In all styles of music, spending lots of time listening to and imitating artists of all eras – not just the current stars – will help you build and develop your own style. If you have a strong lower register, a strong upper register, a good connection between the registers, the ability to sustain pitch with vibrato, adequate power, vocal flexibility and good pitch, you can imitate any artist out there.
You develop these skills by working on your own voice and developing your vocal chops, learning and implementing the style conventions, and then listening, listening, listening; imitating other artists as closely as you can. Over time, you will begin to hear how often talented singers use every one of the style conventions you have learned.
When your voice is developed and working well, you will be able to execute the same stylistic devices – high notes, runs, emotion and authenticity – that successful artists have at their disposal. After that it’s a matter of immersing yourself into the style you love so much that it becomes who you are, like an actor who immerses him or herself in a character.
Babies and children imitate the sounds they hear when learning to speak in order to acquire language. But every adult person has a unique way of putting those sounds, words and phrases together to express themselves and communicate. As musicians and singers, we acquire the language, phrases and conventions of the music we are drawn to in the same way.
No two singers ever sound exactly alike; every singer uses the building blocks of riffs, runs, scales and other style conventions in their own unique way to express emotion and to communicate with their audience. Let your own sense of style and what feels right for you develop through the following steps:
Vocalize Every Day
Develop your vocal instrument to its full potential so your voice can execute anything you call upon it to do.
Listen, Listen, Listen
Listen to all kinds of music. You can learn something from just about everything you listen to, even if it is just deciding that a certain sound, quality or approach is not for you.
Imitate the Greats
See how close you can come to the phrasing, tone quality, dynamic control, riffs and runs, and consistency of the best singers. Sing along with them while recording yourself, and then listen back to analyze. This is how you will learn the ‘tools of the trade’.
Experiment with Style
Experiment with many different styles, from jazz to R & B to country. You may not consider yourself an R & B singer, and may not want to become one. However, picking up some of the nuances and idioms of the style will bring a great deal to your singing.
Most music today is crossover, borrowing elements of other styles, making it important to be able to sing them all.
Make Your Own Interpretations
Once you have imitated and absorbed the conventions and style choices of other singers, it’s time to begin to make some interpretational choices of your own. To avoid copying another artist’s choices, this often works best on original songs that have not been cut yet. Or, you could try re working a song that is a hit.
Take the song phrase by phrase, and begin with the emotion of the song. What feeling does that phrase of music inspire? Be specific.
Once you know how it makes you feel, you can begin to make some choices about how to portray that feeling. Now use the tools you have acquired to create a mood with your voice. Try shading with vocal colors, try using dynamic contrasts and try some riffs that fit the style of the music.
You now have at your command all the tools you need to make your interpretation of any song one of a kind! Keep working with these tools until they are a natural part of your musical repertoire – until they come as easily as saying “I can sing with style!”