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4 Ways to Develop Your Unique Sound

There are many vocal and musical choices you can make to develop your unique vocal sound – says Diane Hughes.

Diane Hughes has an extensive academic and professional career in contemporary voice and artist development, and is currently the president of the Australian National Association of Teachers of Singing.

She tells us what steps we can take when we are honing our singing style.

1. Make healthy vocal choices

There are many stylistic nuances that may be problematic particularly if a singer is unaware of their potential impact on vocal health. And there are some nuances that are potentially more problematic than others.

However, understanding the ways in which stylistic nuances may possibly impact on vocal health and facilitating strategies to balance voice use are crucial to vocal longevity. This is why training the individual voice in healthy vocal technique is so important.

If singers become kinaesthetically aware of healthy voice use through their training, they can then choose to implement or not to implement nuances in an informed way.

Bearing in mind that each voice is unique and has its own idiosyncrasies, levels of vocal resilience vary between singers. Learning about and understanding your own voice and sound is therefore imperative.

2. Don’t merely copy other singers

In contemporary folk or singer-songwriter styles, there is almost an expected vowel distortion that is becoming universal. When nuances become universal, they run the risk of lessening individuality.

Take melisma, for example. It’s sometimes so overdone that it lessens emotive expression and becomes just vocal gymnastics. Also, when melisma is overdone, it has the potential to overshadow the melodic line and/or the intent of the song.

Artists that are typically copied are prominent pop singers. This is particularly true of younger (or developing) singers even though the repertoire is often not relatable to their age or vocal development. So it should also be remembered that young voices are not ‘adult’ voices.

I think it is vitally important for all singers (of all ages and stages) to explore their own ‘healthy’ singing voice and sound.

While overt copying of artists is something I don’t agree with (unless you are singing in a particular cover band or tribute show), you can sometimes tell the artist a singer has listened to over and over again, or who has inspired him or her to sing. And sometimes the influences of other artists are just ‘absorbed’. It’s like an osmotic process.

3. Find your ‘sound’ through songwriting

Listening and learning how you sound (through foldback or recording) is really important so as to progressively understand the voice.

Young singers develop and change. So be creative with what you sing. Don’t just copy what has already been done.

I like all young singers to try to write songs. Even if they never sing these sings publically, it teaches them a lot about phrasing, song structure, musicality and connecting with a song.

It is through this creative process, that young singers are able to explore their individual sound because there is no model for them to copy. There’s ‘honesty’ in this process.

4. Practice singing with a microphone

Many singers in popular culture musics want to sound ‘natural’ and ‘authentic’. But once the singing voice is captured by sound technology in amplification and recording, it becomes a representation or an interpretation of its original acoustic properties.

This means that part of a singer’s training must include the use of reinforced sound and associated effects.

Associate Professor Diane Hughes teaches in Vocal Studies and Music at Macquarie University, Sydney, Australia. Di has an extensive background in contemporary popular singing pedagogy, and has been an invited speaker at conferences and seminars. Her work within the industry has involved artist development and recording. Di’s research interests include vocal artistry, vocal pedagogy, vocal recording, vocal performance and singing in schools; current research projects include vocal health, emotion and voice, the singer-songwriter, cultural musicology, and collaborative producing in recording. Research on singing in schools led her to become an advocate for the development of cross-curriculum voice studies in school education. She is currently the National President of the Australian National Association of Teachers of Singing Ltd (ANATS). Find out more about Diane Hughes.