I can’t count the number of times a student has told me, “I can’t sing with vibrato, I’m a pop singer;” or “I can’t sing an aria, I’m a musical theatre singer.”
Admittedly, I was once a victim of this kind of thinking. I would say, “I can’t belt, I’m a legit singer.”Lies! I’m here to tell you that this kind of thinking is wrong. A singer with the right training can safely sing whatever style he/she wants to sing. How? Easy – technique. Every good singer should have a bag of tricks they can tap into to adapt to any genre of music.
Technique is technique, regardless of style. Once a singer has learned the technique they can branch into any genre. When I say technique, I do mean the meaty, gritty boring stuff that makes a good singer an exceptional singer. Soft palate, tongue placement, diaphragm, support, placement of the sound, vibrato, ironing out the different registers, vowel sounds, consonants, breathing and obviously having a trained ear to sing on pitch. This is tough, and sometimes boring work. But it yields the results, because every single style of music uses this same technique. There are only minor differences.
- Jazz singing has a brighter sound, with minimal vibrato. Singers like Etta James, Billie Holiday and Tony Bennett use small amounts of vibrato in their performances but maintain a beautifully bright tone.
- Pop music has a shallower sound, again with minimal vibrato. Artists like Pink, Taylor Swift and Rita Ora rarely overuse vibrato but maintain excellent tone and pitch.
- Musical theatre (depending on the song, but generally) has more vibrato and a taller sound, plus you have to act. If you listen to a song like “On My Own” from Les Miserables you can hear the singer using a lot of vibrato. This technique is used to help the listener feel the emotion and depth of the story the singer is telling.
- Classical singing has a lot of vibrato and a much taller sound. “Sull,aria” from The Marriage of Figaro by W.A Mozart is a fantastic example of Classical technique and the use of vibrato. But if you don’t know how to engage your soft palate, place your sound, or control your vibrato, you limit yourself. And why be stuck doing only one thing when you have the potential and ability to do anything?
Who is a Versatile Singer?
Being a Versatile singer refers to the ability of a singer to perform several genres of music and perform them well. Some of the most well know versatile singers are Lady Gaga, Freddie Mercury, Billy Joel, Sir Paul McCartney, Paul Simon and Stevie Wonder. These artists were able to cross over to other genres of music successfully by incorporating their deep understanding of vocal technique and their overall control of their natural instruments.
Can I do it?
It’s a very realistic goal to become a versatile singer if you have a solid control of your voice and have an understanding of what different styles should sound like. So now the question remains, can you learn how to do this? Yes! Just find a good vocal coach. Someone who will work on building your voice with you. Again, it’s tough work, so you will need to find someone who you can trust and study with for a long period of time. Your vocal coach should be someone who is open to exploring many styles of music & songs and be comfortable teaching the different techniques needed to perform them.
Learning to sing is an ongoing process that takes years to perfect just like any other instrument, but if you’re passionate about being a versatile vocalist you will grow and be able to perform many styles.