Q: “Dear Jeannie… I would like to know if there is a difference between Classical and Popular music vocal technique. Thank you for your (magazine) column. It keeps a lot of us out here going.” A.T. Boston, MA
Are you really studying Contemporary Technique?
When I began teaching voice nearly 40 years ago, there was no one teaching a really contemporary technique. There were Opera teachers and then there were “Pop/Contemporary” teachers who adapted Classical Opera technique to modern forms of singing. Since then, the number of “Contemporary” voice teachers has exploded, but the big question is “Do they really teach a contemporary singing technique?”
Terms like “head and chest voice,” “placement,” “register break or passaggio,” are all from Classical voice technique and are still used by many teachers of “contemporary” voice methods. New techniques have been added and Opera methods have been modified, which is not particularly bad, but you may run into difficulties when trying to apply modified Opera techniques to singing certain contemporary styles of music.
Classical Beautiful Voice
I am by no means anti-Classical. Classical techniques have given the world many virtuoso vocalists, from Pavarotti to Sarah Brightman. Many Broadway, Jazz and other singers have found beneficial application from this traditional training. As well, the Classical world sets high standards for the development of singers and is an example well worth following.
My point is only that when a singer wants to create sounds that are not included in the repertoire of Classical style, new techniques are needed to physically support the broader sound vocabulary used in contemporary musical styles.
So the short answer to A.T.’s question is, yes, there is a difference between Classical and Pop Vocal Technique. Unfortunately, this difference has been obscured by the fact that many Pop Vocal teachers have Classical training, whether or not they recognize it.
In subsequent blog posts we’ll discuss some specific differences and give you a better idea how you can evaluate which techniques may be troublesome singing Rock or other contemporary styles. Until then, I’d like to hear your experiences and questions with this, so leave your comments below.