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Imitating Other Singers is NOT Dangerous or Unhealthy

A lot of people going around on this subreddit discouraging singers from imitating claiming that it is inherently unhealthy and inherently dangerous. Here are some simple guidelines

  1. Don't sing higher than you are capable.
  2. If it hurts or strains, don't do it
  3. If it sounds "fake" then it isn't right.

That's it. Imitation isn't inherently unhealthy. Imitating a healthy sound without straining is called singing well. No one will ever know you learned by "imitating" because at that point you are simply singing the style properly.

Every genre requires imitation. Even classical. If it didn't, then classical singers wouldn't sound similar to one another. To demonize something so essential makes absolutely no sense to me.

The purpose of taking lessons from a teacher who knows how to sing is so they can demonstrate the sound so that, alongside some degree of technical training, you can imitate it. If teachers are expecting you to mindlessly wander and "align" and "resonate" your singing voice into existence from scratch - that's not really teaching. That's psuedoscience.

Why Classical Training is a Complete Waste of Time

Just on a practical level... Pavarotti could not sing like Justin Bieber. Pavarotti was just generally not very good at singing contemporary music. Great opera singer? Yes!!!! One of the greatest!!

The skill of 'singing' just on a real world, common sense level does not translate. Otherwise you would be seeing hundreds and hundreds of professional cross over artists. But you don't. You see either a singer who is a master at doing ONE thing or you see a singer who is good at doing many.

They're different skillsets and depending on your goal, you might want many different skill sets. You might make a career out of doing both; that's what makes you unique and sets you apart. But I just don't hear the operatic tenor performing at the MET every night who, the following night, is singing pop music at a sold out venue. It just doesn't happen.

Now if you want to get specific and ask about the physiological differences, there are a plethora! From supglottic pressure, to vocal fold closure, to formant tuning strategies, breathing strategies, lung volume differences, vibratory mechanism differences, etc. Plus the way our body responds in terms of muscle development and muscle memory. The list goes on so long that you could write books on the differences and still we wouldn't be able to completely grasp the complexity of it.

Long distance running and sprinting are basically the same sport. Whoever can run to the finish line the fastest wins. But the way the body of a distance runner responds to distance running is massively different from the way the body responds to sprinting. They recruit different sets of muscle fibers. The stress on the body is also radically different as is it's hormonal response. Not to even mention requiring mastery of two completely different sets of techniques.

Just because you are a good distance runner does not mean you will be a good sprinter How many Olympic level athletes are doing both?

Is Usain Bolt spending his time working on his distance running thinking it will improve his sprinting? Or is he sprinting to improve his sprinting? Does Usain Bolt have the mindset of a sprinter or a guy who dabbles in some of everything?

The only reason people study classical is because they have this impression that classical singers are somehow superior to contemporary singers. That if you learn to sing opera it will help you sing Taylor Swift because opera is an elite form of singing and Taylor Swift is not. And, you know what, go for it! If you believe that then go for it.

Me, personally, I'm not interested in being that guy who is a decent sprinter and a decent distance runner. I want to be really really good at sprinting and say fuck distance running. I want to emulate what successful sprinters are doing, not re-write the book on sprinting to include distance running. That's not my thing.

If other people want to train both, great! No worries! So long as you're doing it out of choice not because someone told you to.

Yelling (Strength Training) for Vocal Health

"Strength training" the voice is a term I have such mixed feelings about yet I still cannot deny the power of the idea. One one hand I HATE when singers take the analogy of the voice working like a muscle to the point where they are trying to apply all of exercise science knowledge to it.

For example this idea of "stretching" out the folds. Firstly... the idea that you should "stretch" out any muscle group before training is very much debated and well beyond the scope of a layman's understanding. Some muscle groups in some activities respond well to it, some do not. That we should be or that there is even any benefit to "stretching" the vocal folds... I'm skeptical. And there are many more reasons I won't bore you with right now.

But this idea that it builds strength and power. God this is so true for me. And even with beginning singers. I mean today I can go from yelling half of the day (aka practice) to voice lessons where I'm speaking, demonstrating (aka yelling), etc. And no it doesn't always go perfectly. Yes sometimes I'm tired. But it's so easy now. And I recover so freaking fast.

I mean say what you want about all of the times I've blown out my voice (I no longer do because I'm more respectful of my limits.) They pushed me to the brink of what I could do. And now... I mean I can go 8+ hours belting my brains out and yeah I'm hoarse after. But 2 years ago that would have blown my voice out after 4 hours. And now... I mean I wake up the next day BOOM ready to go.

I mean is hoarseness really even that bad of a thing? So long as it's managed properly? I don't know! It certainly seems like it's helping me with no ill effects reported from my ENT in the last year. Do I just have super resilient folds? Or is the way we are approaching vocal health completely backward?

It used to be that I had to speak with a very light tone to "save" my voice. Now I'm finding that I can just GO and speak however I want and my voice can keep up. It's crazy! I think the idea of "saving" your voice or babying it actually causes a lot of vocal issues... it doesn't fix them it just puts a band aid on the problem.

If your left leg wasn't strong enough to support your weight for some reason (completely hypothetical) and you kept falling down when you were walking. The solution to this problem isn't to give the guy a wheelchair and tell him to stop using his leg. The solution to the problem would be for him to develop the strength and coordination needed so that he could walk properly. But, again, that's another aside and not something I am an expert on.

Sure some days the guy might overwork his leg muscle and he might injure it and have to take a few days off. Minor sprain, no big deal. Or maybe he overworks it and it's a bit sore the next day. But is that enough of a reason to stop him from training his leg?

Now I can just talk talk talk all day. I can shout all day. I can speak at each intensity from soft to quiet. I have access to the full range of human expression... and isn't that the point?

Do you know how often I have students who are incapable of yelling? They literally could not yell to save their lives. LITERALLY! If they were ever in a life threatening situation their voice would crack, flip, and have zero carrying power. Or, likewise, they go to ONE football game and they are completely debilitated vocally for the entire week. Think about that!

I, on the other hand, could yell through a football game and sing the next day. Perfectly? Probably not. But hell, football games put a lot of people completely out of commission for days. If yelling is so bad for you, why have I received so many vocal health benefits from it?

So here's my theory as a layman with a laughably insignificant understanding of voice science. My theory is that when the voice is properly strength trained and conditioned that it will begin to function as it was intended to. That is.... when I give my voice the command to get loud using a full sound it engages the most efficient set of muscles and resonances to accomplish that task. When I ask for it to transition across the passagio into the right coordination, it will do that. Not neccisarily because I have good technique but because my voice is strong enough to handle that transition with enough weight, fullness, etc. neccisarily for the task I request of it.

Similar to bench pressing 300 lbs. Am I able to bench 300 lbs because I have a complex understanding of exercise science? Sure, that's part of it. Is it because I am strong enough to bench 300 lbs? My guess is that the ladder bears far more significance than the former.

I'm not at all qualified to say this... but I really do feel that yelling is going to start making it's way into speech pathology training. It's just a matter of time!