Classical vs Contemporary Singing Technique

What singing technique is best?

What singing technique is best? For a long time, it was believed that Classical training was superior to all others. It was said that if you had a classical voice technique, you can sing anything. These days, such opinions are considered old-fashioned.

Contemporary voice teaching has come a long way. There are teachers who specialise in working with contemporary singers and who base their training on voice science and from an evidence base.

From the city of Vienna, the home of opera, I was inspired to answer a question from a viewer, “do I need a classical singing technique?” I also explore the differences between classical and contemporary singing.

Classical singing technique

  • A classical voice technique is an approach to training the singing voice that gives singers the tools they need to perform Classical repertoire – Art Song, Lieder, and Opera – with authenticity and correct vocal style.
  • The term Classical refers to the repertoire you study and it does NOT mean superior to all others
  • Tools or vocal exercises used in training the classical singer are: scales, arpeggios and longer composed pieces called Vocalises
  • Language skills are important to a classical singer, because the repertoire is written in French, German, Italian and English. It is common for serious classical singers to attend language classes or seek extra coaching so that they learn to pronounce the language correctly. 
  • Classical singers almost always read music and should own a copy of the musical score for the works they are studying. They read music, not just for the note names, but also for in
  •  Breathing and breath management are important in a classical singing because singers need to be able to sustain their voice over long phrases. Also, professionals need to project their voice in large concert halls and over the sound of an orchestra
  • Classical singers use a performance style known as legato where words flow smoothly from one to the next. Crisp consonants are also necessary to clearly enunciate the words.
  • Classical singers will tend to use a lower larynx posture which creates darker and more rounded vowel sounds.

Contemporary Singing Technique

  • A contemporary singing technique is an approach to training your voice that allows you to sing CCM (contemporary commercial music) styles, such as Pop, RnB, Jazz, Rock, Musical Theatre and Folk. 
  • Vocal exercises used in training contemporary singers include: scales, modes and arpeggios. There is no tradition of vocalises for a contemporary singer. However, many teachers use transcriptions of famous solos and also old gospel repertoire, called Spirituals for extended training.
  • The term contemporary refers to repertoire you study. It does not been “better” or more current than classical singing.
  • Contemporary singers perform in English language and seek a delivery that sounds conversational or laid-back
  • Amplification is an important part of the the technique. Good contemporary singers need to be comfortable using a microphone appropriately. Some styles, such as jazz, cannot be performed without a microphone.
  • The elements of style in contemporary music are rarely written down. For this reason, contemporary singers use a lot of listening and imitation.
  • Though reading of music is encouraged, it is not essential to perform contemporary music well.
  •  Personal creativity is important for singers of contemporary music. This is achieved through song-writing, improvisation. 
  • Also, when a contemporary singer performs a cover (another person’s song), they should find ways to make their performance personal or stand out. 

Classical vs Contemporary

  • It’s a mistake to believe that one technique is right for all singers and in all circumstances.
  • Your choice of technique should be in line with your performance goals and not because someone told you one thing is better than another.
  • Singers should seek out a teacher or voice coach who is an expert in the styles you want to study
  • The terms “classical” and “contemporary” refer to the repertoire you study in this approach. It does not indicate that one technique is superior to the other.
  • It is possible to be a singer who studies both techniques. These singers tend to be called “crossover artists”. This kind of work requires a lot of time and dedication, because the knowledge base of both contemporary and classical singing is large 

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