IndieVerse is pleased to welcome singer/songwriter and vocal coach Janice Yap with her detailed and insightful article titled “Why Take Vocal Training”.
This article is the very first addition in our new series of Expert Articles and is dedicated to both aspiring vocalists and the average person who just wants to sing more confidently.
Why Take Vocal Training
by Janice Yap
“You can either sing or you can’t”.
Sounds familiar doesn’t it? It’s so easy for us to listen to a great singer and attribute his or her skills to some God-given talent, effortless in its delivery. While talent is indeed important, there is another factor which is just as, if not even more important – Training!
A quick search on Google will already reveal quite a number of popular singers who have benefitted from some form of Vocal Training. There are quite a number who went through formal Vocal Training, be it through a Performing Arts School such as Amy Winehouse, Adele, Jessie J & Leona Lewis who went to the Brit School, or a Vocal Coach, such as Alicia Keys, Michael Jackson, Christina Aguilera, Lady Gaga, Avril Lavigne, Taylor Swift, Stevie Wonder & many more.
And then, there are those who also went through informal Vocal Training – the “home-schooled” singers. They didn’t go to an actual school to receive their training, but were mentored by others; Mariah Carey was mentored by her opera-singer mom, while Whitney Houston spent a lot of time singing with her gospel-singer mom and friends. Others like Steven Tyler, Celine Dion and Bruno Mars on the other hand, grew up surrounded and performing with musical family members and friends.
Hence, while it is undeniable that some people are born more gifted than others in singing (as with any other ability), to assume that talented singers are simply people born with great voices is to somewhat discredit the fact that they are actually also great self-made singers. What am I trying to say?
Hard work is important in developing a singer’s voice, and a great voice (with an amazing tone, vocal range & etc) CAN be hidden under poor vocal technique. This is where Vocal Training makes the difference.
Vocal Potential: Finding out what your voice is really capable of doing.
Do you have a pretty great ‘speaking voice’ (pleasing in tone), and always wondered, wouldn’t it be great to be able to translate that tone into singing? Have you ever wondered, how is it possible that you can sing so well in your lower range, but it all has to cut off at some point as you go higher, switching into some airy-thin sounding tone?
I used to find this really mind-boggling, because it always felt like I had two voices. One that sounded baritone-ish – it was strong, chesty and could reach really low notes, and the other that sounded like the girlier version of me – it was soft, light but it could reach really high notes.
In terms of vocal range, I didn’t doubt that my untrained voice easily had at least 4 and half octaves. What I didn’t understand was, how come I couldn’t sing through all of these octaves in one voice, without breaking? Shouldn’t it be possible?
YES, though I only found out years later. All it took was a different approach in singing through that “vocal break” – like switching gears. Vocal Training helped me understand the various vocal modes (or gears) that a singer can use and when to use it.
Vocal Range: Understanding all of your Vocal Registers
So, did I have to get rid of one of my two voices and work hard on only one in order to get rid of my vocal breaks? No. Through vocal training, I actually found a way to bridge the gap between the two – using my vocal mix.
Both voices (the baritone-ish and the girlier voices) were equally me – one was my chest voice (resonates mostly in the chest, therefore “chest” sounding), the other my head voice (resonates mostly in the head, therefore “light” sounding). Vocal Training helped me understand the various vocal registers that a singer possesses (including the whistle register), my stronger and weaker ones, and how to strengthen and blend them all. By developing my vocal mix (also known as the “middle voice” that was missing initially), I finally managed to sing through my whole vocal range without any kinks!
Vocal Flexibility: Singing with Ease
As my love for music began with dancing, I was always impressed with singers who could not only belt out slow ballads, but also those who can sing fast upbeat songs with equal ‘ummph’ and melisma. I was even more impressed with singers who can do this while singing across many music genres – form Folk to Dance, R&B, Rock & anything under the roof. How is it possible that they do all that with such flexibility?
