During my tenure as a Voice Instructor, I have coached Singers, Speakers and Actors of every age and musical of speaking style. Some typical singing styles would be, Classical, Opera, Musical Theatre, Jazz, Pop, Folk, Rock, Rhythm and Blues and Country. Some typical speaking styles would be, Corporate Trainer, Corporate Speaker, Politician, Teacher, Poet or Rap Artist. Some typical Acting styles would be, Stage Actor, Musical Theatre, Film Actor, Commercial Actor, Voice Over or the creation of specific Characters or Accents. If I missed any, please add them to the list.
My point is that there are so many uses for the Human Voice, an incredible miracle of an instrument. After working with all of these people through the years, I have found these consistent themes in how they perceive their chosen method and/or style.
1) They often worship their chosen style and exclude all others. (This is especially prevalent with snooty academic/classical crowd)
2) They think that their style of singing is the only correct way the voice can operate.
3) They have little or no understanding of how the voice operates.
4) They think they are gifted and do not need competent training.
5) They refuse to even consider expanding their capabilities by attempting to sing or speak in another style.
To me, anyone who thinks in any fashion like this is incredibly naive and has little or no interest in becoming an accomplished vocalist. If I have ruffled your virgin feathers, I make no apologies.
Before you leave the room or call your Attorney claiming that I have bruised your ego, please allow me one chance to explain to you the many aspects of proper vocal performance that are similar to all vocal styles. Then we will discuss the actual few differences. Here is a list of all the aspects of vocal performance that must be understood and applied by all vocalists and all musical or speaking styles.
1) How to breathe properly to intake the maximum amount of oxygen every time we breathe.
2) Understand how the body is engineered to use pressurized oxygen to accomplish many vital functions by coordinating the abdominal muscles.
3) Have a thorough understanding of the most important abdominal muscle for singing or speaking called the Diaphragm. This includes its position in the body, how it is used to intake oxygen and how it is used to pressurize airflow and expel it in a controlled and efficient manner.
4) Have a thorough understanding of the Larynx or Vocal Chords and how this marvelous organ is used to accomplish a fundamental sound and correct pitch.
5) How to keep our throat open so the fundamental sound and pitch which emanates from the Larynx is not restricted and therefore diminished in any way before it reaches the resonating chambers of the head.
Before we discuss how style differences are accomplished, please review the above long list of important things that all vocalists must be able to understand and perform masterfully before they can be a powerful vocalist in any style.
Now let’s discuss how we accomplish different styles. You will be amazed at how simple it really is. And when you realize this, my hope is that you will become a vocalist that understands there are more common processes than different ones. And, hopefully, you will become more open to becoming an accomplished singer or speaker in all styles.
Let’s start with the style where the voice is usually operating to its absolute potential. That would be Classical or Opera. I realized that I made a not so flattering comment in #1 of my first group of numbered items. (This is especially prevalent with snooty academic/classical crowd) I did not make this comment about the style; I made this comment about the some of the people that perform that style. The college where I received my formal music degree was a place where the mention of Popular Music was considered Sacrilege. With my childhood musical background being Surf Bands and Rock and Roll, I had to watch what I said for fear of being Tarred and Feathered!
Lets analyze the physical singing style of Classical or Opera. We usually observe the following physical characteristics in the performer.
1) They often breathe correctly.
2) They often understand how to use their abdominal muscles for proper oxygen control.
3) Their Diction is often clear and resonant.
4) Their jaw is often open or dropped to produce the most balanced resonant tone possible.
I my experience, I seldom find these important vocal performance aspects in people who sing in other styles. The main reason is lack of training but another reason is a bad attitude about being open to sing in other styles.
Unfortunately, it appears to be human nature to dismiss a new challenge or even minimize its importance rather than embrace it as a gift that will change our life. We would rather shoot the messenger than listen, embrace and grow. Pretty sad!
What I have found is that, once I can get a student past the mental blocks of experimenting with a new vocal style, it becomes mainly an issue of altering the diction and opening the jaw to different positions that creates basic musical or speaking style changes. It is really that simple.
I want all of you to try something so you can get the effect. I want you to act in character using two extremes. Pick any song or speech you are familiar with and perform it in each of the following characters. Don’t hold back and perform the character as exaggerated as possible.
1) Pretend you are an Opera Singer or Speaking words in a Shakespeare Play.
2) Pretend that you are an old-time Country Singer with all the twang you can muster. If speaking, just say the words that way.
While you are doing this, be aware of the following:
1) How open or closed your throat is.
2) The position of your tongue at all times.
3) How closed or how open your jaw is.
4) What kind of tone, nasally or balanced, you are producing.
5) Do you feel tension in your neck and head or not.
I hope you are getting the picture that the differences in vocal performance are very few compared to the similarities. When you tell your body to become a certain character, the subconscious mind brings it to pass by altering physical positions.
In conclusion, I tell all my students that if they want to truly become and accomplished and fulfilled vocalist, they should be able to sing or speak in any style on command and do it properly.
So, it is time to drop the ego and open yourself up to receiving some proper training. Trust me, when you do this, you will be a very happy vocalist. Further, you will have a healthy respect for all styles, all vocalists and increased admiration for your marvelous musical instrument.
Jonathan Morgan Jenkins