Most singers will have heard the term vocal style, but what is it? And what does it look, feel and sound like?
Vocal style is about being able to freely express your feelings with your voice using a never-ending spectrum of colours, sounds and nuances. In other words: the unique application of artistic taste to the interpretation of vocal music.
When a singer is engaged in voice training for singing, style is often something that is overlooked. This could be because a singer needs to grasp some basic technique before they can engage in more stylistic work; or that certain stylistic nuances could be detrimental (a growl for instance) to the voice if not worked on in a healthy way.
These days more information is available to singing teachers through various esteemed voice networks such as Vocology in Practice, British Voice Association and iSing. These resources can help voice teachers understand what is happening from a mechanical point of view and how they can work with a singer to produce effective results using healthy practices.
Vocal style can be seen as “breaking the rules” although I like to look at it as “unhindered vocal expression”; meaning there is nothing stopping you or holding you back from expressing the height, depth, and width of your vocal ideas.
What does it look like?
It looks like enjoyment, freedom, effortlessness, purposeful, focused, controlled – it looks natural. When you watch someone who is comfortable with their own style, they tend to have a way of making it look so easy.
Even if they are expressing something that seems difficult, it is done with an air of control that captures an audience and keeps them curious about what is coming next.
This is the wonderful thing about style; everyone is unique and has their own way of directing their instrument to relay what they want to relay. It means if 10 people were to sing the same song, we should hear 10 different interpretations of the same song each with their own merit and appeal.
What does it feel like?
It feels like you are being you; like your inner voice is being heard, and connecting with people. It feels like you are going outside of yourself and tapping into something beyond you. It should feel easy to do, and that you have a lot of choice in terms of what you can do vocally. It should feel fun and like you are in control of your instrument.
Usually when a singer is preparing for a big performance, there is a period when they plan their vision for the song or the set and ask questions such as: How will it sound? How will the mood change? How will love or hate be expressed? How will the audience be taken on a journey?
This is where you, the artist, start to figure out how you will achieve all these results not just with your physical expression or your facial expressions or staging but also with your voice.
The questions you should be asking are: How is my voice going to reflect this particular emotion? How will I execute this riff? How will this fun lyric come across as fun with the vocal nuances available to me?
These are important questions. Imagine if someone could not see you; how will they know you are expressing pain, love or happiness at that moment in the song? This is where vocal style comes in; the deliberate use of vocal style will help a singer achieve these things. When you have successfully worked and achieved these in your performance, you will always feel good about your performance whether people like it or not.
The fact is you will have done everything you can do to express yourself as freely as possible, and that is enough.
Remember, being able to achieve vocal style consistently also means that it must be done with skill and a degree of good technical knowledge so as not to harm your voice. Your vocal training must be consistent and accurate.
What does it sound like?
It should sound exciting to the ear, entertaining and unpredictable. It should complement the story of a song. It should sound explosive, controlled and reckless all at the same time. Ultimately it should sound unique and like an expression of you.
There are three things to look out for to determine if vocal style is being performed in a healthy way:
- Effectiveness – how well the vocal effects are being achieved?
- Effortlessness – how easily it is being executed?
- Control – this means the singer’s skill when it comes to: how high or low the voice can go without breaking or struggling through the bridges; how the use of dynamics and power/volume are being controlled; the consistency of the vibrato and the command of the singer’s unique musicality whether that be in the form of riffs and runs, licks, ad-libs, scats or melodic variations/modifications.
Not everyone is going to be a fan of your style. Music is not like football (once an Arsenal fan, forever an Arsenal fan). Accept that some people will like your style and some will not. It doesn’t mean your style does not have value…it does.
Until a singer has gained adequate technique to handle a song, attempting to acquire style can be premature. However, without style a well-trained technical voice is incomplete. Both technique and style go hand in hand, they are two sides of a coin; you cannot attain the complete currency of a great vocal performance unless both are present.