If you’ve ever been told that you’re “tone deaf” or “can’t carry a tune,” don’t give up!
A new study from Northwestern University suggests that singing is more like playing an instrument than you might think: singing on pitch is a skill that can be taught and developed, which means even the singers who have the most trouble should keep trying.
The ability to sing on pitch has a lot in common with playing an instrument. Steven Demorest, the lead researcher on this study and professor of music education at Northwestern, said, “No one expects a beginner on violin to sound good right away, it takes practice, but everyone is supposed to be able to sing…When people are unsuccessful they take it very personally, but we think if you sing more, you’ll get better.”
Published in a February 2015 issue of the journal Music Perception, the study compared the pitch-matching of three groups: kindergarteners, sixth graders and college-aged adults.
Their method showed significant improvement from kindergarten to late elementary school, when most kids are still going to music class regularly. But in the adult group, the gains were reversed — to the point that college students performed the same as the kindergarteners on two of the three tasks, suggesting a “use it or lose it” effect.
Singing on key is likely easier for some people than others. “But it’s also a skill that can be taught and developed, and much of it has to do with using the voice regularly,” Demorest said. “Our study suggests that adults who may have performed better as children lost the ability when they stopped singing.”