As individuals, we’re prone to doubt ourselves most of the time. We fear that the things we do and put all our energy on will get us jack squat. And as an aspiring singer, I know that you’ll feel impatient from time to time. Practicing every day, reviewing your performance on recording, getting anxious that you’re not improving at all. And then this question pops up, “How long does it take before you master singing?”
I know that question very well. I get that question from my students before, during, and after the learning process. Are you ready for this? A lifetime.
That’s right. But don’t be put off by that. In fact, looking into the future, it will be a lifetime of challenges, but discovering pleasurable experiences for yourself in the long run.
The art of singing is beyond us, and it grows at a pace we can’t match. New styles develop. New genres are discovered. New techniques evolve. We could hardly catch up to it unless you have all the time in the world to devote your life to every aspect of it.
If you can’t afford to do just that, this is something you might want to know. How long will it take for you to notice improvements? Take a guess… You got it. You don’t need to wait until you are near heaven’s door, fortunately. Optimistically, you’ll improve after six months or a year—give or take. There’s no definite time, but you can estimate to reach a higher level, given your motivation level, the hours you put in, the help you receive from coaching, lessons, and ultimately the diligence and consistency in practice.
Factors That Affect Improvement Rate
Your improvement rate as a singer is determined by multiple factors as already mentioned above. Some of them you can control while some you can’t. To shorten the length of time in your development, I recommend that you focus on the factors you can manage and set aside the ones you don’t have any influence whatsoever. At least for the meantime.
However, I’d still propose that you find out about the latter to have a better understanding of how you can overcome or take advantage of them down the road. I’d like to start off with that now in the following paragraphs and then come back for the ones you can control.
Genetics: Only A Head Start, But Not A Limitation
Let me start with something not too pleasant to hear to get it out of the way. One of the most significant factors that can affect your improvement rate is genetics. One that you probably won’t have a hold over it. I hate to admit that we live in a world wherein we are initially predisposed to be better at one area in our life and be worse in another. But it doesn’t mean it’s always set in stone.
Four traits that genes have influence over are:
- Quality Of Voice: The tongue shape, mouth size, lip thickness, and other characteristics of our vocal mechanism determine the quality of our voice. It’s kinda like a goat’s natural vocal tone each time it makes the “bleating” sound. It’s an unfamiliar word compared to the “barking” of a dog. Each has a unique sound. It’s sad to say that not all human voices are pleasant to hear because of these physical components.
- Vocal Range: Aside from voice quality, genes, and how your body develops can influence your vocal range, just like how girls have a higher range and boys have a lower range, then comes the changes when puberty hits.
- Musical Sense: Miriam Mosey, a Sweden neuroscientist, already nailed this down with an experiment between twins. Both had an equal music sense. One of them was instructed to practice a lot, and the other to practice less. It came out that both surprisingly achieved similar results.
- Ability To Match Pitch: This can easily hinder or advance your learning. While most will say that vocal range and voice quality should be the singers’ priorities, it’s actually the ability to match pitch. In an experiment published in the “Journal of Experimental Psychology: General,” people with no vocal training were tested if they can sing properly. Around 40% of them can sing well. While the distribution for the ones who sang poorly are: 33% have inadequate vocal muscle control, 8% are tone-deaf, and a staggering 59% can’t match pitch.
Repeated Exposure Breeds Familiarity
I already mentioned this before in another post, but know that it’s easier to develop singing abilities when you start at a young age. Kids have more brain plasticity, which allows them to be like knowledge sponges. It’s also worth mentioning that they have a lot more time, and they’re a lot “freer” compared to adults with tons of responsibilities.
Did you ever wonder why people with parents who are singers are often naturally adept at it as well? Is it because of genetics? Not always. After all, genetics only gives you a head start. How about music lessons? That’s not it either. Formal or informal singing education isn’t the only thing that makes kids become better singers faster. Ready? Exposure is.
