What Makes a Singer “Good?”

A recent study found that most amateur singers can carry a tune just as accurately as trained professionals, suggesting that singing may be as universal a human trait as talking. But good pitch doesn’t always mean good music — Bob Dylan, for example, seems to have gotten along just fine without perfect pitch.

So what makes a singer “good?”

(HT: Popular Science)


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  1. Robert says:

    There is certainly a difference between “perfect pitch” and being able to carry a tune. Perfect pitch means you can hear any note on the scale and instantly name it–in much the same way that most of us can see a color and instantly recognize what color it is. Only about 10% of the American population has this gift (curse), and the rest of our ears are in a way “color-blind.”

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  2. Chris S. says:

    If good = popular, then good pitch (or even ability to carry a tune) is probably irrelevant to popularity. The most important criteria for popularity seem to be being young and extremely attractive (highly desireable for males, requirements for females) and ability to perform. Musical talent and singing ability appear largely irrelevant.

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  3. Jenn says:

    Seems like it’s a system of perceptions to me. If one person ‘discovers’ a talent, other people will inevitably see the talent as well. It’s not so much about skill as it is about popularity and confidence. As long as a singer is decent, as in not horrible, and willing to believe he/she is good at what he/she does, there is potential for him/her to achieve a public following. As such, even mediocre talent can be labeled genius (and believed to be such by many).

    Also, maybe instead of “most amateur singers can carry a tune just as accurately as trained professionals” it should be “most accurately trained professionals can’t carry a tune better than amateur singers.”

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  4. Charles says:

    Let Favre play! I know it’s off subject but hey maybe Ted and Mike read the blog.

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  5. The Third Policeman says:

    Wow, this premise manages to be both shallow and confusing.

    Carrying a tune, or singing accurately to pitch, has absolutely nothing to do with musicality, just as Robert posted how perfect pitch has nothing to do with either.

    What makes a singer ‘good?’ This is somehow quantifiable? This way of thinking completely breaks down when it comes to aesthetic judgments. My own is that Bob Dylan is a terrible singer who is still musical. Frank Sinatra was frequently out of tune, i.e. the pitches he hit were recognizable on the scale but not completely in line with where his accompaniment was, but was one of the most musical singers ever, in terms of phrasing, enunciation, conveying meaning. Quantify that, please.

    There are singers who hit pitch every time and span the gamut from dull to execrable; they have nothing to express, their timbre is unpleasant, they cannot make a musical phrase. Would you say they are good because they can hit pitch? I say listen to some music.

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  6. Christopher says:

    It is not quantifiable precisely because a “good” singer is often one that breaks previous rules, is highly creative, and comes up with a “new” way to sing, in so many words.

    Why do you think as people get old, newer music often sounds terrible to them. Like “noise.”?

    Think of the first guitarists to use distortion. A perfectly tuned guitar used to be a requirement… now these musicians were doing the exact opposite: making it sound “bad”.

    The second you quantify “good” music, someone will find a way to play “bad” music and make it groundbreaking and, well, “good”.

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  7. MT says:

    When we can hear “our” voice in that of a singer, they have our attention. They may not sound at all like we do but somehow their vocal cords resonate with our heart “strings.” Sometimes this is quite visceral (everyone has been the Led Zep vocalist wailing “been a long time since I…”). Yet,something that might have seemed so foreign in our youth, like an aria, can seize us and transport us by demonstrating the capacity of the human instrument, indeed the human soul. In short, I suppose, your question is equivalent to asking, “What is art?”

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  8. Jesse says:

    A good singer is one you want to hear again. You know, because the singer is good.

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