Contemporary Vocal Pedagogy

Extract from Lyn Gillett’s Lecture Recital Queensland Conservatorium of Music 1999.

Jazz, Blues R&B, and pop styles. cannot be sung in true classical tone.  It simply does not work.  It sounds corny and prissy and does NOT work for those styles. AND it hurts! From a pedagogical point of view the teaching of vocal technique in these styles and contemporary music is primarily mechanistic.

As many of my adult students present to me with existing vocal problems or (potentially) tired or hoarse voices, elements particularly requiring attention include ease of phonation, both thick and thin fold application and simultaneous onset of tone. Teachers should be able to competently demonstrate and explain the mechanistic activity while producing authentic tonal qualities themselves for the genres they are teaching.

There is an extreme need for healthy vocalising and teaching within the contemporary genre, whether the students are singing for their own interest or wishing to enter the entertainment industry. Students who are specifically and only interested in singing Jazz, Rock or R & B styles will never sing, either aesthetically or professionally in a legit or bel canto style, and stylistically correct renditions of their songs are required to be presented. The songs must be presented in the acceptable fashion, as contemporary audiences expect to hear the songs presented this way. Simply learning contemporary repertoire and presenting this by singing in pure classical tone does not work.

In order to gain employment in the contemporary music field, the budding professional, or working professional must meet certain contemporary stylistic criteria, and training for contemporary music requires healthy vocalising which does not compromise the requirements of the style. To ensure healthy vocalising, contemporary singers in the main require both thick and thin fold application, sob techniques, speech level production, conversational phrasing, and twang (using high laryngeal position). Breath support is important, using major muscle groups. The use of lowered larynx as an occasional effect is acceptable, especially in Jazz, and would ensure that the singer was being totally honest in the presentation of this particular style.

Damaged voices.

Unfortunately due to the strains and conditions of working as a singer in the entertainment industry in conditions which are not ideal, such as airless, small rooms with bad acoustics, and air-conditioning, working singers are subject to vocal abuse if not trained to protect themselves from these elements.

A working singer can be required to sing for 3- 4 hours in these conditions at times as the only singer in a band. Even restaurant gigs, while seemingly romantic easy gigs, are very hard on a singer who needs to carry the responsibility for the whole evening, singing a variety of contemporary styles. They are hard on the feet too! The pressure on musical theatre performers is just as great.

Performance must be consistent and energetic for the duration of the gig, and it is the vocalist’s job to inspire the audience to get up on the dance floor if required by the venue.

Preliminary diagnosis of vocal problems associated with vocal abuse can be made by Lyn Gillett, and if necessary a referral made to a specialist voice clinic and Lyn will work hand in hand with Speech Pathologist. A programme of exercises may be developed to prevent further recurrence, and obtain sustainable vocal health. This relates to all styles of music, but certainly more prevalent in those singers working with bands such as rock or heavy metal, once again working in clubs in an unhealthy air conditioned atmosphere, drying the vocal folds and creating potentially damaging inflammation.

At the time of assessment it is determined what action can be taken for potential students suffering vocal distress. It is often recommended that these singers need to seek the attention of a Speech Pathologist or Medical Specialist, before commencing lessons, and Ms. Gillett will work in conjunction with these experts