There are many different types of vocal technique and musical genres. But it can be tricky to cross over from one to another, especially when they are very different styles. So, can opera singers sing pop, or are they limited to classical music?
You can certainly learn how to sing pop – for classical singers, this might take practice, but your strong technique will stand you in very good stead. There are several well-known artists who have made the bridge back and forth between the two worlds.
We reveal which famous singers are classically trained and how you can adapt your vocal style to fit a totally different sound. This will make you more versatile and in demand as a performer.
How to sing pop for classical singers – and can opera singers sing pop?
In recent years there’s been a rise in operatic pop as a genre. Groups like Il Divo and Amici Forever and soloists like Paul Potts and Russell Watson have made opera cool. It makes sense that many of these singres have used their fame to crossover into the world of pop, proving that it can be done. But they often have to work on their technique to adapt their sound to fit. If you want to sing pop as an opera singer, you can. And you can always throw an operatic section into a pop song to add another dimension.
What is the biggest difference between classical and pop singing?
Classical singing technique
The main difference is that you don’t have to be trained to be a pop singer. The classical sound is generally richer and fuller with more vibrato and crisp diction. Pop is less formalised and enables the singer to develop their own style and sound.
I can sing opera but not pop – can an opera singer sing pop really?
Yes! It just takes a bit of getting used to. You’ll need to learn to make a distinction between your chest and head voice and not sustain notes for such long periods. But you definitely are capable of producing a pop sound. It helps to listen to lots of pop, to get into the vibe. As an opera singer, you’ll have loads of power. Use that to belt out some impressive and dramatic pop ballads.
Pop singing techniques and classical singing technique
The foundations of singing are the same: exercises for breath control and scales to increase range, working on creating a beautiful tone and tongue twisters for diction. But there a few techniques that don’t cross over between the two. Learn them all and the sky’s the limit!
Types of singing techniques
Singing techniques not used in opera are a full belt, mixed belt, breathy tone, vocal break, head voice, whistle register, falsetto and vocal fry.
Opera techniques you won’t use in pop are heavy vibrato, bel canto (meaning beautiful singing), and pianissimo (soft singing).
If you don’t yet have solid technique, opt for songs that are easy to sing and show you in your best light, as you are. It’s not necessarily the case that difficult songs are the most impressive. It is something to work towards to give you as wide a range as possible, but most pop songs are actually super simple.
Do opera singers use head voice?
Opera singers train to have a smooth transition between the parts of their voice. So they’ll focus less on the chest or head voice and certainly won’t use any techniques like vocal fry, falsetto and whistling to achieve variety and range. The sound is more balanced, consistent and doesn’t carry those kinds of distinctions. They do use head voice, in that they sing high notes and often think of these as flowing out from the head, but you won’t hear a switch in sound quality when they do it.
Classically trained pop singers & pop singers with good vocal technique
Many pop singers will receive formal training at some point in their careers – and it’s not always at the start. Here are some of the big names you’ll instantly recognise.
Björk was somewhat of a musical prodigy, on piano, flute and vocally. At age six she began classical training at Reykjavík school Barnamúsíkskóli. She was always a rebel at heart though and used her innovative style and technique to develop individual and eclectic music.
Charlotte began in opera and classical as a child, but moved across to pop, recording several popular records. She didn’t achieve the same success in this as with her meteoric rise to fame in mainstream classical music.
The Queen of Pop took classical voice lessons decades after finding fame, in order to prepare for her vocally demanding part in the film Evita.
Lady Gaga is another star who had to train post-fame, in order to take on a more classical style – in this case, her Oscar performance of a Sound of Music medley.
The King of Pop took vocal coaching with renowned coach Seth Riggs.
Stevie was another student of Seth Riggs.
Sarah trained as an operatic soprano sang in musical theatre shows and on pop records.
Another musical theatre stalwart who trained classically and also ventures into pop/easy listening.
Josh is classically trained and sings opera, as well as having a hugely popular career recording pop songs.
Pat Benatar’s octave range and classical training
This four-time Grammy award winner is a classically trained rock musician. She could have taken a number of routes in terms of genre, but decided to use her fantastic vocals in this field. She trained as a coloratura – an Italian term used in classical music to describe a singer who performs operatic runs, trills and vocal leaps. Certain characters in famous operas will be categorised and cast as coloraturas. Benatar is able to span a four-octave range.
Classically trained metal singers
Luc Lemay of Canadian extreme metal band Gorguts is classically trained. This has helped create the group’s experimental, complex and advanced sounds.
Classically trained rock musicians: what rock singer was classically trained in Opera?
Adam Lambert had formal vocal training from a young age. He has performed extensively in operatic styled musical theatre, but also makes pop records. His rock credentials are firmly formed, as he now tours with Queen, as the lead singer, taking on Freddie Mercury’s legendary vocals.
Famous singers without formal training
There are plenty of singers who found fame and fortune without a single lesson. Although to maintain a career and strengthen the vocals for the rigours of long recording sessions and international tours, lessons are usually necessary farther down the line.
