Besides gorgeous blonde locks and a bootylicious backside, what is it exactly that sets Beyoncé apart from the rest of us mere mortals? Is it natural talent, a lifetime of dedication, or top-notch vocal training? Well, to be fair, it’s most likely a combination of all three. Singing is a beautiful yet complicated art form, and although we all possess the ability to sing at some level, the ability to sing well is based on a number of physical, mental, and environmental factors.
Can We All Sing?
“The voice can be trained in just about everyone,” Justin Stoney, founder of New York Vocal Coaching in New York City, explained to Medical Daily, giving hope to all those who unfortunately have not yet mastered the ability to carry a tune. “The evidence that we have says that if you really apply good technique, just about anyone can sing well.” This is, of course, unless they have some sort of severe vocal limitation. According to Stoney, training your voice is similar to going to the gym and training any other muscle. “Not everyone is going to be a top athlete,” Stoney said, but with the right coach and lots of practice, you can surely see results.
As for why not everyone’s singing voice is as beautiful as a pop star’s? A 2012 study from the University of Montreal on what prevented those who were not musically trained from singing well found that 20 percent of people didn’t have good control of their vocal muscles, 35 percent had trouble matching the pitch of their voice to the desired musical note, and five percent completely lacked the ability to hear differences in pitch or difference between two sounds. The root of these “musical deficiencies” differs from person to person.
Why Can't We All Sing Well?
A singer is a musician no different from a guitarist or pianist — only their instrument of choice is their body. Differences in a person’s physical make up can account for differences in their singing abilities. “Everyone is sort of built differently,” Stoney explained. “For some people, you can go, ‘Wow they must really work out,’ and it turns out they never go to the gym. People have vocal athleticism in the same way.” For example, the researchers of the Canadian study observed that the physiological shape of some individuals' vocal tracts resulted in a more pleasing natural voice sound than others.
There’s also a genetic factor to singing. “Different races and cultures actually have different sound too,” Stoney said. This has to do with the shape and size of the vocal folds and the larynx. The shape of a person’s skull is also responsible for the shape and size of the pharynx and the nasal cavities, a person’s natural resonators.
“If you took 10 different guitars with the same exact string, they will all sound a little different because of the size and shape. The skulls are basically the resonator of the instrument.” There has been much research on the connection of the voice and physical appearance, with scientists concluding that the sound of a person’s voice is influenced not only by race and gender, but also by gender within a race, io9 reported.
Not only does the physical appearance you inherited from your parents play a role in your musical potential, but based on a study published in the Journal of Medical Genetics, so does your DNA. The concept of nature rather than nurture was found to be associated with as much as half of the musical talent of the musicians who partook in the study.
Although our physical and genetic makeup is accountable for slight variations in our musical potential, we all have the ability to sing. Sometimes it’s a mental boundary rather than physical limitation that’s keeping us from achieving our musical goals. “When one is quite hesitant about their singing … they may be doubting themselves and thinking too hard about it,” Stoney said.
Adele, best known for her international hit “Someone Like You,” has been quite open with the mental blocks that interfered with her ability to sing. "I get shitty scared. One show in Amsterdam, I was so nervous I escaped out the fire exit. I've thrown up a couple of times. Once in Brussels, I projectile-vomited on someone. I just gotta bear it. But I don't like touring. I have anxiety attacks a lot," the songstress told Rolling Stone.
Stoney also explained that although voice teachers provide a great deal of technical guidance for their students, one of their biggest responsibilities is also providing the singer with positive encouragement.
Some individuals are able to develop beautiful natural singing voices because of the environment they were raised in. “There are cultures and households where singing is celebrated and encouraged, and environments where they are not. If you say [to a child] ‘You can’t stay on pitch’ or ‘You’re not a singer,’ they take on that identity and the musculature and the brain begins to not work right,” Stoney said.
Being exposed to a musical environment is also a big contributor to an individual’s singing limitations. For example, those who started studying piano or violin at a young age and then picked up singing later in life may experience better results faster based on their background in musical training. Just like the best athletes in the world, the best singers are most likely to have completely dedicated their lives to honing their craft. According to Stoney, vocal training has a lot to do with it as well.
“It’s all coming from scientific truth. That’s why it works so well. Musical training, it’s really all science.”