Margareta Svensson Riggs
Judging someone’s voice
Updated: Mar 24
The first time we meet someone, we know within a minute exactly where they are at vocally and what needs to happen for them to get to where they need to be, regardless of where they are professionally.
I wanted to address a couple of questions we got that were similar on the topic of judging someone's voice.
“I'd be interested in knowing how you spot potential in a voice, or tell right away that they're in for a lot of work to get where they want to be.”
“How do you find talent in someone's voice?”
If it's a singer needed for a project they will be judged on where they are at vocally right there and then. But for the most part we work with singers to develop their abilities, and what we hear is just a starting point.
In a session with us, minute 5 will be different from minute 55. We just had someone the other day, first session, we wanted to assess him on a five-tone scale on ah and demonstrated it for him, plus played it on the piano. He sang in falsetto and nowhere close to the pitch. Less than an hour later we had him sing parts of "The Way You Make Me Feel" in strong mix, original key, right on pitch.
Everyone can learn vocal technique. But not everyone is musical. And musical talent varies, some are more musically talented than others. As you can imagine then, the best voice is not always the best singer. The best singers are the ones who have great vocal technique paired with great musicality. Of course, the quality of the voice matters, but not until the other two factors are in place.
It is exciting for us to work with artists who already have big careers because so much is already in place. Perfecting their vocal technique, even if the changes seem minimal, will make a huge difference for them, they might have never had it fully, or they might have had it and slipped. Getting back to great form will give them longevity, ability to give concerts and not get hoarse, keep the keys they recorded in etc. etc. The difference is total and complete for them, aha-moments, and more or less instantaneous, even though continuous training is, as for everyone, the way to then keep it going.
For us, regardless of where someone is at, from beginner to superstar, it is important to make the singer experiences correct vocal technique in the first session, what that feels like and how well it makes everything work. It may even seem easy for someone who has never done it before, because we lead them to it. But for someone to be able to keep it, they need to keep training correctly. There is sometimes a misconception that one session is enough and they can now go back to where they came from and all will be good. That is simply not it. Or someone checks in once every few years for “tips.” We don’t give tips, we build voices.
How long will it take before someone can sing with proper technique? It depends on old, bad habits. Former training that might be very ingrained and work against what needs to happen. Issues with the voice, including damage that needs repair, and then learning proper technique. It has a lot to do with musicality. The more musical someone is, the more accurate they will be able to mimic what we demonstrate and perfect the exact way of doing what we are looking for and what needs to happen. If the singer then spends hours every day practicing correctly - correctly - between sessions with us, it will show results quickly. If on the other hand someone practices just a little, and then goes out and sings in the old manner, then it is one step forward and one step back.
We work daily in moments of excitement for each singer who advances and gets what we teach more and more right all the time. In our spare time we don’t really listen to singers who don’t sing technically well, because the whole time, we go moment by moment and mentally note what they should have done that they didn’t do. We also take on their voices, our voices feel what their voices feel, and it can be quite tiring.
So, in other words, we don’t walk around looking to “spot potential in a voice.” Everyone has potential. And “talent in a voice…?” It isn’t in the voice that the talent itself is located. The voice is just one place to express one’s creative and musical talent. And if you are very musically talented but lack proper vocal technique, you will be frustrated and limited to how much you can express your talent. That is why you need to be the best that you can be, vocally.
There are those on the other hand, who’s musicality isn’t strong, and unless it is a passion and a personal choice to sing, those who’s talent actually isn’t of a musical kind would find more satisfaction being creative in another area. But first make sure the apparent lack of musicality isn’t because of poor or no vocal technique. It is not totally unusual that we get someone who is off pitch because they have no concept of or understanding for correct breathing and support. There are others who are constantly flat because they bring up too much chest voice. Once we have helped them technically, it can be like finding a treasure you never knew was there.
Most of the time though, someone who is very musical is usually very used to working around their vocal issues, concealing them.
For those who are obvious talents to their surroundings but haven't made it yet, don’t make the mistake thinking that your talent alone will take you to where you want to go. To succeed you need to be the best of the best. The same goes for those who have made it but struggle. You want your career to last. A great jockey needs a fast horse to show his talents, a great pianist doesn't necessarily do his best work on a 76 key-synthesizer keyboard. Make sure you develop your vocal technique so that your musical talent can shine through your voice.