New York Vocal Coaching Podcast Ep. 31: Finding Your Style
Posted Friday, May 1st 2020 by Greg Kefalas
What style fits your voice the best? Any and all of them! Matt busts the myth that certain voices can only sing certain genres, breaks down what creates style, and gives tips on how to sing music that calls to you the most.
Hello everyone, this is Matt and welcome back to the New York Vocal Coaching Podcast. So we are moving into week six or seven of this global stay at home, they're all kind of blurring together at this point. Hopefully, you've been able to find a way to get a sense of normalcy through all of this working on physical, mental, and vocal health. Hopefully, Andy and I have given you some things to chew on when it comes to using the most of your time and really continuing to build those vocal abilities.
So today I wanted to talk about how to build different styles into your voice, finding the style that works best for you. And this is a question that I get frequently, especially with new students. And they come in and ask, "What style is my voice built for? What is it best for?" And the stigma comes from the idea that you are born with the voice that you got and that's the one you got to keep. So if that voice is best equipped for opera singing, pop, rock, jazz, whatever, you are stuck with that style and you need to pigeonhole your way into that type of singing.undefined
And I want to break down this stigma together a little bit today. So the way I like to look at it is, singing is building a skill just like any other sets of skills. Say for some conditions, everyone can learn how to shoot a basketball hoop. Some people don't get it right away but with practice, with training, and with guidance, everybody can train their muscles to successfully shoot a hoop and swish in the net. And you can tell by the way I'm talking that I'm not much of a sports person, but if I took the time I would definitely get more comfortable with it because it's a skill, just like anything else.undefined
Same idea with typing on a keyboard, some have taken the time to learn and they fly with it. Same thing with hula hooping, right? Some people take a look at that and say, "Man, that's so difficult. How do you do it?" And it takes messing up, it takes practice, it takes getting used to, but pretty much everybody can learn how to move in the right way to keep that hula hoop spinning, and spinning, and spinning.undefined
So I want to take this idea of skill building and apply it right into the voice. What I mean by that is, we are all equipped with a larynx. We're all equipped with vocal folds, with the tongue, with the jaw, with breath, where we can change volume or use more or less of it or anything like that. And we can train all of these different mechanisms to fit different styles. It's not that we're stuck into one or the other, it's just how can we adapt our musculature to fit what we want to sing?undefined
So with that being said, you can sing any style you want. I have worked with singers who have done the classical singing and the contemporary singing, have learned styles that they always enjoyed but never thought they were good at, and then they were flying through and sounding great with all of this excellent music. So I want to encourage you there to take that risk, to take that jump.undefined
And to push you in the right direction, I want to ask you what do you enjoy the most? It doesn't matter what you think you sound best at, it's what genre do you enjoy? What do you listen to all the time? When you're feeling like you need a pick-me-up or after a long day you want to listen to music, what's the first thing you turn to? That's going to be a really good indication as to what style you want to throw your eggs in the basket for and start to take a look at it.undefined
The next question, which is similar but not quite, is what inspires you? So what pumps you up? What moves you? What style feels like it's some sort of part of you? And you could have more than one for sure, but we want to take this idea of enjoyment, of inspiration, of fulfillment, and use that as a guide to show us to the style that we were meant to be singing. It doesn't matter what your voice has been using for as long as you've been singing. It doesn't matter what you've been born with, it's a matter of what do you feel fulfilled with?undefined
Now, when you take a listen to certain singers it seems sometimes that these genres come so natural to them, the sense of style comes so natural. And I want to give a couple of reasons why just to kind of help to dispel this myth and what have you. So the first and very big aspect of this is what your family listens to. So if you're growing up and your parents are musical or if they just enjoy listening to certain music, and you're going for drives, and you are always listening to jazz music, what style do you think your voice is going to veer toward?undefined
It's not going to be classical. It's not going to be rock because in your ear you've grown up learning the sounds of jazz, you learn the rules of jazz, and that's probably what the voice is going to want to take to first. It's just if that family ... There are a lot of families out there where one or two parents have performed in one aspect or another, and the classical singers tend to have children who sing more classically because that's the sound that they grew up with, just surrounding them, getting used to how to create these sounds, and all of that.undefined
The next part is what you listen to. So there are some people who listen to a wide array of music. There are some people that really only enjoy that one small niche of music, you can call it. And if you listen to that one small niche, once again, that will influence your voice to do mainly those rules and skill sets and what have you.undefined
