As a young student, I was trained in the classical style in my vocal education, and I loved it. Today, I am really more of a contemporary singer, swaying more towards folk and rock music. My students are very attracted to this, because it’s the same music they love to listen to. When I first began teaching voice, I struggled with how to incorporate the very important classical singing techniques with the contemporary pop music that so many students prefer to sing. Here are some things I’ve learned over the years:
1. Keep the Italian vowel sounds at the core of the training. AH, EH, EE, OH, and OO are what make the words sound more professional. Have the student identify which vowel sound is central to each English word they are singing, and teach them to make their mouth into that vowell shape. Since it is contemporary music, it’s important that they are a little looser with their vowell shapes, however. There is nothing worse that a pop song that sounds like an Aria!
2. Teach a simple Italian song, such as “Caro Mio Ben” as an excercise in addition to their pop repetoir. Explain that by learning a song in a foreign language, they are forced to shaped the vowels exactly as you teach it. Once they are comfortable with the song, they will understand a little better how to form the vowels and to incorporate the same feeling into their contemporary songs.
3. Find good examples of contemporary singers and have students identify when that singer transitions into head voice. Singers such as Whitney Houston and Dolly Parton (love her!) are good to start with, but it would also be fun for your student to bring in a CD of one of their favorites to study. If they bring in someone like Britany Spears, you can also explain what not to do!
The biggest difference, in my humble opinion, between classical and contemporary singing is the shape of the mouth. Students still need to learn breathing techniques, head voice/chest voice, so that isn’t different at all. In contemporary singing, it is important to retain the proper mouth formations, while still remaining relaxed. No english accent is required, and students should just try to use good technique while still singing in the English language.