We often meet singers who want help but are afraid that their voice will be forever changed for the worse. Their concerns are warranted. I’ve known many singers who felt that they lost their ability to sing a certain way because of vocal training from a teacher who “didn’t listen to their needs”. They are always willing to tell their story to everyone who will listen which then tends to make those who hear the story afraid of seeking out help. The truth is, like in any field, there are bad teachers, good teachers, great teachers, and incredible teachers. There are singers who study classical singing with an excellent classical teacher who can then turn around and belt in a healthy marketable way and then again the opposite is true. There are contemporary voice teachers whose students excel and reach new vocal heights in a matter of months and there are those singers who, even though under the supervision of a contemporary voice teacher, develop nodules or worse.
So what is a singer to do? Singers have to be smart consumers when it comes to seeking out training. But what exactly does that entail? Here are a few thoughts to get you started in taking charge of your vocal development:
Learn how the voice works
I can’t think of a single guitar, piano, violin, trumpet, saxophone, or any other instrumentalist who doesn’t know how their instrument is put together and how it works. Armed with that information, it allows the guitar player who meets a teacher who encourages them to play with their teeth to know that teeth do not send the strings into vibrations as well as a pick of fingers and will alert them that maybe that’s not the best teacher for them. Unfortunately, most singers don’t understand how their voice works and accept anything their told as the truth. There are teachers out their teaching that you can make vibrato by holding your arm and pointer finger out in front of you, shaking it, and then shaking your voice along with your arm. This couldn’t be more wrong or more destructive to your vocal health. However, if you know and understand the vocal mechanism, you would know this wasn’t healthy and could watch out for yourself as you seek training. (Keep an eye out for future articles on the Contemporary Voice Studio blog about how the voice really works.)
Pursue Mastery of your instrument
When I think of people who are Masters of their instrument, I think of performers who have learned how to make every possible sound out of their instrument and play, at least at an elementary level, every possible style on their instrument. Yet how many singers do you know who can only sing one style? When I hear singers say they don’t want to lose their sound, I understand yet at the same time I think they sometimes forget that its ok to explore different sounds. Great artists often talk about their influences and how their influences help shape their unique style/sound. Part of finding YOUR unique style/sound is having a different set of influences that shape your craft than anyone else. So as you pursue vocal study, don’t completely give up your sound right away. Just experiment, be influenced, and be adventurous. You never know what you’ll discover.
Singers don’t listen enough outside of their comfort zone. Listen to singers who are different than you and who sing different styles of music than you’re used to. And when you listen to them, pay careful attention to what they do, what stylistic tools they use, and try imitating them.
Don’t be afraid to imitate, but know when to stop. Think about, guitar players listen and imitate Jimi Hendrix, Van Halen, Slash, and many others. Its part of learning. How can you really know who you are until you’ve tried lots of styles and found out who you like and who you don’t? By imitating different singers, you can learn what it feels like to imitate different sounds and start to identify what you change within your body to make those sounds. By doing so, your voice will begin to respond more quickly to your choices and you will be able to take bigger steps towards finding your voice.