What is speech level singing

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There is a trend in the voice teaching of pop, rock, and Broadway styles of singing today that many call speech level singing. What does this term mean and what is the true story behind this movement toward speech level singing? In actual truth, speech level singing is a contradictory term. Healthy singing requires much more opening of the acoustical space than speaking. Opposite to what many book publishers would like you to think, there is NO grid of exercises that will solve all the vocal issues of any individual singer.
Responsible professional vocal coaches can tell you that every singer needs individualized instruction and there is no formula to fix vocal problems. Nor is there one formula that will help someone become a polished singer using learning media. Some media is more effective than others, but any good teacher will tell you that nothing replaces an excellent vocal professional.
Every individual uses different levels of correct or incorrect speech patterns in the act of language expression. Therefore, basing an entire technique on speech level is only as effective as the correct speaking habits of that individual singer or amateur. Admittedly, there can be benefits in approaching the belt voice with this concept for the simple reason that it lessens the pressure on the larynx. Defining speech level singing is easy, it is really simply words on pitch, but this does not constitute a complete technique for healthy singing. Considering the incorrect speaking habits of many individuals and the fact that speech requires less acoustical space than singing, it only makes clear sense that this approach can have some large missing pieces of instruction.
Historical Background:
Speech level singing is an approach that has actually existed for years in private teaching studios in New York, but today’s marketing experts have given it a name or label and many have benefited financially from this label, a label that insinuates THE correct way of approaching singing or THE vocal knowledge. This is a great marketing ploy and it really fools many people into thinking this is THE way to approach contemporary styles of singing. If you look at singers from the 1950’s, most of them used what today is called speech level singing. From Sinatra to Elvis to Ella Fitzgerald, these singers used a contemporary style without using tremendous pressure on the larynx. Definitely lyricism of style invited a lighter approach in using chest register. However, in the 1960’s when the rock musicals came to Broadway, the heavy belting began to develop as a trend; one that cost many singers their vocal health AND their careers. The result was a tremendous amount of business for the throat doctors.
In truth, speech level singing has been around as long as theater stage singing has existed to one degree or another. What defines the concept of speech level singing and what are the pitfalls and the benefits? First of all, it is CRITICALLY important to investigate deeply before seeking any type of instruction? What are the benefits, BUT even more importantly, what are the DANGERS? It is a safe training, or can there negative damaging effects?
Benefits and Drawbacks
Learning speech level singing is a technique of instruction where the singer is instructed to use less vocal energy in approaching the act of singing (especially belting), an approach from which many belting singers may benefit. Singing is often compared to the energy and lightness of speaking and if a singer has a history of heavy belting or of placing tremendous breath pressure and/or muscular tension on the larynx while singing, this approach can lessen the tension. This lighter approach to belting helps to develop an approach that encourages less vocal cord mass. At this point, the singer can learn to mix more head voice into his/her production. This lessens the wear and tear on the voice considerably, although it does not create enough acoustical space to fully protect the throat. The operative term in using this approach is “damage control”.
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