My voice started changing when I was in 8th grade. I had a range of about a minor 7th (middle C down to D). It was awful. I couldn't sing anything. I couldn't even answer the phone without my voice cracking. But as awful as it was, I was excited about the fact that I was now changing into and sounding like a man. By my sophomore year in high school, I had 2 octaves (F-F)...sort of. I had to push my voice in probably-not-so-healthy ways to hit the higher and lower notes, but at least it was better than my 8th grade voice.
I was given solos from time to time, whether in choir or in the school musical (Oklahama!). I was able to match pitch ok, but I had no vocal control. My voice would shake, still cracking at times. My body was tense, and I didn't know how to breathe. So by senior year, I enrolled myself in voice lessons with a lady that was pretty popular around the Trussville/Clay, AL area. She worked with me on the things just mentioned, and I noticed some pretty immediate changes, though not all of them were satisfactory in my mind. There were aspects about my old voice that I missed, but the concepts she taught me were supposed to take time. Plus, my voice was still maturing, so I stuck with it through the summer.
Fast-forward to senior year at Montevallo. I had had 8 semesters of private voice (not including what I had in high school), and I'm began to notice a problem - I didn't like the way my voice sounded. It didn't sound like the artists I listened to, and as far as worship-leading was concerned, it was a distraction. It's kinda like a person who takes golf lessons once a week - instead of just going out there and enjoying yourself, you're thinking about keeping your left arm straight, your right elbow tucked, your head down, your hips moving, and your spine angle stable...not to mention your clubface rotating, your grip in the right place, and your swing plane at approximately 25 degrees (ok, yeah I've had golf lessons and they do help to an extent).
For me, that's what voice lessons were like. I was given so many things to think about, that I ended up sounding like an Italian opera wannabe. For the style of music that I was naturally the best at (pop/contemporary Christian), my vocals weren't doing me any favors. How did those artists like Steven Curtis Chapman, Ronnie Freeman, and Elton John hit those high notes so effortlessly? How come every time I opened my mouth to sing, it sounded like a college vocal major trying to audition for American Idol?
Speaking of American Idol, fast-forward to this year's finale. I'm watching Scotty and Lauren sing, and something clicked: these two don't sound like they've had voice lessons! Why? You ready??...........they approached singing the same was one would in the shower - effortless. They were just having fun! They're weren't trying too hard. A few days later, I'm watching Ronnie Freeman (one of my fav Christian artists) on YouTube. Same thing. He's not letting himself get caught up in the technicalities of singing. His eyes are closed, his body's moving, and he's just enjoying God.
So I started trying this new (but not really new) approach to singing. It's what Wicked superstar Idina Menzel referred to as singing with your speaking voice - it's supposed to sound and feel as natural as when you speak. When you talk, you're not taking in huge amounts of air or thinking too hard about voice inflections. You don't carry on a conversation sounding like an opera singer. You just talk. Could it be that, for the non-opera singers, this is the better approach? Could it be that voice lessons should be limited to what I just wrote about - coaching someone to sing like they speak, instead of trying to get them to perform a vocal golf swing???
By the way, since implementing the "speak-sing," I feel a lot more comfortable in my voice now. I actually enjoy singing again for the first time in 10 years...