What does "classically trained" actually mean?

You have all probably heard the phrase “classically trained” used at least once to describe a singer. In particular, it has probably been used to try and make the ability of a singer in question sound more impressive: “Ah, well she isn’t just any old singer, she is classically trained”. Well, I have had enough of this phrase being flung about as a form of vindication of a singer’s ability. The truth is, this phrase on its own means absolutely nothing. Just because someone says they are “classically trained” does not automatically mean they are a skilled vocalist, similarly there are some excellent singers out there who have never sung one piece of classical music in their life but excel over many who have.

My expectation when someone claims they have been trained classically, is that they have studied classical and operatic repertoire to a high standard for a long period of time (at least 5 years) and have built the technique required for this type of singing to a high standard. A lot of people use the phrase just to sound more impressive after only having had a few lessons with a classical teacher. This is hugely misleading but what bothers me the most is that some use it as a way of putting themselves above others who have gone through exactly the same journey but with musical theatre or pop music. Good singing is good singing no matter what the style and using your musical preferences as a way of seeming superior is not okay.

Once upon a time classical teaching was the only way to really train a voice but science has helped teaching methods evolve dramatically in recent years. Science-influenced teaching is now the way forward no matter what genre you enjoy singing in. The best singers are going to come from the best teachers and they may not necessarily be from a classical background.

Let’s not be fooled by the phrase “classically trained”, instead of describing someone’s ability by genre let’s start focusing on how well they sing and how much work and time they have put into their training. When looking for a singing teacher, don’t make your choice based on someone being “classically trained” but on the length of time they have been training themselves and the level of scientific knowledge that person has on the voice.

"The human voice is the most beautiful instrument of all, but the most difficult to play"

Richard Strauss 

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