By Deanne Ledebuhr
My first singing instructor said if you want to be a popular singer that, “sounding good is not as important as sounding recognizable”. This was strange to hear as a beginner, but I realized that singing is sometimes more about art than a technique. When you turn on the radio, you may be able to recognize singers in only a few notes. Whether you like the song or not, style is an important part of becoming recognizable and connecting with your audience no matter the genre.
On American Idol, for example, there are “good” singers that are not very memorable. They may sound nice to the ears, but they lack the artistry to become well-known. Someone like Bob Dylan doesn't even hit many notes, but his voice is recognizable and has character. Regardless of your genre, it’s good to develop a style that’s all your own.
The first step in finding your own style is to pay attention to how you sing and listen closely to your favorite artists. You may be undergoing formal training, and in this case, it’s nice to know the “rules” before you break them. As you play around with your style, you may want to try different exercises and genres on for size. At this stage, you can explore however you want to, just take precaution not to strain your voice.
Many singers find their style by listening to and singing along with their favorite recordings. Just be warned that sometimes “you are what you eat” and it’s surprisingly easy to pick up another singer’s nuances. Some singer’s styles have been greatly influential and have spread widely. A fun exercise is to listen carefully to your favorite singers and see if you can pick out their influences.
Even if you don’t mean to, you can pick up vocal mannerisms from other artists, and virtually every singer does it at some point. Eventually, it’s nice to pay attention to your style and when you borrow, do it intentionally. Style often forms from early influences like popular styles at the time, culture and religious music. In this way, the style you choose can evoke a particular place and time.
Check out our tutorial on Singing Style of Your Favorite Male Artists
Some artists flex their skill in sounding like other artist’s intentionally, to fit into a genre, perform covers, commercials, tribute bands, or perform as impersonators. Sometimes artists want to fit into their chosen genre and focus less on personal style, that’s ok too! You may find that you want to sound like your favorite singer. Jim Morrison’s favorite singer was Frank Sinatra and you can hear the influence, but his voice is still all his own.
Accent, breath, pronunciation, embellishments, become like a language or filter for voices. Ae signature sound can be found in a certain amount of consistency. Michael Jackson’s “he-he” , Mariah Carey’s high pitched whistle notes, and Elvis’ “uh huhs” are some instantly recognizable signature sounds.
If you are learning a song by singing along with a recording, you may start out singing closely with the recording, then start mixing in your own style, finally singing it completely your own way. You may want to exaggerate the way you naturally speak, breathe, and your accent. If you can highlight the dynamics of what makes your voice unique, you’re on your way to finding your style. Elements of vocal style include your breath, phrasing, vibrato, embellishments, and dynamics.
Finding Your Style
Finding your vocal style is like being cast in a movie role. Feel free to get into character and play different roles. So while you are starting with what nature gave you, you can explore to find your style.
You can embrace your “flaws” and turn them into something . Continually performing vocal exercises will help support your voice as you explore its capabilities. This is important as you explore your range or how loud you are able to project your voice.
Remember, you can transpose songs or change notes to better suit your voice. A trick is to record yourself singing and pay attention to how you use low and high notes or soft and loud parts of a song. Notice your accent and how you phrase your words.
Check out our tutorial on Singing Style of Your Favorite Female Artists
In many ways, genres are vocal styles that have spread to become types of music. Singers within genres derive their vocal styles through technique, such as in opera, or metal where the style defines the genre. It but can also derive style through delivery such as use of an accent, language, or rhythm. Some genres have songs that are so similar in vocal style and production that they sound “the same” to some listeners.
Enjoy the Journey
Remember that finding your singing style is like a journey and can take time. Your voice may vary from day-to-day, depending on your physical state and other factors. Your interests may change along the way and as new styles become popular. It’s fine if you want to find the ideal rockabilly style. Or maybe you’ll go through classical training, get cast in musical theatre, start a rock band, and then find jazz - both are ok.