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. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G5ykpBEy95I
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:
Speaking the song lyrics in the “lady voice”, making sure both registers are used
Once comfortable, drop the accent and keep the set-up!
Work the sound in to scale work moving through the tessitura
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 different dynamics, feels and sometimes different time signatures. Listen to the way the dark tone quality changes slightly from person to person because every voice is different; and by exploring this set-up you will be well on your way to finding your own unique sound in the style of jazz and blues.
About the author
Jo Fabro is a singing-voice specialist with 20-years experience, who operates a thriving private studio in Waterloo. Jo has performed as a vocalist across Australia and internationally and holds a Bachelor of Music from UNSW and a Master of Music-Vocal Pedagogy, from Brisbane Conservatorium of Music (Griffith University). Jo currently teaches the ‘Contemporary Singer’ and ‘Contemporary Vocal Studio’ courses at the Sydney Conservatorium Open Academy & is the Vice-president of the NSW chapter of ANATS.
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.
We are committed to building an inclusive culture that encourages, supports, and celebrates the diverse voices of our industry.