That Really Tips Me Off!

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Whenever I start voice lessons with a new student I think it’s important that they understand the difference between studying with me and studying with other vocal teachers.  I have a unique approach to my singing lessons. My teaching curriculum is designed for the modern, commercial singer. What do I mean by Commercial, you ask? I mean any style of Western Music that is not Opera or Musical Theater. Pop, Rock, R&B, Country, Jazz, Blues, to name a few. Now, for all the readers out there that have very little or no experience taking voice lessons, it’s good to note that 80% of all voice instructors deliver a Classical or Bel Canto approach to singing lessons. That’s right. They will essentially teach you to be an opera singer. What’s even more annoying is finding a teacher that says they teach contemporary voice lessons, yet still base their primary technique on the old classical singing style. Needless to say, if you are serious about your contemporary singing voice, you need to know the difference between classical and commercial vocal training.

Below are some basic technical signs that should “Tip You Off” as to if you are with the right instructor or not. Just a few clues that will help you discern if your voice instructor is or isn’t teaching you a legitimate commercial style of singing.

Tip off #1

Your instructor never mentions Vocal Register or Quality Changes, of any kind. As a matter of fact, they seem to be trying to keep your voice sounding the same, from top to bottom. A contemporary singer should have multiple qualities in their singing voice. You should be using both your Low Register and Head Register. You can blend the Registers and or add effects to the them. Breathiness and or Resonance are effects that can be added to both Low and Head Register. The addition of Resonance to the Low Register of a commercial singer’s voice is a technique commonly known as “Belting” or “Shout.” Blending of the two registers is commonly known as “Mixing” the voice. Blending gives the Low Register a more gentle and light quality. The absence of instruction on vocal register and quality change is by far the biggest tip off that your teacher is not teaching a commercial method.

Tip off #2

Your voice teacher has you using modified Vowel Sounds to help you reach “trouble spots” in your songs. This teaching technique is only half wrong when it comes to commercial singing. Without a doubt modified vowels are required in certain singing situations and are used in every style of vocal music. However, pertaining to the commercial voice, the singer tries to modify the Shapes only, not the actual Vowel Sounds. If you aren’t sure this is how you’re being taught to use your vowels, try recording yourself. If you are hearing yourself sing words like “Love” and it comes out sounding like “L-AH-ve”, then you are being taught to modify the Vowel Sound, not the Vowel Shape. Unfortunately this won’t wash in the commercial market.

Tip off #3

Your teacher never has you use Vocal Intensities, also called “Vocal Effects” or “Back Singing” by others in the industry, to help create more emotion in the delivery of your songs. Vocal Intensities is my personal description of vocal sounds that aren’t singing sounds that are added by commercial singers to bring out more emotion in their singing.   Examples of intensities would be adding an edgy quality to a word or group of words, vocal fry on specific words in a phrase, yodels or over aspirations, audible inhales, etc. Over the years intensities have become an industry standard in commercial singing and are obvious and very recognizable. A great example of an artist that was well known for his use of vocal intensities would be Michael Jackson. But, we can hear Vocal Intensities being used by even early commercial artists, like Billie Holiday. The majority of these Intensities can simply be added to the voice by singing more aggressively and with more emotion. Without Intensities the voice is, well, for lack of better words, too clean.

Tip off #4

Your teacher has you using scored music and you are not allowed to deviate from the notes or written rhythm. Ever since the rise of the “Crooner” in the late 1930s and early 1940s, commercial artists have been taking their own personal liberties with the rhythm and notes in standardized songs. As a matter of fact, phrasing is one of the primary components used to help an artist create his or her original sound. Believe it or not, it is Musical Theater that has the hardest time with this idea. Opera singers also are strict with written rhythms, but they are, at times, allowed to add their own personal vocal embellishments and deviate from the written notes, like commercial singers. In Opera, adding a string of extra notes to a melody is called a Melisma. A commercial singer uses a similiar technique in their singing. We usually refer to this type of embellishing in commercial music as a Riff. Although the delivery of a Melisma and a Riff are stylistically different, the concept is the same.

We only addressed a few Tip Offs, but these are some of the most blatantly obvious differences between classical and commercial singing. If you are a commercial singer, have read the above Tip Offs and realize that you are studying with a teacher using a more classical method of instruction, don’t panic. All is not lost! The Foundation of every singing method is essentially the same, so you should have some usable knowledge of the basics. However, it is safe to say if your teacher hasn’t mentioned simple basics, like the use of a Breathing Technique or the use of Modified Vowels, you shouldn’t walk, BUT RUN!!! GET AWAY AS FAST AS POSSIBLE! Trust me on this one. It’s never too late to switch horses in midstream, especially since you’re now aware that you are on the wrong horse! You should look for a teacher that understands the above concepts and is able to teach them correctly. Bad instruction can be devastating to a singer’s vocal health in the long run, in any style of singing.

As always, if you have any more questions, or you are interested in addressing this subject in person, just hit me up on my Contact Page. I’m looking forward to talking with you. Until then, keep it real and keep singing.