Balancing Technique And Style
I spend a great deal of time discussing vocal balance. Much of the time, the vocal balance being discussed has to do with technical things like balancing air and muscle, balancing edge and resonance, balancing breath support and laryngeal release, and so on. Yet one of the most important and most challenging of singing skills is balancing technique and style.
On one side of the spectrum, are found the purely stylistic singers. They don’t believe in any type of technical training. From their perspective, singing is something that can’t be taught. Purely stylistic singers may believe that technical work on the voice brings a falseness or inauthentic quality to the music. These types of singers put all of their efforts into discovering precise emotional responses and motives within their songs. Pure stylists may have an exceptional ability to embody a lyric. They tend to have very unique sounding voices due to the fact that they are completely self-taught. The problems that can confront these artists is that, with no technique to rely upon, they are limited by their own natural, untrained range and tonal colors; they often have no concept of how to reach notes outside of their limited natural range, so they either omit certain notes or dynamics, yell them, disconnect and sing them in falsetto, or rely on other gimmicks to “get through” a song on pure emotion.
On the other extreme side of the spectrum are the pure technicians. Purely technical singers may be very successful singing in sessions or back-up; this is often due to the fact that they have rather generic sounding voices which blend well and won’t stand out or upstage the star they are backing. The amount of technical training they have done often results in what is known as “over-cultured” singing. As soloists, purely technical vocalists are often not very interesting. Their primary goal is creating the most perfect tone, melodic line and diction possible. Often the technical perfection some singers strive to reach comes at the expense of any true emotional communication or subtextual finesse within the songs they are performing.
For a singer who tends to be a stylist, with little or no technical training, it can be disconcerting and temporarily stifling to build and rebalance their instrument. However, as they marry their newly-earned technical skills with the style they have already honed so well, they invariably find that they have not been stilted at all. They have actually built for themselves an expanded vocal palette which they can use liberally to take their performances farther than they had ever dreamed possible.
For the highly technical singer, it can be very challenging to allow themselves a few “vocal sins” in order to serve the song or character at hand. It can be quite easy for these artists to hide behind a lot of technique rather than doing the work necessary to uncover the vulnerability that makes a performance riveting. These singers often have to let the text and the emotion “drive” their voices for a while. This process can be quite unsettling, as it can make them feel quite out of control. They must face the behemoth task of actually communicating something of value and interest to their audience, rather than merely hiding behind sterile virtuosity. A surprise that often awaits the technical folks who begin to train as stylists, is that the bulk of their technique is already automatic (due to the years of training they have had), so they no longer have to think as much about their voices during performances; they can focus much more on the text, the music and the emotion.
In general, audiences respond best to singers who have both a great technique and a unique style. These are the artists who have dedicated years to working the “kinks” out in their technique, and have thus each built for themselves a lovely and balanced vocal instrument. In addition to a great amount of continuing technical study, these artists also take great amounts of time and energy to mine the many levels of emotional and musical nuances in the music they are performing. A true artist may display virtuosity, but it is never divorced from the emotion that the melodies portray. Great singers don’t “show the works,” if you will, by allowing themselves to make their voices the star of a song. Instead, they use their technical prowess to flawlessly and artistically bring to life all the multiple dimensions within the songs they sing. These singers are not mere vocalists, they are world-class artists.
Where are you on the singing spectrum? Do you lean toward a more technical approach, or a more stylistic and emotional approach? Perhaps it is time for you to try moving away from what feels safe and “normal” for you vocally, and get busy moving yourself into being a powerhouse performer that everyone wants to hear.