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1. An aptitude for listening and imitating a wide range of music

Students can learn a lot through listening and imitating, although imitation should only be used a means to an end.

I know this one may get me in trouble with a number of voice teachers, and with good reason, so please keep reading before writing me off. Let me preface this by saying that I do not believe students should simply copy other singers. Every singer has his or her own unique tone and set of abilities. Some students will very comfortably use a chesty mix (i.e. they will sound like they are belting) up to a high Eb, while others will strain if they try to pull the chesty sound past A above middle C. Imitating another singer too closely may get you into trouble if your voice is simply built differently from that singer.

That being said, students can learn a lot through listening and imitating. I’ve found, for example, that it is virtually impossible to teach vibrato to a student who never listens to singers who use vibrato and who has no interest in the reproducing the sound. If I demonstrate something that sounds foreign to them, it’s an uphill battle getting them to sing that way. This is not to say that someone who has listened to legit Broadway all her life will automatically sing with vibrato, but if it’s a sound she likes, internalizes, and tries to imitate, she will most likely learn to sing in that style much faster than someone who typically only listens to singers whose vibrato is either nonexistent or has been auto-tuned away.

I’ve found that students who are good at listening and imitating other singers are much more likely to play around with their own voices until they’re able to reproduce various sounds. Without my instruction, they’ll instinctively mimic other singers’ vowel modifications and ornamentation. Listening to and imitating great singers in different genres can be a very effective tool for students to begin thinking of different ways to use their voices.

Imitation alone is certainly not what makes for a great singer, even when a singer’s voice is built to sound very similar to the singer’s voice she is imitating. Closely copying another singer does not leave room for a student to develop her own style and feeling behind a song. This is where the hard work and playfulness come in. Ideally, students will use imitation as a jumping off point for being creative with their voices and discovering new things about themselves. I hope I’ve shed some light on what makes a successful student. More importantly, I hope it’s inspired you to buckle down, experiment with your voice, and maybe, just maybe, act a little bit crazy.

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