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How to Develop Vocal Style

Updated: Mar 6, 2022

Find Your Artistic Voice In Microphone Styles

When it comes to style, voice teachers generally fall into one of two categories. (I'm saying...generally.)

  • We’re classically trained and don’t feel confident about working with the style element of microphone genres, or

  • We’re microphone singers our own selves and haven’t really needed to think about style. We just do it.

If you’re in either of those categories, you might not have a plan for addressing style in your students’ singing, or for helping them develop their own style. But if your student wants to explore their musical voice, both literally and figuratively, you may be the only source of safe space and guidance for that person.


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Finding or developing your style takes certain skills and attributes. Among those attributes are:

  • musical knowledge

  • the ability to discern what you’re hearing

  • curiosity

  • willingness to try uncomfortable things

  • the ability to be vulnerable.

Some singers just have all those things naturally. Most do not. Those people need your help.

In the visual arts, artists are encouraged to experiment. In the visual arts there aren’t mistakes, there are simply ways to discover what works - and works for you - and what does not. Young artists are encouraged to explore many different media, copy, and experiment as they find their artistic “voice.”

In performing arts education, the default training is to be vehicles for creative works; a work created by a composer, playwright, or choreographer.

This is a very different mindset. We, as voice teachers and coaches, have to be aware of that. Because if we aren’t we might not use the right tool for the job.

When we talk about style, it’s helpful to step away from the idea that there’s a “correct” way to sing. Some of the techniques we learned as being correct when we were students ourselves were aimed at being loud in a vocally healthy way. But nobody told you that. They just said: this is the right way to sing.

But microphone styles don’t have to be loud. The microphone gives the singer many choices that they would not have in an acoustic situation. If the singer’s "default" sound is healthy, they can do all kinds of things (things that you may have learned to be wrong!) to affect style in their singing. To wit:

  • They can be breathy, use register breaks, or growls.

  • They can scoop or fry into the beginning of a phrase.

  • They can add melodic embellishments or even change sections of the melody altogether.

  • They can use the accepted style for their genre and also look beyond those style “vocabularies.”

Their voices need to be able to respond to their intention with an ease (ultimately) allows them to be inside the song and the accompaniment.

A couple of things about style.

Most amateur singers don’t really identify style, as such. They decide they like a song, they learn the lyrics and the melody, and they start singing along. At this point, of course, they stop listening. They don’t listen to the performance of the song with a discerning ear. Though they probably love the performance of the song, they’re not really aware of that. That’s where you come in.

Acquiring vocabulary

The most common way to acquire stylistic vocabulary is to copy artists you like. But first, your student has to learn to listen. Listening and copying are powerful tools, one that every professional microphone singer - whether intentionally or not - has used to create their style. Help your students understand that the singers they love are showing them how to use a stylistic vocabulary.

For instance...

Let’s say your young student wants to sing Olivia Rodrigo’s song Driver’s License. They don’t realize that much of what they love about that song is the performance. Your opportunity? Teach them how to listen to a performance and copy it.

In just the first line of her performance of that song, where she sings “I got my drivers license last week just like we always talked about” she uses plosives, scoops, vibrato, low head register, vocal fry, and a short cut-off. All of these are common elements of vocal style for microphone singers. Spend some time with your student listening and copying one line at a time. In their future, this will make a huge difference in how they listen to, and approach performing, a song.

Learning how to listen to the elements of a performance of a song will change them forever as both singers and as music consumers.

Keep it loose

If they aren’t able to replicate certain elements of what they’re hearing, or any of the elements they’re hearing (or if they’re not sure WHAT they’re hearing) please just encourage them. This is new and scary. They’ll need to feel safe to get the hang of it. Help them stay out of the paradigm of things being right and wrong.

Different genres

Once your student knows how to listen, you can introduce different artists and genres to them. This is a great way to expose them to different musical elements and values. With individual students, you can see what they like and steer them toward something new. They love Billie Eilish? Great! Introduce them to Joni Mitchell or Lana Del Rey! They love Bruno Mars? Have them learn something by Prince or Stevie Wonder! If you don’t feel competent to do that, please use the website (Type in the artist, click the tab that says “related” and you’ll see their list of artists that are similar, and artists that influenced the artist you’re looking at.)

Plan for a microphone recital

To have fun introducing your students to a genre (as well as becoming something of an expert yourself) theme a recital around a specific genre. Motown, for instance. Or songs by singer-songwriters, contemporary country, or 70’s R&B.

Doing this:

  • Provides a great learning opportunity for everyone

  • Makes your job a little easier

  • Gives you things to communicate about with them via social media and email

  • Lets you encourage the use of stories about the history, artists, or songs in the presentation

  • You can help your student become aware of what are the values in this type of music, what we focus on when learning this genre.

If this is interesting, or if you recognize this way of approaching style as something that will benefit your singers, feel free to download the study guide below! And...have some fun!

Meredith Colby, July 2021


Meredith Colby is available for private voice and

vocal coaching, as well as classes, seminars

and workshops. Click here to get more information.


Meredith Colby is available for private voice and

vocal coaching, as well as classes, seminars

and workshops. Click here to get more information.


Here's your FREE "Study Guide" download:

Exploring Styles in Different Genres

This free guide breaks it down. If you've never felt confident helping your students develop style in their singing, this guide will walk you through it. Tools, steps, and ideas for the process of developing style.

#meredithcolby blog post and video about how to develop #vocalstyle. This post is directed at #voiceteachers and #vocalcoaches to help them help their #voicestudents develop a #uniquevoice and #artisticvoice even if the the teacher or coach doesn't feel confident about how to do that. Meredith is a #voicecoach, a #vocalcoach, and a #voiceteacher from #chicago. She helps #voiceteachers and #vocalcoaches teach for #popularstyles and #microphonestyles by teaching privately, supplying helpful content, and offering a #certificationclass in #neurovocalmethod

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