Changing your singing style (without changing your sound)

Changing your singing style (without changing your sound)

Jeremy Fisher gives seven techniques with exercises to change your singing style (without changing your sound) in this two part post.

“For the purposes of this article I will assume that you are a classically trained singer wishing change your singing style to sing (in English) in a more contemporary style.

Let’s look first at one of the most misunderstood concepts in classical singing:

1. Vocal Line or Musical Phrasing

Cutting or interrupting the line is probably the biggest single thing you can alter to change your singing style.

A standard classical phrase usually arches up from the first note and arches down to the last note. The ideal is uninterrupted sound, evenly matched throughout. In more contemporary styles, matching the sound throughout is less important, as words and specific emotions take centre stage. There is usually no inbuilt need to sustain projected tone over a large orchestra, so delivery is more colloquial. Actors compare this to delivery for stage and for screen acting.

Take the first few lines of a song, and speak them as if on the phone to a close friend. Notice where you breathe (many people take breaths in the middle of sentences) and which words you emphasise. The important thing here is to be intimate.

You are allowed to cut the vocal line whenever you like, as long as you have a good dramatic reason for doing so. This often goes completely against classical training so I use the following simple exercise to introduce breaking the line.

Exercise for breaking out of the Classical phrasing style:

Choose a phrase and speak it several times, using a different word to breathe after each time.

If you are successful on the first attempt, you can add that each breath point must make sense dramatically. My clients are usually surprised at the number of dramatic reasons you can find doing this exercise – chasing a thought, panicked in-breath, awe, lost for words, pause for emphasis.

Repeat the exercise using the break but without breathing.

Now sing the same phrase using the gaps, hesitations or cutting short of words that you have discovered in the spoken version.

The results include a more authentic use of text, a change of focus from sound to meaning, and a freedom in performance. If you are running out of breath in a particular performance, you can cut the line and alter the shape of the phrase without losing the dramatic intensity.

And it’s not cheating!

2. Breath and your Singing Style

A highly contentious subject; almost everyone has thoughts about breath, whether it’s what they should be doing or can’t do, or whether they don’t have enough (very rarely do they think they have too much).

I wish to lay my cards on the table – one size does not fit all. Different phrases require different amounts of breath, as do different voice qualities, different vocal styles and different tessituras. There is not even one particular breathing pattern or habit that can successfully sustain all the different vocal styles.

The most important points of breathing are:

  • how much air do you take in?
  • where do you take it in?
  • do you need to store it?
  • how much do you let out?
  • how do you control it?

Many budding crossover singers are locked into a single breathing pattern, taking in a specified amount of air and holding it back until the end of the phrase (however long). You may have already discovered from cutting the line that breathing patterns in contemporary music are much more flexible. How do you notice your own breathing patterns?

Exercise to identify your breathing patterns:

Take a musical phrase and sing it through in one breath. Then take in half your normal amount of air and sing it again. Then take in a quarter of your normal amount of air and sing it again. What do you notice? Can you feel yourself going into negative pressure? Where you are squeezing to find the air?

Now take in a much larger amount of air than normal and sing the phrase again. What do you notice at the beginning? At the end? This exercise helps my clients find the optimum amount of air for the phrase out of context.

Exercise using different breath patterns:

Take the same musical phrase and use the ‘cutting the line’ exercises to discover different shapes in the phrase. Each different shape will require a different amount of air, because you have numerous opportunities to top up. The same phrase can require different amounts of air depending on its meaning, volume and setting.

3. Word Decay

Decay focuses on the shaping of individual words, particularly on long notes. The emphasis in classical generic terms is on a full sustaining of the sound to the end of the note <=====, or occasionally <======>. But when you change your singing style, decay can be used as an expressive tool and usually becomes more exaggerated as the music becomes more contemporary.

There are various shapes you can follow, including long sustain with late, medium decay ======>>, or swift increase of volume/tone followed by long decay <===>>>>>>.

More extreme versions can include =>———-
or ====>——-
or even =>——–<==.

Experiment with the positioning, the length and the speed of your decay.
The use of decay is bolder in contemporary singing style, with adjoining words often having completely different decay patterns. Listen to Frank Sinatra for a stylish and effective combination of word decay.

Click here to read Style Conscious PAGE 2

© 2014 Jeremy Fisher


Jeremy Fisher is a performance coach, writer, director of Vocal Process and author of the free ebook

86 things you never hear a singer say

This article first appeared in the Music Teacher Magazine and appears by kind permission of Rhinegold Publishing Ltd