the basics. They get them easily, quickly and with little conscious effort. Until and unless they have a severe problem and have to re-learn the skills, they may have no clue as to how they did what was so easy.
In learning theory experts have studied how we learn things. Experts have also figured out the processing of kinesthetic awareness in terms of how the brain works and how new information gets processed and stored as it is taken in. There are certain sequences that work and others that don’t in the way that makes it easiest to learn. Do you think anyone who teaches singing knows about this? You could probably count them in the entire profession on just one hand.
We also have out there the idea that it’s bad to teach children to sing. Why would this be so? There is no research to back up this claim and certainly not scads of children who have been trained only to later be unable to sing. This is an old wives tale, but it persists. As long as the training is functionally grounded and the kids sing in an age and style appropriate manner, the training is not only not harmful, it is beneficial. Marilyn Horne took lessons as a kid from her father, ditto Sutherland and Pavarotti. They did pretty well, no? Garland sang as a child, so did Andrea McArdle, so you don’t have to learn classical music – other styles work well, too.
Teachers light the way. They shed light on the dim places, the hidden places and light up the darkness of ignorance and blindness. They inspire by explaining things in ways that make sense and work. They guide others because they have walked in the dark themselves and they remember the steps they took to get to the light. They tell the truth as they have discovered it, but they have dug deep to be sure that their own subjective experience has something universal in it, understanding that the next person’s path might need to be a slightly different one.
Just as with anything else, it’s never too early or too late as long as you know what you want, you have a willing and experienced teacher and you can put in the time to take the information you are given and make it your own.