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Vocal Training: Why Your Audience Shouldn't Hear It

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I received a very interesting comment about over-trained singers at my page here on The Modern Vocalist.com:

"What I strive for:  no two voices are the same. It's that unique strong signature characteristic that separates people who can sing from people who become icons in music. Take Sting for example, not the greatest vocalist, but there's no mistaking that aged husky whimper of his. Technique is important for power and control, but I find that there are too many people sounding too trained. I believe that one should incorporate one's personality into one's sound as much as possible in order to go about creating that strong iconic signature sound that no one else can recreate. Take Chino from Deftones-that guy can't sing a note- but the Deftones wouldn't be anything without him. Same goes for Trent Reznor from Nine inch Nails. I think it's a fine balance between a trained and untrained voice that needs to be found."

- Timothy Ian David Lester

This is, in fact, why some people think you can know too much about music or voice. They feel that too much musical knowledge can cause a musician or singer to over-think and turn their art... artificial. Actually, sometimes they are right, but only because they are not being taught well, in my humble opinion. The first thing we vocal coaches should do is to interview our new student and find out what his or her vocal and musical goals really are. Do they need to sing classical songs to get into (or through) college with a major in voice? Do they want to sing what they are writing: R&B, country, pop, jazz, hip-hop, alternative? We must know so we don't guide them into a style that is not where their heart is. Yes, people can learn to sing both classical and popular genres, but sometimes the jump can be hard. It's like learning to speak different languages very fluently. Yes, you can do it but it takes time, careful and accurate coaching and exposure to the masters of the musical genres you want to sing to perform multiple genres well. If you want to sing in more than two or three genres (like pro session singers must), this is what I call "stunt singing". Does your student really want to be jack-of-all trades, or do they want to be a master of one? I believe we need to do exactly what Timothy is suggesting: help our clients find their uniqueness. This is what really sets the heart free, and sometimes gives a vocalist a career as a recording and performing artist. It really takes experimentation, a feeling of safety to try new ways of using the voice and feedback from someone with great intuition about how an audience would react to what they are hearing. We want an audience's immediate reaction to be: "Wow what a song, what a delivery of that song!" Not, "Wow, I wonder who this artist's vocal coach is and what method they use?" My favorite artists actually play with their voices, sometimes "de-supporting" for a weak, sensual or sad sound. But when it's time for business, they ramp up all the vocal wisdom they ever learned and deliver such controlled power that we are mesmerized with their song. They scream, use breathy or husky sounds on purpose, but -- and here's the rub -- they NEVER hurt either the listener's ear or their voice. It's like an aural (instead of an optical) illusion. And it comes from being -- you guessed it -- very well trained. A good example is the masterful performance of a great actor. If they are doing what they should, you never even detect the slightest whiff of "acting", do you? But you can bet your bottom dollar that they used top dollar acting teachers to get to the level they are at in their craft. According to her biography, Janis Joplin planned every "impromptu" scream she did. A singer who is serious should be trained by an insightful and wise vocal coach who will train them so well you don't hear "vocal training" when they sing. You hear a song that elicits from you an emotional response.  Period. This essay first published August 4, 2009 on The Modern Vocalist.com  the Internet's #1 community for vocal professionals, voice health practitioners and pro-audio companies worldwide since November 2008.


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