Do you imitate the sounds of your favorite singers?
You probably do to some extent, without realizing it. We are products of the musical environment we surround ourselves with!
Do you really study your favorite vocalists? How they pronounce words? How they phrase their lines? The dynamic variation they use throughout the song? How they use vibrato, or don’t? How breathy or how clear they sound? How big, fat, round and deep, or (conversely) how pointed and sharp their sound is?
Do you try then to imitate the exact things they’re doing?
I encourage you to do two things which will help develop both your abilities and your unique sound:
1) Listen. Really listen. And then imitate. See if you can pronounce words like Tori Amos or Grace Slick or Ella Fitzgerald or Norah Jones. Or Kurt Cobain or Robert Palmer or, heck, Michael Jackson. Pick a singer, any singer. And then pick them apart. Focus on one thing at a time and try to incorporate that into your singing. Not necessarily because you want to sound like Michael Jackson, but just to expand the range of sounds you can make… and to see what it sounds like when you do. Expanding the range of sounds you can make will not only teach you a lot, but it will also help you find the sounds that are most natural and comfortable for you – and which ones just don’t seem to work for you and your body.
(Note of caution: depending on where you are in your vocal studies, you may not actually be able to healthily sing some of the things professional singers do. So pay attention, and don’t strain much. NEVER let it hurt. If it hurts, STOP!! and come see me so we can figure out what’s going on.)
2) Take what works, and make it your own. When you find a technique or sound that calls to you, play with it. Dive into it. Let go of what the original artist sounded like, and listen just to yourself. Let yourself out of the box of “this is how it should sound” and see what works for you. For example, if you like the embellishments of a Mariah Carey song but you can’t quite do some of them, simplify them to a pattern that you CAN do.
It’s OK to be a copycat… while you’re experimenting and learning. Then, the next step of vocal maturity is to let go and allow it become your own sound.
(c) 2009 Adrienne Osborn