Maybe You’re Not a Terrible Singer

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Good news for bad but enthusiastic karaoke singers everywhere: Researchers from Northwestern University believe that singing is something just about everyone can do with practice, according to their new study published in the journal Music Perception

The news release accompanying the new research describes the experiments, led by Northwestern’s Steven Demorest, this way:

[T]he study compared the singing accuracy of three groups: kindergarteners, sixth graders and college-aged adults. One test asked the volunteers to listen to four repetitions of a single pitch and then sing back the sequence. Another asked them to sing back at intervals. The three groups were scored using similar procedures for measuring singing accuracy.

The study showed considerable improvement in accuracy from kindergarten to late elementary school, when most children are receiving regular music instruction. But in the adult group, the gains were reversed — to the point that college students performed at the level of the kindergarteners on two of the three tasks … 

Demorest and his team believe that this means you can become a better singer the way you become better at any other musical undertaking: by practicing. There’s clearly a limitation to this paper, however: There wasn’t a real control group — a group of kids who received no musical training to compare against a group who did. And it’s also true that some people are naturally better at singing than others, although Demorest thinks that most people can improve on whatever abilities they’ve got. "[It’s] also a skill that can be taught and developed, and much of it has to do with using the voice regularly," he said in the press release. "Our study suggests that adults who may have performed better as children lost the ability when they stopped singing." A nice idea to keep in mind next time someone drags you to karaoke, anyway.