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Heart and Soul: How to Sing Soul, With Soul

Soul music has its roots deeply embedded in African-American culture, and is loved by audiences around the world. Here in the UK Soul music is fully integrated into urban and suburban culture. Rich in passion and storytelling, it’s no wonder it is such a popular genre for singers of all ages, evoking scenes of smoky bars, powerful vocals and smooth choreography.


As a professional singer, I have personally performed for, a number of years, in various soul bands and vocal groups, performing to audiences of thousands around the UK and Europe.

Mastering the art of soul singing means so much more than just hitting the right notes. It's about channelling your deepest emotions, harnessing raw power, and connecting with listeners on a deep level.


In this article, we will delve into the stylistics and vocal techniques that define soul singing. We’ll explore the importance of vocal health, the genre-specific vocal techniques of soul singing and look at examples of highly respected soul singers across the decades.





Stylistics of Soul Singing


Soul music encompasses a rich bed of subgenres, each with its own flavour. At the heart of soul music lies a captivating blend of emotion, passion, and authenticity. Soul singers infuse their performances with a unique storytelling quality, conveying deep emotions that resonate with listeners worldwide. From the gospel-infused cries of Ray Charles to the smooth, velvety croons of Marvin Gaye, soul singers convey their emotions with moving vocals. Understanding these nuances is key to finding your own artistic voice.

Before delving into the technical stylistics of soul, it’s important to understand its roots so that you can channel the power of soul music and interpret it with passion and authenticity.

Here’s a brief history of the evolution of soul music…


Gospel Roots: The driving force of soul lies in its gospel heritage. Listen to the call-and-response patterns, the soaring gospel belts, and the rhythmic handclaps that add intensity and energy.


The Blues: The raw honesty and emotional depth of the blues weave their way into soul. Think about Etta James's raspy, blues-tinged vocals or the mournful vibrato of Sam Cooke.


Storytelling: Soul music is all about telling stories– of love, loss, resilience, and everything in between, while making you feel or dance. More than just singing the lyrics, drench your vocals with emotion and use dynamic shifts to emphasise key moments, letting your voice paint the narrative.


Groove and Feel: Soul thrives on its infectious groove. Immerse yourself in the sounds of soul music: get used to feeling the rhythm pulse through your body, listen to the interplay between voice and the instruments.





Vocal Techniques in Soul Singing


Now that you are aware of the roots of soul music and how it is created, you’re ready to develop the vocal techniques that make soul music so moving, both emotionally and physically.


Chest Voice: In soul singing, the use of chest voice is crucial for delivering powerful, resonant notes. This technique provides the foundation for the emotional depth that defines the genre.

Head Voice: On the other hand, head voice is employed for the higher registers, contributing to the soulful expressiveness of the vocals.


Mixed Voice: Soul singing rarely, if ever, employs the vocal flips we have heard trending among pop singers in the 2010s and 2020s. Mixed voice (also called blended voice) is the golden zone, where chest and head voice blend seamlessly, offers incredible power and versatility. Mastering this technique unlocks a palette of vocal colours, enabling skilful nuanced expression.


Play around with your voice; explore your vocal range and learn to transition smoothly between registers. Building the confidence to try different sounds will help you to find the right mix for each emotional moment.


Belting: Often misunderstood as pulled chest voice, belting is a projection technique which uses the fullness of chest voice and the brightness of head voice to embody power and passion.


From Aretha Franklin's roof-raising screams to Beyoncé's stadium-filling power, the soul belt is a force to be reckoned with. But belting safely requires proper technique to avoid strain and vocal damage. Learn to project through your safely (not through your throat) and find your belt within your healthy vocal range.

 




Embellishments - Rasp, Growl, and Scream:


Soul is not just about hitting the notes; it's about adding color and grit. These embellishments add life and passion to your singing:


Rasp: A controlled roughness in the voice, rasp adds a gritty texture to certain phrases, intensifying the emotional impact.Think about the raw edge of Billie Holiday's voice or the bluesy rasp of Bobby Womack. Add a touch of controlled rasp to convey pain, sorrow, or longing..