Being surrounded by singers has two effects on a child: familiarity and passion for the craft. Two of which are truly helpful in providing positive impacts to someone’s training. In psychology, it’s called the power of the mere exposure effect.
Being exposed to an element repeatedly regardless of whether one likes it or not, makes a person have a better attitude towards it. It’s kinda like hating a popular song the first time you hear it, but through repeated playback, you learn to appreciate it. You know what I’m talking about. I use to say to someone that doesn’t have a liking to a specific food I eat, “It’s an acquired taste, man”.
Unfortunately, you can’t turn back time to be a child again and get yourself exposed to musicians or to singing, in our case. Thankfully, you should know that the mere-exposure effect is weaker on kids and is more potent on adults. Basically, surrounding yourself with singers and immersing yourself in music can boost your love and learning rate for singing. I would add this to the list of controllable factors that affects your improvement rate.
Systematic Learning Is Better And Faster Learning
Here now comes what you can take advantage of in your development as an aspiring singer. I’ve included exposure as one that you can manage intentionally by surrounding yourself in a singing environment, but the following is where you have full control over, especially if you’re already a working adult. Learning the technicalities of singing is crucial for you to improve. Without them, you’ll either spend a lot more time developing than normally, or you might even prevent yourself from progressing at all.
This shouldn’t come as a surprise, and I know you already are working on this aspect since you’re on this site reading this post. Acquiring knowledge isn’t really the end of it all when we talk about learning something.
You should know that there are stages in cognitive learning, according to Bloom’s Taxonomy. Understanding these processes allows you to systematically improve and become more efficient in learning. They are:
- Knowledge: Absorbing and memorizing the information that you learn is the first stage. The data can come from reading books and lessons from vocal coaches. You learn how to sing using the diaphragm, as an example.
- Comprehension: This is the part that you understand the knowledge you gained from your private voice lessons with a teacher/coach or online. You nitpick the details and try to comprehend why the diaphragm is used, where you “place” your tone, how you bridge the lower and upper registers, and so on.
- Application: Learning how to sing using the diaphragm is useless if you don’t sing. This is one of the new information you acquired. Some of them are mentioned above. Then implement what you understand in your practice sessions.
- Analysis: In this stage, you analyze the things that happened during the application phase and figure out how you actually used your diaphragm in singing, again, as an example. Then keep it in memory for the next time you go to the practice room.
- Evaluation: This is the part where you connect all the dots and evaluate if the new knowledge you learned and just applied is actually useful and is working well for you. The cycle then repeats.
Here’s some good to know tips in learning:
It Always Comes To This: Effort
The last factor is effort. It’s a combination of energy, attention, and the time you devote to learn. Lack of any of these three will only lead to fruitless attempts at improving your skills. You’ve all heard that hard work is the key to success, but I’d also add that productive and efficient hard work makes a lot more sense. This requires no further explanation, and knowing that you’ve reached this far in this article, I believe that you’re off to a good start and already pouring the right amount of effort.
It takes a lifetime to master singing, but having noticeable improvement takes a shorter amount of time. I’d like you to see the little progress you make on a regular basis. Then celebrate those tiny headways in your progress. You can make your progress faster by fully controlling the factors that affect your improvement rate, like how you learn and how much effort you dedicate to singing.
On the other hand, talent or genetic influence does exist but always remember that it only gives you a head start, good or bad. If you’re on the undesirable side, it’s never too late to catch up,
In the end, you don’t need to master singing. Just getting better at it, one step a time, is already a huge accomplishment. I know it can be frustrating to spend a lot of time pursuing a skill you want and feel that you’re getting nowhere. But that’s actually the beauty of it all. In life, all good things come with a price, but as I’ve said early on in this article, discovering pleasurable experiences for yourself in the long run.
By the way, if you haven’t joined a vocal course or haven’t chosen a coach yet, I recommend that you check some of the best online coaches I reviewed a few months ago: Coaches From Udemy: A Top Ten List.