Singing is not easy. Then again neither is playing Beethoven's "Moonlight Sonata" on the piano. Only difference is that the ability to sing is thought to be the result of good genes, while mastering the piano is associated with hard work and dedication. A recent study from Northwestern University has provided evidence to dispel this long-held belief by showing that singing, too, is more about practice than natural talent.

The Science Of Singing

While it’s indisputable that some people are born with a penchant for singing, the ability to carry a tune is not restricted to select members of the gene pool. In order to study the science of singing, lead researcher Dr. Steven Demorest and his team studied the singing techniques of three separate age groups: kindergarteners, sixth graders, and college-aged adults. The researchers asked the volunteers to listen to four repetitions of a single pitch and then sing it back. Scoring was based on widely used procedures for measuring singing accuracy.

Results showed that there was a significant amount of improvement in singing between the kindergarten and sixth graders, New York Magazine’s The Science of Us reported. This is most likely the result of the endless classroom singing that occurs at this young age. The skill, however, faded in the college-aged students. In fact, the college students performed at the same level as their kindergarten counterparts, showing a near complete reversion in musical skill. The team believes that this is because, for many, musical instruction ends in late elementary school, and without the practice the college students simply lost their ability to carry a tune.

It may also have to do with being told you’re tone-deaf early on. Students who are so labelled in childhood are less likely to engage in music education as they grow older, and thus lose the ability to sing — what some might call a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Too Old To Sing?

Tone-deafness is a physical condition that the National Institute on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders believes to affect around two to five percent of the U.S. population. It is unrelated to the overall ability to hear and instead describes an inability to distinguish different pitches, a result of nature rather than nurture. Unless you are part of the small percentage of the population with this condition, with the right guidance, it is possible to learn how to carry a tune, no matter your age.

The voice is created by vocal muscles which can go about changes with age and even become weaker. However, this does not mean that the older voice is untrainable. Voice Teacher Justin Stoney, from New York Vocal Coaching, told Medical Daily in a previous interview that “the voice can be trained in just about anyone.” Singing lessons are just like lessons for any other type of musical instrument, and with the right amount of dedication improvement can be seen.

“The evidence that we have says that if you really apply good technique, just about anyone can sing well,” Stoney explained.

While voice teachers do not promise that a few lessons can turn anyone into Adele, their services are built on what science is only beginning to prove: With singing, practice makes perfect.

Source: Demorset SM, Pfordresher PQ, Bella SD, et al. Methodological Perspectives on Singing Accuracy. Music Perception. 2015.