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When It Comes to Singing, Practice Makes Perfect

Like an instrument, your voice can get better, music expert notes

SATURDAY, Feb. 14, 2015 (HealthDay News) -- Think you can't sing well? Maybe the solution is to sing more often.

That's the conclusion of Northwestern University researchers who assessed the singing skills of children in kindergarten and grade 6, as well as college-aged adults.

The investigators found that singing on key is a learned skill that can decline over time if not used, and that singing requires the same type of practice as learning an instrument.

"No one expects a beginner on violin to sound good right away, it takes practice, but everyone is supposed to be able to sing," lead researcher Steven Demorest, a professor of music education, said in a university news release.

"When people are unsuccessful they take it very personally, but we think if you sing more, you'll get better," he added.

The researchers said most children show significant improvement in singing as they progress from kindergarten to late elementary school. During this time, most students receive regular music instruction.

But the adults in the study had regressed and sang at the level of the kindergarten students, which indicates a "use it or lose it" effect.

While singing on key is easier for some than others, "it's also a skill that can be taught and developed, and much of it has to do with using the voice regularly," Demorest said.

"Our study suggests that adults who may have performed better as children lost the ability when they stopped singing," he added.

Demorest said teens and adults need to have more opportunities to sing that don't have much risk to them. He noted that in the United Kingdom, people can participant in "Can't Sing Choirs."

"People need a place to sing and have fun without worrying about how good they are. You see it in college all the time; a class about the history of rock or jazz is packed. It's not that people aren't interested in music; it's what we offer them," he added.

The research is published in the February issue of the journal Music Perception.

More information

The American Music Therapy Association explains how music can help people.

SOURCE: Northwestern University, news release, Feb. 9, 2015
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