The third is what activities you grew up with as you were going through school, doing extracurricular activities, different choirs that you have in the area, adult choirs, children choirs, whatever, you name it. Those are also going to really influence your voice. If you're singing in a large choir and you're doing mainly classical music, singing very legato and smooth, it's going to be harder to find your way into rock music because the rules are different. Very similarly, if you're singing in musical theater then your skill sets will build in that direction and it might be trickier to break into some other styles.undefined
Same thing if you grew up performing in a rock band and you were jamming on the guitar and singing into a microphone, going to be very difficult to switch over into classical or so it feels, but it all goes back to that idea of you can build your skills to suit the style that you need. And a really good example of that too is the musical theater genre.undefined
If you're listening to some of your favorite musical theater singers, because of the way the industry is built, because of all of these different musicals that feature different styles of music, you have the jazz, you have the rock, you have classical, you have aspects of almost every single genre say for some few exceptions. And these performers are auditioning multiple times a day with different genres, changing their voices and utilizing them in different ways to fit character, style, the rules of different genres. So if they can do it, anybody else certainly can.undefined
This moves us into another point and the one that our fearless leader, Justin, talks about a bunch. Style is caught, not taught. This is going to be very helpful and very important as you continue to build into the style that you want to sing. And what this means is, you can sit there and go through every little second of a song and say, "Oh, this performer used vibrato there," or, "Oh, that performer used a lower larynx there." For every second it takes a bunch of time, and you could do it but in that case your soul and your mechanism and your understanding of the style isn't as complete as we want it to be.undefined
You want to catch style. What that means is you want to listen like crazy. You want to decide what you enjoy and you want to go onto your favorite listening platform and go see concerts and do this, that, and the other thing, and immerse yourself like crazy in the genre that you want to sing. And nowadays, it's very easy to do as well. So if you're taking a look at Spotify or YouTube or something like that, you can totally fall down the rabbit hole and you just don't want to listen to one singer. You want to listen to 10, 15, 20 is the best.undefined
20 different performers in the style that you enjoy and go into Spotify and look at the related artists and just write everybody down. Move from one to the other and just note, what are you hearing, right? What rules of that genre are you picking up? What can you imitate? What can you tinker with? And through that, you'll really start to feel like your voice is growing into the style that you appreciate and really want to sing.undefined
Here are a couple of rule sets that change based on the genre that you're listening to. One is going to be vibrato, so whether you have vibrato or straight tone or delayed vibrato going through, is going to change based on the style. If you're singing classical music you're going to have more vibrato than if you're singing rock. If you're singing R&B it's going to be very varied. Very varied sounds, very redundant. But, anyway, it will be very varied as you are going through and hearing all the different ways they use vibrato, sometimes straight tone, sometimes full on vibrato, sometimes delayed. And picking up on that will give you a sense of those rules.undefined
Another one is chest voice versus head voice/falsetto. So that goes to the register that you're singing in. Once again, R&B has a lot of variation. So that's might move back and forth. You're going to hear some men singing in falsetto, some women singing in head voice, and then going into chest voice. Classical males would not sing in head voice, it was not really accepted in that style.undefined
Female classical singers would only sing in head voice pretty much except for the extreme lowers of the range because that's the sound that they looked for. Rock is going to stay in that chest voice, that mixed place. So the register and the intensity that you give the voice is going to be a very big rule set for that as well. You also have dynamics. So if you're singing in a band where you have tons of electric guitars and drums going underneath you, it's really tough to sing soft.undefined
So you're going to have to give it a little bit more volume, and one volume all the way throughout, as opposed to some classical styles, some of that gospel R&B where it has a little bit more of that decrescendo, crescendo, messa di voce going back and forth between different volumes to give it a different feel, a different emotional outtake as you go through.undefined
Pronunciation is going to be a very big one as well. Where classical singing has a little bit more of the closed vowels, rock would have slightly more open vowels. Instead of singing a whoa, in rock you might sing a wow or something like that. Of course, keeping in mind that all of these are overarching ideas, there are exceptions to every rule, but really listening through and writing down and notating what these different rule sets can be, will go such a long way in bridging you into that style.undefined
And the last one is larynx height. So classical singers tend to sing with a lower larynx. Rock singers have a little bit more of a neutral or slightly raised larynx, and then something like punk rock, musical theater, character performers might really lift that larynx up high and give you a very bright type of sound all the way through. And that's going to be another one that really dictates, does the style sound like the style you're singing?undefined
