Music Theatre singers are among the most diverse performers in music. They are often required to sing numerous types of styles including rock, classical, jazz, and RnB.
Having worked with many performers of this genre the common attributes that they are looking for in their voices are usually, belt quality, legit (classical) quality, and some pop sounds (such as cry, phrasing, licks, breathiness).
There are some things that I may not have mentioned in the above list but let’s just extract some and explain what they are, and whether or not they are considered healthy tone production or otherwise.
Belt has become a term synonymous with volume. Among many voice teachers belt has become a bit of a dirty word. But let’s just get to the bottom of why this is a desired voice production for music theatre: it is big, bold, and brassy. It is loud, chesty in its tone, the vowels are WIDE and it usually occurs between a B♭5 and E♭5 for females and E4 and A♭4 for males.
With Speech Level Singing technique you can learn a healthier way to “belt” by making certain that there is a degree of “mix” within your sound. This means that although the overall impression is like a “belt” there is a degree of head voice quality that reduces the impact of singing exclusively in the chest production, which often causes vocal damage.
This style singing songs from an older musical, for example those written by Cole Porter or Oscar and Hammerstein may involve a more classical sound to the voice. This involves a rounder quality in tone and lots of vibrato. The sound produced can be of a headier quality, that is particularly the case for females. The tessitura of the songs (where that are written in the range) for females is more often higher than in contemporary Music Theatre (Eliza in My Fair Lady or Maria in West Side Story ) – both requiring a higher voice type.
Speech level singing technique is derived from bel canto (classical technique) so is very fitting for this style of music. Much time is spent developing a strong sense of vocal registration, bridging and expansion of vocal range.
The recent popularity of pop styles in Music Theatre is demanding that singers need to incorporate more contemporary sounds in their vocal styling. Strictly speaking many of these sounds can be hard work on a voice, especially if you consider that the sounds have to be produced night after night during a run. Compared to pop artists who may only need to make these sounds when in the studio or occasional tours this is a potential hazard for a Music Theatre artist.
Although, Speech Level Singing does not teach things like vocal fry or breathiness, it aims to educate the singer enough so that when the sounds are required (which unbalance the voice) the singer then knows how to get back on track and re-balance the voice. For other style elements like phrasing and licks (musical embellishments) this is often taught by mimicking or breaking down the riffs, delayed and anticipated melody lines. This is a fun part of lessons and not really focused on voice technique as such.
So in summary Speech Level Singing Technique is a really useful way of developing your voice if you are involved in Music Theatre. Here are just a few of the singers who advocate this technique or have studied the technique: Barbara Streisand, Sutton Foster, Bernadette Peters, Josh Groban.