So what is vocal style and what does it look, feel and sound like?
Vocal style is about being able to freely express your feelings with your voice using a never-ending spectrum of different vocal: pallets, colours, sounds and nuances that help a singer paint an outward picture of what they feel inside. The unique application of artistic taste to the interpretation of vocal music.
When a singer is engaged in voice training for singing, style is often something that is not really focused on. This can be for a number of reasons, the reasons could be; that a singer needs to be able to grasp some basic technique at least before they can engage in more stylistic work or that certain stylistic nuances that could be seen as detrimental (a growl for instance) to the voice if not worked on in a healthy way.
These days there is certainly more information available to singing teachers through various esteemed voice networks Like VIP (Vocology In Practice) or the BVA (British Voice Association) etc, in helping voice teachers understand what is happening from a mechanical point of view and how they can work with a singer to produce effective results using healthy practices.
Vocal style can be seen as “breaking the rules” I like to look at it as “unhindered vocal expression”, meaning there is nothing stopping you or holding you back from expressing the height, depth, and width of your vocal ideas.
So, what does it look like?
It looks like enjoyment, freedom, effortlessness, deliberate action, relaxed, purposeful, focused, controlled….it looks natural. When you watch someone who is comfortable with their own style, they tend to have this way of making it look so easy right?
Even if they are expressing something that seems hard, or difficult, it is done with an air of control that captures an audience and keeps them curious about what is coming next as opposed to feeling like the singer they are watching is struggling to express themselves vocally.
This is the wonderful thing about style, everyone is uniquely different and has their own way of directing their instrument to relay what they want to relay and so it means if 10 people were to come in and sing the same song, we should essentially hear 10 different unique interpretations of the same song each with their own merit and appeal.
What does it feel like?
It feels like you are being you. Like your inner voice is being heard, connecting with people. Like you are going outside of yourself and tapping into something beyond you. It should feel easy to do, and should feel like you have a lot of choice in terms of what you can do vocally. It should feel fun and like you are in control of your instrument.
When a singer is voice training for singing or preparing for a performance, this is usually the period where you are working hard to fulfil all the vocal forms of expression in a song and where you are planning what your vision for the song or the set is going to sound like e.g. how you will be changing the mood, expressing love or hate, expressing musicality or drama with your voice in a way that captivates your audience or takes them on a journey.
This is where you start to figure out HOW you will achieve all these results not just with your physical expression or your facial expressions or staging but also with YOUR VOICE.
The questions you should be asking are: HOW is my voice going to reflect this sadness or HOW is my voice going to reflect this love or HOW will I execute this riff or HOW will this fun lyric come across as fun with the vocal nuances available to me?
These are some very important questions… Imagine if someone could not see you… How will they know you are expressing pain, love or happiness at that moment in the song? This is where vocal style comes in… the deliberate use of vocal style will help a singer achieve these things and when you have successfully worked and achieved these in your performance, you will always feel good about your performance whether people like it or not. The fact is you have done everything you can do to express yourself as freely as possible, and that is enough!
Remember, being able to achieve vocal style consistently also means that it must be done with skill and a degree of good technical knowledge so as not to harm your voice. Your voice training for singing must be done consistently and accurately.
So, what does it sound like?
It should sound exciting to the ear, entertaining, unpredictable; it should complement the story of a song. It should sound impressive and musical, dynamic, colourful, unhindered and expressive. It should sound explosive and tamed and controlled and reckless all at the same time. It should sound daring and out of the box not confined and cliché or manufactured. Ultimately it should sound unique, individual & original. It should sound like an expression of you.
I think there are 3 things to hearing if style is being performed in a healthy way & those 3 signs to look out for are:
- The effectiveness – how well the vocal effects are being achieved.
- The effortlessness – how easy it is being done and the unhindered ability.
- The control – the singer’s skill when it comes to: how high or low the voice can go without breaking or struggling through the bridges, how the use of dynamics & power/volume are being controlled, the consistency of the vibrato and the command of the singer’s unique musicality whether that be in the form of riffs & runs, licks, ad-libs, scatts or melodic variations/modifications.
Not everyone is going to be a fan of your style. Music is not like football (once an Arsenal fan, forever an Arsenal fan) … accept that people will like your style and some will not like it at all, but it doesn’t mean your style does not have value….it does!
Until a singer has gained adequate technique to handle a song attempting to acquire style is perhaps premature whilst on the other hand, without style a well-trained technical voice is incomplete without it. Both technique and style go hand in hand, they are both two sides of a coin, you cannot attain the complete currency of a great vocal performance unless both are present.
Did you miss part 1 of this article? Well don’t lose sleep over it, here it is: Voice training for singing: Technique vs. Vocal Style – Part 1