The vocal environment – cultural

In my last post I wrote about my personal experience with the acoustics of my insides – my own physical environment. Today I am exploring an outside influence. When I say “cultural” I mean that I will be talking about the concepts we have of how to line up with a genre.

Let’s talk “opera” for a moment. You get a lot of clues about what is generally thought of as “operatic” singing by watching the talent shows and seeing what un/poorly trained amateurs do to try to get the sound. Apparently, operatic singing is loud and dark with a large and constant vibrato. Vowels tend to be based on a throaty version of [ʌ]. Repertoire must be Puccini for some reason.

Now, let’s switch to pop ballad singing. A few things that young people often emulate are: fry starts to phrases, adding extra dipthongs ending in [ɪ], and sometimes simulated autotune, which in itself is a rather impressive technical achievement.

All of these things are not necessarily bad or wrong, but there are expectations in people’s mind-ears that cause them to do these things. A little investigation will reveal artists who do not do these things at all, but there are generalities that tend to prevail about certain styles during certain times, and young people are excellent at capturing and using the elements that they hear as “style”.

Sounds and styles that we love will tend to be the ones our own voices gravitate towards. If we study singing, our favorite voices will contribute to what we aspire to in the practice room. This is all normal and human, and a great basis for learning.

Here comes the big “BUT”. As singers, it is very important to get many singers in our ears, so that we may have many influences and options. Hearing a huge variety of people, even inside of just one genre, will give us possibilities, probably as much subconsciously as consciously, about what is possible for us as we become singers. As we explore and develop our own voices, discovering our own sound, we will probably be categorizable as somewhat like an established artist in our chosen genre, if we have heard enough people. This can help to reassure us that we do have a place within our chosen musical culture.

This could be restated as: Singers need to listen to lots and lots of other singers and try many styles to see what they are good at, and what makes them feel good. Usually they are the same thing. Often one leads to the other, with a lot of good work.

As you go further and further into your own abilities and uniqueness, you may sound a bit less like anyone else. Wouldn’t that be interesting! We don’t need another Rihanna or another Renee Fleming. We need you!

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