According To Science, Some People Were Born Unable to Sing

October 22, 2019

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When you listen to vocalists like Robert Plant, Axl Rose, David Draiman and Freddie Mercury, it's obvious that they were born to be singers. But then there are times when you've been stuck in the car listening to someone sing along to the radio with no concept of pitch or octave control. So is it possible for a regular person to become as gifted of a singer as Chris Cornell? According to science... not really.

There many biological factors that can determine an individual's singing ability: lung capacity, breath control, the size and shape of one's pharynx, and a larynx that allows one to easily manipulate their vocal chords. Throw in confidence in one's singing ability, growing up in an environment where singing was encouraged, and hours and hours of practice, then chances are your singing ability will be higher than that of the average person.

But according to a study by the International Laboratory for Brain, Music and Sound Research in Montréal, Québec, Canada, not everybody is cut out to be a singer. It was believed that bad singers lacked the ability to detect pitch, aka "tone-deaf". But after testing five musicians and five non-musicians on their ability to detect pitch, they concluded that their ability to sense the right notes was not the problem. It was being unable to recognize when they were not replicating the same sounds.

So that may explain some of those cringeworthy auditions we see on American Idol come from contestants that don't realize how bad they are.

Human brains can detect different levels of volume, pitch, tone, etc. from external sources like a piano or a guitar. Once the note is heard, the brain maps out a way for the body to match it. Unfortunately, not everyone's singing voices are in tune. Researchers believe that bad singing is the result of "poor motor control" and "timbral-translation errors."

But even if you can tell your singing is out of tune, there isn't much you can do. Your brain will tell you how to hit the note, but your vocal chords aren't producing it in their state. This could be the result of trying to sing using your "speaking voice." 

When we talk, we usually use a lower range of sounds. But our singing voices use a higher range. This makes it easier for children to learn how to sing than adults, because the more time it takes for an individual to tell the difference between their speaking voice and their singing voice, the harder it will be. That's why vocalists practice relaxing their vocals and using supported breath to sing instead of trying to make their voices "do something."

That is why professional singers, like any other learned skill, spend hundreds and hundreds of hours practicing. So if you're not as good as a singer now, imagine how much better you'll sound if you practice every day for five years? And if that doesn't work, there's always auto-tune.