More often than not, have I been asked the famous question by a prospective student:”Can you make me sound like (insert name here )?” Before I give you a definite answer, let’s analyse what makes any specific singer sound the way they do.
The first thing that is immediately recognisable in any given singer is their voice. Someone’s voice is, first of all, the result of sound waves produced by the larynx, and uttered via the oral cavity.
The first thing that will affect the singer’s tone will therefore be their larynx and their oral cavity . If you think of the person as an instrument (think of a guitar), you’ll understand that the very body of the singer, the shape of their palate, the thickness of their vocal chords, their bone structure, will all affect the voice they produce. All these elements will affect the vibrations they produce, and will change the tone of their voice.
So, we’ve reached the first element that makes a singer instantly recognisable: their tone, or vocal timbre.
Obviously, by changing the way they utter their sound, one can produce a tone that’s similar to that of their favourite artist/s.
But singers aren’t defined exclusively by their vocal tone. They have their own mannerisms. They sing in different styles. Some are belters, some will use breathier voices. Some are very technical and will be able to use their voice with greater versatility. Some like riffing (Celine Dion, Christina Aguilera, Aretha Franklin). Some have great musicality, with varying degrees of taste. All of the above can be reproduced by careful use of one’s placements, by studying their favourite artists’ choices and habits on stage.
Another thing that affects one’s voice is their age. Their lifestyle. Are they healthy humans? Are they not? Are they emotionally strong? One’s singing voice is really the product of their life experiences.
An obvious example here is Whitney Houston. She was born with an amazing tone, range, taste and musicality. A combination of age, poor live technique and drug abuse ruined what had been the most beautiful voice in the world. In her later years, her voice was as broken as her life.
Can all of that be imitated? Yes, with some gargantuan amount of dedication and - possibly - masochism.
As I’ve already stated, aside from the obvious physical problems (your forcing your sound in cavities that aren’t your natural placements can affect your vocal chords negatively), sounds and mannerisms can be imitated. But trying to sound like someone else isn’t just the physical act of changing the shape of your vowels and placements to have a sound that’s similar to one’s idol. It's taking on their identity. Conversely, it also means getting rid of what makes one unique and special.
To answer the question: Yes, I CAN teach you to sound like someone else but, if you want to learn to sing, I’d rather teach you to sound like the best version of yourself, which can be both beautiful and unique. Not only are you the only person on the planet who can be you, you’re also the one who can be the very best at being you. Don’t be the worst you AND a worse version of someone else. Choose to embrace you.
Please, next time you enquire a new singing teacher, ask “Can you make me sound like the best version of me?”.