Do you dream of taking singing lessons, or singing in a choir? If so, consider this…
I was recently talking with a friend in her 60s who told me that she was considering auditioning to join a choir. She explained to me, “My voice is getting weak. I just don’t have the power I used to have. Do you think that singing in a choir will help me with that?”
I answered with a bit of hesitation, “Yes… maybe.”My friend, who knows I am careful when I answer questions regarding health and music, responded with a laugh, “Only ‘maybe’? But singing in a choir is supposed to be so good for us!”
She is right about that. There is strong evidence from good studies that singing in a choir brings with it huge benefits, especially for those of us who are over 60. One well-regarded study from 2021 notes that: “In older adults, regular participation in community-level choirs can reduce anxiety, depression, and loneliness; improve self-evaluated quality of life, physical health, and interest in life; and increase general activity.”
That’s a pretty impressive list of possible improvements to an older adult’s life. Add to that the deep joy of creating beautiful, meaningful music with others, while breathing in sync with them. How could this activity not enhance your life?
But if you are looking for very specific changes in your voice, or if you have a need for unique musical expression, then singing lessons may be more beneficial to you than joining a choir, at least as your first step. Let me tell you why.
When you take a singing lesson with a good teacher, you enter a magical world that is quite different from that of the choir. Choir experience is about the group in harmonious action together. A singing lesson is about you, and only you.
For instance, my friend who has found that her voice has lost power may find that certain vocal exercises will gradually increase the power in her voice. A voice coach will listen to her singing through various exercises (or songs) to see if there is an imbalance in how she is using her voice.
Is it a problem with the vocal cords themselves? This is something that is tricky to address. If there is damage to her vocal cords, she may need to see a throat doctor and/or commit to a period of vocal rest.
Or is the lack of vocal power a misunderstanding about the muscle co-ordination required to sing? Is she breathing well? Perhaps she will need a good explanation about how at least some of her power can come from using the ring or twang aspect of resonance in her face.
As you can see, each of these issues is very personal and individual. My friend may find that once she has solved at least some of her power issues, she will feel more confident about going to a choir audition.
Lacking that vocal understanding, my concern for her is that she may “push” hard on her throat and strain her voice in order to get the kind of power that her conductor may require.
But singing is a mysterious act in many ways. While we know quite a lot about the mechanics of the voice, there is clearly a deep boost of wellbeing that comes from making music together. And we cannot measure that. Some of my friend’s vocal troubles may well be solved just through the sheer joy of musical camaraderie.
Finally, there are those singers who have a need for very personal expression through songs.
One of my students who is now in her 50s, dreamed as a child of singing songs from music theatre like, Cats, Les Miserables and Cabaret. But her young voice was not able to produce the powerful belting sounds that some of these musicals require.
Her goal now is not to become a solo artist, but to find out if she can, at this point, learn to use her voice in this way. This kind of vocal ambition requires the quiet concentration of private lessons. It’s a one-on-one kind of process.
Still, as a person who relishes community activities, this student also finds joy in singing with a big, glorious choir.
So, singing lessons or singing in a choir. Or both? What is right for you, at this time?
Do you have a strong desire to sing? Is the choir experience right for you? Or are you more drawn to singing lessons? Or would you consider doing both?
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Hello, I have just started to learn to sing more with an option that seems to be in the middle of private lessons and choirs. There are singing classes as part of the extended studies division at a nearby university. There are only 10-12 students in a class. The classes include group signing, short presentations about related topics, and time for each student to individually get assistance from the professor on their solo song of choice. It has been a good combination experience and much less expensive than private lessons. Perhaps there is something like this nearby or available online. Thank you.
Yes! Great comment, Justine. Good to know that this kind of session works for you. I think there are many others who would also enjoy these kinds of group sessions. I’m trying an experiment with this idea on Zoom with a group of my students: some warm ups; some discussion about voice and songs and some solo singing, (if a person would like to do so.) I’m hoping that this is another kind of communal singing that serves a purpose… Thank you so much for responding! My best, Barbara.
I started having singing lessons at nearly 60 having never sung in front of anyone before in my life.
Singing for the first time in front of the teacher was very nerve wracking but he made me feel so much at ease and I absolutely loved it!
That was just over a year ago and I have a lesson every fortnight and always come away feeling uplifted, challenged and raring to try out the new techniques I’m taught.
It does wonders for your wellbeing, confidence and general awareness of vocal capacity.
I’d highly recommend giving it a try!
Wonderful statement about singing that should inspire others to bring more singing in to their lives. Thank you so much for responding,Tracy! Best, Barbara.
I am 62 year old part time piano teacher, who was fortunate to accompany the local Military Wives Choir in Bedfordshire, UK.for the past 9 years. I would like to say I agree with everything said above. I would just also like to say everyone, and I do mean everyone, that anyone can sing. Disregard those negative comments from school, you just need to find your voice/pitch, which any vocal teacher, musician should be able to help you with and patience.
It’s a wonderful activity. Strengthens your voice, breathing and you get the well being benefit of endorphins, to say say nothing of making a wonderful sound and making lots of new friends (especially outside your normal friendship groups). Quite often you Don’t have to audition or read music…you learn by rote/listening, singing along to recorded vocal tracks. Listen to them in the car and sing along.
I would really encourage anyone to have a go. And if performing in front of an audience puts you off, stand at the back! Don’t let it stop your enjoyment of singing.
What a wonderful response, Joyce. I agree entirely. The well-being benefits of singing are many and profound. I could not have said it better myself. Thanks so much for your thoughts! My best, Barbara.
My apologies, Joy! I wrote your name as Joyce, not Joy. At the best of times, I really can read! Best, Barbara.
I sang in choirs and professionally from the age of 23. It’s a MAJOR time commitment and my interests go elsewhere. I gave up singing at age 62 after my spouse died. Now at 68 I enjoy others from afar. I find it distracting to listen to others because I have a critical ear and it kind of ruins the experience.
Hello Dee, thank you for responding! So you were a professional singer for many years. Do you miss it now? Do you ever find yourself singing around the house?
I understand how you could be distracted by listening to singing with a critical ear. I hope there are some forms of music that are balm for your soul. Best, Barbara
I understand too well what you mean. I sang opera as well and it’s difficult to listen to others and opinions. But I do encourage others as long as I don’t have to listen.
I sang a bit in HS choir, show choir and musicals but primarily was the piano accompanist for all these groups throughout HS. I had a strong or pretty voice but I can carry a tune. I’ve always dreamed of singing more in retirement. I play a little piano these days but not often though I can still read, know chords, keys, etc. I’m considering singing lessons because I can barely carry a tune these days. It’s hard to know where to start.
Hello Karen, it sounds to me as though you are ready to take a few singing lessons. You don’t have to jump deep into the water. Just try a couple of lessons and see if you feel good about working your voice in that one on one way.
Our voices are so precious to us, especially as we age.
I encourage you to reach out to a voice teacher near you or even a teacher on the Internet, If that is easier for you.
I would be happy to see you on zoom if you want to get started.
My best to you, Barbara.
Thanks for info. Can you email me separately firstname.lastname@example.org on taking zoom lessons? Btw I meant to say I don’t have a pretty voice and definitely not strong but I can carry a tune! Since I haven’t sang in 30+ years, it’s really weak now compared to HS but I know lessons can help that!
Yes, of course, Karen. I’ll be in touch. But I think we should remove your email address from your comment above. I’ll ask about how we can do that – to save you from unwanted emails!