So many vocal methods
There’s an old joke – ask 100 singing teachers and you’ll get 100 different opinions on how to sing.
It can get confusing when opinions on how to sing correctly contradict each other and when different methods claim to be the best, scientific, or most successful.
If you’re learning to sing, how can you make sense of all the different singing methods? How can you better understand your teacher’s priorities when they are working with your voice?
Would you like a good overview of the different schools, methods or approaches to singing?
Breaking down singing methods
I’ve found it helpful to group different singing techniques according to their end goal or success measures.
People who practice these methods will claim “we are more than just one thing.” However, comparing methods from the “big picture” view helps you understand the foundation and values. It also helps you understand different ways to be a singer and where there might be gaps in your learning.
In the list below, I identify 7 different singing techniques and examples of some of the brand name singing methods.
Often marketed as: “We teach you the most balanced and healthy way to sing”
Singing methods based on registration, aim to balance the voice across the passages (transition points, breaks, bridges) and to produce a unified (connected) singing sound. Often, they are interested in the mix voice.
Examples: Speech Level Singing (SLS), Institute for Vocal Advancement (IVA), International Teachers of Mix (IVTOM), Cornelius Reid, Bel Canto.
Often marketed as: “We teach you how the voice works and how to make all these wonderful sounds in a healthy way”
Singing methods based on vocal sounds are interested in classifying all the different sounds the voice can make, breaking them down and teaching conscious control over the working parts.
Usually have their own in-house terminology for the different vocal sounds “curbing, half metal, sob, cry, twang.” Sometimes they have a “signature” singing sound like screaming/distortion.
Examples: Complete Vocal Technique (CVT), Estill, Melissa Cross, and Ken Tamplin
Often marketed as: “We teach you how it is out there and how to really sing. The other methods just talk about the voice.”
Singing methods based on industry awareness are often focussed on your image, artist development, getting out there performing, motivation, and song-writing. They are often lead by someone who has or had a performing career or presence in the industry.
Examples: Christina Aguilera teaches singing on Masterclass, Reality TV shows like “The Voice”
Often marketed as: “Singing is a physical instrument. If the body doesn’t work, your voice will suffer.”
Singing methods based on the body are interested in posture, movement, knowing how the body works, unlocking your body, and kinaesthetic awareness. Their training techniques involve stretches, anatomy, and working “hands on” with a master teacher.
Examples: Yoga singing, Alexander Technique, Feldenkrais, Body Mapping
Often marketed as: “Singers are story-tellers. We need to feel what you are singing and you need to connect with the words.”
Singing methods based on acting are interested in how you convey meaning or emotion when you sing. They often analyse song lyrics and the song writer’s intention. They like the primal voice.
Examples: Most music theatre based methods, David Ostwald, Dan Chalfin, Marc DeLisser, Methods based on Eastern Philosophy (Chinese Qigong)
Often marketed as: “Good singing is more than just making the right noises. You have to be a great musician.”
Singing methods based on musicianship believe that your singing voice is an outward expression of the inner musician. They emphasise ear training, skill development in pitch and rhythm, sight-singing, and improvisation.
These methods are often associated with music education programs and use teaching tools such as tonic sol-fa “Do Re Mi Fa So La Ti Do” and rhythm syllables.
Examples: Kodály, Dalcroze, Orff, many childrens choirs, Comprehensive Musicianship
Often marketed as: “Singing songs is what really matters”
Reperoire-based or song methods avoid too much emphasis on vocal technique. Instead, they put on emphasis on songs and learning about singing through singing songs. They might want you to have a song book and want you to sing songs with emotion, creativity, and an authentic style.
Examples: Community choirs, pub choir, pop singer schools, jazz schools
Often marketed as: “If you can’t breath, you can’t sing. Breath is the power/source”
Breath-based singing methods emphasise deep breathing, support, and breath management as a means to control vocal function. Often focusing on resonance and beautiful tone as a result of how you take a breath.
Examples: Lamperti method and his lineage of classical teachers, Appoggio (Italian) method, accent Method
Which vocal method is the best?
There are many methods of singing and many techniques for teaching someone to sing! No single teacher has all the answers and no single method is right for all students.
Singing methods are like therapists. Every person who has one thinks that their therapist is the best. However, psychological research shows that many methods of counselling share common factors.
The CF theory suggests that it is not always methods that make the big difference, but rather the quality of the relationship between therapist and client.
I believe the same is true in learning to sing. Often, it is the quality of the musical relationship between teacher and student that makes the real difference, not a particular method.
Do you really need “the best” method or just the method that helps you progress and work?
I’ve seen singers who much about singing fall apart when they need to sing, because they can’t get out of their head. I’ve seen singing lessons that focus only on the sound of voice and neglect ear-training and connecting technique to songs.
Any method, (regardless how good it is and how many celebrity singers endorse it) will fail unless it can inspire you
- to sing
- to work on you voice.
- make peace with your voice,
- deal with performance nerves
- Overcome common psychological roadblocks to singing
If a method only fills your head with theories about how to sing, but does not make you sing and connect you with high quality songs, it will probably fail.