A Rough Guide to Modern Vocal Technique?
What is classed as Modern Vocal Technique? Or modern singing for that matter? Are traditional methods outdated or are they original and best?
We appear to be in a current climate of multiple methods and multiple ways of teaching with what can appear to be a disapproval of the non classical way – but with voice research being in it’s infancy, are we just saying the same things in a slightly different language?
I set off in search for the perfect ‘qualification’ and pathway to gain the knowledge to be the best that I could be as a voice teacher so this post in essence, is my journey to becoming a modern singer, a modern vocalist and now a teacher of Modern Vocal Technique.
What is ‘Modern’ anyway?
I sifted through a lot of information to find out what I should be doing, how I should be qualifying, who I should get to know and given that there were so I started to look into various techniques. Much as I love singing classical music, my early experiences of lessons were of a classical repertoire (or the highway)
I decided to qualify as a Complete Vocal Technique tutor as that looked the most accessible and modern at the time particularly as it did not say you must never use distortion EVER (or you might die). Neither did it suggest that classical was the only ‘real’ singing. It also showed me that Musical Theatre class was not actually like living in an episode of ‘Glee’ 🙂
Surely if you have research you are modern right? Well initially I didn’t know that some research was seen as more credible than others or that many studies were such small numbers that much research is simply testing a theory as opposed to categorically stating that this is how it is!
Turns out voice research is in its infancy and ‘everything is in flux’ so a person like me takes that to mean ‘anything is possible; (within reason), as opposed to ‘never do this or you risk never singing again;. Sure you can damage yourself but you can also damage yourself walking across the road. Don’t get me wrong I am not irresponsible and encourage singers to push regardless of ability or knowledge of themselves… but a little bit is not going to harm you if you are aware of what is healthy and what is not.
So after 5 years as a vocal coach and over 35 years as a singer my opinion is that singing has been around as long as humans first found their voices – anything this century is a modern singing technique! It’s all MODERN – some of the old stuff (that was never broken and didn’t need fixing) may have been repacked for modern times, but the essence of singing is still the same – the parts that move are the same, the things that can change are the same and that it all really depends on what physical gear you have anyway, how effectively you train and how precise your technique can be based on what you have!
There are no big secrets, but I do see a fair amount of ‘snake oil’ along the way.
Extended Vocal Technique?
Anything that is not classed as ‘normal’ singing (whatever that is) is classed as an extended vocal technique, but when I see speaking and singing together on the list, yodelling, inhaling, overtones, and even fry on the list of ‘extended techniques – I realise that my electro acoustic course where we witnessed Trevor Wishart making ‘funny noises’ first hand has stood me in good stead. I also realise that there is a huge divide of what is classed as normal (then and now) and what singers want to be able to do (then and now)
Then of course there is the matter of taste – depending on how you feel about such vocal performances – is it just noises that people can make? Is it art? Is it just a part of singing (some now call vocal effects)
For me the term extended adds an extra element to make singers either feel that they have to be specialists to do it, that they need to take care (after all there are lots of yodelling related injuries in A&E) – instead of making it a divide, seeing as it used in most music nowadays except classical music, and it is a sound that a human can make at all – they will be able to do it in a healthy way. So don’t be afraid of the big bad wolf, have some fun and play around with your own voice.
Of course if you want to be a hardcore classical singer, maybe concentrate on not trying to get away from the ideal classical sound and inhaling your yodels and screaming too loud with no control everyday for arts sake – I’m just saying that it’s there, you don’t have to be afraid of it, and you are able to do it that’s all!
Check How Modern You Are!
If you want to feel good about being all modern and have it confirmed by others as to how modern you are – you of course join forums and publicly discuss things in modern way.
After all, it’s important to expand knowledge and connect with other teachers and the upside is that you get some really great support and fantastic ideas – heck you might even make some friends – but unlike SEO they don’t meet up regularly, many don’t appear to like each other that much (spats, often), communication is mostly non verbal, and established members are quick to pounce on new posters (and quite aggressively), which can put people off – so as a first time poster
Don’t take it personally
If you want validation you are looking in the wrong place – your students that give you money should be enough validation that you know what you are talking about! However, they are great to get the best information from the best and further your knowledge if you use well.
The online space appears to have an active distrust of methods (even though they work), and methods take an active slating on a regular basis. Often there is one rule for some and another for others – not the open welcoming arena I was expecting!
The more I looked into what was being posted in order to increase my own knowledge in other methods, the more I found the same information over and over again. After reading historical vocal books and trying everything with my own voice before testing theories on others – I realised that there is an element of a stuck record – you MUST do this, you MUSTN’T do that – and disappointingly, the same dare I say snobbery that I encountered when I took the few classical lessons back in my twenties regarding what is proper singing!
So I decided that singing may have changed, singers needs may have changed but actually tastes of what is ‘ideal’ and also singing technique methods haven’t… many have just been re-packaged and some appear to have some snake oil thrown in for good measure!
So I decided that I should just go my own way – look into combining techniques and becoming an up to date modern singing teacher in every method that can not only demonstrate to a high level everything that my students want to be able to sing, but teach it to the highest ability.
When Voice Masters Get Together…
Great things happen. When ego’s and battles about who knows more or who’s research is more valid than than who’s are put aside – a strange thing happens. Voice teachers share knowledge, exchange tools, and in my experience, stop competing, get less defensive, share their own voices and focus on the most important person – the singer!
(When they are in the same room at least and not hidden behind social media!)
Granted there will always be an element of competition and business is business but in order to be a part of the change of culture that embraces all methods and focusses on the singer, you first need to acknowledge that no one tip, trick, method, technique, teacher works for everyone and not all teachers think that even though you are paying for the service that they can tell you you can’t do something.
Granted when their job is to teach classical or musical theatre students then of course there are more rules and sound ideals to deal with but that is also your choice!
So in conclusion
- Pick a good TEACHER
- Don’t dwell on just one way of doing things
- Try things out – you may be surprised at what your voice may be suited to