In 1979, the great violinist Isaac Stern visited China, to perform and give master classes. A young violinist in one of those classes was struggling through a musical passage. She was hitting all the notes in the right places, but something was missing.

Isaac SternStern asked the girl to sing the passage, which she did. Then he told her to play it like she had just sang it.

An amazing thing happened. The girl’s performance improved significantly.

What had happened? What she could play only mechanically moments before, she was now playing musically, because her voice gave her the correct phrasing, and a mental template to play against.

Research has shown that we learn more thoroughly when more than one of our senses are engaged. When musicians are able to vocalize what they need to play, they seem to more aesthetically grasp the shape of each note.

Since the voice really is the oldest instrument (not the drums, as some think), and because we usually learn to speak before we play another instrument, we can use that skill to our advantage.

Most people can phrase musically with their voice before they can master the same skill on an instrument that requires much practice.

Drum instructors have been saying for many years that if you can count it, you can play it. An addendum to that would be that if you can sing it, you can play it better.

So sing away!