Published March 18, 2021
There are many aspects to teaching Contemporary Popular (Commercial) Music (CCM) singing styles. Besides healthy production—a huge topic to be sure, and not that different from traditional Western training—contemporary popular styles vary from traditional training in placement, registers, and tonal qualities. We also focus on stylistic aspects of the many popular genres including jazz, rock, pop, R&B, gospel, blues, country, and latin styles, to name a few. These aspects include rhythmic phrasing, relaxed diction, articulation, attention to lyrics, and more.
Many of our younger students come from a background of singing in high school musicals and choruses, while idolizing popular singers from a wide variety of styles. When they take lessons in traditional Western classical vocal techniques, they don’t know how to utilize this production for singing the songs they’re listening to and really want to sing. Many students are also songwriters, and because some self-accompany on guitar, they may be singing while seated, or holding an instrument in front of a microphone. For both performing and recording they also need to learn effective mic technique, how to utilize a PA system, and best practices for singing with a band.
Sometimes, classically trained students and teachers are unclear about how to sing contemporary styles in a healthy way that is also authentic and stylistically appropriate. They may worry about sounding bad, or straining. They may be unsure about which register or placement they should use for a song. Often they want to learn how to belt, but have misconceptions about how to do that. Different methods are offered as the “correct” way to sing popular styles, but the fact is that there is not one method that is the correct one—that is a myth. Furthermore, a student can receive conflicting information about how to sing popular styles from different teachers.
The good news is there are common aspects to learning how to sing popular styles that are consistent throughout different methods. While there is way too much on the topic to cover in one article, I’ve found throughout the years that besides overall healthy production and breath support, four pedagogy topics in particular are really helpful to focus on for our students:
- Rhythm and rhythmic articulation
- Mix voice, tone, and forward placement, especially when belting
- Dynamic and tonal changes within a phrase or verse
- Vibrato and legato