Blues singing seems very far from the kind of vocal styles you’d think would need classical training — opera, art song, musical theater — but you’d be surprised at how much basic vocal techniques overlap! I strongly believe good singing technique is useful for every style, not just classical singing. Proper vocal technique is all about health, efficiency, and sustainability. Singing with healthy vocal technique can ensure you can keep singing your entire life and is likely what contributed to some of these blues singers’ long and successful careers.
Blues singing is marked by simplicity, authenticity, and repetition over a 12-bar Blues chord progression. The main components of healthy vocal technique are a focused and resonant (not airy) sound, supported air, and a lack of tension in the neck, jaw, and shoulders. Here are some examples of popular blues singers who show signs of healthy singing technique.
Muddy Waters, the “father of modern Chicago Blues”, has such a relaxed and resonant voice here! He keeps a tall, balanced posture even while playing guitar and never shows signs of vocal strain.
Valerie Wellington actually trained as an opera singer before transitioning to a blues career in Chicago. Here she incorporates lots of growling techniques (which are admittedly not classical in nature) and there’s no doubt her training came in handy to keep this sound healthy and sustainable!
Aretha Franklin makes singing look and sound so easy! The casual, speech-like quality of her voice reminds me a lot of contemporary Musical Theatre, and her top notes sound like such a healthy bright mix! Just like Muddy Waters, her posture looks so balanced and comfortable, which can be an added difficulty when playing an instrument and singing at the same time.
Here’s Ray Charles late in his career still sounding so vocally healthy! He shows great physical freedom and relaxation as he sings.
These blues singers teach us that sustainable singing can lead to long and healthy music careers and that good technique is applicable to all styles of singing!