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Is Vocal Talent Learned or Innate?

October 31, 2013

Do kids need talent to study singing? Is vocal aptitude learned or an innate skill? Just what is talent? How do I recognize and develop it? These are common questions parents have when deciding to pursue singing lessons for their kids. Those unfamiliar with music lessons might think that singing is a skill one is born with and cannot be learned.

While the recent popularity of TV talent shows may lead the average viewer to believe singing is easy for a select few, rest assured — scratch a professional singer, and you will find layers of long, hard, arduous work. Audrey Howitt, MM, of San Francisco Girls Chorus, says that talent is “an ability to hear and remember accurately. It's a physical intelligence involving the ability to imitate — to hear, process something and repeat it back.” Yes, singing is easier for some but it is also true that singing well and with confidence can be learned. Here are some skills that can be taught.

• Pitch. Most children can sing “in tune” while others need plenty of time for developing their musical “ear” and learning to sing in tune accurately. This is accomplished by pitch-matching exercises or site singing techniques like the Kodály Method.

• Range: Beginning singers can start out with only one octave and, with the right exercises and repertoire, eventually can gain an additional octave or so while increasing flexibility and ease.

• Confidence: Most people need time to feel comfortable performing in public. Parents can help by singing with kids whenever possible, even if it's in the car on the way to school. Staying involved with weekly lessons and practicing will also help.

“Focusing on a child's desire is more important than the innate ability,” says Howitt. “That is what motivates practice, a willingness to perform and to grow as a musician.” Which, ultimately, is within grasp of everyone at some level.

Sarah Sloan is a classical singer and voice teacher in the East Bay. You can find her blog at www.sarahsloan.net.