Crossover singing commonly refers to classical singers who achieve success in a different style - usually contemporary. It can also refer to singers that work in styles other than those in which they were originally trained. These singers know firsthand what a significant challenge this can be. We spend years training our mind and body to be conditioned to specific muscle activity, sensations and attitudes associated with our most practiced style. So here are some ideas to begin to change those habits and broaden your style palette!
1.Listen, listen, listen!
In order to know what is required of us to sing in a particular style, we need to listen to the experts in that style. Having a clear understanding of the style, especially in terms of breath management, stylisms, common use of registers and tone is the first step in mastering a new genre.
2. Know your voice first: Knowing your strengths and limitations will allow you to choose the right repertoire or artists to train in the crossover style. For example, my voice is naturally light and high, so when choosing rock repertoire, I model my technique on youthful sounding singers such as Hayley Williams from Paramore or Avril Lavigne. Trying to sound like Suze de Marchi from Baby Animals wouldn’t make as much sense as she sings in a much lower range and has a naturally darker tone. The higher, brighter option is much more achievable for my voice type.
3. Nail the key: Choosing your key is often a balance between what is right for you, what is right for your voice type and how to remain authentic to the style. For example, jazz is generally more authentic if you can sing mostly in your comfortable speaking range. You may have a low voice like Nina Simone or a higher one like Anita O’Day. Listen to the song to determine the “tessitura” or where the majority of the pitch lies, the lowest and highest notes, then adjust according to your range.
4. Step out of your comfort zone:
A classical singer attempting rock, could start by singing “Sweet child of mine” by Guns and Roses in a light classical style. Crazy I know! Take note of what you had to change or what was similar. How dramatic were the differences? Then try singing something like “Caro mio ben” by Giordani in a rock style. This will help clarify what style characteristics belong to each style and allow you to pull them out later when needed.
5. Tailor your warmups Start off on the right foot by using your warm-up to solidify the stylistic techniques you want in your performance. For example, melismatic passages in R&B songs often use minor blues patterns in different combinations of melody and rhythm. As a starting point, experiment by singing in these modes both in linear and arpeggio patterns, then mix things up a little any way you like!
6. Record yourself: How we think we sound is very different to when we hear a recording of ourselves. Recording our practice is an amazing learning tool that allows us to really hear the stylistic nuance of our voice. Want an extra tip? A always record in the same conditions with no effects or EQ on your voice. Scary - but you’ll be able to hear more clearly whether you are singing authentically in the style.
New styles can be intimidating but we all have to start somewhere. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes. Trying crossover singing is fun and can make us more versatile singers just by exploring other styles. So, have fun, try stuff and good luck!
About the author
Sue Carson is a professional singer, multi-instrumentalist, and academic. With 30 years of performance, teaching and music industry experience, Sue’s roles and styles cover classical to bluegrass and many more in between. She is in the last year of her doctoral study which is investigating the skills and attributes required to sing across numerous styles and maintains an active performance and recording portfolio.
ANATS is the peak professional association for singing teachers in Australia. We help teachers of any style of singing to be the best they can be, by provide professional development, advocacy and community for singing teachers and other voice professionals across Australia.
We welcome members from all musical cultures, vocal styles and singing or teaching environments.
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