What do Beyoncé, Pavarotti, Aretha Franklin, Vince Gill and Frank Sinatra have in common? They all have solid foundation in the basics of singing. Want to have a tone like Beyoncé? You have to learn the basics first. Want to be able to hold out notes like Pavarotti? You have to learn the basics first. Want to be able to sing with the power of Aretha Franklin? You have to learn the basics first. Want to be able to sing with the warmth of Vince Gill? Basics first. Want to croon like Frank Sinatra? You guessed it, basics first. It all comes back to the basics. It’s like a house: you have to build a solid, steady and stable foundation first; otherwise, the entire house will collapse. The basics are that foundation.
Everything starts with the basics. At the beginning of my work with a student one of the first questions I ask is, “So what are your goals with your singing?” This often provokes a myriad of answers like “I want to be able to sing like (insert favorite singer)” or “I just want to learn about singing” or “I just like singing.” Oftentimes, however, it will end with this phrase, “But I don’t want to sound like an opera singer.”
This is said with such disdain that it sometimes make me, as the dreaded aforementioned opera singer, cringe. I typically then ask the student to demonstrate just exactly what an opera singer sounds like. After their demonstration, which usually involves a very covered, falsely dark sound with a wide warble-ish thing for vibrato I completely concur that that sound is not pleasant. After assurance that I will not make them sound like that, I offer this caveat, “I am not going to make you sound like an opera singer. I’m not going to make you sound like a soul singer, gospel singer, or pop singer. I am going to teach you healthy vocal technique and you can use that to sing whatever it is you like.”
With a solid technique, understanding of how the voice works, and an in-depth knowledge of vocal styles, a singer should easily be able to switch between genres successfully while still maintaining a healthy vocal function. Many famous R&B, pop, soul and opera singers all employ the same basic techniques of singing. The basics of singing technique are so vital that most vocal maladies, across all genres, come from lack of understanding or the ability to apply said basics.
All genres of singing revolve around managing these basics: posture, breathing, tone, diction, and tension. Once the foundations have been laid in these areas, one can then move onto more stylistic approaches of making each area the most appropriate for the style and genre of music being employed. Without mastering the basics, advanced concepts are sure to fail at being consistently reliable. This would be like trying to do multiplication and division before learning addition and subtraction!
Whether or not you are a beginning student or seasoned pro, it is important to make sure that your basics are sound (pun intended). Bad habits often creep in without us knowing. It takes diligence and hard work to make sure that our foundation doesn’t have cracks, and if it does – FIX THEM! If you aren’t sure or just need a “tune-up,” schedule a lesson with a trusted and well-respected vocal teacher. That’s what we’re here for!
In the next series of articles I will cover the aforementioned basics in detail and the exercises you can use to get yourself well on your way to having the success in singing you always wanted. Remember that just because they seem like “opera singer” exercises they are not. The only thing that will make you sound like an opera singer is if you choose to apply the techniques given in a manner to sing that way. The basics are just about healthy vocal function. I want you to be able to sing into old age without vocal nodes, hoarseness, or loss. With my help, you will!