​So you think you can't sing? Science says otherwise

Grab a mic! Most people can carry a tune, even if they think their voice would make Simon Cowell scowl, a researcher at Toronto's Royal Conservatory of Music says.

Danny Gallagher
CNET freelancer Danny Gallagher has contributed to Cracked.com, Mental Floss, Maxim, Break.com, Mandatory, Jackbox Games, Geeks Who Drink and many, many other publications in his never-ending quest to bring the world's productivity to a screeching halt. He lives and works in Dallas. Email Danny.
Danny Gallagher
3 min read

Fox recently announced that "American Idol" won't get another season. Good riddance, I say. The show may have produced a few names with actual talent, but it felt like one of those reality shows where viewers get their jollies watching judges crush people's dreams like grapes in a stomping vat.

William Hung may have entertained people with his singing for reasons other than the ones he intended, but research shows that even he might be able to bang out "She Bangs" better than he did on "American Idol." Fox

My big pet peeve with "American Idol" and other shows of its ilk isn't just that they turn gullible rubes into emotional cannon fodder as a holy sacrifice to the gods of reality TV. My worry is that "Idol" may have convinced someone with genuine, untapped talent not to pursue their passion just because some British meanie thinks he knows more about music than anyone else.

But take heed: Even if you think you can't sing, that doesn't mean you don't possess any musical talent. A researcher at the Royal Conservatory of Music in Toronto is studying that subject of innate musical talent and says the vast majority of people can learn to sing if they undergo the proper training and good ol' practice, practice, practice.

Sean Hutchins, director of research for the Royal Conservatory, recently told British newspaper The Guardian that only around 2 percent of the human population doesn't posses the skills needed to determine the right pitch to perform a song. The perception that people can't sing or play a musical instrument is just being drowned out by critics and the small minority of performers with exceptional talent and training, Hutchins added.

"We tend to find prodigies, people who are just naturally more gifted, when it comes to particular instruments like the piano or the violin," Hutchins told the paper. "Singing's actually very different, as everyone can produce a sound. Even if people don't learn the technique behind how to sing, you use your voice for the purpose of speech so everyone's reasonably adept at controlling it. The key thing which separates good singers from bad isn't so much natural talent but getting the training to use it in the right way."

It's really a matter of learning to control the delivery of your voice and the physical makeup of the passageways that our voices and air travel through to deliver those notes.

"Everybody produces some type of sound, it's just a matter of whether that's the one you want to go with or not," Hutchins said. "There are some musicians who just go with the voice they have, like Bob Dylan for example, and some who really work at what they've been born with to style it in the way they want."

Psychology also plays an important role in performance. Hutchins has found in his research that simply being anxious or believing that they have no musical ability prevents people from improving as a singer or performer. He noted, however, that "trying is the only way you're going to improve the skills you have."

It's a shame so many people give up or even have phobias of singing or performing simply because they don't believe they can do it. The simple act of singing, no matter how good you think you are, carries some positive benefits. A 2013 study from Abant Izzet Baysal University in Turkey published in the journal Psychology of Music found that singing in a choir has "a positive impact on psychological indicators of affect and anxiety," according to the abstract.

Another study published in 2004 in the Journal of Behavioral Medicine found that singing or even just listening to choral music has positive physical benefits, such as increased immunity to illness.

So now I'm interested to see some studies on how canceling shows like "American Idol" is beneficial to humanity. This could finally lead to that whole world peace thing I keep hearing so much about.