Standards: The Art Songs of Pop Music

Standards: The Art Songs of Pop Music

In classical singing, it is common practice to start a singer’s journey into repertoire with Italian Art Songs. After some time spent on the Italian songs, we tend to introduce other art song literature by adding French, Spanish, German and English songs to the singer’s repertoire.

Art song literature can be quite challenging technically, and as such it gives a thorough training in establishing a smooth, legato vocal line, the artistic use of dynamics, many essential aspects of ornamentation, as well as finding a balanced registration within the context of a musical setting (as opposed to what is found in the vocalises alone).

From the basis of training in art songs, a vocalist can begin to branch out into other forms of classical singing such as operatic arias and arias from oratorios etc. In my experience, the study of classical art songs is something that is advisable throughout a classical singer’s entire career.

In popular music, we have a huge body of song literature that can be used in a similar manner to the art song, these songs are known as “standards” or “The American Song Book.” I find that the study of standards is invaluable to singers of all kinds of popular music from rock to musical theater. Most of these songs have challenging melodies, the study and mastery of which give the singer a facility of the vocal line that most other popular literature does not offer.

There have been a myriad of times that I have given a rock singer who was struggling to find a smooth line a few Cole Porter, Gershwin or Jerome Kern songs to work on for a month or so to great benefit. Although at first many popular singers seem reluctant to work with this literature, almost all of them find a fondness for the standards, so much in fact that they often will request to learn new standards even without my prompting.

If you are a singer of popular music, I encourage you to consider learning a few standards. You will most likely notice how much more smoothly and masterfully you begin to sing the songs in your normal set lists, which is a direct result of working with our great American Song Book!

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