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Exploring style: Jazz and blues - Jo Fabro

Devotees of any style of music will spend their entire careers trying to learn, explore and grow within that style. In jazz and Blues, you are expected to not only adhere to specific style elements to achieve a genre-appropriate sound, but also to develop your “own” sound: A sound that is unique to your own voice; your own message; your own truth.

In jazz and blues, the meaning and emotion of the text is paramount. Original melodies and texts are learnt, with singers then improvising their own phrasing & melodic variations. As such, phrasing is swung, and diction is conversational. Registration choices are directed by an emotional connection to the text and improvised musical choices. Blues singers exist largely in M1/chest-voice. Jazz singers frequently transition in to M2/head-voice. Speech-quality phrasing requires a neutral or flexible larynx-height and conversational mouth shapes.

A great place to start is by exploring the warmer and darker vocal tone that is a feature of both jazz and blues.

This warmer tone can be achieved by singing with a wider pharynx. I like to use primal sounds to help singers explore this. My go-to sound is the “lady voice” – taken from a Little Britain comedy sketch.

Pig Head. (2020, October 6). Im a lady - Emily Howard Compilation - Little Britain [Video]. YouTube.

This voice allows singers to be a little silly (which helps to stay relaxed) and to explore a wider pharynx in both chest and head registers. Using a British accent also assists with a darker tone by placing the tongue in a slightly lower and further back position. Alternatively, you can sigh with an “ahhh” with an upwards inflection, once again adding a pompous British accent.

Singers can then explore this sound by:

  1. Speaking the song lyrics in the “lady voice”, making sure both registers are used

  2. Once comfortable, drop the accent and keep the set-up!

  3. Work the sound in to scale work moving through the tessitura

  4. Move onto a song, stopping to reset the vocal tract with step 1 as required

It takes time to become comfortable in this style, so be patient. It is important that singers do not constrict to “get the sound right fast”.

And crucially, you must listen!!!!

Listen to as many versions of your chosen song as possible, sung by different artists. Listen to the way the songs are sung and phrased at different tempos, with di