4 unwritten skills professional singers need

4 unwritten skills professional singers need

Jenna Simeonov
Singers, in between all your voice lessons and language classes, do you ever hear the trope about successful singers having that “special something”? Synonyms include “charisma”, “star quality”, and “stage presence”, and they’re all too vague to pin down. Whatever that something is, it’s an alchemical combination of qualities, some earned by nature, some by nurture. We’ve got 4 examples of necessary singer skills that are hard to learn in music school:


It sounds vague, but a sense of trust is one of the biggest differences between an amateur singer and a professional. Trust means knowing when it’s enough to simply stand still and sing, and it means listening to your teachers and coaches when you think you sound like a dying cat, but they’re frantically giving you the thumbs-up. Trust comes in handy when you look out into the audience and see faces that look bored, stunned, or otherwise expressionless. In the rehearsal room, trusting your own skills means that you can live with getting no notes, no attention from the director or conductor; many young singers can’t grasp the concept of “no news is good news”, at least not until they’ve got trust.

The ability to imitate

Good news: this is a skill you actually can hone through practice - although there are certainly those born with a head start. Great mimicry skills aren’t about spending your coachings and rehearsals as a mindless parrot, but there’s a strong connection between the ability to imitate and having a good musical ear. In the process of getting rehearsal notes and ideas from your coaches, you’ll get a decent amount of demonstration. When a conductor or teacher hears you sing version X, but they’d like version Y, imitation skills are what will help you. With a honed ear, you’ll be able to sing back version Y in the moment (a surefire way to please your music director); more importantly, you’ll be able to note the specific differences between what you’re doing, and what you’re being asked to do.

Resistance to saying “I told you so”

With all the heirarchy involved in rehearsing opera, it can be hard to remember that directors and conductors can be wrong. When given direction in rehearsal, a singer’s job is, at the very least, to give it an honest try. Singers, you may know when a conductor chooses a bad tempo, or when a director’s staging simply won’t read. In the process of your giving it a try, and (hopefully) a conductor or director’s adapting their ideas as a show comes together, it can be a delicious thought for a singer to mention that they were right. Don’t. Take secret joy in your rightness, and tell a select few of your trusted colleagues about it later (much later).

Something to say

With all the work a singer does to giving a meaningful performance - all the voice lessons and dramaturgy and text analysis - nothing quite beats a simple need to say something. It’s hard to learn, because a singer’s work may include singing about situations they’ve not yet lived in their own lives. Mastering this skill doesn’t necessarily depend on growing older and wiser. Interestingly enough, it’s a reason to stay well-rounded, even while pursuing something time-consuming like singing; having something to say comes from having opinions on the world, and those are easier to come by outside of the bubble of singing and opera.

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