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Vocal techniques for pop singers.

The Vocal Techniques Pop Singers Need to Know ⏱ 3 mins

Help singers develop their own unique pop sound and artistry by exploring these five vocal techniques with them.

Do your students dream of becoming the next Dua Lipa, Billie Eilish or Ed Sheeran? Or perhaps they aspire to land a role in a contemporary musical like SixHamilton or & Juliet.

Whatever their long-term ambitions, it’s a safe bet that understanding how to create pop’s distinctive sounds will come in handy in their career.

As versatility equals employability, being able to navigate the contemporary genre opens up opportunities, be it as an artist, MT performer, cruise ship singer or function band vocalist.

“These days, singers are expected to be vocal chameleons; that’s the gold standard,” says professional vocal coach Hannah Smikle, speaking on the Singing Teachers Talk podcast.

“That’s why I encourage my singers to have a toolbox from which they can choose various options to align themselves with a particular genre or sound.”

The rules of pop

The beauty of pop is that it affords singers more flexibility than other genres. “You can explore and celebrate your vocal identity and build around your vocal tone and nuances,” Hannah says.

“You don’t have to iron out your break, for instance, whereas that would be highly unacceptable in other genres.”

There’s really only one rule: deliver authentic emotional intensity. “When I go to a gig, I want to feel something; I want to be moved and see into that person’s soul and experience a beautiful connection.”

So how can students go about developing their pop sound? Hannah suggests starting here.

Five vocal techniques for pop singers

1 Vocal fry 

“I love a bit of fry; it’s a great tool to use on onsets and offsets. They are a fantastic way of dirtying something up. It’s a little disruption to the sound; it takes a bit of the polish off.”

2 Glottal onsets

“If you’re doing something a bit more rap-like and you want to energise your consonants and have a bit more bite, then you could use a glottal onset,” Hannah says.

“They don’t have to be heavy – we don’t need to cough up our larynx when we’re closing our vocal folds. But having a little firmness sporadically, within reason, can be useful and help create emotion and intensity.”

3 Pitch gliding

Hannah is a big fan of pitch gliding (also known as scooping or swooping) up to notes, especially when combined with vocal fry. “Also, pitch gliding off offsets, this sort of note drop-off, is quite popular within pop music. It’s about having more freedom with a melody and allowing your sense of flow.

4 Cry voice

“I like to use crying sounds,” Hannah says. “You hear it sometimes in musical theatre and all the way through pop – you know, whining divas. It adds emotional intensity, and can be really helpful.”

5 Riffing

“We hear riffing a lot in contemporary music, even if it’s something as simple as a three-note run or a semitone step up,” Hannah says. “Going up to bigger notes, and then also coming off notes or a sustained note, you might hear a three-note little rundown. An artist like Jessie J does them quite naturally.”

Learn more about vocal techniques for pop singers

Listen to the full podcast to hear:

  • The importance of mic technique in pop music.
  • The vocal techniques that need to be treated with caution.
  • If you have to be able to belt in pop.

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