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Marsha McCoy enjoys teaching aspiring singers how to deal with their dipthongs on the way to improving their singing technique. Photo by Phil Houseal

Marsha McCoy gives private and group lessons. Contact her at 830-896-4064.

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Teaching the "Singing Impaired"

by Phil Houseal
April 30, 2008

Some of us can't sing, and shouldn't try.

Marsha McCoy has never met a person she couldn't teach to sing better. Her approach is gentle and joyous ("Bring your own bucket to carry your tune in," she tells new students).

Are there people who just cannot sing?

"I think there are some people more gifted than others," she said diplomatically.

The issues are part mechanics, part perception.

The mechanics part often comes from people who cannot distinguish between their speaking voice and their singing voice.

"Part of the fact people say they can't sing is they don't try," she explained. "They can't get the apparatus going. Your talking voice is not the same as your singing voice."

Learning how to recognize and control your "chest voice" versus your "head voice" is a first step. Then it comes down to being able to match pitches.

McCoy also shares secrets that help improve technique - how to voice vowels, for example.

"English has dipthongs," she explained. The combination "ou" as in "ground" is two sounds - "ah" and "oo" - put together. A singer should hang onto the first sound longer than a speaker would, so it comes out as "graaaaaaah-ond" rather than "growwwwwwwnd."

She has similar tips for dealing with consonants, such as avoiding the "hiss of a snake sound" in words ending in "s," or "exploding" your "d" and "k" with a puff of air.

The perception side of singing goes straight to people's anxieties about performing in public. McCoy has known many gifted singers who sing brilliantly in a group but are mortified to do a solo. Bringing them out is a combination of encouragement and education.

"There are a whole lot of things people do and they are scared," she said. "It's like the first time you drive a car, it scares you to hooey! But you do it because there is some desire there - that gets you through the being scared part."

Over a long career of music education, solo performing, directing choirs, and teaching singers of all ages, McCoy has come to believe that singing is the most personal way of making music. The ultimate thrill is performing solo.

"If you can learn to sing a solo in front of somebody, then every other thing you ever do is a piece of cake."

So.... what about those individuals who really can't sing, and never will be able to do it? McCoy has a solution for that, too.

"I encourage them to do a duet."