Expert tips for tribute band singers

Great singers have unique sounds, and that can make them difficult to copy. If you want to sound exactly like the singers on your iPod but don't know how, where do you start? I train professional singers and their teachers, and I work with a number of tribute band singers who need to sound like someone else. I use a combination of imitation, listening and feel to help them find the "feel-sound" of their chosen artist. So here are some exercises I use every day with my students. First, I need to know whether my cover band singer has all the notes in their voice that they are going to need for the song. An artist will usually record the song in a key that really suits their voice.

Your favorite artist may not be your age (or even your sex) - and the key that suits them might not be right for you. It does make a difference which key you are in, whether a tune sits well in your voice. I usually begin by asking my cover band singer to hum the tune, using ng' (as in the word "sing") instead of the normal mm humming sound.

The humming lets me know whether the actual notes are easy to hit, without getting too worried about the sound or style. It also tells me whether we need to change the key of the song for that singer. You can usually recognize a recording artist within a few notes because of their 'signature sound'. It's what the artist does with their physical structure (their body and throat) that makes the sound itself unique. Your favorite recording artist probably uses a singing sound close to their speaking voice. Here's an exercise to help you feel what it's like to speak with your chosen artist's vocal "setup", the shapes they make with their throat and mouth: Use your imagination to find how your artist would talk.

You don't even need to hear them speak (it's actually better if you don't know). Just listen to the way they sing and imitate what you think their speaking voice would sound like if they spoke like they sang. Listen to the way they pronounce words, the volume of the sound (soft and breathy, loud and straight), and how direct or gentle they are. Imagine them talking to you, telling you (for example) what they had for breakfast that morning. Feel the way they talk, and then speak, matching the sounds you think they would make.

Keeping the same feel in your voice, start to speak higher and lower. We normally sing above and below the pitches that we speak on, so try speaking in a higher and lower voice than your normal one. You might feel ridiculous, but it really helps to get into someone's vocal habits.

Naturally, your chosen artist may be using several sounds or 'voice qualities'. That's fine. Choose another sound (louder or softer) that they use in their singing, and imagine how they would speak with that sound. Again, experiment with speaking higher and lower using the new sound.

When you feel comfortable with using their vocal setup in your speaking voice, you can start to use it in singing. Sing the song you were humming earlier and add the words, using the same shapes and sounds you've been experimenting with. You'll be surprised how close to your chosen artist you sound. When you listen to the artist's recording again, you will notice how much more understanding you have of the flavor and feel of their performance. Capturing the essence of an artist's voice is simple when you know how!.

Discover more simple and profound singing techniques from Jeremy's voice training company Vocal Process, "revolutionizing the way singing is taught" (LINK Magazine)

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