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)


wow. i partly agree with all u guys.

yes... i believe that even though you don't hit "perfect pitch", if you sing it with enough passion then you can be a 'good' singer. Singers who sing with emotion tend to grab the audience's attention more better than singers who just hit the right keys. I guess it's just how it works.

There are a lot of singers who just stay still on stage and only care about having the 'perfect' pitch. But how many of them are actually 'good' singers? and by good in this case, i mean someone who really likes singing and sings with all his or her might, putting all the feeling of the song into how he or she sings it.

A truly good singer can understand the meaning of the song and from deep within the heart, expresses all the feelings into the song to make it more powerful and interesting.

I have a friend of mine who can sing. I mean she hits the right notes all the time. But her singing is not really 'complete'. I have another friend. Now, he gets off pitch sometimes, but he sings it with feeling! He knows how to set the mood depending on the song he's singing. Now, if they both turned out as singers, who would be considered a better singer? of course the second friend.

I think that even though you make mistakes and you aren't all that perfect, your other positive singing points can hide all your negative points. THAT, is what makes a perfect and 'good' singer.



What makes a singer good is what makes freakonomics good. It isnt the technical quality of the analysis (or the singing) it is the entertainment value.

Entertainment means different things to different people, but ultimately it triggers some emotion.


While most people can adequately carry a tune, there is a huge difference between being relatively on key and actually singing the correct note. And believe me, to the trained ear, someone singing even slightly flat makes you want to stab yourself in the face. A good singer (all other performance skills aside) is someone who can hit the correct note every time.


Many here are saying that what makes some music and singers "good" is difficult or impossible to quantify. Well, the company Platinum Blue would disagree with you. His company uses software to analyze songs to predict if they will be hits or flops. The success rate is apparently high enough that one or more big labels use his service. Here is the link to the NPR story: http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=10442377


bob dylan (and he's not the only one that fits in this category) was not merely a singer. he was also a poet and an artist. as your question implies, "good" is a very subjective adjective, but i think it's important to recognize that there is a difference between people who are only singers and people who sing and play music they create themselves, which is a totally different kind of "good".


Its all about how well a label believes the public will view them. Its all about look. Plenty of talentless bands are mainstream today, because they have "the look." Green Day and Nickelback to name a few. There are some talented musicians mainstream as well, but underground is where one must look to find the true talent.

Miss Scarlet

I think "good" really depends on who you're asking; "good" to many people is something that fits in with their perspectives based on what they've already heard and are familiar with. What is interesting to me is the trend lately for Classically-trained singers to go mainstream. Josh Groban and Charlotte Church come to mind, as well as the popularity of the movie Phantom of the Opera. Most listeners had never heard opera before, or a classically-trained voice--mostly because it was not familiar to them. Because these singers generally sing very popular-style music, but with the classical-style voice, listeners thought they were amazing. It was their only example, and by default, they must be "good" because they are "trained"--and in my opinion, a lot of people are also drawn to them because it makes them feel "cultured". Now ask a classically-trained musician's opinion: you'll get a completely different answer. Josh Groban does have a great voice, but it's still your average trained voice. I can see why people like it--it has a lot of desirable qualities in the classical sense, like fullness, tone, and air support. Big changes compared to most pop singers. But from a classical standpoint, he doesn't do a ton with range, dynamics, color, expression. If you don't believe me, go listen to a Puccini opera.



Singing, like everything else, is about storytelling. Some people refer to it as emotion, but it is more than that. I've witnessed singers who were very connected emotionally to a song even when the audience had checked out. The story they sing means nothing until it means something to me.


it's the emotion- Walk the Line has an adequate explanation of this, where Cash sings a hymn, and it blows, then he sings the blues, and it's better- Layne Staley sounded like a retired smoker, but was a very moving singer


Although I agree with Roxanne, I never liked the expression "sell the song." I prefer to think of it as honesty or sincerity. Singing is both art and communication, both of which require a certain level of sincerity and vulnerability to be completely effective.

When I thought about this, I considered the question: "What makes a singer unbearable?" Singers that annoy me (like Celine Dion or Michael Bolton) usually are annoying because of their insincerity, not their ability.


It depends on how you define "good" - is it good, as in merely good, or good as in great? And for that matter, how do you define a singer - anyone who sings?


I'd be curious to see the results if the study participants were tested on an atonal melody. I suspect that in this case the trained singers would have a substantial advantage over the amateurs.

Daniel Jones


I can remember someone in the movie Titanic saying, about painters in general and Picasso in particular : "all they do is find something no one has done before, and replicate it as many times as needed".

Though cynical, there's certainly a part of truth. And so for successful singers.

Othar Hugh Manati

Consider Jimi Hendrix...I've heard many people dismiss his singing and indeed Hendrix himself was very self-conscious about his singing ability. But in my opinion Hendrix's vocals were perfect for his music, and couldn't imagine it any other way.


I'm in the process of reading Daniel Levitin's "This is Your Brain on Music," and I'm so amazed by the complexity of what the listener's brain has to interpret just to listen to music--never mind make it--that I can hardly cope with this question.

That said, I think it must have something to do with the singer's ability to "sell the song;" it's a matter of conveying emotion, not just hitting the notes. Even though two singers may perform the same song, their interpretations will differ, and they might be "selling" something completely different. An average singer might be technically correct, but if he is too inhibited to put himself fully at the service of the song's emotion, he won't give a stellar performance.

Snot Rag Dave

Another good example of a 'bad' singer: Randy Newman.

Vocally, about as smooth as two cats with their tails tied together...

... yet "I Love L.A." just wouldn't sound the same performed by Alison Krauss.

Mike Mixer

I think the best singers let it all go without worrying about how they sound. I would much rather listen to Tom Waits gravel on about human stupidity
than any of the flavor-of-the-month warblers tweeting about the love of their life. Of course,
that is not to say that letting it all go results in
lower quality. Pat Benatar, Anne Wilson, Rob Halford, Maynard James Keenan, Geoff Tate,and Chris Cornell all have extremely competent range and power
and could have made an impact in several vocal arenas. There are others though who do not share that level of talent but nonetheless make a comparable impact such as Tom Araya, James Hetfield, Lemmy Kilmister, John Bush, David Wayne,
Bon Scott, and Phil Lynott. The true test is holding the listeners attention.




Posted by Chris S. "The most important criteria for popularity seem to be being young and extremely attractive (highly desireable for males, requirements for females)"

Two changes in the music scene of the 1970s created this situation.

First, a consolodation of the companies producing music resulted in a few large corporations dominating the business. Instead of having people on staff who understood the business and who could find talent, they developed a group think mentality. Success could be manufactured with the application of enough money.

The final straw came with the advent of MTV. Whereas previously, success came from attracting listeners through radio, people were now attracted to the looks of the performers. Now the music became a secondary feature. Since then, it has been rare for new music to attract my attention. When I do follow one up, the overall output of the artist is usually very disappointing.



Uniqueness is extremely important when trying to figure out why one good singer is preferred over a another good singer, or even why a bad singer may be preferred by many over a good singer. Essentially, the uniqueness of a singer's voice is a brand. When people hear a new song sung by a unique voice that they've enjoyed in the past, they immediately recognize the singer and are predispoed to enjoying the new song. Some people could listen to Bob Dylan sing the telephone book just because they've had so many positive experiences with listening to his music. This is why some bad singers become very popular. In fact, some singers sing badly, or at least with some non-traditional vocal affectation, on purpose. (I have my suspicions that Eddie Vedder could annunciate better if he wanted to.) If someone sings everything perfectly, there is less variability in his or her voice and therefore that singer is more likely to sound less identifiable.