“Mimicking is crucial when you want to learn how to sing.”
What is mimicking?
Mimicking is the act of copying a voice teacher or a professional performer for the sake of learning the correct approach to a song. They key word is approach. Mimicking is about understanding how an experienced singer ‘attacks’ a piece or a particular passage (part of a song).
The idea is not for you to clone the teacher or performer. Rather, we are just looking for the right technique and mental preparation to conquer a vocal challenge. We all have the same basic physiology and musculature. Hundreds of experienced professionals have figured out the most efficient and reliable way to sing, over hundreds of years. It would be wise to listen and learn from the obstacles and landmarks that they experienced. Agreed that there are a range of approaches (Italian vs German school to name but two) but just like there is an established way of learning how to drive, it is too the case with singing. We need to humble ourselves, listen and learn from a pro.
What about YOUR voice?
How you sing in your unique style is totally up to you. Personal expression is a key part of a performers’ signature. In fact, what makes people come and hear you, is your unique take on a song, whether a cover or your actual song. If you sing a song in exactly the same way as someone else, then what is the point of me coming to hear you? You need to inject a bit of YOU, to genuinely make the song your own.
Injecting your own expression relates to the 2 different places where you work on your voice; the teacher’s vocal studio, and your home practice area. (Related: What To Look For in a Voice Teacher and Finding a practice area for singing).
In general, most of the work you do directly with your teacher will be about capturing and learning their technique and approach. When you get back home to your practice area, then you consolidate the technique aspect by focused exercises and working through the song. Then comes the personal expression part.
Example of how to approach a new piece:
In the lesson:
- Teacher sings through the new song once
- Student sings through once, a first attempt
- Passages (part of a song) that the student struggles with, the teacher breaks down into specific vowel approaches, breathing issues, support issues, resonance issues etc.
- Student mimics exact technical approach of teacher for this passage(s)
- Student then sings the whole piece with a special focus on the challenging passages
- Teacher corrects any issues by demonstrating even more subtle nuances or repeating a technique
- Student mimics
- The cycle continues
- Student sings through once, based off fresh impression and recording from the lesson. This too should be recorded
- Student listens, and gauges how close he/she was to the teacher’s version
- Student corrects and listens
- The cycle continues
- Once the student feels good with the level of technique, he/she approaches the expression side of things.
- It’s the same cycle as above, but you are listening for how engaged you are as a Does this rendition grab you?
- Repeat and revise
- The cycle continues…
The difference between Technique and Expression
This leads us to two integral concepts: Technique and Expression.
Let’s look at the world of Art to understand this.
Take a look at this image:
It looks like someone just sketched a random shape and then colored it in like a five-year old. In all probability, they probably did just that. Apparently this is one legit expression of Modern Art and people pay millions of dollars for this type of work. (Check this link out for more of this type of Art’: http://hoaxes.org/archive/permalink/pierre_brassau_monkey_artist)
Take a look at this:
This obviously does not look like someone knocked over a can of paint. It is refined and beautiful. It looks like a piece that demands exquisite talent and hard work. In short, it is a technical masterpiece. But aside from the detail of each brushstroke and choice of color, it has an overall feel of something more than just technical brilliance. It expresses something, it talks to you. Hear you see the pinnacle of artistic expression, when true technique and pure expression collide. This is not something created by a computer, but by a human artist with incredible talent and hear.
Technique and Expression in Singing
Tying it back to singing, we also have such a concept. Extreme technical mastery is required, but without personal expression, we can’t engage and move our listeners.
When we learn a piece, whether it’s pop, rock, classic or any other genre from a master, we mimic the technique.
When we take that technique, and we internalize it and work through the piece, we give it our own signature interpretation. That is Expression. It’s personal and unique to you.
One without the other is a disaster.
Pure technique and no expression? Think cloning of other singers, with no heart or emotional engagement.
Pure expression and no technique? This is amateur singing! We are learning technique so we don’t sound unprofessional.
The marriage of the two, brings about incredible results.
Bon Jovi – Livin’ On A Prayer – Check out this High B and C at 1:35-140. This is right up at the top of the tenor range. He is knocking out full, rounded sustained notes. You need technique to do this, but the expression is off the charts too.
Pavarotti – Nessun Dorma– Look at 2:35-2:55. First of all, to sing this piece with those full, sustained high notes, you need to know what you’re doing technique wise. But look at the emotion in his voice. There’s a reason people would cry when they heard this man sing. Yes, he had a beautiful instrument, but the way he engages with the music is unparalleled. And if you don’t believe me, look at his face @ 2:50 and on!
Bringing it all together
Singing is Art.
As in any aesthetic discipline, there are rules.
Learn and mimic the rules from an expert. Listen and mimic. That’s how you learn how to sing.
Inject your own emotions and experiences around that framework.
Technique + Expression = True artistic expression, which is great singing.
Share this Post