This question has to be addressed because my book is about learning to sing beautifully. Here’s what beautiful singing is. For us as the listeners, it is singing that seems easy and does not make us feel tense when we listen to it. I like popular music (some of it) as much as the next guy. As a young teenager, I listened to Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin. I can still get pretty nostalgic when I hear Dean sing, “That’s Amore.” That was the 1950s. Singers back then mostly sang easily and without strain. That is one thing beautiful singing is not – strained. My days in college were the folk music days, The Kingston Trio, The Brothers Four, and Peter, Paul and Mary. I still love to hear that stuff. Was that great singing? Probably not, but it was an easy use of the voice and the words were meaningful to us youngsters. I truly enjoyed it and still do. It is about entertainment and feelings. It is pleasant, highly enjoyable, and even charming. Beautiful is not the word I would apply to the voices of folk singers in that decade, but I liked them anyway. So far, we define beautiful singing as easy, not tense, pleasant, enjoyable, perhaps charming. If we get all of that from listening to a singer, we have gotten a lot.
Truly beautiful singing, by my way of thinking, is about using the singing instrument in accordance with the way nature designed it to be used, that is, with all the bodily parts that are involved in singing being used correctly. The beautiful voice amplifies itself. It does not require a microphone an inch in front of the lips. Instead, it carries over a large orchestra. It carries from a stage to the back of a theater, no matter how many musicians are in the orchestra. The beautiful voice has vibrato. It is the nature of the voice to vibrate. Anyone who says differently is wrong. The pop singers who do not have vibrato – however much you may like hearing them, however exciting you may think they are – do not sing correctly and, therefore, to my ears, do not sing beautifully.
What I teach is called bel canto. That’s Italian for beautiful song. Beautiful singing has a wide range of pitches (high and low), a wide range of dynamics (loud and soft). People who sing beautifully can sing fast and slow, rarely run short of breath, and have good diction (you can understand the words). They have an even and reliable vibrato on all notes, with the exception being rare cases when the composer wants no vibrato and the singer has to “obey”. They have the ability to sing something called fioritura (another Italian word meaning “flowery”). Fioritura is all those scales and fancy vocal stuff that opera singers often do.
To really make this clear, I should give you a list of people I think sing beautifully, so you can listen. Okay, I will. (It’s at the back.) These are not the only ones that fit this category, just my opinion of some of the best. Other people would give a different list, although some names would be on all lists. The more you listen to beautiful singing, really listen intently, the more you will hear similarities. Those similarities are listed in the paragraph above. Let me interject that music is not to be listened to passively as background noise. When you listen to music, crank up the volume until it sounds like the singer or the orchestra is in the room! Especially do this with great singing. Having said that, I would not recommend that you listen to loud music in your car with the windows rolled up, as young people do. This is dangerous to your hearing and in some places can get you a ticket.
~ Katherine Posner – Singing Coach