I had a call with a prospective client the other week, and they asked me whether it was possible for someone to teach themselves to sing. Now, whilst every single client I teach is “self-teaching” when they practice at home with our session recordings, whether singers can “DIY-build” their voice in isolation is something I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about… and also trying for myself, in fact.
Self-teaching is exactly how I started out. I started out with DVD courses, online lessons, even looking through the early days of Youtube for information, etc. Surely those avenues could work well for self-tuition, right?
Well, as I found out, self-building your voice really doesn’t work that way. In my opinion, this is for three primary reasons:
1) A guitar/piano is a finished instrument, the voice is unfinished and needs to be built
When we choose to learn an instrument, even if we buy a cheap starter version, the instrument is already complete and finished. The guitar has frets, strings, tuners, adjustable truss rod, etc. The piano has all the keys, the mechanisms have been checked before leaving the factory, and will likely have been tuned once delivered.
But when we choose to learn to sing, our instrument is far from complete. It has never been taught to transition through the registers, and such an awareness that there is even IS such a thing as registers (let alone how to do it well) is a whole other ball game. The voice must be simultaneously built from the ground up, AND learned as an instrument to play, all at once. This is a HUGE difference that most people don’t realise from the outset. So to think one can self-teach voice the way they self-taught themselves guitar, is a flawed comparison/fallacy for at least this reason.
2) Building a voice and using a voice are two different skillsets
Continuing the analogy above, a guitar has been built by craftspeople (or luthiers) skilled in the art of making guitars. The same is true of pianos. The skills needed to build a working instrument, to understand the tensions needed on the various strings, the forces the body of the instrument needs to withstand, the quality of wood that should be used, etc, are essential. Yet they have got absolutely nothing to do with playing the actual instrument.
In point of fact, the better you want to be at building instruments, the more time you must commit to that pursuit, rather than exclusively becoming a great pianist/guitarist.
In the same way, many who want to “DIY-build” their own voice, are essentially saying they want to be a voice coach AND a singer. Speaking as a professional voice coach, I can tell you that 99% of people underestimate the amount of physics, physiology, acoustics, and psychology that goes into building a voice.
The amount of knowledge that someone starting from scratch needs to build is an ABSURD amount, even to just get to grips with the basics, let alone actually applying that to their voice. It requires someone to be skilled as both a singer and a voice coach, so as to guide someone to where their voice should be. That is a huge quantity of work for anyone to undertake (trust me, I am well acquainted with this aspect!).
3) You are the only person in the world who doesn’t hear your voice as it actually sounds
As most people discover when they hear their voice back on a recording, they sound nothing like what they think they do. This is for a whole host of reasons, to do with you feeling your voice as much as hearing it, hearing it direct from your mouth as well as from the reverbations in the room, and for yet more reasons.
The key thing is, it takes time to educate your ear enough to “hear past” how you THINK you sound, to hear how you ACTUALLY sound. Even then, it’s a mental trick that’s performed by your brain and extensive experience, rather than what you actually hear. As such, each of is ill-equipped to self-monitor how we sound in an accurate way: we need feedback from those who can hear what we should/shouldn’t be sounding like, and corrective instructions to move towards the right co-ordination… which again requires the skillset of an experienced singer and voice coach to guide singers in that way.
If you’re serious about your voice, get help
Just like if you were having any serious work done on your home, legal work, or even surgery – find someone professional who knows what they are doing, and get them to do the hard work. Don’t try to DIY it.
It will save you tonnes of time, money and frustration in the long run. Trust me when I say I have been down that road, and taught plenty others who have tried that path themselves, and it’s a cul-de-sac.