Help on changing your genre
Back in 2014 I wrote an article for The Music Teacher magazine on changing your vocal style. It’s now part of my book “Why Do I Need A Vocal Coach” (you can get a copy here).
Gillyanne and I also created an online training Webinar on a similar theme called Changing Your Style Without ‘Losing’ Your Voice http://store.vocalprocess.co.uk/ChangingYourStyle
Here are some more ideas about about changing your genre.
Changing your genre can be a challenge for a singer – perhaps you’ve been taught a particular way, or you have a specific sound that you’ve always made. Here are three things to consider.
- Changing your voice to fit the genre. This involves altering your sound output, from vocal fold vibration mode to resonance shapes to breath pressure and flow.
- Changing your style features to fit the genre. This is the focus of the article and webinar listed above, and includes tone onsets/offsets, legato line, volume control, breath changes, energy and a host of “usages”.
- Changing your diction style to fit the genre. This is an oft forgotten part of singing – your manner of pronunciation or the accent / dialect that you sing in.
In the past we’ve covered changing your voice and changing your style in detail in our books and in many of our online Webinars. So let’s examine no. 3…
Diction style includes:
- vowel shapes
- the way consonants are used (or missed out)
- diphthongs and tripthongs (if you use them)
- the balance between consonant and vowel
- accent or dialect use and a whole host of detail on general word use.
For example, classical singers singing in English will often use a heightened pronunciation that to non-classical singers would sound almost comic if spoken. R&B, Britpop, jazz and Country & Western all use different pronunciation styles.
Even within a single music genre there are variations. The Allmusic.com database lists 217 subgenres of Rock/Pop alone. And within the Rock/Pop genre you wouldn’t sing Britpop, ClubDance, CountryRock, DeathMetal, SkaPunk and RetroSwing with the same diction style.
Musical Theatre singers are in a category of their own. They will usually have to sing in the vernacular of their character (and changing musical may mean using a different diction style for each song/character).
Vocal sound, style features and diction styles all rely on a recognition of context.
Your home genre(s)
Remember that you usually have a home style or set of styles – you’ve absorbed the style features and often you’re not conscious of them. If you’re going to start changing your genre, and particularly if you’re going teach in different genres, you have to be aware of what you normally do. Here’s an exercise to help you discover more about your own singing.
- Think of the songs you like performing the most. Which are most comfortable for you to do? Which do you look forward to during a gig?
- List the music genre(s) they fall under – each song could be a different genre so note that too (Country, Jazz, any of the myriad pop styles…)
- Think about each song – does it have a particular ‘feel’ (intimate, in-yer-face, trancey, laid-back, powerful)?
- In general, what do you enjoy singing the most? Long lyrical lines, or punchy & raw phrases? Laid-back ballads, thoughtful stories or energetic rock songs? And yes, I know every singer I’ve ever worked with thinks they ought to be able to sing everything but we’re talking comfort zone here!
- Now start grouping the songs by different criteria – start with uptempo v ballad, then choose thoughtful v out-there, lyrical v punchy, positive v negative etc. The more deeply you go into this grouping exercise, the more you discover which types of songs fit you best. It’ll help you choose more suitable songs for your voice/style/energy, and it might explain why some songs are harder for you to sing.
Recognising genre expectations
In every music genre, the audience expects to hear certain things and not others, otherwise they wouldn’t buy the album or go to watch the artist. People have been booed off the stage or ridiculed for performing in a way that the audience wasn’t expecting.
How do you begin to recognise specific genre features?
When Charlie Brooker was making the spoof tv crime show A Touch of Cloth he and his co-writer Daniel Maier spent some time analysing the different parts of the crime drama. They would watch the “interrogation” scene from many different crime shows, one after another. Then they’d switch to the “autopsy” scene, or the “discovering the body” scene.
They discovered that in each type of scene there were several features that appeared in every crime show. So they wrote the features into the scenes in their spoof script exactly as they appeared in other crime dramas. It made their series both authentic and gloriously silly.
I’m suggesting that you do something similar with the new genre you want to sing.
- Line up recordings of 6 different songs in your chosen genre. Check out Allmusic.com advanced database to get some ideas on song, album or artist choices, then head over to Youtube for specific performances.
- For each song, you want to dip into the performance for 30 seconds. Write down or record anything you notice about the overall performance of the singer.
- Vocal qualities – what types of sounds are the singers making? And what intensity levels are being used? And does the vocal sound and energy match the feel of the band or is it deliberately different?
- Style features – notice the onsets/offsets, smooth or choppy line, clean note approaches or slides, yodel flips or drop-offs, and anything that stands out. Notice the use of rhythm – are they on the beat, front- or back-phrasing, how tight is their rhythm?
- Diction styles – note the word pronunciation. Is it a particular accent? If you spoke in that accent how would it sound? Are the consonants lazy or defined? Are the diphthong transitions slow, fast, early, late or non-existent?
Even though there will be differences between the singers, you’ll quickly notice certain similarities. It’s these that place the singer or band in a particular genre and help them appeal to other bands’ audiences.
- Then choose a singer who is definitely not in the same genre – play 30 seconds of their track and notice the differences between them and your chosen genre singers. We live in a world of contrast and compare, so this is one of the quickest ways to open your ears to their (and your own) style preferences.
- Finally, go back to the performances from your chosen genre and choose one singer’s performance. Sing 30 seconds of one of the songs, imitating that singer’s performance. How close can you get to their sound, their style features, their diction? Is there anything you normally do that you have to change?
One more thing
“If you’re going to change, change it good and proper” Jeremy Fisher on many coaching occasions
This is something I do in my 1-1 coaching sessions all the time. I will often take one of my client’s songs, written in a specific genre, and change their sound, style features or diction style (or any combination) to move it to another genre. This is great for auditions as we can angle the song towards a specific event or casting, and the casting agent gets to hear a brand new version of a known piece.
If you want some examples of changing the genre good and proper, think Judy Garland singing Over The Rainbow, then think Eva Cassidy singing the same song. Both totally different but both unique and iconic.
Or Yellow Brick Road sung by Elton John or Sara Bareilles.
Or for the classical readers, Bellini’s Casta Diva sung by Maria Callas or Filippa Giordano (and if that doesn’t put the cat among the classical pigeons I don’t know what will – cue the storm of tutting…).
What is interesting here is that the versions by Eva Cassidy and Filippa Giordano, stunning though they are, would not work in the original show – they are either musically or energetically so different from the original as to be out of place.
Both singers decided to make the song work outside the music’s original style. To do this you have to treat the music exactly as you would in your own signature style, ie. ignore the written music and its genre expectations and go with the melody and how you would approach it in your home genre.
So would you keep within the expectations of your genre? What have you discovered about the signature style features of the genre you’re approaching? Let me know!
PS We devote a lot of time to changing the sound you make and the style features you use in our #1 Bestselling book This Is A Voice. Get a copy here