When first taking voice lessons, every student works on the same thing—the production of sound. Understanding how to produce a quality sound without hurting your vocal instrument is a definite priority. This can take years to master. In my case, it was the only thing I worked on for many years, but at the same time I was perfecting my vocal production, I would have enhanced my training by working on both voice AND rhythm. Rhythm is the next level in becoming a better singer. When rhythm becomes a part of your song, you develop a feel for the music. No beginner singer can understand the feel for a song until they master rhythm.
What is “feel”?
As a teacher, this is difficult to explain as feeling comes from experience. The best way to describe feel is motion. When a singer develops an inner rhythm, feeling a constant beat inside themselves even when no music is being played, the song starts to have motion. If you were to watch a classical violinist, they may thrash their head from side to side as they play to give the music motion. A rock guitarist may lean back to bend a string to give motion to the song. The most effective thing you can do as a vocalist to put motion into your sound, is to put motion into your body. If you move, the song will move. Over a period of time, you will develop a feel for any style of music.
Dental Singing vs. Melodic Singing
Think of the way Celine Dion may sing a song. The melody is smooth and each word is vocally connected. In contrast, Michael Jackson sings completely different, using consonants and nonsense syllables to emphasize rhythm. Neither singer is wrong but both use different vocal tools according to the style of the music. Training your voice to sing both rhythmically and melodically is a necessity in the ever-growing trend of sung performances.To train your voice for melodic singing, the singer focuses on targeting and elongating the vowels with perfect vocal production.
This is not to say that consonants are ignored, however they are not emphasized or inflected in order to not “chop up” the melody. This creates a sound flow that is unending until a breath is taken. To see perfect melodic singing in action, check out prominent barbershop quartets like Keepsake, Acoustix, or Vocal Spectrum. These groups train themselves to sing so the sound never stops, singing vowel to vowel. Solo jazz artists like Ella Fitzgerald and Mel Tormé also use this style in many of their recordings.
Dental singing is the polar opposite of melodic singing. Dental singing relies heavily on word consonants, descriptive words and non-sensical sounds to hit intricate rhythms and create inflection. The sound is forward, bright and each word is over-annunciated, almost spit out. Besides being the King of Pop, Michael Jackson was the king of rhythmic singing. The intricacies of the rhythm he heard in his mind was so complex, he had to sometimes sing non-sensical words to fill the spaces. Not a stranger to melodic singing, as is obvious with songs like “I’ll Be There” and “Heal the World”, Michael’s signature was in dental singing.
Do You Play? Integrate Rhythm into Your Practice!
When I first started teaching, many students told me that they played an instrument. At that time, I never understood how much of a leg up these students had. When learning how to play an instrument, the first thing you study is how to count. Without a tempo in your head, it is difficult to play any instrument. Now when I student tells me they know how to play, I use this in the lesson. Practice both your instrument and your voice together. The choreography of the fingers, diaphragm and vocal muscles is a definite way to get a leg up as a vocalist and develop a feel for the music.