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Bel Canto Versus Speech Level Singing

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Two of the most popular forms of vocal lesson styles, or pedagogies, are Bel Canto and Speech Level Singing (SLS). Knowing the differences between these styles is important when a vocalist is choosing a coach.

Your progress as a singer can be made or broken by your coach, so make sure you choose the right one depending on your style of singing. 

Comparison of Bel Canto and Speech Level Singing

There is a distinct difference between Bel Canto and Speech Level Singing. While there are other pedagogues out there, these are the two most popular styles taught to singers and actors in major markets.

Bel Canto

Bel Canto prevailed during the 18th and 19th centuries as a standard pedagogy and continues to hold a its reputation today. 

It has been used primarily for opera in the past, however it is excellent for any style of singing. Bel Canto puts a large emphasis on breath control and vocal pronunciations.

Coaches typically gain a bachelors of music degree at a university before they begin teaching this style, however some teachers may have studied for years under a reputable coach and will also have the experience and skills to teach this style as well.

Speech Level Singing

SLS is a 21st Century pedagogy developed by Seth Riggs. It is called Speech Level Singing in that it attests to teach a method that makes singing as easy as speaking. 

According to the website, the primary instructional emphasis is on keeping the larynx low and the vocal chords close together.

Speech Level Singing

SLS has a rating system for teachers that Bel Canto does not employ. This rating system reflects how many years and how much training a teacher has received from Seth Riggs.

A teacher must continuously pay Seth Riggs a sizeable fee to be able to license the SLS logo and say they teach this style. If they do not pay, they cannot claim they teach SLS and the logo can not be used.

Breath Control

Bel Canto

Bel Canto puts great emphasis on breath control, and for many instructors, this might be a concentration before any actual vocalizations are attempted. Some of the focuses of breath control include:

  • Building lung capacity
  • Getting the deepest diaphragmatic breath possible
  • Quick inhalation so as to connect stanzas fast and effortlessly

Speech Level Singing

Speech Level Singing doesn’t put an emphasis on breath control. This can be problem for singers who pursue dynamic styles such as opera, hard rock and some pop.

Pronunciation Techniques

Bel Canto

Bel Canto employs the study of vocal sounds and emphasizes pronunciation based on monothongs, dipthongs and tripthongs. These terms describe the different vowel sounds, what shapes them, and how to pronounce them correctly. 

Coaches will begin teaching their students the rudimentary fundamentals of proper pronunciation, which will carry into other songs the student studies as the student is molded into understanding these parts of speech at an instinctual level.

Speech Level Singing

SLS doesn’t put any emphasis on direct vocal sound pronunciation. Rather much practice is spent singing scales using words such as mum and a bratty 'nay' in an attempt to deepen pronunciation for all vowels in general and doesn’t concentrate on all the specific vowel sounds.

While this may help some students get past heavy accents, especially singers who have a southern accent, it doesn't tend to mold an understanding at a level where the student can take this lesson into new songs. 

This tends to make the student need to come back to the coach to learn new songs each time, rather than being able to start to figure out on their own proper pronunciations instinctively.

Lesson Affordability Comparison

Both Bel Canto and SLS teacher's can be expensive or affordable. The costs greatly depend on the area in which the teacher resides, their competition in the market, and their level of experience. 

For example, a SLS coach can charge from $200-$500an hour in Nashville easily, but this same coach may only be able to charge $75 an hour in other markets. Conversely, a Bel Canto coach who has a formal degree from university can charge rates in the hundreds of dollars no matter where they are due to their experience.

A teacher's student roster and their own experience can affect the prices as well no matter what pedagogy they teach. 

If you find a coach who boasts a roster of celebrity students or is a current or previous celebrity themselves, you can bet you will have to spend hundreds of dollars per lesson, so it is often best to stick with non-celebrity coaches when you start.

If you live in a major market like Los Angeles, Nashville or New York, expect to spend a lot more on lessons than you would in a smaller city. Shop around however, because even in these large cities there are affordable coaches to be found.

Choose the Best Pedagogy for Your Style of Singing

Bel Canto

Bel Canto is an excellent choice for singers who plan to have a highly dynamic range and delivery. Artists who want to excel at opera, heavy metal, hard rock and pop will benefit greatly from this pedagogy. 

It is through this technique a singer can learn to belt at their optimal, and some even will discover their whistle range using this pedagogy. 

I personally went from two octaves to over four and a half and discovered my whistle range in less than years coaching taking one-hour lessons each week.

Speech Level Singing

SLS is a better choice for singers who do less dynamic music that doesn't require a large breath. Music like soft jazz, children's songs, and other lightly sang music is best studies under the Speech Level Singing method. 

I personally began learning this pedagogy and spent two-years studying this style, one lesson each week but was continuously pitchy and couldn't belt without running out of breath and going out of key before deciding to change to Bel Canto.

How to Find a Teacher for Either Pedagogy

Finding an SLS teacher is very simple. Go to http://www.speechlevelsinging.com/, click on the Find a Teacher link and begin your journey finding a teacher in your area. 

Per the website, if you find a teacher on the internet claiming to be an SLS coach, but this teacher doesn't show up on the SLS website, will be using the SLS technique fraudulently.

Finding a Bel Canto coach can be as easy as typing Bel Canto Coach Near Me in a search engine and shopping via their websites. 

You can also contact your local university music department and ask if  their alumni and tenured staff is available to coach, or visit your local non-university music schools.

It isn't recommended that you use sites like Take Lessons or other music teacher directories. These sites underpay coaches and while you will see a large savings, in turn you typically get a coach that has very little real world experience which in the long run may cost you more money to undo bad coaching.

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