Speech-Level Singing … Taking the High Road

During one of my last posts I talked about Brett Manning and Seth Riggs and this wonderful singing method called Speech-Level Singing.

Today I want to talk further about how this technique is going to change the lives of many singers in the future.

This world is constantly moving forward in ideas, creations and inventions. This is happening at an incredible rate now with our current technology and ability to communicate to everyone all over the world. The educational system cannot keep up. Gone are the days that schools can teach you the “latest” information on a given topic, and that is certainly the case with singing technique.

Singers of the future may actually find it detrimental to their voice to study vocal technique in university. Think about it. Why do we go on and study voice at university? Is it for the prestige so we can put those initials after our name? Is it so we can get a higher paying job? Is it so we can become a vocal teacher? There are many good reasons to go to university and study voice. You will certainly achieve a wealth of information about the history of singing and music in general.

Unfortunately you may not learn about Seth Riggs and Speech-Level Singing (SLS) at university. You will learn about the Bel Canto technique which is what SLS is derived from, and other classical forms of voice, but not SLS. It will take years for SLS to reach universities. In the meantime, singers will continue to graduate from universities and teach voice the way they were taught by their professors. This has been going on for centuries.

Here’s the thing. Most singers, not all, but most singers no longer want to just sing classical music. For a singer to get a job in music theatre or on broadway, a classically-trained voice is not always what the producer is looking for. This is why I say it could be detrimental to go to university for voice. I don’t think singers, in general, realize the implications upon entering university at the age of 19 or 20.

9 thoughts on “Speech-Level Singing … Taking the High Road

  1. I started working with the Singing Success CDs about 6 months ago, and recently contacted a SLS Level 4 vocal instructor to work with. I completely agree that the CDs and books are an excellent resource, but definitely does not replace the need for one on one instruction. Using Singing Success over the past 6 months made a great improvement in my voice…but after 3 lessons with an instructor, I have made even larger leaps and bounds.

    The SLS method is amazing. I normally do my lessons over Skype, because I am in the mid-west, and my instructor is on the west coast. I was lucky enough to be visiting LA last weekend, where I was able to meet my instructor, and Seth Riggs! I am looking at pursuing certification to become an SLS teacher.

    Great blog! I’ll be sure to follow you!

  2. There is only one technique for singing, and that is correct technique, and that is classical technique.

    Everything else is simply style.

    If you go to university and find a good teacher of classical voice, you will learn to sing well, and then you can choose your style.

    You might also find such a teacher somewhere other than a university, and of course, and that is fine too.

    You do realize that Seth Riggs went to university, and that he is actually a proponent of classical technique and bel canto? Just listen to some of his lectures. He himself says that his ideas are not new, and simply another way of describing bel canto.

    So, if you are trying to suggest that university training, or classical training, will prove an obstacle to singing any particular style, then please consider that this is not true at all.

    Seth Riggs has simply given a new name (“speech level singing”) to the same classical pedagogy that has always proven successful for good singing. You could call it whatever you want, bel canto or speech level, anything at all. But the fact remains that there is only one correct pedagogy of singing,and that all great singers are fundamentally doing the same things.

    I do agree that you are right that there are different styles.

    These do require study to master, but they are only affections of the basic vocal technique.

    If I want to sing authentic baroque, I might choose to use less vibrato, That is style.

    If you want to sing “belt broadway” you can use more vocal fold contact (chest voice) and also use less vibrato. That is style.

    If you want to sing country and western, you can use more high resonance and adopt a southern accent. That is style.

    But the basic techniques of balanced registration, balance of air pressure (appoggio), vowel modfication and clear diction, these are the foundations of the building as it were, and must be learned by anyone who wants to sing….well.

    They will not prevent singers from singing different styles,and in fact will make them greater artists.

    This is classical techique, handed down from the centuries,and Seth Riggs is doing that, so of course he is having success,and more power to him.

    But so is any other good voice teacher. There are no secrets to good singing, and anyone who can hear will apprecate the results. In any style.

    • Hi Ken,
      Thank you very much for comment. I understand why you think classical technique is the only correct technique….however, I don’t see it quite as black and white as you do.

      Also, I don’t believe that classically trained singers can sing in other styles as easily as you may. Instead, I see singers all the time who have been taught coordinations that only get in the way, such as using too much air or taking their head voice coordination down too low.

      One reason Speech Level Singing is so popular is because the singer and teacher know exactly what is being accomplished. That is essentially a balanced and smooth transition between registers in an easily-produced speech-level sound. In other words, singing in a mix from the bottom of their range to the top of their range. The focus is taken off of diaphragmatic breathing. But, most importantly the singer is first categorized into a voice type to ensure the correct exercises are being used from the start. The exercises encourage immediate results to counter whatever habits could be in the way of achieving a balanced and healthy sound.

      I write these posts simply to make singers aware. I do not believe there is one correct singing technique. What is pleasing and correct to your ear, isn’t necessarily pleasing and correct to my ear……and both these sounds can be healthy….and both can be created with a different technique.

      There is more and more research being done all the time by the likes of Estill Voice Training and others. It will be interesting to see what unfolds in the next 50 years.

  3. Thought-provoking post, Susan. I agree with some, but as you might expect, not with all 😉

    Maybe I am just living on a different planet, but I am still searching for the Universities, Colleges and Conservatoires that only teach classical singing, that have never heard of SLS or Estill, or that won’t enable singers to sing Pop or Rock.

    What is locally or regionally available can of course differ significantly, also what the individual might have access to, but I find it indeed very black and white that EVERY Uni supposedly only trains classical singing techniques, and that there are no options for commercial music. To paint it like that does vocal education a disservice in my opinion.

