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Singer's Blog by Jeannie Deva

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Opera Singer PavarottiQ: "Dear Jeannie… I would like to know if there is a difference between Classical and Popular music vocal technique. Thank you for your (magazine) column. It keeps a lot of us out here going." A.T. Boston, MA

Are you really studying Contemporary Technique?

When I began teaching voice nearly 40 years ago, there was no one teaching a really contemporary technique. There were Opera teachers and then there were “Pop/Contemporary” teachers who adapted Classical Opera technique to modern forms of singing.  Since then, the number of “Contemporary” voice teachers has exploded, but the big question is “Do they really teach a contemporary singing technique?”

Terms like “head and chest voice,” “placement,” “register break or passaggio,” are all from Classical voice technique and are still used by many teachers of “contemporary” voice methods. New techniques have been added and Opera methods have been modified, which is not particularly bad, but you may run into difficulties when trying to apply modified Opera techniques to singing certain contemporary styles of music.

Classical Beautiful Voice

I am by no means anti-Classical. Classical techniques have given the world many virtuoso vocalists, from Pavarotti to Sarah Brightman. Many Broadway, Jazz and other singers have found beneficial application from this traditional training. As well, the Classical world sets high standards for the development of singers and is an example well worth following.

My point is only that when a singer wants to create sounds that are not included in the repertoire of Classical style, new techniques are needed to physically support the broader sound vocabulary used in contemporary musical styles.

So the short answer to A.T.’s question is, yes, there is a difference between Classical and Pop Vocal Technique. Unfortunately, this difference has been obscured by the fact that many Pop Vocal teachers have Classical training, whether or not they recognize it.

In subsequent blog posts we’ll discuss some specific differences and give you a better idea how you can evaluate which techniques may be troublesome singing Rock or other contemporary styles. Until then, I’d like to hear your experiences and questions with this, so leave your comments below.


  1. BOB (SINGER) on January 6, 2015 at 10:03 AM said:
    This is a very interesting topic I am so much interested in. I look forward to exploring this a deeply as you'd like.
  2. Crystal on January 6, 2015 at 11:07 AM said:
    Glad to hear you are covering this. I have been wondering about techniques for a long time and why what I learned seemed to be problematic when I sing rock songs. I have a SLS package I bought and thought maybe I wasted my money. All ears for your next installment.
  3. Angela on January 6, 2015 at 2:20 PM said:
    I don't see any problem with the descriptions of head and chest. Of course it's not a scientific actual description of how the vocal cords work to create a pitch but it is a description of what most people feel and how to marry those sensations of time to what we now know of science. There seems to be a lot if poking fun at the use of the term but all people know in reality you are talking about feelings not science - so if described better and not put down language and descriptions could be better served.
  4. david on January 6, 2015 at 5:31 PM said:
    Thanks Jeannie Very interesting topic. Just to clarify. I am not a teacher. I have however been singing -amateur - for quite a while. I was trained somewhat, by a classical teacher, who complained that his other pupils were going off into the pop singing world, instead of pursuing his kind of music. I had a very brief time with a visiting Australian classical coach and I found some of his technique interesting and indeed beneficial. He seemingly mocked the 'other' techniques by declaring " See how they (singers) rise fast, but see also how quickly they descend. I wondered if he was referring to the short vocal life span of modern singing. But then, look at the Rolling Stones. Mick Jagger seems to have managed ? I have sung in both styles. My question is whether the muscles need to be retrained, or readjusted from time to time to settle a technique for either style. Can the styles be mixed in the same singing performance. I don't mean the same song, just in the provision of variety in a concert. I have found that I cant do a pop song with "molto belto" as they say, except in classical style. The voice doesnt seem to be able to retain the 'pop' sound. I have also noticed some classical singers here in the UK., do an either / or - but not both, it seems. Certainly not on the same bill. Is that because one can't do pop with classical techniques, as you have so clearly mentioned in your blog. I remember Pavarotti singing with a pop singer, but he retained his own style, which was obvious. Andrea Bocelli is the nearest, I think, who has mixed it a bit, but does he cross over ?, or is he using classical technique - gently ? I've always tried to put a bit of variety into my own performances, but at the same time wondered if I really sang pop as pop should be. There's a lot in my comment I know, not best expressed, but maybe it will promote discussion.
  5. Jeannie Deva on January 6, 2015 at 7:13 PM said:
    Thank you all for your input. Let me add: In the 40 years I've been teaching, Any singer who had previously been trained with the directions of head and chest were experiencing limitations and complexities in their singing. One reason why is that it promotes thinking of range in sections that requires different approaches and then you are supposed to "mix" the "break" that's in between. I have written much more about this in my book: "The Contemporary Vocalist" including the origins of those terms and then what was done with them as time moved forward. In the next blog on this subject, I'll get into some specific aspects regarding Classical training versus Popular Music singing. I have also trained several famous Classical singers by default - and found my method to enhance the sounds they used, and free them from certain muscular restraints. Lastly for now, in my repertoire, I sing Rock, Pop, Blues, Jazz and a form of Classical I (on a couple of songs). I find that the voice will reflect the sounds I imagine with ease. (To address David's query.) It's all in the training and approach used within the method.
  6. Contemporary Music Artist on June 20, 2016 at 4:00 AM said:
    Classically trained musicians are generally thought to be more rigorously trained and prepared that other musicians. The idea of someone being a "classically trained" instrumentalist or vocalist implies that there is some kind of singular "classical training" connected with the instrument that he or she plays. Classically trained means you were instructed specifically in classical music. It means you learned to play by the theory, standards and style of classical music.
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