I can't remember a time when I did not sing. My earliest memories are of singing with my mother while she baked bread or did the ironing. I sang my first solo in our church when I was four years old.
I did not begin any formal voice training until my voice broke when I was 14 years old. I grew up in a small village in Nova Scotia and was indeed fortunate to have Vivian Brand, a music educator par excellence, as my first singing teacher. She taught music in the schools in the nearby town. Every child or teenager who came in contact with her could sing because she firmly believes we are born to sing.
When I went to the University, the professor who taught School Music Education impressed upon us that all children, unless something is organically wrong, can sing. She gave us various skills, exercises and ideas, (including "tone matching" games) to use with children who were so-called "droners"--meaning they could not sing in tune. (She also impressed upon us that droners were most often children who had not been sung to at home.) These tone matching games developed and reinforced the coordination between the ear and the larynx. Once this is done the child sings in tune. It can be that simple.
I applied these skills when I taught school music in Montreal between the years 1962 and 1966, to children between age 6 and 13. In this four year span, dealing with hundreds of children, there was not one who, eventually, could not sing. At most, it took about three months (one half-hour class lesson per week) of tone matching exercises before all were "in tune" (and usually it took less); in the end they all sang and what fun they had doing so.
Why then are so many people reluctant to sing? Why do they feel they can not sing at all? It is a strange situation given the fact that children love to sing and their first attempts at speech are singing sounds. And it is even stranger, given that with the right help children can, and want to, sing. In my experience, people who are embarrassed to sing (or who think they cannot sing) almost always were told in school that they had an ugly voice, sang too loudly, that they did not know how to sing or were "droners." They were excluded from class singing or the choir and still feel hurt about it.
Children tend to believe what adults tell them and are, therefore, at the mercy of teachers and parents. If they are told they cannot sing, they will believe it. They will not be able to sing--at least not until their beliefs change. It is cruel to tell a child he does not know how to sing, and people suffer for years because of it. If you are someone this has happened to, then you have been deprived of a right that is as basic and natural as using your hands, skipping, or breathing.
This is a very good example of what F.M. Alexander meant when he said the way we think of a thing influences how we use it. In this case, a child being led to believe he cannot singinfluences his ability to sing. On the other hand, the way I was taught to think about children being born to sing enabled me to help them overcome the obstacles that prevented them from singing.
When we come to the training of singers, we see that almost every singing teacher thinks of the voice in a somewhat different way. These various ways of thinking result in just as many "techniques" or "methods" as there are teachers, each one attempting to produce a good sound. These "methods" are then reflected in the physical use of the singer as he attempts to put them into practice. Some approaches to singing are clear and trouble free, resulting in a generally well-coordinated use of the body. Others could not be more difficult, resulting in heavy muscular effort, gasping for breath, and unease.