In the 10 years that I have been working as a vocal coach & vocal instructor in London, there seems to have been some consistent confusion about vocal technique; which technique is right and which one isn’t, which vocal technique works efficiently & which doesn’t, what technique is actually for and how it relates to style, etc…
Some say technique is not that important or not very useful, some will even say doing voice warm ups and scales is wrong and is not beneficial at all. I have even heard some say performing stylistic nuances such as falsetto or the growl is wrong and should not be done, but yet there are so many singers that have been singing successfully for generations using these stylistic nuances and have done so without damaging their voices.
These ideas are consistently flying around and I have found that it can be a daunting experience for any singer who is trying to find the best course of action where voice training for singing is concerned.
So what is vocal style and what is vocal technique? Which vocal technique is the right one and how can you be sure that stylistically you are using your voice well and not damaging your voice?
In part 1 of this article we are focusing on technique. I would like to break my humble opinion down like this:
Technique is about understanding your vocal instrument and learning to be in control of it skillfully. Style is about expressing yourself freely with the skill you have acquired technically. ‘Good’ technique is present to help explore & exploit your style. Style can be implemented in a healthy or unhealthy way.
Good vocal technique.
What is good vocal technique and what does it look, feel and sound like?
Here are some pointers that can help guide you to answering these questions for yourself. Good vocal technique should:
1. Work in alignment with how the whole voice system functions and it should be supported by sound vocal science and logic. (These days there is a lot more supported research on how the voice works physiologically. This information is vital in communicating & accurately teaching singing, which also means there is a legitimate line of reasoning behind every given exercise, this in turn produces a clear-cut result or solution).
2. Incorporate a sound understanding of the vocal apparatus and it’s functions. It’s important for you as a singer to have a basic understanding of how you can control your voice and what you can do mechanically to make your voice work best for you.
3. Be free of any unwanted hindrances or interference: Freedom is a fundamental champion of good vocal technique.
4. Educate that singing develops breathing, not breathing, singing. Breathing is not the be all and end all of singing, it is important but it is not the sovereign faculty that develops the voice.
5. Educate on understanding resonance & the principles of vocal acoustics (Formants and Harmonics) rather than on brute force in order to emphasize volume and loudness.
6. Encourage the use of the entire range of the voice from “chest” to “middle” to “head” and descending from “head” to “middle” & back to “chest”.
(Chest and head voice are terms universally adopted by singing teachers & vocal coaches because they help singers understand what they are feeling e.g in chest voice you tend to feel a sympathetic vibration in your chest and in head voice you tend to feel a sympathetic vibration in your head, but they are not correct scientific terms. The term middle voice and the term mix voice are also common terms used to describe the sympathetic vibration singers feel when they sing higher).
7. Essentially good technique should always aim to get the voice operating and sounding like one register or one even sound. Think of running your finger up and down the white keys of a piano and hear how the tone of the notes does not change but blends into one.
Vocal exercises are great and an extremely useful tool in learning how to improve your voice and understand your voice particularly if you are new to singing, but just because you can vocalize well does not mean that you are necessarily able to handle a song just as well. It’s certainly a stepping-stone in the right direction but one would need to progress from these routine based, isolated sounds.
The jump from isolated sounds to actual language can feel like a big jump, so when one is voice training for singing, your voice teacher should at the right time incorporate exercises that use different scales and that most importantly use language whether it is dummy language (just made up) or specific lyrics taken from a song you are studying.
In Part 2 of my Vocal technique vs Vocal style article, I’ll be focusing on vocal style and what it looks, feels and sounds like.