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Vocal Styles

This entry endeavors to illustrate examples of different vocal styles and their characteristics such as their approach to pronunciation, timing, and variations in melody. That is, licks, trills, runs, and slides.

Classical– Notice how the singer will stay very close to the original text with very little variation, and how the singer uses vibrato on nearly every lyric. Also, notice how smooth and connected the notes are sung. There is very little separation or delineation of notes.

Musical Theater– In this the time is a little less rigid, and the melody is sung with more liberty and pronunciation. The variations in the melody are very few and subtle although dramatic excesses are allowed and sometimes encouraged. Notice hoe the singer uses a few more breathy tones as well as his display of intensity.

Pop/Top40– This is a musical style that is very individualistic. Quite loose in pronunciation and timing, and is very conversational. Pop music is usually thought of as the style that breathes. It’s very relatable to people from all walks of life. Often the lyrics to a lot of pop songs are very simplistic, yet many of the vocals are quite complex.

Country– With many of it’s elements borrowed from the blues, country has a very heavy ‘Folk’ influence to make it distinctive. Country is sung with a southern dialect. It reflects a culture that is rural, small town, and working class communities. Country style is marked by it’s glottal strokes, slides, and short quick trills.

Jazz– Very rhythmic and syncopated. Usually very improvisational with melodic structures differing vastly from simple pop music. Jazz tends to have a smooth, classy, laid back feeling and is probably one of the most romantic forms of music. Jazz is also one of the few purely American art forms.

Gospel/Blues– Both gospel and blues are extravagant styles. So an occasional deviance from pure technique is really up to the singer. But extravagant deviances from pure technique should be seldom to help protect the health of the singer’s voice. While gospel and blues are not the same, they have the same roots. In this style of music, the singer can take much more liberty with the melody, tone colors, pronunciation, and timing. This is the first style to introduce lengthy runs and licks.

R&B– This style is the most versatile using a greater range than pop music, and far more melodic and rhythmic variations. For example, you will hear lengthy licks, extreme highs, extreme lows, and what s called a ‘hard’ mixed sound. Rather than a softer mix which is used more for pop music. You will hear a more intense chestier sounding mixed voice.


One thing to note is that singing either of these styles of music along with ‘Classical’ music can be quite dangerous. To illustrate, a close friend and colleague of mine held lead roles in most of the university’s top operas while leading her own soul band on the weekends in a semi-smoky environment. The drastic difference in the way the two styles strained her vocal cords caused her to go on vocal rest for two weeks, and forced her to communicate by way of a whiteboard and markers. Be safe!


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