Classical Vs. Contemporary Singing

Mixdown Magazine Article

Myth: If you can sing classically you can sing anything. This is one of the biggest misconceptions in the industry.

Fact: There are only two genres and styles of singing! Contemporary. Classical. Period, end of story! They are two completely different styles of singing and so are the methods and techniques required to teach and learn them.

Classical Singing

The first real serious studies of the singing voice started in Italy with the Roman Catholic Church sometime near the beginning of the 13th century. However, earlier forms have been traced back to the late 12th century in Ancient Greek history. Through time the study of voice moved into Germany and then into other European countries. The classical voice was largely trained to sing in opera houses, churches, auditoriums, coliseums and amphitheaters. A lot of these venues were extremely large or outdoor open venues with no modern microphone technology for projection and volume. So, they were practiced by the singer with the predominant mindset of having to have a lot of projection, volume and power so that everyone present at the performance, near or far could hear the performance. In short, classical training is stuck in a tradition or an expectation of what ‘classical’ should sound like.  It is not free to explore and grow the voice like contemporary singing does.

What is the difference between Classical and Contemporary Singing?

As any modern contemporary singer will know, you can still sing at a very low volume into a microphone and sound fantastic.

There is a common theme I notice when teaching classically trained singers. Many female classical vocalists who have some to see me have not known how to sing in their “true” voice. They have never been taught to do this and have only trained in their Falsetto when singing up high. This is what I call “Fake Soprano” or “Falsetto Soprano“. On the other hand, many male classically trained singers have never used their Falsetto or have not known what it even is as they have only been taught to sing in their True Voice. Almost all did not know how to use correct mouth placement to produce a variety of vowel sounds because in classical training, they use a ‘yawn’ or ’round’ shape for most vowel placements.

In modern contemporary singing tuition, we use varying mouth shapes for all five different vowels, and there are no sounds that we cannot use! There are no rules in modern contemporary singing except that you need to sing in a key and not hurt your voice. All other sounds are acceptable and are interchangeable depending on music genre, song choice and the individual singer! There is no “one and only” method of singing in contemporary singing and this is what will help you to develop your unique potential to create sounds, in a truly uninhibited way and will allow you to understand how your vocal anatomy works.

The idea that “if you can sing classical, you can sing anything” is a mistakenly held belief that has caused much confusion, inconsistency and even competition within the singing world. If anything is true, classical singing may restrict you from reaching full vocal expression and flexibility.

So, what is Contemporary or Modern Singing? 

Please keep in mind that I have nothing against classical singing or the methods used to teach it. I have personally studied forms of classical and the Bel Canto singing technique. However, modern singing has really broadened and developed the understanding of our vocal anatomy and expanded upon classical singing. Sure classical singing is a useful foundation and a good way to start to learn about singing but it will not give you your authentic voice. Many teachers are stuck in conforming to specific traditional systems but this is very limiting to the singing student. If you understand that the human voice works a certain way you can get it to do many strange and wonderful sounds – just look at beat boxing! A worldwide phenomenon that began with a few brave and talented individuals, but 100 years ago, this would have seemed like alien language or the Devil’s tongue! Don’t be afraid to experiment with your voice and let it make different and unusual sounds.

Also, a lot of classical teachers say that if you’re singing theatre or drama you should be taking classical lessons. Again a major untruth! 95% of theatre these days is sung in a contemporary voice. Listen to Les Miserables, Wicked, South Pacific and so on. “The King and I” was in town not long ago and the main female lead sang all the parts in true and chest voice in a contemporary style. Also, many classical teaches try to cross over into teaching mainstream singing but fall into the trap of letting female singers go Falsetto whenever they want and don’t allow their male singers to use Falsetto. In modern contemporary tuition, we try to expand all ranges as high as we possibly can, safely in True Voice and Falsetto. This way, the student has the option to use both of the ranges if need be.

Conclusion 

Do your research on the singing teacher that you wish to see and ask them questions regarding what they can offer and give you as a student. Don’t pick a singing teacher because they are cheap or close to where you live. There are great singing teachers available everywhere now online too. It is important to remember that a classical method is a classical method and a contemporary method, contemporary.

BY PETER & RYAN VOX