If you are a music lover who decides to take singing lessons, you are embarking on a wonderful journey. You start down a path of the heart to the core of communication. There is nothing more intimate than your own voice.
I have noticed, especially teaching singing lessons for kids, that often a student will want to sound like someone else. Perhaps it is Idina Menzel or Adele or Frank Sinatra. We have all these wonderful singers’ sounds rolling around in our heads. You have family history – perhaps an uncle who was an opera or pop singer – and favorite artists. Why not want to sound like them? Well, imitation may be the best form of flattery, but it spells trouble in singing.
Every voice is different, unique. Every voice has its own timbre and texture, ring and expression. A great part of taking singing lessons is to peel away all the unnecessary “stuff” – funny ideas about voice production, inefficient whole-body tensions and breathing habits – to get at the nut of good singing: That your body knows how to sing and speak well. We just need to fine tune the instrument – your body but often, your thinking. So, let’s say you love Wagnerian singing (OK, that’s extreme but it gets the point across – heavy, dark sound), you will likely open your mouth and “do” Wagnerian singing. But, what if your true gift is a lighter, more lyric sound? You will likely be clamping down, perhaps lowering your larynx or “coloring” the sound to make it sound dark and powerful, just like a Wagnerian singer.
Children get this quite quickly. Ask them to sound like an opera singer and they immediately organize their resonators perfectly – egg-like mouth shape, lots of space! Then they start to yodel. It’s very funny! But, also telling. Children love to belt – if they can – because they mostly hear pop or the more recent pop-based musical theater. They have the sound in their ears. That doesn’t necessarily mean that’s the path they should take.
It’s interesting to see what other voice teachers do in terms of themselves singing during a lesson. I may model for my students. For instance, I may show them what it sounds like if I sing purely in my mouth resonator and collapse down onto my vocal folds versus taking a higher breath with lift and being “off the cords.” But, in general, I don’t teach by imitation because it leads students to want to sound like me!
My task as a teacher is to help a student find his or her own gift and sound. Recently an older fellow approached me for voice lessons, saying he wanted to find his “genre.” This is an interesting challenge because you might love a specific genre, but your voice may not be best suited for it. Not to say that I, who have a classical/lyric musical theater sound, can’t sing Dolly Parton. As a matter of fact, there is a huge business in our country of voice teachers who market themselves as teachers of different styles. I took intensives on learning to sing in different styles and found it interesting. One readjusts the “resonators” and cords, laryngeal height, support, and uses speech-like singing. You also look at stylistic differences between different types of singing, e.g. the “cry” like in country singing or glottals, like in pop. It can be useful.
But, I believe it’s much more exciting to discover your true voice. Because I believe that is the freest, most exciting expression of you. Many folks already know what they love to sing and are blessed with a perfect fit. But if not, when you come to my Marin voice lessons, no matter your age, we will uncover the hidden instrument (or perhaps not-so-hidden!) and find the songs that make your heart sing. You might be pleasantly surprised as to what those may be.