No Such Thing as “Classical Training”

How is it that there is no such thing as “classical training”?

It has been written about here many times that “classical training” was all there was for decades if you wanted to study singing. Either you took lessons with a person who taught “classically” or you taught yourself.

Now, however, we have other options. There are several highly regarded training programs (not just mine) for people who want to sing CCM and stay healthy. There is no one way that is universally accepted and some of them are pretty extreme, but that’s what some people want.

If you talk about “classical training”, the only consistent ingredients are breath support (management/control/pressure) and resonance (put the sound somewhere: eyebrows, behind the nose, in the cheekbones, in the masque, forward in the mouth, etc.) or “find the ping/ring” or “project”. These days you hear about matching the harmonics to the formants, but you can only do that with your ears, if you know what those two things are, so that’s tricky.

HOW you accomplish these things is up to each teacher. This is where all the arguments take place. Belly in? No, belly out. Ribs lifted? No, ribs at rest. Jaw dropped? No, close the mouth. Lots of consonants? No, keep them to a minimum. Make the sound “bright”? No, keep it “warm”. Mouth in a smile? No, lips forward and protruding. Larynx in a fixed low position? No, larynx moves around.

On and on.

You get whatever the teacher likes and/or can get you to do.

Is this in any way an organized, clear, universally accepted system? What is it that people have discussed for over 200 years? How does this have anything to do with singing rock and roll? What can one take from the idea that “being classically trained” allows you to sing anything? Really, if we talk about it as if it were a definite something, there is no such thing as classical training.

What there is, is training to get the voice to do certain things on command. Some of them are helpful to classical literature and only to that. There is training to teach the vocalist musical things (legato, even tone, consistent production) that have little to no use in another CCM style. “Operatic resonance”, which varies slightly from person to person, is absolutely not necessary in a jazz or folk artist. Successful rock singers have very strong voices but sing, especially the women,  very differently than classical singers.

It’s time we all talked about “functional training” and let the word classical disappear except to describe the style of music being sung.

I am functionally trained to sing “Broadway legit”, chest/mix, and can belt. That is honest. It is accurate. The behavior of each is unique in my throat. It has nothing to do with singing an aria except when I am actually doing that.

If we could all get it into our heads that there is no such thing as classical training — that training is, in fact, functional and that good functional training is necessary in any style. If we could understand that every style has its own unique parameters and that they should be learned and respected if you want to do the style well, and if we could stop disagreeing on small things and understand that there are a number of ways to use the body well while singing, then we would be in a much better place. If we could stop arguing, for instance, about “breath management” and start to discuss who breathes this way and who does something else, the whole profession would be better off.

If you agree with this, please spread the word. PLEASE.

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4 thoughts on “No Such Thing as “Classical Training””

  1. Really hit the mark with this one. Functional training is functional training. I think that functional healthy singers will gravitate to a style, classical, jazz, r&b that suits their sound and soul. But it the end it all comes down to a
    1. power source – breath
    2. a vibrator – the vocal folds
    3. a resonator – the vocal tract.

    The more we can talk about function the less disagreement we will have, but how do we get to that place? That is the puzzle.

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