    There are numerous possibilities for contemporary singers: Popular music studies, Musical Theatre courses galore! And they DO teach the likes of Estill et al – I had Estill teachers at College over 10 years ago, I had contact to SLS teachers during my vocal studies (and it is still deemed a legit technique by many in the MT world, and that not everyone teaches it is simply down to the fact that not everyone agrees with it).
    I am sometimes a bit at a loss why someone would think the vocal pedagogy at “institutions” 😉 is largely classical – it is simply not true! A lot of rubbish gets taught at Universities in all subjects, true, but that’s down to the individual lecturer/coach, who is often just there on academic merit, or a former performance career, not because they can teach. BUT there are also a lot of good teachers there who absolutely know their stuff, and they don’t all teach Bel Canto!

    Your personal experience might differ, I fully appreciate this. However, if you look around what is being taught at many Unis all over the world, and has been for quite a while, you might be surprised – it’s not all that bad! Again: I appreciate that not everyone has access, but to then generalise is, imho, like saying: “Elephants don’t exist because I’ve never seen one out in the wild 😉

    • I am not implying that only classical is taught at universities. Where did I say that? I am simply stating that singers who want to sing all genres of music need to be aware. There are more and more options for singers all the time. And, I totally agree that the it comes down to the individual teacher.

  4. I understood “Unfortunately you will not learn about Seth Riggs and Speech-Level Singing (SLS) at university. YOU WILL LEARN ABOUT THE BEL CANTO TECHNIQUE (…) AND OTHER CLASSICAL FORMS OF VOICE” as that. As a generalisation, it simply didn’t ring true to me.
    If that’s not what you implied, apologies.

    I agree though, always good to be aware – there’s a lot of wonky advice out there, also at Universities on occasion…

  5. I do not think you understood my post at all.

    I suggest you ask Seth Riggs about his own opinion on the differences between his pedagogy (SLS) and that of classical bel canto. Listen carefully to his responses, and then re-read my earlier post regarding singing technique versus style.

    The point is simply this: classical singing technique aims to take the most simple and direct route to beautiful, efficient singing and……

    everything else is just style,

    Here is an example that may help illustrate the truth I am trying to describe:

    I am also a classical trombonist. I have learned proper trombone technique (which, like singing, is not any great mystery), but I have also played pit, jazz and rock.

    I do not change my basic technique of playing trombone when I play a rock gig.

    I do change my style of playing, however, perhaps slurring some notes, rasping others and pulling a few pitches. Voila, instant rock trombone.

    To suggest that someone needs to go to a special school to learn rock trombone “technique” would be rediculous….

    And so it is for singing.

    Freddie Mercury and Peter Hofmann are both opera singers who had no trouble at all adopting rock style with great success, and used their bel canto roots to make pots of cash screaming away with microphones.

    Please note that I have great respect for Seth Riggs, but from what I have heard from his teachings,he simply teaches classical technique with different terminology and with an open mind to all styles.

    I also have respect for anyone who sings, and hope my comments will not offend anyone. But I do know what I am talking about.

  6. Ken, I totally agree on the technique vs style issue. Technique teaches us how to produce certain sounds in a healthy way. WHICH sounds we pick (brighter/darker/cleaner/grittier/lighter/heavier etc) depends on the genre/is down to style.

    However, and that’s my personal opinion (and I am certainly not alone with this in the vocal pedagogy world), Bel Canto technique does NOT equip the singer with all stylistic choices necessary for a contemporary singer – at least not for all styles, and I agree with Susan on this.
    You might get away with it in lighter Pop, Legit Musical Theatre and Folk, but not e.g. in Death Metal.
    Distortion techniques, Grunts and Growls are nothing that is taught in Bel Canto or classical technique, neither is e.g. an abrupt “register change” something that is deemed generally okay, whilst it is in certain contemporary styles (think e.g. of the Cranberries song “Zombie”).

    You would need to learn to safely produce these sounds, which is absolutely possible as you’ll undoubtedly know if you e.g. read current research. You would need a more contemporary method like Estill or CVT though. Or simply do away with all franchised methods and let common sense and vocal physiology prevail – the latter is the same for everyone, and I don’t need an SLS, Estill, CVT or any other mark on my forehead to teach what simply makes sense. The almost religious enthusiasm with which some of these methods are hailed as the the only truth have, to this very day, always been something that made me keep a safe distance as far as affiliation goes, and I feel I live better that way. I do appreciate however that they have helped other people, and that’s great. Each to their own.

    I am a clasically trained singer to postgraduate level, but the techniques I learned in my Bel Canto training did NOT enable me to do e.g. Musical Theatre heavy Belt – I had to relearn for this. My classical training was valuable, it enabled me to do a lot, but not all, and it actually got in the way in that case, because it is habit-forming (low larynx, lots of tilt, wide pharynx – not a great set-up for Belt). This is not just a style-, but a technique issue, because the technical changes a female singer needs to make for this type of repertoire are NOT taught in Bel Canto. Maybe that’s where the problem lies: “Registration events” (I actually don’t like that expression very much) are very different in the male and female voice, and the changes a male classical singer who wants to belt has to make are minute (!) compared to what a woman in the same situation needs to do.

    To finish: Freddie Mercury never had a singing lesson in his life (at least that’s what he always said), but he had nodules – known fact. Peter Hofmann did classical crossover in my opinion, and that was after his voice started to fail him miserably in his operatic performances: He made that change largely because his operatic career was over. Now, some people like crossover, but a real rock voice is something else in my opinion. So I don’t think either of the singers mentioned had surefire classical technique, nor were they able to convincingly switch between styles on any occasion. That’s just my opinion of course…

    I don’t think (or at least I hope so) that anyone would be offended by these discussions – they brush on very valid and real problems, and ultimately, exchange can only help.

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