"Don’t copy other singers."
This has been espoused and preached, as if it were an absolute and immutable truth. Is it?
Only with a caveat.
The problem with “Don’t copy other singers” is it is non-specific as to what, of a thousand or more aspects of a voice. Unless you are an actor or a voice actor or a comedian, it might not be the best idea to imitate, as closely as possible, another’s voice. The main reason for this is that you might do something that causes you to strain your voice. The closest identical voices would be found in identical twins, maybe. They may have the same vocal folds, pharynx, nasal cavity and other similar or identical physical vocal and resonating apparatus. To copy another singer, you would have to manipulate your mouth and tongue and vocal folds to try to duplicate or approximate another’s sound. I can do some voices and started this in the 5th grade of elementary school, discovering I was quite good at it. I don’t do it as a regular thing, but it is fun to try. I personally never strained my voice doing this because I do have an aversion to pain and to hoarseness. I just cannot recommend doing this, yourself. I can recommend something else. I got this from the late great Clark Terry, a jazz trumpet player and singer. It's a process and it works quite well. Here we go:
What could or should be “copied” are other things than the exact and precise sound of another person’s voice. You can greatly shorten the time of the learning curve by copying some very specific things in a voice of a singer, as long as your usable range matches that of the singer (or can be done an octave away, comfortably). Some things you can emulate are:
· Note duration
· Dynamic variation
That is a lot, isn’t it? What you might gain from doing this with recordings of singers is some of the qualities of professional singers. If your ability to duplicate and to analyze objectively is strong, you can speed up your progress. You do not want to become a “copycat”, unless you are doing and act or making a living at being an impressionist or impersonator. There are people who make a good living doing this, such as impersonators of: Sinatra, Cher, Elvis, or others. I know some who do this in Las Vegas, they enjoy it and are paid well for it. I can do few singing voices, also but usually as a joke or to have fun.
What if you can and do take advantage of being able to emulate other singers’ professional aspects? Does it end there? No. Some people vehemently are so against being a unique individual that they completely miss the skill involved in professional singing. They do sound unique. They are individuals but to the extent that they sound horrible and no one wants to hear them sing. I know of some graduates of universities who try to sing with an operatic sound and it is more abrasive than a cat fight, to listen to. It is amazing that a person can have a degree in music IN VOICE and sound disgusting or insane or horrible or sing out of tune but it can and does happen. The step after emulate is to assimilate. Own it. Own it as if it was yours from the beginning, but it doesn’t end there!
The final step in the journey of being a great singer is to innovate. What new thing or things can you do? You don’t want to change every single note or the melody gets lost. The exception is if you’re improvising jazz. You may not need or want to change a lot but there are things you can experiment with. You can change some notes, you can add some notes, , you can omit some notes, you can change the timing, the phrasing, the dynamics, the rhythm, you can add silence, you can speed up or slow down time and/or try many other things. You can change the emotion or emotions of a song. This is a huge range of possibility. From your emulating step, you may have picked up on stylistic tendencies which are typical or standard. It is even better to emulate a few or many singers and to learn even more in so doing. You’ll discover some parameters of what audiences can find beautiful or acceptable or tolerable or offensive or disgusting or unacceptable or intolerable. You don’t want an audience walking out on you. It can happen even to the best. Between songs, a man was walking, leaving one of Sinatra’s performances. Frank said, “Five will get you ten he doesn’t make it to the bathroom in time.” Frank could get away with saying that and it is funny but it isn’t funny to a performer when a person walks out.
Objectivity is an ability that every singer must have in order to analyze and to improve. You must hear yourself (use a recording) to know if you are doing what you intend to do and without being hypercritical. I tell people to be analytical, not critical. There is a difference! Too big or too small of an ego can also be a problem. If you think you’re great but you’re not, that is a problem. If you think you are terrible but you’re not, that’s also a problem. If you can be objective, you’ll know where you really stand. If you cannot be objective, yet, get with someone who is a kind but honest professional and ask for help. Some will charge for this and it may be well worth the money spent.