A singer I find, whose singing talent is seriously understated is Michael Jackson. Perhaps it’s because he was also such a great performer and dancer that we forget how great a singer he is. All it takes is to try singing one of his songs, while attempting some of his incredible phrasing, and it’ll be seconds before you realize it’s hard to sing those songs the way he did without sounding stupid. His vocal tone may not be every person’s preference, as everyone’s preference of a vocal tone is subjective. However, it is undeniable, that Michael was a darn-flexible singer – he could growl when needed to, put distortion in his voice when he felt like it, sound like an angel in another song, scat in another & so much more – all while dancing!
But the most amazing thing was how easy he made it all look. I am no MJ myself, but I’ve found, that when singing with proper technique, it really is MUCH easier to sing. There is no strain or pain, less fatigue and no loss of voice, even after many hours of singing and performing. Moreover, controlling pitch, rhythm and volume becomes far easier, allowing your voice to be able to take on songs of various genres. Damn, it turns out singing can really be, and IS suppose to be as easy as speaking!
Vocal Tone: Sounding like you, and nobody else.
“You sound just like _____________!”
Great, if it was a singer you like. However, most of the time, we are drawn or pay more attention to singers who have identity, whose voice we can immediately identify when he/she sings. Some of them we fancy, some we don’t. But singers who sound unique, are almost always remembered.
As such, wouldn’t it be better to be able to sing with the same ability as your favourite singers, whilst retaining your own sound, than to aspire to sound just like them?
There are many factors that determine the sound of a singer – the size of the vocal folds, the length of the vocal tract, the size of the vocal mask & etc, but our anatomy is not the destiny of our voices. By using a different way of holding the vocal folds, we could actually modify our sound. I guess that explains how there are some really great imitators out there. But what this means is, we could learn to modify our sound, or simply use our god-given sound. Or, we could use both, to produce an even more interesting sound, and a more fascinating vocal performance.
There really isn’t a right or wrong as to how a person should sound like, although there is a healthy and not-so-healthy way of producing sound, because singing, after all, is a form of self-expression.
With Vocal Training, you can add more colours to your voice, like adding more colours on a painter’s palette. By unlocking your vocal potential, you will achieve the freedom and flexibility to sound however you like.
Vocal Delivery: Singing with Confidence
While most people say that singers sing well because they are confident, I’ve also known a lot of people who are confident and can’t sing well. Confidence is important to help you hold a vocal performance well. But, here is the chicken and egg situation…. do you have to be confident before you can sing well, or do you have to sing well before you can be confident?
After all, even if you’re the most confident person in the world, how are you supposed to be confident when it comes to singing, when you know your singing just sucks big time? It would be delusional. Perhaps a better way to look at this is, you have to have guts before you can attempt to sing or sing to your fullest potential, but being able to sing well or not definitely affects your confidence when you perform.
With that in mind, Vocal Training will definitely help you sing more confidently, not just because you have great vocal technique, but because you know for a fact that you CAN control your voice pretty well.
Showmanship and stage presence is a different thing altogether, but in terms of vocal delivery alone (how it sounds), if you’ve trained your voice to take on a particular song and have “conquered” the song many times, surely you’d sing that song with confidence. So, the more you train your voice to take on more songs, and the more songs and vocal styles you “conquer”, the more confident you’ll be as a singer.
Having said that, vocal lessons serve only as a guide to lead you on the right path, the singer must make effort to travel down that path; he/she has to do the work. Having a teacher with a good ear, to point out what it is you’re doing and how you can do it better will help you stay on that path. Having a teacher who can demonstrate how to do it on the other hand, would be even better (you wouldn’t be walking, but running down that path). These days, teachers can come in all forms – an actual Vocal Coach, Performing Arts Schools, musical family & friends, or even videos of singers doing their thing. As Michael Jackson would put it,
“The greatest education is watching masters at work”.
Vocal Mastery, is a life-long journey, and anyone with healthy vocal cords and with the right guidance, can eventually sing. How well? The singer decides, based on how much time and effort he or she puts in into mastering his or her instrument.
Janice is Malaysia’s 2006 BOH Cameronian Arts Award winner for “Best Solo Performance – Vocals”. A singer-songwriter, with songs that have topped various local Radio Stations for 18 weeks, and previously a TV Presenter for 8TV’s Trippin’, she is also a Vocal Coach.
Visit: http://www.janiceyapmusic.com/2009/03/faq.html for more FAQ’s on Vocal Training.