Hi Michael,
As we both know, the Swedish/Italian school is based off of the premise of singing naturally and freely, and employs Old World principles of singing without forcing and making an artificial sound with the voice, principles which are preached in modern voice teaching but not to the fullest degree. As such, not all modern singers – classical or contemporary – have the benefit of practicing and applying technique that is completely spot-on as far as good singing goes.

We discussed in a conversation the young “popera” singer, Josh Groban, who is now on the verge of releasing a new album. Although he is popular in the music community for his beautiful, mellifluous voice, he isn’t exactly the best model when it comes to straight-up technique. Even though he is purportedly getting a “legit” classical training, his singing seems to have gotten worse over time. He has been studying with the same [famous] teacher for nearly a decade now and he should be better than ever, but he’s not, so the only explanation must be that the technique he is being taught is missing something important, or is encumbering him with something detrimental.

Here are two videos of him singing in the studio.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sm7rDB2keio

While he has a naturally-unique voice, the technical side of his singing isn’t as fantastic as his natural instrument. He goes off-pitch quite a bit and many times his voice has a “hissy” quality to it. Also, he never seems to do a perfect job of bridging his light mechanism with his lower register (and it’s not always for stylistic purposes, either).
Judging by those videos and the general sound of his voice, what would you say he’s doing right or wrong?
All answers are appreciated.

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Thanks for your question. The “popera” singers in general are difficult to discuss because they have very devoted fans as well as detractors. The detractors often come from the classical singing world, and they make valid criticisms. But as has been discussed before, criticizing singers that have a loyal following can stir up strong animosity.

Having said that, and conceding that these singers bring enjoyment to many people worldwide, it is obvious that achieving optimal vocal function is not at the top of their list of objectives. Unfortunately, because of their global exposure, they become the representation of classical singing for many. One benefit is they may introduce classical singing to people who then investigate other, and better, singers.

Bringing our attention more specifically to your questions about Josh Groban. I have been observing his singing pretty much since his debut. He was a gifted natural singer. The story is he was studying with the famous SLS founder, Seth Riggs, who introduced him to Super-Producer David Foster with some demo recordings. Foster started using him as a rehearsal singer for various productions, including the Grammy Awards standing in for Andrea Bocelli. After a while Foster signed him to a recording contract and he became a huge seller. More details can be found at Wikipedia here.

He was not great technically at that time, he was also only 17. But I agree that he has deteriorated vocally over the decade he has been publicly performing. I had heard a rumor that he was no longer working with Seth Riggs, but I have no way of knowing if it is true. That could explain some of the decline.

You ask “what is he doing right or wrong?” The main problem that I can identify is the same one that most of us are afflicted with. A lack of coordination in the glottal adjustment that determines the nature of the source vibration. When the larynx is not conditioned to optimize the glottal adjustment many of the vocal problems that we commonly observe can appear.

The ones that I hear in Groban are an unstable/raised larynx, poor breath control, nasality from air escaping into the resonator, inconsistent pitch, and register separation. As a pop singer one can get away with these. But I think the thing that frustrates his detractors is people associate him with classical singing. And in classical singing these faults are a big problem.

What does he do right? In my opinion not much. The biggest I guess would be is sell records. Barnes & Noble named him the #1 Best Selling Artist of All Time on Barnes & Noble in 2007. So he does have a lot of fans. I would have to say that is something right. He has charisma, and he does sing with a sincere expression.

But whenever I hear him on TV singing, which seems to happen all the time, I listen in awe to his incredibly poor vocal coordination. There are a lot of pop singers with poor coordination. But I think I prefer just about all of them over Josh Groban because they are not pretending to be classically trained. They have an excuse for not being able to sing on pitch, which many do better than Mr. Groban. (Sorry to be so harsh)

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