To Pop or Not to Pop

That is the question.  A lot depends on what pop music is to you.  As an older singer, to me it is Doris Day and Frank Sinatra and Tony Bennet and Perry Como and Dean Martin and Johnny Mathis and Andy Williams. (I’m a girl. I liked the guys’ singing better.)  Singers of the 50s and early 60s sang easily. There was no strain, no vocal stress.  Even when the Beatles and other 60s bands came to my attention, they did not seem strained and unpleasant so I liked them, too.

But, gradually, singing showed a harder sound.  Perhaps as societal life got
harder, the voices of pop singers got more and more strained sounding and I did not like it.  At the time, I did not know why exactly. I had never taken a singing lesson. I did not know what was happening in pop singers’ throats as they sang.

Then I went to college and (long story) I took a course in classical singing.  Four
years of classical singing taught me a lot. I thank you for reading while I tell you what I learned. I will not ask you to digest every facet of how the voice works. If any readers want to know, they can ask. I will give you the bare bones.

Singing is done from the throat – no surprise there.  You have a larynx, two vocal cords and, attached to those, a tongue. This set of singing (and talking) parts helps you make sound. Like most physical things, there is a right way and a wrong way to use the singing parts.  Athletes are very particular about using their bodies for minimum strain and maximum muscular efficiency.  Singers should do the same. Some do. Some don’t.

The singing muscles come in two varieties, the ones who work to make soft and sweet sounds and help us sing high, and the ones who work to make powerful sounds and help us sing low.  We develop these muscles very much the same way athletes do. They go to the gym, lift weights, do squats, whatever is necessary depending on their sports.  Their goal in separating out and developing the various muscle sets is to make them strong. Then they are taught to use them together to accomplish their sports goals.

We do (or should do) the same thing when we take lessons. We use the sounds that each set of muscles makes to get them to develop and do an efficient job. Then we teach them to work together. When this is accomplished, we can sing loud and soft, high and low, and also do something singers call “coloring the voice,” making it sound happy or sad or angry, or other feelings.

Many pop singers these days seem not to be concerned with the goals I stated above. They appear to be interested in sounds that are more raucous and, in my view, unpleasant. This kind of singing is thought of as exciting but voices do not last long singing that way. How many pop singers have to leave tours, stop singing for a while because their voices are strained? It is considered just part of being a popster.  It is not. Singers can offer power and excitement without ruining their voices.

There are several results from singing pop music the way it is done today.

  1.  A “gravely tone” in both speaking and singing.
  2.  As mentioned above, all sorts of physical problems in the throat that often require a doctor’s care.
  3.  Sometimes, the strain is so much that the throats of these singers can bleed and they must be totally silent for a time to heal.

Singing based on proper function of the vocal mechanism can be applied in popular music but in ways that are not dangerous and do not damage the voice. Pop singers that have experienced vocal strain need to take themselves to teachers who understand vocal function and can help them avoid trouble. For more information please continue to read this website.