If there’s one thing I’ve learned on my journey of studying voice, there is no single truth on the subject. You can search and search for the most perfect and correct approach to technique, but there isn’t one. Vocal technique is like religion. There are many methods and many masters. At the end of the day, every master claims something different. So basically, we all get to find our own way. The way that works best for our individual needs and goals.
Every person is different and every voice is different, depending on genetics, genre and style of interpretation. And the truth is, the full spectrum of what the human voice can achieve is far wider than most people realize! For starters, the voice is a muscle that is capable of expanding its range from singing quite high to quite low. Plus the voice can embody a medley of timbre colors from bright and quacky to warm and covered sounding. The use of registers, vibrato, straight tone, different embouchures (position of the mouth), ability to hear well, and varying degrees of vocal compression all impact the sonic result.
I’ve learned to embrace the value and truth in every vocal approach, knowing there is more than one way to achieve a quality, resonant sound. My first voice teacher was an opera singer who taught me to sing everything in head voice, which gave me an evenly mixed compression in that register over the course of five years. My second voice teacher at the University of Washington taught me to integrate my chest voice into the mix, but I was terrified to use it at first. Wasn’t my chest register going to push and hurt my voice? That’s what my first teacher implied. I was scared, but I timidly started using my chest voice until it felt more comfortable and natural. Now ironically, it’s the money part of my voice where I access the amber honey and rich chocolate tones that people love most!
But my confusion about vocal technique only grew worse the more teachers I exposed myself to through the years. They ALL stated something polar opposite from the one before:
-My third voice teacher after college, had me sing everything in hard core chest voice (bye-bye head voice).
-My fourth voice teacher was in his eighties, hard of hearing and so close to death that I couldn’t get the concrete answers I hoped to receive from him (although he was highly reputable).
-My fifth and most expensive voice teacher preached his branded method of contemporary singing to the stars in Los Angeles (thus I moved to L.A. from Seattle, but my study with him lasted only six months due to a discouraging comment).
In the midst of all this, there were some teachers who adamantly claimed that I should always sing with vibrato, while others claimed I should never sing with vibrato. Not only did these conflicting truths confuse me, they gave me a complex!
So I stopped taking voice lessons and gave up singing entirely for five years. But there was a part of me that still wondered what the elusive secret was. I was on a life-long search for the Holy Grail. And frankly, it drove me nuts. That’s when I became my own teacher over time. I turned within. I returned to my roots of using a mix of head voice and chest voice, while experimenting with belting techniques. And I was constantly amazed by what I could do when I was willing to venture outside my comfort zone a bit. Before I knew it, I was using an eclectic mix of vocal techniques and now I am teaching others from an open-minded place.
I’m not a black and white teacher. I believe singing requires a certain degree of energy and focus, which is ultimately fueled by the breath. But if a student can get beyond overthinking it, they can find their own organic flow that shows them how to phonate with ease. Singing is natural. And although the voice can seem complicated, the voice is versatile and works if you trust it.
Mastering your voice is about mastering yourself. It’s about finding what works for your vocal cords, personality and style. It’s knowing when to relax and not take singing so seriously or when to give it more gas and reach beyond your comfort zone. There are no easy answers, but it usually comes down to trust. Learning to trust your voice, inner ear, and instincts. What is vocally right for YOU may be counter-intuitive or even super simple, but the answers are usually right under your nose. The best advice I can give you is to find a teacher you resonate with, take some lessons (if you wish to develop your voice) and enjoy the process of discovery!