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Musical Styles

Welcome back for my third monthly blog! 

Here are a few thoughts about singing in different styles......

Most of us have musical genre preferences.  Furthermore within these, we have performer preferences and pieces which we pefer.  It is enriching to uphold these likes and to share them with others.  My niece recently collated a playlist of songs from family members’ choices “that made us smile”.  To listen to this during the lockdown period was truly uplifting, bringing the family closer together in spirit.   There is so much different music around.  My personal view is that from time to time it is good to listen to a variety of music other than your favourite, preferably with no pre-existing opinions.  This may not change your preferences but it could broaden your interest and just spark some new interpretative ideas.  I must admit I rarely sit down and listen to any music for sheer pleasure as I’m usually researching repertoire for students and my lovely choir, but with DAB radio, Spotify, Alexa, Siri and Apple Music it’s actually very easy to listen to different music when you’re doing those boring odd jobs.  Or perhaps take a quiet moment to listen to a classic song, paying more attention to specific vocal nuances or lyrics than you have done in the past. Singing nuances vary enormously within the different genres of music: rock, pop, musical theatre, opera, to name but a few.  Music that was prevalent in our childhood years influences our tastes hugely and often how well we can sing certain styles.  In one college where I taught, three super lads auditioned for a ‘Frank Sinatra Medley’.  Possibly the “best” singer offered an easy, laid back style, but perhaps focused on this aspect just too much at the expense of sitting right “in the groove”; another who was a good actor and extremely competent in Musical Theatre, was too “straight”; the third sang completely appropriately, rhythmically accurate yet seemingly relaxed and bang in tune.  I subsequently found out that his father was a massive Frank Sinatra fan, and this music was played at home all the time.  Obviously as the most suitable candidate, he was given the job.   At a glance: hints for singing in different styles.

Classical  * Sing smoothly throughout the whole range. * Allow your vibrato to develop naturally - don’t force it or try to create it. * Learn to read music and study with a good teacher. Pop  * Be able to sing without vibrato, although not exclusively. * Experiment with different vocal sounds in different registers - repeated consonants, fast riffs, carefully executed glottal effects.* * Explore sliding over small intervals, ascending and descending, to prepare for vocal bends and decay. * Think of the vocal as a lead instrument in the band and that the way this “sits” with the band is not always dictated by the lyrics. Rock  * Carefully experiment with grittier, dirtier sounds such as growling and vocal fry. * Use a wide range of dynamics, including whispering, which is really effective with the microphone. * Vibrato can be used for a variety of effects. * If you’re not a natural rock singer please consult a singing teacher experienced in this style.  Even if you are, a trusted mentor will help you keep your instrument well   maintained. Blues  * Listen to the Blues classics for the basic structure of the songs. * Be able to sing chromatic figures. * Scat sing - nonsense words - first with the main melody and then improvise around this before adding “fills” between phrases.  Musical Theatre * Possibly along with folk and country, the most important style for the lyrics to be delivered and heard clearly. * Choose songs which are within your vocal range. * Learn to belt safely, or use a mix. Country  * Be able to sing with twang. * Make extra syllables, for instance, turn “yes” into “yay-ess”. * As with all folk music there are usually many verses to a song.  Develop a natural aptitude for storytelling.

Knowing the background of each style really benefits the execution.  Do some research and listen. Whatever your preferred singing style, always endeavour to keep a good technique and steer clear of tension.  

**glottal stops will be the subject of a future vlog.

Apologies to any source that I have inadvertently taken on board here without specifically acknowledging. The teaching of singing has changed – it’s no longer kept in a precious bubble of the individual teacher, but like our singing, like our breathing, it is something that we are allowed to share for the common good.

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