A new study suggests singers could become good or great performers without having previously performed the musical instrument in question. Researchers led by JoAnn W. Bierbaum in San Francisco, CA say singers can learn to make songs from start to finish with only training. However, the authors note, when the researchers trained a singer to read a text, she improved more quickly than when she learned to perform that performance in a song.
The authors believe there are three possible reasons for why some performers get better and others get worse at something. They point to the fact that there are no innate abilities within a musical instrument that lead singers to be better or worse than others at it at any time and that singers are also influenced by factors that don’t affect their innate abilities. “Even if there’s a strong hereditary component, it is not always an additive factor,” say Bierbaum and co-author Rebecca H. Vann.
A second issue is the fact that music is one of the few human behaviors that requires a certain amount of attention to perform at an efficient level. A person performing a musical exercise in a car would need the driver’s attention to listen to the car’s engine. While a piano player may be able to focus on tuning the keys to their intended pitch and then focus solely on playing the song, for the singer it is often just one of several different instruments or aspects of the tune.
“When people think about why they can perform better, they may think they should be better because they had better training in the past,” says Bierbaum. “The study in this area should help us to rethink that way of thinking.”
The third issue they’ve addressed is that music has developed into a highly social activity. That means we interact with and get to know others who perform the music we like. In this study, the study participants in this study interacted with people who could not read either a text or a song, but the singer did. “We found it to be a much better way to learn the musical instruments than to just train the singers through practice,” says Bierbaum.
Although the study was not in an opera setting, the same study shows the same results in operatic settings.
The study was published in the journal PLOS ONE.
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