Why do vocal coaches disagree so much on what the correct technique is?

If you have spent some time gathering info on vocal technique from varied sources that don’t just belong to an offshoot of the same school of thought, you have probably noticed that descriptions of what you need to do vary a lot and sometimes downright contradict each other. Some say you need to inflate the abdomen when you breathe in while others say you need to suck it in. Some say you need to lower the larynx for the high notes, others say it needs to stay neutral and then some say you should allow it to rise. Some say you should always keep your nasal passage closed to get rid of nasality while others preach about the importance of nasal resonance. Some teach singing loud and robust high notes while others teach that you should keep the volume down and thin out. Some teach glottal onsets as a voice building and strengthening tool while others say you should avoid them like the plague. How are these contradictions possible, how did they come to be and who is right?

How it all began…

To arrive to probable answers to these questions, we need to dive a bit into the history of singing tuition. Historically, formal lessons were only available for western classical music. Classical singing, albeit containing many different substyles of singing, has certain common esthetic ideals. It needs to be fairly dark in sound color, basically darker than any contemporary or folk style of singing. It needs to have a constant and consistent vibrato. It needs to be fairly loud to be audible unamplified while singing with a large orchestra in a theater. That already put some technical constraints onto which technical choices were viable and which were not. Keep in mind that in the heyday of opera when the most popular pieces were written, globalization was not a thing to the extent that it is today and that information was exchanged at a much slower rate. For the same reason, fashion in music was much more localized. That meant ideas around singing technique were often developing in different directions in different places. That lead to different schools of thought on singing technique in Italy, France, Germany, Austria or Sweden and sometimes even differences between different regions of the same country.

Singing teachers of that time weren’t educated on all the different possibilities of the human voice. If they discovered a technique that delivered a suitable sound consistently and without excessive wear on the voice, they would conclude that it must be the correct way to sing and were teaching it as such. If you dive into old texts on singing technique and compare ideas from, for example, Francesco Lamperti and Manuel Garcia, you will find many points of disagreement. So, different beliefs on what is right when it comes to singing technique are nothing new!

Beyond classical

With the democratization of music tuition in the 20th century, people started teaching various different styles including musical theater, folk, pop and rock which included vastly different sounds from classical and from each other. As I mentioned in one of the previous articles, it makes sense that a change in sound requires an adjustment of technique. Something needs to change in what you do to get a different sounding outcome. However, at the time there were no educated singing teachers for all these genres, so most often you’d have classical teachers attempt to adapt. That resulted in some of the classical stylings lingering on in teaching along with the belief that they are the only healthy way of singing despite the fact that different teachers sometimes taught contradicting things as the “only healthy way”.

Nowadays, with a lot more scientific research on singing available and with a much deeper understanding of how human voices function, we know that there is a vast range of different techniques that can be used healthily (as well as a vast range of things you can do to endanger your vocal health), resulting in a huge palette of different sounds! Unfortunately, many methods still lag behind the scientific research available and teach a single approach as the only right way.

Image by freepik

Trust your own judgement

So what can you do to make sure that you are getting the right tuition for the sounds that you want to make? Listen to your sound and your body! If the sound you’re getting is not in the ball park of what you’re aiming for, you need to adjust your technique. If your teacher does not provide helpful tools to reach that goal, it might be a good idea to consider a switch! That doesn’t mean your singing teacher is bad, but their method might just not be suited to what you’re trying to achieve. Also, if what you’re doing feels physically uncomfortable, hurts, scratches or itches in your throat or causes hoarseness – you’re obviously doing something wrong and need a technical intervention to keep your voice healthy.

Complete Vocal Technique (CVT)

As an authorized Complete Vocal Technique teacher, I am certainly biased so you are welcome to take my opinion with a grain of salt, but for me the beauty of CVT is that it categorizes and teaches many different techniques that result in a wide palette of sounds that can be used in all different styles of music. Working with a teacher educated in a modern science-based approach such as CVT or Estill is a great way to get coaching tailored to your specific goals! Instead of teaching one technique as the only right way, we can analyze your goals and come up with a technique path that works for those specific goals.

If you want to find an authorized CVT teacher in your area you can find the full list by country here: https://completevocal.institute/find-a-teacher/
Or you can contact me here if you’d like to work with me online (or in person if you happen to be close to Zagreb, Croatia).