“Why Vocal Technique?” by Jeannie Deva

[The following is an excerpt from “The Contemporary Vocalist” Volume One by Jeannie Deva.]

Can you sing the way you want and not hurt yourself? Is it possible to understand what you’re doing technically and still sing emotionally? Can vocal training help you expand your creativity?

My approach to vocal technique is motivated by a firm belief that the voice is meant to be fully used; that there is a way to release yourself from restrictions; that it is not the sounds you make but rather how you make them that can cause difficulty.

This method is an outgrowth of my years of research and work with thousands of contemporary singers. It also comes from my experience performing and recording many forms of Rock, Blues, Jazz, Pop, Folk, Gospel, R&B and Funk.

The demands placed on today’s singers are complex due to the use of electronic equipment, band volume, club conditions, and the trend toward singing and dancing simultaneously. Using your voice for a wider variety of sounds than those used in classical music requires specific techniques to aid and support those sounds and prevent vocal blow-out.

I have found that many popular-music singers shy away from taking voice lessons. Fear of being stripped of their individuality or of being pushed into a limiting, emotionless technique, or from developing sounds inappropriate to their music, has kept them from learning the tools that would help them sing easier and more successfully.

I used to feel the same way. During my early years of singing, I thought that if I went to a teacher to learn “vocal technique,” I would end up sounding the way the teacher wanted me to sound and lose my own style and individuality. It was frustrating and a little scary to hear some teachers state I would wreck my voice if I continued to sing rock styles.

What Makes a Technique Right—or Wrong?
There are many confused vocalists, unsure of what to do or not do when singing. They are uncertain whether the directions they have been given are correct. Too often, I have found decisions of “right” or “wrong” are based on lack of information, personal taste, or the fear that singing in a certain style is physically harmful.

By 1976, my head was spinning with contrary techniques and confusing directions. I decided to find out what defined “right” and “wrong” and discover a way to release myself from anything that would pull back the reins on free, spontaneous, contemporary-styled, “feeling” vocals. I knew the definitions would have to align with scientific fact, not opinion. Though I’d been singing professionally for many years (I started in my early teens), I knew very little about how my voice worked. I began by reading scientific journals and medical books, looking only for fact on how the human body functions to create vocal sound.

I found what I was searching for. I learned the parts, locations and how the body makes vocal sound. I then compared it to the various directions and information I’d heard throughout the years. I found that some of the directions and exercises aligned exactly with the natural functions of the body. And some did not. At that point I knew what to maintain, what to discard, and how to synthesize the knowledge into a holistic approach to singing. The result has given me confidence with and expansion of my own voice and style.

Singing correctly means working with the way your body naturally functions to make sound. Without knowing the facts about your vocal instrument—its parts, their locations, and how they work—it’s difficult to be certain you’re doing the right things. You can also easily fall prey to incorrect coaching and techniques that don’t perfectly align with your instrument. And, it will be difficult to realize your full potential as a vocalist.

Working from an understanding of the body with techniques that support natural vocal production, you can easily produce a wide range of sounds. This includes what some would consider “unorthodox” sounds commonly found in Rock, Soul, Blues, Country, Funk, R&B, Heavy Metal, Dance, Rap and Gospel. The thousands of singers I’ve coached have found they can successfully create the sounds needed for the styles of music they choose!

Cause and Effect
You may ask yourself: “Do I really have to know how vocal sound is made, to sing or talk?” Obviously, you don’t. It is an automatic process. But if automatic, why do so many singers run into difficulties?

Your voice responds to your ideas, thoughts and emotions. If you think you have to push hard to sing high, for example, you will. However, technically, your body may not need to do that. Ignorance is not bliss. If you don’t know what’s right for your instrument, how can you tell if what you’re doing is correct?

To enhance anything, the mysteries about it must be dispelled and replaced with understanding. Some singers just naturally work more in harmony with their bodies when singing. That, combined with having no emotional reservations about “stepping out” with their voice, results in a good sound. Perhaps this is true of you. However, even the best sounding “natural” singers find themselves singing better when knowledgeable about their instrument. I’m sure this makes sense to you. Knowledge and certainty go hand-in-hand.

As long as your vocal instrument can function properly and unimpeded, you will have vocal consistency, control, increased range, and yes, a wealth of different sounds at your disposal. By releasing any harmful manipulations, you’ll avoid the usual side effects that more demanding music and vocal styles can create, such as pain, strained sound, hoarseness, nodes, register break, weak upper register, and so on.

The Purpose of Technique
Perhaps you can remember a time you heard a singer who left you untouched emotionally, but was said to have “great technique.” he fact is, that singer did not have great technique, because it obstructed the meaning and emotion of the song. Technique is only as good as it can support, not overshadow, your communication. The “perfect sound” means nothing if it is not used as a tool with which to create an emotional response.

A singer’s role is to communicate vocally through music and to create an emotional effect on their audience. Some sounds are more appropriate for some feelings than others. The more sounds you have at your command, the more freely you can express yourself.

Performance time is not the time to focus on technique. Your attention should not have to be on how to get your sound, or on whether your voice will make it through the gig. When you step onto that stage, you should already be confident in your ability to play your instrument. You should be free to “work your audience” and give them a great show! – and have fun while you’re at it!

So, my message to you is: it is possible to sound the way you choose without hurting your voice, without limiting the length of your career, without having to make do with a small range, without having to sing raspy when you want to sound smooth, or having to sing smoothly when you want to sound raspy. Whether you’re a beginner or a pro, you deserve to freely use any sound that best conveys your message. You deserve to have confidence in your voice! And you can!

You can receive a free download of some of Jeannie Deva’s most recommended vocal warm-ups and cool-downs. Just visit www.JeannieDeva.com Mention that you read this article.

Jeannie Deva is a world class Master voice teacher and recording studio vocal specialist. She is the author of “The Contemporary Vocalist,” founder of The Deva Method® – A Non-Classical Approach for Singers™ and of Jeannie Deva® Voice Studios, now celebrating its 28th Anniversary. A growing network of Deva Method teachers are on the East and West Coasts in the US. Clients include Grammy Award Winners and Nominees, Major and Indi label recording artists. www.JeannieDeva.com