Famous singers without formal training include Arianna Grande, Bob Dylan, Kanye West, Kylie Minogue, Cheryl Cole and many more. Almost all of these had a lot of exposure to music in childhood and some natural ability.
What is a classically trained singer?
A classically trained singer is simply someone who has received formal singing lessons from a trained professional for a period of time. There are no set distinctions – some may have taken singing exams, some may not. But they will practice songs that are classical or operatic in style, rather than working on pop music with a teacher. They will not learn the techniques associated with pop, rock and musical theatre.
Classical singing vs musical theatre singing
There is a lot of crossover between these genres as both require the ability to sing in demanding nightly shows, with a great deal of power. There will usually be more vibrato in classical singing and opera, and musical theatre uses chest and head voice and belt technique. Many roles in musical theatre are performed by classical singers and it’s easier to transition from classical to musical theatre, than vice versa.
Pop singing lessons
You don’t have to train classically if you want to sing pop. And if you’re an opera singer who wants to move across to pop, you’ll be well advised to work with a vocal coach who specialises in pop, or pick up the techniques by ear.
What are the different styles of singing?
The main styles of singing are:
- Musical theatre
Within these styles, there are techniques that will commonly be used but may cross over from one to another. Artists like Madonna stay relevant over very many decades, by switching between genres and being flexible on the style. You may also like to collaborate with singers from other genres to create an unusual sound.
Types of singing genres that don’t demand formal training
Of these singing styles, the ones that are not dependant on solid training to perform are folk, indie, pop, rock, metal, blues, jazz and hip hop.
Opera, classical and musical theatre all require formal training to sing them professionally, or semi-professionally.
Classical vocals for pop songs
One of the most famous songs created with a mashup of classical vocals and pop was Barcelona. Sung by Montserrat Caballe and Freddie Mercury, record execs were reticent when Mercury pitched the unusual idea, but both he and opera diva Caballe had total belief in it – and rightly so.
Opera singers singing pop songs
Opera singers will sometimes sing pop songs, either by covering one with an operatic voice or by singing in a pop style. Whether you enjoy this or not is a personal preference, but it certainly sells records. Well known singers who do this include:
- Andrea Bocelli
- Charlotte Church
- Katherine Jenkins
- Hayley Westenra
Why do opera singers sing so loud?
There are two reasons that opera singers sing so loud.
- Because they can! There’s a spine-tingling quality that comes from a really powerful voice.
- Because they have to. Unlike pop singers, opera singers are rarely miked Even at the Met in New York, there’s no sound enhancement and mikes acre only used if a performance is being recorded – but they won’t amplify the voices.
How do opera singers sing so loud?
Opera singers train intensively, so they can sing night after night without suffering voice loss. They learn to breathe deeply and sustain a note, so they can produce huge volume and power. Many will also have loud voices and large lung capacity – often this is how singers succeed in this field. Yet they do have to work on what nature has given them.
Opera singing: how to become an opera singer
If you want to become an opera singer, you’ll need to find a retired or current opera singer who teaches their craft. After several years working with them, you can apply to an academy or conservatoire of music, to train as a professional opera singer. After this, you would need to start auditioning for roles, although you will make good contacts and have exposure to agents and companies during your time at opera school.
What do opera singers sing?
Opera singers sing music from operas – this includes arias (solos) and group numbers in harmony. They rarely sing in English, as most operas are written in German, French or Italian. As an opera singer, you may need to learn the basics of each of these languages, as you must understand what you’re singing.
Is opera the hardest to sing?
Opera is the most involved and has the strictest technique, unlike pop which is much more subjective. It takes longer to become an opera singer than in other genres and long, live nightly shows with very high or low notes make it vocally demanding.
How can I improve my singing technique?
Work with a good teacher and practice every day. Get a good foundation in breath control and perfect your tone, delivery and exercises dutifully.
If you learn to sing both pop and opera you’ll be more employable and versatile. Your versatility means you could also consider becoming a vocal impressionist, like Jess Robinson or Christina Bianco. They wow audiences with the ability to copy famous pop, rock and classical legends of music. Good technique will always serve you well and help you have a long and successful career.
- What is contemporary singing?
Contemporary just means modern. So contemporary singing covers everything from modern folk music, to rock, to metal, to pop, indie, hip-hop and everything in between. Singers who alternate between these genres might refer to themselves as a contemporary singer, as it’s a wider category description.
- What does vocal technique mean?
These are the tricks and tools you use to sing properly. It’s a considered process. Rather than just opening your mouth and singing, you’re consciously doing something – or many things – to create that sound. It’s also a way of protecting your voice from damage.
- How do rock singers sing so high?
Unlike opera singers who stick to their modal register, rockers will use falsetto to achieve higher notes. It’s generally guys who do this, but some women can achieve falsetto also. This is why rock singers always top the charts in terms of vocal range.
Do you think that opera singers can sing pop? Have you learned how to sing pop as a classical singer? Tell us what you think and how you did it in the comments below.