One of the most important duties of a voice teacher and/or vocal coach is to guide students in their choices of song literature. Beginning singers often want to start out singing songs they already know and enjoy, or what is popular at the time. Taking on something that is totally unfamiliar can be scary, boring and a bit challenging! But a happy medium can be accomplished with a discussion where both the student and the teacher are honest with each other.
For the beginning singer, the voice must be “built” as a unique instrument before it can be “played.” A singer is the only musician whose instrument doesn’t come ready made. As technique is mastered, the voice will emerge and only then can true musicality and artistry be explored. However, the joy of singing should never be sacrificed for pedagogy only, so a good teacher will offer songs that compliment a student’s current strengths while mastering technical challenges. The classically trained voice is usually the most versatile and flexible, similar to a dancer trained in ballet. Not everyone is interested in singing opera or classical art song but the more grounded a singer is in technique, the easier it is to branch out in the pop and musical theatre market.
An experienced vocalist will start to explore what styles of music and song lyrics they are passionate about. Even professionals may still be confused about what their voice is more suited to versus what they are emotionally drawn to. For example, a young pop soprano who wants to sing Janis Joplin, Adele or Aretha Franklin may actually have better success singing the hits of Dolly Parton, Sarah Brightman or more classically based literature. I personally believe all student singers should expose themselves to as many styles as possible with the guidance of a voice teacher to prevent any vocal damage during the experimental process of finding themselves musically. I, too, had vocal idols during my youth and still do! Imitating them is a means to self development but eventually an individual style and sound is hoped for.
Professionals will have all kinds of songs in their bag that suit a variety of needs. Based on their physical “type,” personal sound, style, strengths, and interpretive skills each singer will pick songs they may not like but know they sing well in order to get the job done. Over time they develop a song list of favorites that truly presents who they are as artists and human beings.
But as I tell my students, no singer can sing every song, no matter how talented. Finding YOUR song that seems to have been written just for you is part of the wonderful journey of becoming a vocal artist!