Judy Rodman - All Things Vocal Blog

Training & insights for stage and studio singers, speakers, vocal coaches and producers from professional vocal coach and author of "Power, Path & Performance" vocal training method. Download All Things Vocal podcast on your fav app!

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Vocal Training: Why Your Audience Shouldn't Hear It

I got a very interesting comment about over-trained singers at my page on The Modern Vocalist.com:
"What I strive for: no two voices are the same. It's that unique strong signature characteristic that separates people who can sing from people who become icons in music. Take Sting for example... not the greatest vocalist, but there's no mistaking that aged husky whimper of his. Technique is important for power and control, but I find that there are too many people sounding too trained. I believe that one should incorporate one's personality into one's sound as much as possible in order to go about creating that strong iconic signature sound that no one else can recreate. Take Chino from Deftones-that guy can't sing a note- but the Deftones wouldn't be anything without him. Same goes for Trent Reznor from Nine inch Nails. I think it's a fine balance between a trained and untrained voice that needs to be found." - Timothy Ian David Lester
This is, in fact, why some people think you can know too much about music or voice. They feel that too much musical knowledge can cause a musician or singer to over-think and turn their art... artificial. Actually, sometimes they are right-- but only because they are not being taught well, in my humble opinion.

The first thing we vocal coaches should do is to interview our new student and find out what his or her vocal and musical goals really are. Do they need to sing classical songs to get into (or through) college with a major in voice? Do they want to sing what they are writing... r&b, country, pop, jazz, hiphop, alternative... we must know so we don't guide them into a style that is not where their heart is. Yes, people can learn to sing both classical and popular genres, but sometimes the jump can be hard. It's like learning to speak different languages VERY FLUENTLY. Yes, you can do it but it takes time, careful & accurate coaching and exposure to the masters of the musical genres you want to sing to do multiple genres well. If you want to sing in more than two or three genres (like pro session singers must), this is what I call "stunt singing". Does your student really want to be a jack of all trades or do they want to be a master of ... one?

I believe we need to do exactly what Timothy is suggesting... help our clients find their UNIQUENESS. This is what really sets the heart free, and sometimes gives a vocalist a career as a recording and performing artist. It really takes experimentation, a feeling of safety to try on new ways of using the voice, and feedback from someone with great intuition about how an audience would react to what they are hearing. We want an audience's immediate reaction to be: "Wow what a song- and what a delivery of that song!"... not "Wow, I wonder who this artist's vocal coach is and what method they use?"

My favorite artists actually play with their voices, sometimes "de-supporting" for a weak, sensual or sad sound... but when it's time for business they ramp up all the vocal wisdom they ever learned and deliver such controlled power that we are mesmerized with their song. They scream, use breathy or husky sounds on purpose, but ... and here's the rub... they NEVER hurt either the listener's ear or their voice. It's like an aural (instead of an optical) illusion. And it comes from being - you guessed it - very well trained.

A good example is the masterful performance of a great actor. If they are doing what they should, you never even detect the slightest whiff of "acting", do you? But you can bet your bottom dollar that they used top dollar acting teachers to get to the level they are at in their craft. According to her biography, Janis Joplin planned every "impromptu" scream she did.

A singer who is serious should be trained... by an insightful and wise vocal coach who will train them so well you don't hear "vocal training" when they sing. You hear... a song that elicits from you an emotional response. Period.

What do you think?

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  • At July 9, 2009 at 9:23 PM , Blogger Kelley Ann Hornyak said...

    This is the reason that I avoided any type of voice training for most of my life. So many people told me, "Don't do it, it'll ruin your voice." I think there is something to be said for letting an artist get comfortable in their own voice naturally before trying to train it or teach them anything. Just playing around with their favorite songs, really learning all the intricacies of their voice without overthinking it. But if you continue that for a lifetime, you can do damage--and without GOOD training, you'll never expand your artistry. It's good to have some knowledge on your own too, before seeking a voice coach, so you know if they're leading you down the wrong path. Great article as always, Judy!

  • At July 11, 2009 at 6:29 PM , Anonymous Kim Rushing said...

    hi Judy,

    yes, i agree, along with good technique,getting inside the song and meaning it is SO important!
    the song being appropriate to the singer is part of that...
    For example on "Summertime": (if you MUST sing it LOL) don't sing about your "mammy and pappy" if you don't usually talk that way ;-)

    Re: Sting, great songwriter,
    bassist and not so great singer was ok singing on his pop stuff...but his technical weaknesses as a singer were
    glaring when he sang "jazz standards". i couldn't stand to listen to it!

    then, there are those "jazz" singers who have wonderful technique,great careers, but i feel nothing when i hear them (but a pretty voice)...i don't feel anything emotionally. not gonna name names...LOL

    and i'm i sick to death of the overdone melisma of the female pop vocalists-- cookie cutter!

    all the wonderful possibilities that voice can bring to a song, yes, it is wonderful to hear those being used by a singer in command of the instrument.

  • At July 11, 2009 at 6:30 PM , Blogger Unknown said...

    Thanks and hugs to both Kelley and Kim... you DO understand!

    The goal is to make somebody FEEL something, with an instrument that's not hurting and can be free to be... ORIGINAL!

  • At November 15, 2013 at 2:04 PM , Anonymous meghan said...

    I came across this old post searching for info on Trent Reznor's vocal training, because I'm sitting here listening to him speak and was struck by how well he uses his voice to speak, as well as sing. Especially if you've heard him live, it is perfection, beginning to end, like everything he does. Intonation, quality, dynamics, everything; and he must have some knowledge for his voice to have survived 20 years of rigorous touring (not to mention all the drugs). Interestingly, I come here and along with Trent's mention, is another favourite of mine, Chino Moreno. His singing (and overall musicianship) has grown so exponentially over the years, I feel like a proud mom watching deftones grow up. I loved them when they were a rough screamy post punk metaly sorta band who listens to hip hop, and I love them now that they're sophisticated, nuanced, and incredibly beautiful. I am myself a classically trained singer.


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