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Classical vs. Contemporary


By Daniel K. Robinson
(2010)

If you want to learn how to sing then you need to have classical singing lessonsthen you can sing anything! If this statement sounds familiar, Im not surprised. Ive heard it more times than I care to remember, but sadly this all too familiar misconception is still widely and, ignorantly held to in the wider community. Robert Edwin, internationally acclaimed contemporary voice teacher writes, Our nave colleagues who say, Singing is singing. If you have a solid classical technique, you can sing anything are inviting vocal disaster if they impose classical vocal technique and sounds on the [contemporary] style of singing (1998, p. 61). Both classical and contemporary singers are vocal athletes, but each task requires specific skills. If you required an athlete training for the pole vault to develop her skills by only running a 400 metre hurdle her ability to achieve the desired goal will be seriously thwarted. And vice versa. Both tasks require running and jumping, but they are very different disciplines. So it is with learning to sing. It is not enough for students of contemporary singing to simply sing contemporary repertoire Pop, Rock, Jazz, etc. on a classical technique. Contemporary style has its own unique problems and challenges for the voice (Dawson, 2005, p. 58). This is not to suggest that one style is more difficult or even superior than the other. They are simply different, requiring different skills and, as a result, different training. Opponents of this view often argue that contemporary singing is potentially hazardous to the voice. Actually, any form of singing done carelessly is open to voice damage, whether it is Opera or Heavy Metal. Leading voice scientist Robert Sataloff warns, It is neither helpful nor scientifically justified to dismiss any particular genre (including hard rock) as medically unacceptable. With sufficient understanding, patience, voice team skill and patient compliance, a vocally right way can be found to do almost anything (Robert Thayer Sataloff, Baroody, Emerich, & Carroll, 2006, p. 285). So how do you know that you are receiving vocal training appropriate to your vocal style? The following points will help you discern that your voice training is task specific: Breath Management: Classical teachers often encourage their students to develop an increase in their volume of air. This in turn leads to an increase in pressure directly beneath the vocal folds. The increase in pressure, whilst necessary for the classical voice, will ultimately lead to the contemporary voice constricting. Contemporary singers should be encouraged to develop a breath management system which enables an even flow of air without unnecessary increases in sub-glottal pressure. Lower Register Shortener Dominant: Classical singing teachers will generally encourage the development of the upper register (especially in
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female voice) with a lengthener dominant sound (Read this for more information on Registration). Alternatively, the teacher of contemporary voice will focus their students vocal development towards a lower register, shortener dominant sound. Ultimately both disciplines use the whole voice, but they are habitually orientated differently. Vowels and Consonants: Typically, classical voice is vowel dominant, while contemporary singers orientate to the consonants. Stylistically the consonants will enable the contemporary singer to develop the groove whilst maintaining a clean vocal line. This in turn helps the contemporary singer to avoid utilising the vocally demanding glottal attack to achieve the groove. Microphones: One of the contemporary singers main tools is the microphone. Some ignorantly suggest that the use of a microphone displays a weakness of technique in producing volume. Not true! Whilst one of the jobs of a microphone is to amplify, it also enhances quiet voice enabling the contemporary singer to develop vocal effects and ambiance. If your singing teacher claims to be a contemporary voice teacher and they dont have a microphone in their teaching studioask them why not! The above points are by no means exhaustive. We could talk about using foldback, learning from lyrics as opposed to transcribed sheet music or even the difference in vocal demands between classical and contemporary singers. Again, it is not about which skill or accompanying technique is superior. Simply make sure you are learning to sing using the techniques appropriate to your vocal activity. References Dawson, A. (2005). Voice training and church singers: The state of vocal health of church singers of contemporary commercial styles in charismatic evangelical churches. Unpublished Dissertation, Queensland Conservatorium, Griffith University Brisbane, QLD. Edwin, R. (1998). Belting 101: Part two. Journal of Singing, 55(2), 6162. Sataloff, R. T., Baroody, M. M., Emerich, K. A., & Carroll, L. M. (2006). The Singing Voice Specialist. In R. T. Sataloff (Ed.), Vocal health and pedagogy: Advanced assessment and treatment (2nd ed., Vol. 2, pp. 271289). San Diego, CA: Plural Publishing Inc.

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