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!

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Learning Vocal Style - What You Must Master

What techniques turn that particular lightbulb on?

Learning a new style or new genre of singing is a lot like learning another language. And just like a new language, we learn best when we immerse our ears in it and figure out what makes it sound authentic.

Acquiring a new vocal style or genre includes mastering new types of...
  • Phrasing
 Jazz singer Jane Monheit and pop singer Alanis Morrissette have quite different approaches to phrasing. The jazz singer phrases like speech... it's laid back, legato smooth with emphasis on the downbeats of phrases like a jazz pianist. The pop singer's phrasing is very much on the beat, with inner beat lyrics artfully tucked in phrases like a percussion instrument.
  • Diction
The type of diction, or articulation, that you use can vary greatly in different musical genres. Get it wrong and you sound like an American in beginner French! Take R&B and musical theater. R&B diction is relaxed, flowing easily from word to word, not overpronounced. Listen to Brian McKnight. On the other hand, musical theater diction needs to be crisp, clearly formed. A fun example is Kristin Chenoweth. I would caution that whatever the genre, the lyrics need to be understood by that genre's audience (in otherwords, articulated in the way they are used to hearing). Otherwise, you lose 1/3 of your performance impact.
  • Embellishments (vocal licks)
Melodic embellishments, commonly known as vocal licks, are an important marker of the genre you're trying to sing. R&B singers often use rapid fire type vocal runs. Think Rihanna.

Country singing tends to use more slurs and trail offs. Vince Gill and my vocal student Pam Tillis are good examples of country style. Jason Aldean reveals a rocker style of country. But you hear the slurs and trail offs.

Pop singing typically uses less slurring, quicker vocal lick articulation, slurring to the center of the note quicker. Check out Bruno Mars for an example.

Hard rock/metal of course makes use of screams, rasp and cries. "Immigrant Song" from Girl With The Dragon Tattoo with Karen O and Trent Resnor provides a great example. Better yet, check out my vocal student and friend Salem Jones with her band "One Soul Thrust". Warning... you must know how to do these vocal embellishments in a healthy way or you won't last in this genre. Salem trains like a vocal athlete.
  • Vibrato
Bluegrass singing uses no vibrato (straight tone) or what I like to call a fast 'shimmer'. Alison Krauss is the queen of this genre. Southern gospel singers often use slow wave vibratto. Check out my friend Ronny Hinson's classic song "The Lighthouse". Jazz singing requires complete control of vibrato... when to use straight tone and when to shimmer it out, quite by choice. Pop singer sometimes use a gentle vibrato, like my vocal student Mat Kearney.
  • Rhythm
Both big band, blues and hip-hop singers lay lyrics consistently behind the beat just a bit. Consider Alicia Keys on her smash "Fallin".  R8B singers sometimes lay back and sometimes sing right on the beat. Pop and bluegrass singers usually stay centered on the beat.
  • Subgenre Variables
 More than ever, genres are cross-pollinating each other. Figure out your favorite singers within the over-all genre you want to learn and check out how their choices of all the above. Study even more nuances of the style you want to learn, such as tone (how nasal or masky is their sound?), pitch habits (do they tend to flat thirds or hit the center of the third exactly, etc), how do they pronounce vowel sounds and dipthongs, so they like to flip into head voice ?

Next post... the fastest way to learn all this stuff.

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  • At June 5, 2012 at 3:06 PM , Anonymous Diane Hurst said...

    I didn't know there are so many ways to sing! Thanks, this is good info.

  • At June 8, 2012 at 1:58 PM , Anonymous Gary Catona Voice Builder said...

    Phrasing is one of the hardest and most important things to master when becoming a complete singer.

  • At June 9, 2012 at 12:08 PM , Blogger Unknown said...

    Agreed, Gary! It takes time and dedication to the vocal training.

  • At August 1, 2014 at 7:53 PM , Anonymous Molly Webb said...

    Just came across this blog--great post! So many voice teachers want to make vocal technique and style two completely separate things, but there are so many ways (like your points about vibrato) that they're integrated. I can't tell you how many times I've heard teachers say that if you learn vocal technique and then put the right emotion into it that style will just happen, as if there's nothing learned about it.

  • At August 2, 2014 at 4:40 AM , Blogger Judy Rodman said...

    Thank you Molly... I appreciate your comment! You're right... techniques must be learned which are specific to particular vocal styles. Which is a great reason to have a significant conversation with each new student at the first lesson about what they want to sing!

  • At March 23, 2019 at 12:39 AM , Blogger Keln said...

    Not sure how anyone can claim that Bluegrass singing uses no vibrato and then points to Alison Krauss as being the queen of that, when she constantly uses vibrato. I mean it is her signature. She is well familiar with vibrato on the violin and she actually sings like how she plays her violin. Lots of vibrato. I use it myself when I sing as well, having used her as a model voice from the time I was about 13 in the early 90s or late 80s. It is absolutely chock full of vibrato the way she sings, and there is a lot of it in bluegrass now, mimicking Krauss. I'd say most female singers in bluegrass try to mimic her.

  • At March 23, 2019 at 12:57 AM , Blogger Judy Rodman said...

    Keln, yes, Krauss uses a fast shimmer of vibrato. She also uses lots of straight tone. They way she combines the two is quite lovely. If you are influenced by her, I imagine yours is lovely, too! Thanks for the comment.

  • At February 21, 2021 at 12:41 PM , Blogger Mikaela Kraus said...

    I am a classi ally trained singer. I am looking for some coaching on singing a little more allison Kraus style. How do I go about this?

  • At February 21, 2021 at 12:52 PM , Blogger Judy Rodman said...

    Hi there Unknown... I'd love to work with you on this style change! Just email me judy@judyrodman.com so I can send you some info about my lessons. I look forward to hearing from you!


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