You Can’t Sing

Singing. It’s something we all do from a very early age, our parents sing to us, they talk to us with a melodic, animated, and colourful speech pattern to which we respond.

When we start our long journey into education from primary school, we learn to express ourselves with other children, in the playground where we let off steam, making up songs, dances and rhythm-based games.

I can remember being in the playground as a child. My friends and I would make up our own songs and sing nursery rhymes such as ring a ring of roses and oranges and lemons. We were blissfully unaware of how we sounded, we didn’t have the self-awareness to understand what it meant to care about it, we were simply living in the moment, free and happy. It doesn’t matter how we sound when we sing, we aren’t judging ourselves or each other. We haven’t yet formed an opinion on such matters. It is during this period, early on in education, that children have the wonderful opportunity to join the school choir.

Throughout my music teaching career, I have been privileged to teach children, teenagers, and adults of all ages how to sing. Many students who have walked through my door, have expressed the courage it has taken to make that leap of faith. When they arrive, I would say 85% of the adults I’ve seen have been permanently affected by those three simple and yet powerful words they were told as a child; “you can’t sing” or “you aren’t good enough”. Unfortunately, these words were delivered by the teacher leading the school choir. This tells a child in no uncertain terms, that they are a failure. The purpose of singing simply for enjoyment and self-expression seemingly unimportant and completely disregarded.

I can recall my own choir leader teacher saying these same words to various children and it would be done very publicly in front of the entire choir making the experience one you were ever likely to forget.

As a vocal coach, I can confirm, unfortunately this is an issue that doesn’t seem to be disappearing anytime soon. It makes my heart break and my blood boil, and I feel a punch in my gut every time I hear variations of the same story repeated over and over again but always with those three words as the narrative “you. can’t. sing”.

The damage of this behaviour really cuts deep for a child and carries right through into adulthood. I have had to help unravel and rebuild confidence in adult singing students who come to me wanting to sing. I have witnessed a CEO of a large and successful company literally crumble in front of me when attempting to sing. She broke down in tears, gripped by fear, anxiety, and panic. She admitted to me it has had a long-term effect on her personally, impacting more than just her opinion of her own voice.

Singing is the most natural form of self-expression, it predates talking as our form of communication, it is our birth right.

Until we see a change of attitude within all schools that run choirs, we will continue to plant deep rooted scars that will unravel later in life impacting on adult behaviour.

Nurturing and building confidence, self-esteem and self-belief are crucial for children’s wellbeing.

Singing literally gives them the ability to communicate who they are using their own voice through song. It is a powerful and positive use of energy, providing children with a way of expressing themselves as individuals while doing so in a group environment. Helping them build their own inner resilience and confidence in the most natural and creative way possible.

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