One reason for the furrowed brows when mentioning popular music in some institutions is that many singers who record and make these songs popular have had no training at all. But that doesn’t mean there is anything wrong with the music. A lot of it is marvelous. It’s not all good, though, just like music written in any style is not all good. Traditional styles just happen to have had more time to screen out the bad material.

Another rarely admitted reason for the lack of attention to popular music is that most teachers, quite simply, can’t teach it. Although basic vocal technique is, or should be, the same for all types of music, the stylistic requirements for popular music are beyond their own background as teachers. Interpretation of popular music is a very personal matter, with no hard-fast criterion for judging the successful performance of a song in that style. Tone quality and phrasing is determined by the singer. Often a teacher will avoid his lack of ability in this area by saying that the student should learn the “right way” first, and then sing the songs they want later, implying that any singing that isn’t opera or lieder is a prostitution of the vocal art. Their usual methodology – badgering students about diction, breathing, tone color, posture, etc. – which may be barely tolerated in the “classical” idiom, does not apply at all to popular styles such as country, rock, jazz, blues, and gospel.

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