World Choir Games Flanders 2020

Making the most of your singing voice – it’s not what you’ve got, it’s what you do with it

  • [A version of this article first appeared as a post on my blog From the Front of the Choir]

    We are not all born equal. Some have longer legs which helps them to win at hurdles or the high jump. Some have longer fingers which helps them to play jazz chords on the piano.


    But what you are born with need not limit what you do. It’s not what you’ve got, it’s what you do with it that counts.

    are singers born or made?

    Many people believe that singers are born and not made. I often hear the refrain “Oh, I can’t sing – I’ve been tone deaf all my life.” And when it comes to rhythm and movement: “It’s no good, I was born with two left feet” (see Putting the hours in – are singers born or made?).

    Some of this is due to upbringing. You seldom hear these protests in cultures where people sing and dance all the time. If you want your kids to grow up as singers and dancers, simply expose them to plenty of song and dance as they grow up.

    In our culture there is a belief that only certain people are capable of singing to a high standard. Rather like Olympic runners, surely professional singers must have greater lung capacity or particularly flexible vocal cords?

    Nope – not true.

    lung capacity in professional singers

    There was an investigation into how the lung capacity of professional opera singers compared to the rest of the population. It turns out that there isn’t much difference!

    The professionals did tend to have stronger chest-wall muscles and their hearts pumped better. They also maintained their lung capacity better as they got older, but that is only to be expected if someone sings regularly. They were not born with greater lung capacity.

    We all have the potential to support our voice well and sustain our breath through long sustained notes, we just need a bit of practice.

    It’s not what you’ve got, it’s what you do with it that counts.

    a professional loses her singing voice

    There was a recent TV documentary about Connie Fisher, the Sound of Music star, who lost her singing voice. In 2011 she discovered that she had congenital sulcus vocalis. The condition, which means the singer has holes in her vocal cords, forced her to pull out of her dream West End role of Maria in The Sound of Music.

    She had a series of operations, but none of them was able to give her her full singing voice back. Her surgeon said that it was amazing she had managed to have such a successful singing career given the vocal cords she was born with. He likened it to an Olympic athlete who has a defective or reduced thigh muscle, yet keeps on winning.

    She then worked with so-called ‘voice builder’ Gary Catona, the man credited with saving the voice of Whitney Houston. Despite what the surgeons said, he was able to coax her voice back into life so she could perform again. Although she’ll never sing professionally as she once did (she has discovered further problems with her vocal cords), it is clear that with time and effort it is possible to overcome congenital defects in the vocal mechanism.

    It’s not what you’ve got, it’s what you do with it that counts.

    doesn’t matter how you are made – just do it

    So next time you think you can’t sing that well because of the equipment you were born with, just think of Connie Fisher, Django Rheinhardt, Christy Brown, Sargy Mann and numerous others who just got on with it.



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    Chris Rowbury

    website: chrisrowbury.com
    blog: blog.chrisrowbury.com
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