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Which Singing Training Approach Is Right For Me?



Let me guess. Ever since deciding that you wanted to improve your singing, you've tried at some point or other to google "voice lessons"/"improve my singing"/"good vocal technique"/"how do I sing high notes?" on the internet. Chances were, if you looked long enough, you not only found what you were looking for, but you were also bombarded with a surfeit of information linked to purportedly "effective" techniques, methods with "proven" results, or voice training businesses with snazzy marketing and famous clients. The more you looked, the more you realised that a lot of singing training seemed to be contradictory (should I sing "from my diaphragm", or let my breathing "flow naturally"?), confusing (what is a "mask"?), or leads-generating ("simply give us your email for a "free" copy of ____!"). It might even have seemed as though singing training was a bewildering cacophony of differing opinions, confusing terms, and hidden agendas. In your quest to improve your singing, whom should you trust with your voice?


While it is undeniable that some voice training professionals see education as a business (regrettably, in my humble opinion), there are many who are truly passionate about bringing out the best in their students. That is not to say that every profit-driven programme is necessarily bad, and every nurturing teacher is necessarily good. However, before committing to a training programme, it would be prudent to do some prior research, in order to ensure that you are setting yourself up well to meet your desired goals.


Which singing training approach, then, is right for you?


To answer this question, it would be helpful to first understand why there are so many variations in approaches to singing training. This can partially be explained by these 3 reasons: i) the development of vocal pedagogy from a singer-centred perspective

ii) the vast array of styles, genres, and preferences of singing, and

iii) the uniqueness of every voice.

i. The development of vocal pedagogy from a singer-centred perspective:

The earliest record of a systematised approach to teaching singing was developed in the medieval monasteries of the Roman Catholic Church some time near the beginning of the 13th century [1]. At that time, there were no scientific instruments available to visualise the inside of a person's larynx. Understandably then, the singing voice was observed and studied from a singer's perspective. "Chest voice" was so named because it seemed to resonate in the chest cavity, "head voice" in the head, and so on. Over the centuries, this way of understanding the voice has largely stayed and become ingrained in voice training and pedagogy. However, advances in voice science have now increased our knowledge of the inner workings of the voice, and we find some of our previous understanding to be inadequate. Unfortunately, not every technique or teacher is able to adopt these changes at the same rate across the board. This results in a range of training approaches that adopt varying degrees of this updated knowledge. Therefore, if you are keen to be trained in line with the most up-to-date understanding of the voice, find a teacher who is keeping abreast of these advances.

ii. The vast array of styles, genres, and preferences of singing:

Over the years, contemporary music has grown in popularity and also in variety. Not only are we seeing many contemporary artistes push the envelope of style and genre in their music, contemporary singers are also prized for their distinctiveness and valued for their unique "sound". On the other hand, classical singing is designed to adhere to traditional ideals of beauty of tone, vibrato, and legato line tied to Fach [2]. It follows then, that many training approaches have evolved to address this wide variety of styles and genres. In your quest to improve your singing, finding a teacher who is sensitive to your desired goals, and experienced in the appropriate type of training to meet those goals, is important.

iii. The uniqueness of every voice:

Because our vocal instrument is part of our body and every body is different, we all come with pre-conceived notions and experiences of using our voices. No one coming in for singing training starts on an entirely clean slate. Because of this, some experienced teachers have developed approaches designed to help with specific voice needs. This again, adds to the wide variety of approaches in singing training. Rather than blindly following a training regime, you need to take your voice from where it's at. Find a teacher who is able to recognise the distinctive peculiarities of your voice and plan your training program accordingly.

In conclusion, yes, there are a ton of approaches to singing training, some conflicting, some confusing, and some unfortunately crass. However, in your quest to improve your singing, taking the time to find a teacher or a technique appropriate to your needs will be a worthwhile endeavour.


Notes:

'Explain-Again' Meme retrieved from https://www.teachwire.net/news/14-of-the-best-unhelpful-high-school-teacher-memes

[1] The New Grove Dictionary of Music & Musicians. Edited by Stanley Sadie,Volume 6. Edmund to Fryklund. ISBN1-56159-174-2, Copyright Macmillan 1980.

[2] Bartlett, I. (2019). Crossing style borders: New inroads in training teachers of singing. Voice and Speech Review, p. 1-12. https://doi.org/10.1080/23268263.2020.1695878

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