|Have you ever heard one of these? There’s a lot of misconceptions about singing out there, particularly in how a singer “should” be trained. If you want a clue about the difference between classical and contemporary singing, look for my resource at the end of this post.|
But first, have you ever heard (or believed!) one of these myths?
1. “If you’re classically trained, you can sing anything!”
That’s like saying if you studied the violin, you can play any stringed instrument. Not true! You might have a general understanding of how other stringed instruments work, but you’re going to have to learn the technique and styles that work for other instruments just like everyone else.
“Classical training” is now a very vague, watered down term in the singing world. So whatever style you want to pursue, make sure you find a teacher who can help you accomplish very concrete technical goals like finding chest and head voice, navigating through your registers with a smooth, even tone, and eliminating breathiness or strain. Whether they call themselves a “classically trained” teacher means very little 🤷♀️
2. “Whatever genre of music you want to pursue, a music degree with a classical teacher will prepare you for it.”
Again, that’s like saying that if you want to be an animator for Disney, you should get trained in Renaissance painting techniques. Sure, there are artistic principles that may apply to both mediums but it is not going to directly train you to do the thing you want!
To be frank, I’ve heard from many singers who studied classically in college with hopes to pursue a singer/songwriter or musical theatre path afterward… only to realize that their undergrad taught them to sing classical music, classically, with little exploration elsewhere.
If a career in opera or classical music is not for you, there’s no need to go that route. But if opera is your dream- then a music degree studying classical music is the perfect path- go for it!!
3. Classical singing is boring.
What? What performances have you been listening to?! Have you heard Pavarotti wail on a high B in “Nessun Dorma”? Have you delighted in the insane agility and range that is the Doll’s Aria?
Classical singing is thrilling, difficult, and when done well- spine tingling-ly good! Mad props to the singers who train years (decades) to sing this material.
So what’s the big difference between classical and contemporary singing? My friend and colleague Annie Little breaks it all down here.
It’s not often that I lose my voice. Thankfully so, since using my voice to demonstrate good -and bad- singing is my job day in and day out!
The two times I vividly remember losing my voice was first:
My senior year of high school the weekend of our spring musical. I was playing Jo in Little Women The Musical and I got sick and developed a raspy singing voice just in time for opening weekend. What luck!! Thankfully with some help from my Ear Nose and Throat (laryngologist) doctor and my voice teacher who happened to be at the performance opening night, I managed to pull through.
The second was about five years ago. I had an awful nightmare and woke up screaming in the middle of the night (does this ever happen to you?!?!) I probably terrified all the neighbors in a two block radius. I didn’t sleep the rest of the night and the next day- my voice was gone. Completely hoarse. I felt fine, so I made do by miming adjustments in my lessons and apologizing to students that I was completely out of commission!
I know other stories of people losing their voice.
Julie Andrews lost her voice after returning to Broadway in a difficult role inVictor/Victoria, followed by a voice surgery that changed her voice for the worse (by the way, it is extremely rare for a voice surgery to go wrong like this. Most of the time surgery is an important and exceptional treatment plan in voices that need it).
Shania Twain lost her voice for years, she credited it to an emotionally volatile time in her life. You know that expression, “getting choked up”? Emotions can really do a number on our voices and completely close up our sound.
Maybe you’ve never “found” your voice.
Maybe you’ve never allowed yourself to consider yourself a “real” singer. On that topic, check out this inspiring TedTalk by my friend and fellow IVA voice teacher Heather Baker.
Whether it’s lost or yet to be found, your voice is never far away. In most cases, a few days of rest or a few voice lessons can get you on the right track. In more rare circumstances, a few visits with a laryngologist (voice doctor) or Speech Language Pathologist (voice therapist) might be in order. Or, some soul searching to find where your emotions are blocking your communication might be just what’s needed.
Your voice is always within, ready to be found.
Now as for the practical advice…
What to do if you’ve lost your voice and need to sing! Hint, lemon and honey won’t help 😉
My student Caroline and I have been having lessons together for going on four years now. She’s one of those students turned friends and honestly, we’ve been through a lot together!
One of my greatest joys of working with long-time students is getting to witness their progress over long stretches of time.
Sure, you should be making improvements in your first lesson with a new teacher (yeah- you should!!), but the lasting change and real work is developing stamina and technique over months and years of work.
What, like singing is hard?!
This week in our lesson, Caroline revisited Eva Cassidy’s arrangement of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.”
During our lesson Caroline said, “When I had tried to sing this before, it was in my singing for actors class in college. I remember, I was probably just trying to belt the whole thing and I thought, ‘why is this so hard?'”
Have you ever come back to a song you sang years ago, to be pleasantly surprised at how much easier it is for you to sing today?
Caroline elaborated on the process that led to today’s feeling of ease:
“It makes me realize whether it’s singing or acting or anything, putting the time in and repetition of doing it and doing it, developing a skill and craft and technique is the key. Then even on days when I don’t feel 100% vocally, I’m still amazed at how much I can do things, even if I mentally think i can’t do it right now. I realize, ‘oh, i can sing this, even when it’s not 100%.'”
“Even if it’s just ten minutes and I run through some vocal exercises in the car, just to do it like using a muscle… then when it comes time for the event you just know it’s going to be there even if something is amiss.”
This! This is why we work on technique
Not for a week or a month, but over years! High level singing on any level (middle-school choir competitions? That’s high level!) requires singers to rely on technique built up over time when sickness, fatigue, or injury inevitably occur.
Caroline concluded: “…Where my voice is now, I can now just enjoy singing [the song] and focus on the artistry and where I’m going to breathe, instead of ‘how am I going to do this and not hurt myself?'”
Do you want to feel that same vocal freedom? With the right training and some time put into it, it’s possible!