Back when I began to sing and perform, I figured I needed vocal training. I would listen to recordings of Mariah Carey and Whitney Houston, and dream of singing their songs. At the time I couldn’t reach those notes, my range was barely an octave and I wanted to do more with my voice. So I went looking for a teacher that could guide me in developing my talent.
Some people told me “If you take lessons you’ll lose what’s unique about your voice. Those who take lessons all sound the same.” That made me think.
People tend to see the trained voice as something artificial. But actually, the job of the voice teacher is to restore the freedom and power that is inherent in every voice. Good vocal training aims at developing the natural voice. It isn’t just based on an idea of what a voice should sound like, but looks at vocal function. Its purpose is to release the instrument from unnecessary tensions so that your natural sound can come out. This way every singer will sound like their unique self.
When we grow up we learn to restrict (and constrict) our vocal expression for many reasons. We do this mostly unconsciously to appeal to people or to better “fit” in the different roles we take on in daily life (mom, daughter, brother, friend, lover). Do you use your voice the same way when talking to your best friend as when talking to a teacher? Do you sound the same?
You’re also likely to have been adapting the way you communicate based on what you think of yourself and your voice. Someone who is very confident is probably not going to sound as breathy or soft-spoken as someone who is very shy.
The way you sing is often a reflection of that.
What is vocal training like
Training the voice means learning to strengthen and coordinate the muscles of the larynx to achieve an even tone quality and get rid of constrictions. This way we develop the vocal registers. Every vocal register is characterized by different degrees of engagement of these muscles and different resonance qualities. The registers include vocal fry, modal/full voice (traditionally divided in chest voice and head voice), falsetto and whistle.
A kind of vocal emission between full voice and falsetto is called “mixed voice” (mix). The same term can also indicate the transition (passage) from chest voice to head voice.
In a coordinated voice the difference in tone quality between chest voice and head voice is basically imperceptible. You can achieve this through vocal exercises (vocalises) that the teacher tailors to your voice. When doing vocalises you sing a scale with different syllables and sounds. The next step consists in applying what you learned to the songs you sing.
Tips to get the most out of vocal training
Keep in mind that in the perception of our own voice we often confuse what is natural with what is familiar, meaning what we are used to. You’ll see that your ear, in this case, isn’t a reliable guide. Therefore, it’s necessary to approach the training knowing that you might need some time to adjust your perception. What you hear in your head while you are singing can sound very different from what people hear from outside! Especially at the beginning of the training. A great way to hear this difference is to listen back to a recording of the lesson.
What you need to focus on is not as much the sound, as the sensations of singing.
Also remember that it’s necessary to take your voice in new directions in order to break bad habits. Be open minded about it, even when it sounds a little weird or exaggerated. That’s essential to condition the muscles to work differently! And like I said, what sounds extreme to you might actually not be so crazy. Trust your teacher!
Be patient with yourself, because even once you understand and are able to practice the exercises, it might take some time to reach the same freedom and coordination in the songs. But I promise the results will be worth it!
What is your opinion about vocal training? Do you think it’s important? Leave a comment below!