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Dutchess_III's avatar

Why is it some people can sing and some can't?

Asked by Dutchess_III (25570 points ) December 19th, 2013

I can’t sing worth a hoot. But my daughter has been singing since before she could talk. I remember her swinging on a swing, and singing nonsense words, perfect pitch and all that. She has this beautiful, clear voice that gives me chills.
Why is it that she can sing and I can’t?

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12 Answers

tom_g's avatar

You may be tone deaf. My daughter is. It apparently affects 4% of the population.

If you’re not tone deaf, then maybe you simply don’t lack sufficient control of your vocal cords. So, you know what the note should sound like, but are unable to control the vocal cords so that the correct note is generated. Just a guess.

dxs's avatar

What do you mean by perfect pitch?

tom_g's avatar

Edit: “If you’re not tone deaf, then maybe you simply don’t lack sufficient control of your vocal cords.”

Dutchess_III's avatar

I don’t know what I mean by perfect pitch @dxs. It’s just something I’ve heard about, and whatever it is, she’s got it!

@tom_g I’ll show you lack, Jack!

dxs's avatar

@Dutchess_III Then that’s amazing! It’s very rare to find someone who has perfect pitch. I wish I had it.
By the way, I can’t sing but I wish I could. People do give voice lessons, but I wonder how much that can actually do. Having relative pitch will definitely help me, though.

Dutchess_III's avatar

OK, what exactly is perfect pitch? I can tell you that when she sings along with the radio you can not tell the difference between her and the person singing. One of her friends even made that comment, years ago, when she was about 13. Is that perfect pitch?

I have her singing Rag Doll on VHS. Well get it dumped to DVD one of these days and post it. The only part she couldn’t nail was when Tyler goes wayyyyy high, but that might have been a breath issue rather than a singing issue.

dxs's avatar

Perfect pitch, in non-technical terms, is the ability to name a pitch without any previous references.
For example, if someone plays a C# on a piano, someone with perfect pitch can tell that it is a C# without hearing or knowing what any other note was or looking at the keyboard. It is solely based off of sound.

Relative pitch (also in simple terms) is something that is more of a skill that one picks up after hearing many intervals. It’s the similar to perfect pitch except I need a reference point. Once someone plays a note an tells me what it is, I can tell them what any note is by using intervals.
For example, someone plays a C# and tells me it is a C#. Then, they play an E. I can tell them that is an E because I know that the difference between the first note and the second note is a minor-third.

Sometimes I wonder if perfect pitch can also be an acquired skill…

I don’t know what the term is for your daughter’s ability to match the notes, but it is definitely a talent. I know someone with a really good voice who, when singing with a piano, has a very hard time matching the pitch of the piano. She’ll just keep singing and not realize she is a few intervals off from the piano’s key.

Dutchess_III's avatar

My daughter might know about these things. She was in the chorus in college.

This question was prompted by a video I watched that featured Bing Crosby and David Bowie singing The Little Drummer Boy together. David Bowie’s voice is SO distinctively cool even though he is kind of creepy!

Katniss's avatar

I can’t sing for shit, but I do it anyway.

wildpotato's avatar

Perfect pitch can be demonstrated by naming, as tom mentioned; by writing in sheet music; or by reproducing the heard tone. I can do the last on my clarinet and with my voice. I also have a good sense of rhythm, can read music, and have been playing instruments since I was seven. I took several years of music theory in high school and college, and can sing in solfege (Do-Re-Mi) or play on my clarinets any scale or arpeggio you ask me for. I have very good sound and decent skill as a clarinetist and could make a go of it at a professional level if I ever want to.

None of this translates into me being a good singer. I just do not have a good singing voice. I enjoy it, but I was simply not born with that sweet quality you mention in your daughter’s voice. I think it’s a have-it-or-you-don’t sorta thing.

One thing I love about my singing voice, bad as it may be, is how low I can go, for a woman. I cheer silently inside every time I hit the “you” in Nancy Sinatra’s “These Boots are Made for Walkin.’”

Dutchess_III's avatar

I think that’s the crux of my question @wildpotato…why do some people have extraordinary singing voices and some don’t? I’d like to reask this question that way.

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