One of the keys to developing some versatility as a singer is to change your listening habits. There is a simple fun exercise that you can engage by yourself or in a small group to help you broaden your musical tastes while laying the groundwork for developing a more versatile sense of style. This exercise applies to songwriters as well, and even has applications not only in other areas of the arts, but in areas of character building or image making as well.
Solo Or With A Few Friends
If not working strictly solo, choose two or three people whose opinions you value and who will be straightforward with you. These must be people who take you seriously as a singer or singer-songwriter and want the best for you in your pursuit of your dream career.
To start things off, do a self-evaluation of your voice. What types of songs do you like to sing (or write)? What is the style, genre, themes, subject matter – anything you can think of that distinguishes and defines what you like to sing or write. Also, do a thumbnail evaluation of those with you, if they are singers or songwriters, or both.
Next write down singers, music, themes, styles and so on that interest you in terms of being something you’d like to explore. Also, write thumbnail evaluations of what you’d like to see those with you explore as singers, songwriters, or singer-songwriters.
After everyone is done, discuss the findings. Make lists of artists, music, and song catalogs to explore first for listening purposes, to get a feel for the music, style or voice, and to broaden your awareness.
Pool your resources for information on artists, material, genres, subject matter, whatever it is you need to open your mind and heart as you listen and study before taking the next step.
Your goal at the end of this first get-together is to have some specific interests laid out with specific points of contact or reference resources for follow up.
Maybe you sing pop country and want to explore some music that is more roots based. You could look into bluegrass artists olike Alison Krauss or Nickel Creek, even Dolly Parton. If you want to add a bluesy or even a jazz-edged feel, you might check out Etta James, Ray Charles, Dianne Schuur, or Billie Holliday.
As a singer-songwriter maybe you tend to write light and airy lyrics but want to be darker or edgier. Check out artists such as Tom Waits, Lou Reed, Nanci Griffith, Lucinda Williams, or Leonard Cohen. If you want more literate, biting social commentary look into Bob Dylan, early Queen Latifah, Woody Guthrie, Pete Seeger, or read the writings of Kevin Powell, activist, poet, essayist and a wonderful artist who engages the heart of soul of hip-hop.
Drink in as much as you can that exposes you to the new shift or edge or change you want to cultivate. Educate your ears on how what you’re hearing makes you feel. Have fun. Play with it.
Hook Up Again
After a few weeks, get together again to not only discuss your findings but sing a song or two that reflects the impact of your studies and practice so far. At that meeting you’ll gain feedback on any changes that are beginning to surface as well as suggestions for further work that needs to be done.