The Listening List: Learning Vocal Technique from the Greats (Or… Pat Benatar, The Commodores, and Jason Alexander walk into a bar…)

Today is a great day to be a Broadway fan. Right now there are incredible greats, like Tyne Daly, Chip Zien (in the same show no less), Kelli O’Hara, Brian d’Arcy James, and Taye Diggs, performing at the same time as new legends Lisa Howard, Rob McClure, Geoff Packard, Beth Malone, and of course, all the Matilda kids. So if you are wanting to be a part of this royal lineup, then let’s start by making sure you are fine-tuning a skill you might be ignoring.

Today’s shows and songs cross all genres and aren’t just “Broadway” songs. (Which, by the way, is actually a genre, and not necessarily a type of singing – but we’ll get to that in another blog.) Shows today have Michael Jackson licks in them, flat out Gospel riffs, and heck, even rock icons Sting and Bono have written shows.

In order to understand “contemporary” musical theatre, you also have to understand classic, epic, and, in a word, past musical theatre. And then you have to jump outside Broadway and explore all genres and time periods. And even if you haven’t sung a lot of the repertoire, you can learn its ways through the art of listening.

What goes in your ears comes out your mouth, so whatever you’re listening to is highly influencing your vocal style. That being said, if you aren’t listening to anything from pre-2004 Broadway season, if you only know folks who are on stage currently, and/or if you’re not listening across genres, then you’re doing it wrong. Not to mention that if the only “old” musicals you know are ones you did in high school, then we need to get started stat!

Let’s start with a listening list.

Below is a list of artists who offer a lot for singers today to learn from. This list isn’t in any way elitist or comprehensive, nor is it about being a fan of the listed person or group. Instead, consider it just a jumping off point. What do they always bring to the party, and can we have the recipe?

Now here are the rules:

  1. This is a no judgment zone. Period.
  2. You must listen to more than one song, and more than one time through. Remember, you can’t analyze the material until you know the material.
  3. Watch them (if and when possible). With today’s world with so much tech at our fingertips, there’s no excuse for you to not see them perform as well as hear them. This will do nothing but help your connection to the artist and their material. Some of the sounds, riffs, and even chord structures might make more sense when you see them in their surroundings.
  4. For ADVANCED, HIGHER-ORDER THINKING, OVER-ACHEIVERS: Keep a journal. What about these teachers did you see, hear, and feel? Write about the outfits and hair if you want, but that’s only the superficial part of the show. How did they tell a story, phrase verses, execute diction?

We’re going to eventually talk vocal health in future blog posts, so if you want to keep space in your lists to go back and revisit these artists through that lens, just know it’s coming.

All right, that should cover it.

You ready?

Let your adventure begin!


  • Ella Fitzgerald
  • Rosemary Clooney
  • The Carpenters
  • Loretta Lynn
  • The Mamas and the Papas
  • Beverly Sills
  • Barbra Mandrell
  • Petula Clark
  • Scott Bakula
  • Laura Branigan
  • Brooklyn Rundfunk Orkestrata
  • Rita Moreno
  • The Swingle Singers
  • Jonathan Pryce
  • Dorothy Dandridge
  • Liz Callaway
  • David Alan Grier
  • Linda Ronstadt
  • The Andrew Sisters
  • ABBA
  • The Voices of Liberty
  • The King’s Singers
  • Ronnie Milsap
  • The Fifth Dimension
  • Donny Osmond
  • Gaither Vocal Band
  • Tripod
  • Sawyer Brown
  • Michael Ball
  • Danny Kaye
  • Jason Alexander
  • The Commodores
  • Howard Keel
  • Maria Friedman
  • Pat Benatar
  • The Gypsy Kings


The post The Listening List: Learning Vocal Technique from the Greats (Or… Pat Benatar, The Commodores, and Jason Alexander walk into a bar…) appeared first on The Green Room.