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!

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

5 Differences between classical and contemporary voice

Both classical and contemporary are brilliant and beautiful... 
just make sure you are 'singing in the right language' for your song! (Post updated 2017)

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It can be harder to go from classical to contemporary singing than vice versa. However, I can tell you from personal experience that some classical singing can strengthen a voice in many ways, and even contribute to vocal healing especially for singers who sing mostly in the chest register. To make the switch successfully, a classical singer does need to do a few things differently for authentic performance of contemporary or 'popular' genre material.

Here are 5 tips to help with the transition from classical to contemporary voice: 

1. Your low end needs to have more buzz and edge. Classical singers tend to sound a bit "hooty" and weak at the low end. Find a brighter, more speech-like tone; to do this you need to mix more chest register in your lower notes.

2. Don't use as much vibrato. You don't have to cut it all out, but it should be used sparingly, with discretion and control. This means you need to develop the control to sing with straight tone so you can have that choice available in your performance.

3. Watch holding out notes too long. This is very typical of classically trained vocalists... do some research and listen to your favorite artists in the genre you want to learn. Notice how long (or short) they hold notes out. Notice what feels communicative instead of 'sing-y'. Practice miming to match what you hear and incorporate it in your phrasing.

4. Vowels need to be more flexible instead of wide open all the time. Sometimes I find that suggesting a chewing, circular movement of the jaw helps formal singers find more conversational shapes in vowels. A good study of blues or jazz singing can help you understand what I'm talking about.

5. The diction of natural communication needs to influence vocal performance more. A powerful contemporary performance requires more focus on the defining consonants instead of concentrating on perfect vowels... this authentically delivers a message in more popular styles of song.

For contemporary singers:

If you don't know how to sing classical songs correctly (or don't want to), don't worry. You can achieve vocal cord stretching, flexing, relaxation and register mixing by doing lots of head voice exercises instead.

Here is a video vocal lesson I did to help a more formally trained singer transition to contemporary style.

As always, your comments are welcome! Be sure and check out my YouTube channel for more free video vocal lessons.

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  • At March 29, 2015 at 3:10 PM , Anonymous Melissa H. said...

    I really found this helpful. I love to sing classical/operatic music and I have a ton of vibrato all the time. I try to subdue it a little bit so that it only comes out at the notes that I hold longer, but sometimes I can't help it.

  • At March 29, 2015 at 4:37 PM , Blogger Judy Rodman said...

    So glad you liked the post, Melissa... thanks! Tip: You will be able to control your vibrato by applying more... yes... BREATH CONTROL! How you hold back air pressure is vital... widen your ribs and pull your voice by your articulation, instead of pushing air. Check this post for more: http://blog.judyrodman.com/2012/04/voices-with-breathing-problems-check.html

  • At December 2, 2015 at 4:26 AM , Blogger Unknown said...

    'Classical singing' is an ambiguous term in the West, but implies the convergence of a number of European singing traditions geared toward creating a big vocal tone and sound with maximum natural resonance and without amplification. Of course it also entails a certain literature. Baroque and pre-Baroque singing often falls under the header 'early music,' but classical singing from the late 17th century until today is pretty much what you'd imagine it to be in terms of the repertoire. Opera is a part of it.

    Western composers over the ages have written a great deal of vocal music which is not opera, that is, which is something other than a stage drama with sets and costumes and acts and scenes all set to music. While many classical singers perform opera, many others do not take to the opera stage at all. There is a lot music for classical singers to choose from, as composers have written sacred and secular choral music, songs for soloists accompanied by a piano, chamber ensemble, or orchestra, and other types of non-dramatic or semi-dramatic music. All of these require 'classical singing.'
    The contemporary musician will mostly be accompanied by amplified instruments. Even a professionally trained voice with good projection will need a mic in this case.
    2. The fact that contemporary singers use certain vocal colours/tones/timbres for stylistic reasons sometimes also means that these sounds do not project without amplification. Think of a very quiet, breathy, whispering sound in a ballad.

  • At December 2, 2015 at 9:16 AM , Blogger Judy Rodman said...

    Thanks, Stephanie for sharing your thoughts here.

  • At June 27, 2016 at 6:16 AM , Blogger Unknown said...

    The primary contrasts amongst established and contemporary styles is the utilization of a receiver, and this massively impacts the way you can or can't utilize your voice. The Classically Trained pop Singer will only use a microphone if the acoustics of the venue do not permit singing without it.Contemporary vocalists will for the most part sing with an amplifier. This doesn't demonstrate uncouthness however – for the most part two reasons ought to be specified:

    1. The contemporary performer will for the most part be joined by enhanced instruments. Indeed, even a professionally prepared voice with great projection will require a mic for this situation.

    2. The way that contemporary artists utilize certain vocal hues/tones/timbres for elaborate reasons some of the time additionally implies that these sounds don't extend without enhancement.

  • At February 5, 2017 at 2:56 PM , Blogger Unknown said...

    Great demonstration Judy!! The power of the nuances in standing and hand use always amazes!

  • At February 5, 2017 at 4:35 PM , Blogger Judy Rodman said...

    Great to hear from you always, Hilary... happy to know you've noticed these things, too.

  • At August 29, 2020 at 7:40 AM , Blogger Unknown said...

    Such an insightful article!
    Thank you for sharing this kind of information with us.
    I will definitely follow your instructions and tips to transit from classical to contemporary voice

  • At June 12, 2023 at 12:09 PM , Anonymous dissertation discussion chapter said...

    I think, By following these tips and continually exploring and adapting your technique, you can successfully transition from classical to contemporary singing, unlocking new expressive possibilities in your voice.


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