Today’s Pop & Rock Vocalists: What Comprises Good Vocal Technique?

As I write today’s article I am listening to the great Maria Callas, singing her flawless version of Norma’s aria from Norma Casta Diva. I am not a classical singer by trade, although I often use classical pieces for warm-ups.

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When asked to perform a two hour concert of Stevie Wonder songs, I thought to myself: Wow; this is almost too much for me, vocally; what shall I do about this?!

Vocal Exercises

I went back to the basics, in practicing. I did my breathing, sighing, diaphragm and scalar exercises; followed by some Vaccai exercises. Finally, I topped off the practice with about 3 classical Italian arias. I would break my 1 hour and 40 minutes a day, thusly:

Early in the day:

  1.  20 min. Breath work, sighing exercises, diaphragm pushes, scales,Vaccai exercises

Mid-Day:

  1.  20 min. of the same exercise regimen which I did earlier in the day
  2.  20 min. of Italian arias
  3.  40 min. of working on material for concert

You're probably wondering how classical singing could help my Stevie Wonder material... Well, it's like this: When I focus on connecting the breaks, then concentrate on power, and work on bridging everything through scales and Italian classical music, I find a magical thing happens. My voice is STRENGTHENED. I am able to "belt" in a healthy way on rock and pop for hours; not feeling the slightest twinge of pressure or pain on the vocal folds. Pretty cool, huh?!

When I listen to today's pop singers, I am immediately drawn to the "true" divas. Of course, Christine Aguilera certainly springs to mind, first. She does her homework, and that is apparent. She can sing anything with strength, agility, and finesse. I'm impressed by hearing her sing the blues, pop or even jazz songs, like "Body and Soul". Do not think, for one second, that she does not do tons of warm-ups.

Ditto, for Mariah Carey, Beyonce, Alisha Keys, and Celine Dion.... all competent, gifted singers, who know how to take care of their "pipes".

 

Consequences Of No Warm-Up

What are the consequences of not warming up? I can tell you, first hand, that

it is never a good idea to step onto a stage without first working out.... Yes; I have been guilty of that - and it hurts to admit it! But through the years I've learned my lessons.

Who are today's prime offenders; the people who's tone will never be completely realized, due to negligence. I'm not going to name names... that would be vulgar of me. What I WILL say, though, is that people who "yell" songs from the throat will have very short professional lives. People who have not learned to connect the breath from the deepest part of the lungs; and use the diaphragm correctly - well - let's just say that their sound will leave something to be desired.

Great rock singers; past and present would include, for me: Steve Perry from Journey (used operatic techniques to warm up), Peter Gabriel, Sting, John Mayer, and Tom Chaplin from Keane, to name a few.

Having said this, all of the aforementioned singers are in constant peril of hurting their voice; not because of their technique, but rather because of exhaustion. Hey, being on the road has it's drawbacks. Once tired, the vocal mechanism will certainly reflect the physical abuse.

Finally, I am not a fan of the latest heavy metal "growl" singing, known as: "Vocal Fry"... think of George Petit, from the band "Alexisonfire". Yup; he's a "god" to many of his fans. However, George may have a short career. There is no safe way to sing the vocal fry technique. The only way to get the sound is to grind the false and true vocal folds together, which will create nodes, callouses and pollyps (all of which will put you, the singer, out of business).

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About Cheryl Hodge

Cheryl_Hodge_2_300Cheryl Hodge has been in the music and songwriting business for well over 30 years; recording on several labels; among them Atco Records (Raindogs, 1990), and has released 4 CDs of her own; on her own label: Jazzboulevard.com Records.

She has performed her music for the last 10 years with noted jazz guitarist John Stowell (amongst many others), and they are about to release a CD of co-written originals. She has been private instructor to many; including the gifted Paula Cole. She is also the author of "A Singer's Guide to the Well-Trained and Powerful Voice", and is a published vocal arranger.

Cheryl is currently the head of the vocal dept. at Nelson, BC's: Selkirk College Music Program. There, she teaches Songwriting and Advanced Songwriting, Business of Music, Arranging and Vocals.

She continues to write and produce her original materials, and has just released "Cheryl Hodge: Original Article" - a compilation of her favourites.

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Secretly, I wanted to look like Jimi Hendrix, but I could never quite pull it off.”
Bryan Ferry