Growl: A guttural vocal effect, growling is often used to convey a sense of urgency or passion. Used sparingly, growls can add intensity and urgency. Listen to how Etta James throws in a growl for emphasis or how Otis Redding adds a guttural growl to a pleading vocal line.


Scream: While sparingly used, screams can be employed to punctuate moments of heightened emotion, creating a visceral connection with the audience. Screaming as a vocal technique requires caution and proper breath support. But used appropriately, like in James Brown's electrifying performances, it can unleash raw power and emotional catharsis.

Powerhouse pop and RnB singers Christina Aguilera, Beyonce and Jessie J have studied closely the technical aspects of gospel, blues and soul and skilfully uses all of these to create outstanding vocal performances both live and in the studio


Importance of Vocal Health and Warming Up


Owing to the demanding nature of soul singing, it is vital that you prioritise proper vocal care to ensure longevity in their careers. Always warm up before a singing session, warm down after heightened vocal activity and ensure adequate hydration, proper nutrition, and sufficient rest. These are paramount for maintaining vocal health. Soul singers should also be mindful of their vocal limits to prevent strain or injury.


Standing On the Shoulders of Giants


Since its infancy, Soul music has been built, championed and performed by some of the best contemporary singer to have ever been recorded. Here are just a few of them...


·  1950s: Sam Cooke not only wrote and produced his own songs, but set up his own record label through which to record and distribute his music, giving hope to millions of African Americans living in the oppression and, at that time, still segregated states in America.


·  1950s-1960s:Aretha Franklin's powerful and emotive voice defined the soul genre in the 1960s. Her ability to seamlessly blend gospel and R&B influences set the standard for soul singers to come.

·  Tamla Motown: A fully black-owned record label, Tamla Motown dominated the US pop charts, launching the careers of superstars including Diana Ross, Stevie Wonder, The Jackson 5, Marvin Gaye and Smokey Robinson.

·  1970s-1980s: Marvin Gaye's smooth and soulful delivery made him a beacon of soul music in the '70s and '80s. His socially conscious lyrics and innovative vocal style left an indelible mark on the genre.

·  1990s-Present: Beyoncé, often regarded as one of the greatest vocalists of her generation, has seamlessly incorporated soul into her diverse musical repertoire. Her powerful voice, dynamic range, and emotional depth have solidified her place in the pantheon of soul icons.


Embracing Soul in Your Performances


Remember, soul singing isn't just about technical mastery; it's about connecting with your own emotions and sharing them with the world. Here are some additional tips to ignite your inner soul flame:


Live the Music: Immerse yourself in the emotions the song evokes. Imagine the story it tells, feel the joys and sorrows, and let those feelings translate into your voice.


Improvise and Play: Don't be afraid to go off the script. Soul thrives on spontaneity. Add some tasteful riffs, scat-sing melodies, or let your voice soar with an improvised run.

Connect with the Audience: Singing soul isn't a solo act. Make eye contact, engage with the room, and let your energy flow towards the listeners. Create a shared experience where emotions dance and souls connect.


Find Your Story: Every voice has a unique story to tell. What makes you passionate? What experiences have shaped your soul? Find the songs that resonate with your own story and let your voice narrate them with authenticity


The journey of soul singing is a lifelong exploration. Capture its passion in your own music, regardless of your genre, by taking your favourite elements and embedding them into your musical vocabulary.


Being an authentic musician and performer is about constant learning, pushing your boundaries, and most importantly, finding joy in the process. Embrace the grit, the passion, the rawness, and let your own soulful voice soar.

Continue Your Vocal Story

 

Singing Genius is the most convenient and flexible and budget-friendly way to develop your skills and talent as a singer. A combination of on-demand and live voice coaching, you can access personalised world-class vocal training at a fraction of the cost.

 



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