If I'm singing a classical song with a high larynx, it doesn't sound right, there's something just a little bit off. Same thing if I sing it without vibrato, there is something missing going through there. But all of a sudden, if I lower that larynx, it seems just a little bit more suited for the style that we're singing. Same thing I'm not going to take those characteristics into rock. It just doesn't work.undefined
So catch that style, listen a ton into what you're hearing, what rules these singers and performers use. That's going to be your ultimate guide, your best teacher, when it comes to going into style. Now you can take that to your voice teacher and then say, "This is the style I want. How do I build technique-wise into that style?" And they'll be able to help you out a ton. But having that first set of rules is going to be immensely important as you go through and continue to build into that.undefined
So a lot of times when we think of singing, we think of having to produce sound, what can we do vocally to make that happen? But there's another important aspect and that has to do with listening. What are you hearing? So I'm going to give you a little interesting listening exercise, just to continue to build your ear and awareness of other sounds around you. And it's not going to have to do with the music yet. So what I'm going to have you do is pick an environment, for many it's going to be in your house, you might be able to sit outside on the lawn, close your eyes and just listen. It doesn't matter where you are, but you want to be able to close your eyes and listen.undefined
And you want to notate how many different sounds can you hear? And what are you hearing? It could be birds chirping. I went on a walk the other day and I heard seven different types of birds. And it was really beautiful to hear. You hear cars, maybe going by on the pavement, you might hear critters outside, moving around you, do you hear someone shuffling in the kitchen downstairs? Maybe one of your pets or a dog across the street barking? What sounds can you hear? And you will be amazed at the small sounds that your ears can pick up that we aren't even aware of when we're going from moment to moment to moment, activity to activity every single day.undefined
What can you find as you go through and just listen and just be, and just receive information. Now we can take that same exercise and apply it with music. Pick your favorite song or artist, put them on and close your eyes. What do you hear? You might hear things that you've never heard before. You might start to pick up on new qualities or skills that you haven't been totally aware of because we have opened up your ears. Go back to our list of different skill sets that you have the larynx height, the vibrato, the dynamics, pronunciation, et cetera. And to really think of what you are listening to and how does your music, what you enjoy, fit into the skills and rule sets that we can create vocally with our own voices.undefined
Now, this is a fun exercise and one that I encourage you to do a few times a week, especially as some people are at home, maybe they don't have commutes as much. We might have a little bit more time on our hands. Take a few minutes out of the day and just listen to the sounds around you and then apply that same idea of listening into a song. You'll be amazed at what you start to pick up. It's a really incredible to start to open up those ears just a little bit more. And with that being said, you are set to take on any style that you would like.undefined
I will say again, you are not born with one style. You can sing anything that you like. Learn the rules, think of the vocal muscles as muscles that could be trained like any other muscles in the body. We can learn how to run, hula hoop, shoot a basket, play tennis, whatever, play piano, play violin. Whatever that skill set may be, it takes time and it takes practice, but it can definitely be done. The more you listen, the more you experiment and the more you imitate is the faster that you're going to be able to go through and build into these styles.undefined
So of course, that is a loaded topic. I can keep on talking about that for hours and hours, but I believe this is a good place to start. If you have any questions regarding any of this, or you want to share a part of your vocal journey, how you've been building into this style, send a message to firstname.lastname@example.org, that's email@example.com and let us know how you're doing with these different styles. Which ones are you tackling for the first time? Which ones are you starting to feel like you are mastering when originally you thought that maybe you didn't have the best voice to sing that?undefined
It's a really interesting to see where that voice can grow and expand and improve into all of these different styles. It's amazing. And of course, I want to end with, for those listening, who are in the forefronts, working in grocery stores, nurses, doctors, any essential workers, those who work for delivery services, thank you so much for your continued work and for keeping the cogs running in this world as we continue to get accustomed to a very odd situation. We express our thanks for your strength, your perseverance, and your continued work in such a difficult time.undefined
So that's moving away from our musical message of the day, but it is such an important message and you are so very much appreciated. So we'll leave that there for today. We will be back in two weeks for another episode. Let us know if there are any topics that you would like to hear. We're continuing to think of you and to send you health and well wishes day by day, continue to keep up that good vocal work. And I look forward to seeing you for the next episode of the New York Vocal Coaching Podcast. Thank you so much for listening everybody.undefined
Thank you for joining us for this episode of the New York Vocal Coaching podcast. If you like what you hear, please subscribe, like, leave a review, and share the podcast with friends and family. And we thank you in advance for that.
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We're looking forward to seeing you again two weeks from now for another episode of the New York Vocal Coaching podcast.