As a teacher, this is the question I get asked most often:
‘Can anyone learn to sing?’
The answer to this is ‘no’, not absolutely anyone. There is a small percentage of the population (reportedly around 4% according to a study published in the Annals of Neurology) that suffer from amusia or dysmusia – which are both technical terms for being tone deaf. Being tone deaf means that you cannot distinguish between different notes. Tone deafness may be genetic, or the result of brain trauma. Either way, it means singing in pitch is difficult because a person can’t recognise changes in pitch.
Most literature states that no treatment has been consistently effective in helping truly tone deaf people, but I should mention that some musicians such as W.A. Mathieu have reported success teaching small groups of tone deaf people to sing (though whether or not those individuals were truly tone deaf, or had just been convinced by family/friends that they must be tone deaf, is not clear).
Soap box moment: I often hear people say things like ‘oh, my uncle/sister/neighbour can’t carry a tune, he/she is totally tone deaf’. In many cases I suspect these people are not truly tone deaf. Even worse, I don’t think others realise how damaging such a label can be to someone’s confidence. Children are especially vulnerable. Their ability to sing in pitch increases over time as they mature, so telling a five year-old that they’re tone deaf can put them off singing for life. DON’T DO IT.
Ok, off my soap box now. So. Let’s proceed. How about the other 96% of the population? For them, the answer is ‘yes’. When there’s no medical impediment, literally anyone can learn to sing.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that anyone can learn to sing like Beyonce or Andrea Bocelli. [And why would you want to? Much of the beauty of a human singing voice lies in its uniqueness. Trying to copy the sound of your singing idol is fine as an exercise, but not a life goal.]
What I’m saying is that if a person is really motivated, and willing to work hard and put in plenty of practice, they can learn to sing far, far better than the average person. But if you don’t have the desire, or the time, or the energy to practice singing on a daily basis, then you won’t get any better, no matter how much how money you spend on great singing teachers or great singing programs.
If you really want to sing but don’t think you have a great voice, then consider this. The desire to work hard to sing better is of far more relevance to your future singing success than how good your voice is right now. Put in the time. Practice every day. And don’t give up!