Have you ever heard, or yourself been, a singer that you know is trying too hard? As singers, we can easily fall into the trap of overdoing a certain style choice that we deem desirable, or that is widely popular at the time. For instance, a singer having a consistently breathy tone, always doing runs, “knurdling” for a classical effect, or overusing vocal fry. These style choices, when used in moderation, can be tasteful, intuitive, and show supreme musicianship, however when they are overused they may become predictable, uninteresting and in some cases displeasing to the listener. Personally, I never understood the old adage, “You can never have too much of a good thing.” That is simply untrue! One can have too much ice cream, too much sunlight, too many hours watching television, or too much traveling. Likewise, a singer can have an excessive amount of style within the course of a song. Sometimes the listener desires a reprieve, where they can hear the human voice, simply unaffected.
However, there are always the exceptions! Some of the most successful iconic singers consistently over-affect their voice, and it has become a part of their unmistakable sound. Some famous examples include singers such as Celine Dion, who has made a career with her unique voice, which often includes a slight knurdle, or over-squeezing of her vocal cords and Britney Spears, who employs vocal fry in most every song that she sings. You may also be the exception, where you have found that a certain consistent style choice actually improves your overall delivery and enhances your listener’s experience. Yet, if that is not the case, I will briefly discuss some practical ways that you can incorporate style, while not overloading your listeners.
First, focus inward in and identify your particular style tendencies so you that gain awareness of your own voice. Start to ask yourself some hard questions… Do I consistently sing with a breathy tone? Am I tirelessly using the same inflections in my singing patterns? Am I overusing vibrato? Is my sound always loud and powerful, or am I able to be soft and vulnerable? Once you begin to explore and be honest about your own voice you will be more able to confront any excessive style choices and return to a more organic sound. Next, try recording yourself. When you sing a song and listen to the playback do your style choices seem natural, or forced and contrived? Once you have identified and analyzed your specific style tendencies, then remain mindful of how you are incorporating them into your songs.
Lastly, in order to return to a more believable sound, try speaking the lyrics to your song. Talk through your song, and then slowly add pitches in order to closely mirror your speaking voice to that of your singing. Essentially, singing is speaking on pitch. Thus, the singing of your song should always exist to tell a story or relay an emotion, and your style choices should simply be an extension of that function. However, often times, we can let pride sneak in and we will try to use vocal acrobats to show off our voices, rather than singing for the song itself. Remember, the song is the message, and you are the messenger. While your unique style and delivery is essential to an honest performance, your ability to be yourself and not over-stylize can serve to set you apart.
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