Northwestern study: Singing on key can be learned through practice

Emily Chin, Assistant Campus Editor

A new Northwestern study suggests that singing is a learned skill and that, through practice, one can learn to sing on key.

The study, published in February in the interdisciplinary journal Music Perception, compared the singing accuracy of kindergartners, sixth graders and college-aged adults. One test asked the participants to sing back an entire sequence while another test asked them to sing back in intervals. They were then scored on their accuracy.

Bienen Prof. Steven Demorest, lead researcher of the study, and State University of New York at Buffalo Prof. Peter Pfordresher, co-author of the study, found that children showed improvement when they practiced, but adults didn’t. Demorest said his study suggests that adults who stopped singing as children may have lost their ability to perform.

“When people are unsuccessful they take it very personally, but we think if you sing more, you’ll get better,” Demorest said in a University news release.

Children being told they are tone deaf can have a negative effect on their self-image, and children who are told they can’t sing well are less likely to participate in music in the future, according to the study.

“So much of elementary school music revolves around singing, but that’s only one way to measure musicality,” Demorest said in a news release. “Everyone should be able to have music as a part of their life. It’s OK to select out of it, but it should be by choice, rather than because you think you don’t have ‘talent.'”

Demorest and Pfordresher are further working on ways to better assess one’s music capabilities.

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