The Importance of Diverse Repertoire for the Singer
Every singer comes into lessons with an intention. Sometimes those intentions are very specific: I want to be on Broadway one day. Other times, they're more open-ended: I like singing and I want to get better at it. Regardless of their goals, after close to a decade of teaching, I have learned to cater to a variety of student ambitions. Universally with each student, it is my job as a voice teacher to make them grow and improve. The journey may look different for each student, and the degree and intensity to which growth is required may vary, but I've found that the best way to create a technically-strong and artistically well-rounded singer is through diverse repertoire. Students need to learn how to sing all kinds of music in order to succeed. Here are four benefits of diverse repertoire for singers.
1. Cross-Training is Part of A Healthy Vocal Regimen
Cross-training is when a singer works on pieces that are contrasting genres or styles at the same time.
Your voice is a muscle. And training all ends of your range makes it more agile. What’s more, your range will grow and strengthen the more you continue to exercise it. Like any muscle, a healthy but rigorous regimen will produce the most effective results in the fastest time.
So many singers come to me with a specific person they want to sound like and become frustrated when I work on material with them that doesn’t seem to connect back to their immediate goals. What they often don’t realize is that the sound they want requires more than what they’re hearing. Sometimes the singer they idolize has a strong foundation already established in both their higher range and lower range. They’ve been cross-training behind the scenes. This is why they can belt to the stratosphere without vocal damage. For these students, I have to convince them that the journey to sounding like their favorite artist is a marathon, not a sprint.
Sometimes I have singers that don’t believe they need to cross-train because they can imitate a singer right off the bat. This can be the most dangerous of all. Without training the voice properly, the vocal muscles do not have the stamina to sing that way for long and this can cause irreversible damage in some cases. For these students, I often encourage their enthusiasm by giving them pieces in the style they enjoy while also giving them challenging work on the complete opposite end of the stylistic spectrum.
Finally, the most challenging students to work with in the cross-training setting are those that resist the work. They don’t believe they should be singing high or singing low, and they question whether it’s safe. I would never put a student’s vocal health in jeopardy. And often the problems a student with limited range struggles with (voice cracks, inconsistent or uneven tone, breathiness) are things that cross-training solves.
Bottom Line: Cross-trained singers make better singers.
2, Exposure to A Variety of Styles Helps You to Understand What You Like
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had a student that has fallen in love with a genre that they were introduced to in lessons. The most common culprit: classical music! I have pop and musical theatre students that adore art songs and arias. They’ve discovered new colors and textures to their voice and developed a more rich musical taste.
I also have students that have developed a love for different time periods within their favorite genre. Sometimes a student may love Ariana Grande, but may not know Whitney Houston’s work. Sometimes a student may have a penchant for Billie Eilish, but have their mind blown when I show them Carole King, Fiona Apple, or Janis Joplin.
My job as a voice teacher is not just to cater to the songs a singer likes, but to broaden their horizons to potential inspiration in the form of artists and works they’ve never been exposed to before.
3. Well-Rounded Singers Are More Marketable
The reality is that singers need to do it all now to make a career in this business. If any of my students are serious about pursuing a career in the arts, I make it mandatory for them to learn a little bit of everything. I especially require students to know a broad spectrum of pieces within their specialized genre.
Without fail, I have seen incredible singers in college auditions stumble because they only know how to do one thing. I’ve had students go into an audition and belt like the pros with excellent technique. As soon as they complete their audition set, the faculty hosting the audition always asks for a head voice piece. There is too much competition to be good at just one thing. You can have a specialty, but you need to show you’ve worked hard to be versatile.
4. Learning All Kinds of Music Makes You An Interesting Person
Not everyone wants to be a professional musician. Some people come into lessons and they just want to sing Frozen, or Ed Sheeran, or Dear Evan Hansen. We all have our favorite styles of music to sing. I love to belt Sutton Foster at the top of my lungs whenever I’m given the chance! Even with these students, I challenge them to open up to new things. Every piece of repertoire you are exposed to helps you to perceive the world in a new way and develops your greater understanding of music as a whole.
Contrary to the saying, music is not a universal language. Music varies greatly from culture to culture, style to style, genre to genre, and technique to technique. And you become more fluent in the many languages of music, and the arts as a whole, when you discover new music.
If I could give one bit of advice to all students pursuing singing it's this: trust the process and trust your teacher. Chances are, they have what's best in mind for you as an artist and vocalist.