By Theresa DeMario
The Complete Vocal Technique or CVT is a way to teach singing that started in Denmark with the publication of the book by the same title written by a renowned vocal researcher, Catherine Sadolin. There are CVT teachers all over the world, and its popularity is skyrocketing in Europe. Claudia SanSoucie is one of over 300 teachers authorized in this teaching methodology and she was the first teacher here in the U.S. (now there are two). SanSoucie is very passionate about helping people find their voice. She does not strive to shape you into the singer she thinks you should be, but instead helps you discover the singer you want to be.
Complete Vocal Technique (CVT)
CVT is a teaching method inclusive of all singing styles and sounds the voice can produce. This is the main reason behind the name “complete” SanSoucie explains. While songs and vocal styles have changed tremendously in the last 50 years, voice training really hasn’t —it’s been slow to address the needs of contemporary singers. CVT is innovative in its approach and is kept current through ongoing vocal research at the Complete Vocal Institute, SanSoucie says. CVT offers a lot of different tools that are simple and effective and can benefit all singers regardless of genre.
Traditionally, a student's lesson starts with a 20 minutes warm-up before singing a song. SanSoucie has her student start the lesson with a song of their choosing and listens to what the singer is doing. This is followed by questions aimed at understanding what it is that the student wants to gain in the lesson. "As a CVT teacher I am really student centric," SanSoucie says. The wish of the student is important. It empowers the student to be an active participant and to think about their own goals. Technique work is often presented in the form of very simple exercises, and SanSoucie aims to show the singer a practice path back to the musical context. SanSoucie says, that when a technique is applied correctly the singer should experience immediate results. Of course, repetition through practice is what eventually makes a new vocal skill a new vocal habit.
CVT shines as a teaching style with the contemporary singer who is searching for their own specific sound or who has an idea of what they want to do, but needs help developing their voice. Some singers are afraid of taking voice lessons because they think it will change their sound somehow. As a teacher, SanSoucie is very conscious about leaving her own taste out of the equation. Her role is to teach healthy vocal techniques, help singers solve vocal problems and achieve their goals, and to be supportive and encouraging of their process.
“If it hurts, it’s wrong” - Claudia SanSoucie
One philosophy behind CVT is that all sounds can be made in a healthy way. SanSoucie wrote on her website that “If it hurts, it’s wrong.” By this, she means that any strain or hoarseness is an indication that the sound is not being made in a healthy or efficient way. But sounds do not need to be feared. For example, distortion may “sound” damaging, but it can be just as non-damaging as a “clear” sound. She explained that if a singer wants to add distortion to their sound, there is a healthy way for them to achieve this, which can be taught. As a CVT teacher, SanSoucie encourages students during lessons to explore new sounds, to be playful, and open to discovering.
What inspired SanSoucie to become an authorized teacher was that CVT is very concrete and targeted, and it can be applied quickly for solving specific problems. CVT can be viewed like a roadmap, SanSoucie explains, and breaks down into four main subject areas:
The Three Overall Principals, The Four Modes, Soundcolor, and Effects
The Three Overall Principles are support, twang, and avoiding protruding the jaw or tightening the lips. These three elements are the most important building blocks that always need to be observed when singing. The benefit of training and implementing these principals are huge. They allow singers to reach all the high and low notes within their respective voice range, to sing long phrases, to have a clear and powerful voice, and to avoid hoarseness.
In lessons we circle back to these principles again and again, because with each new vocal challenge we need to be sure that they are observed. Take support for example. Students are often frustrated by it. But, SanSoucie explains, support is a very dynamic experience. As singers we need to learn to adjust the amount of support required during singing based on many factors. E.g. learning new material or feeling unwell often requires an increase in support. Support is something singers work on all the time. It really helps to understand how we anatomically achieve what is called support, why we do it, how we know that we do it correctly, and how to control the amount of support necessary.
The Four Vocal Modes — neutral, curbing, overdrive, edge — are a way to divide the voice based on certain observable sound characteristics. They are easily recognized by singers once you know what to listen for and how to analyze them. New terminology was created because descriptions such as head, chest voice, register, belting, etc. either have been around for a long time and are associated with various different meanings, or are simply too inaccurate or limiting. The modes, as defined by CVT, have specific rules that must be observed, and they each have certain advantages and disadvantages. By learning about these modes we can really very quickly communicate and identify goals and solve problems. Singers can train each mode individually and then learn to change freely between them. Switching modes can be smooth or abrupt, but it should always be within the control of the singer. When it isn’t, singers often feel they have a mysterious break in their voice that they cannot anticipate. Singing problems are often caused by the incorrect use of these modes.
Sound Color can further shape a singer’s sound, SanSoucie explains. Sound color can range from light to dark sounding and is altered in the vocal tract, the space above the vocal chords and extending to the lips and including the nasal passage. The shape and size of the vocal tract determines the sound color. Each singer has their own vocal color due to their own individual anatomical shape. Yet, each singer can make adjustments to their sound by learning how to alter that space.
Effects, such as distortion, creak, rattle grunt, growl, screams, breaks, vibrato, ornamentations, etc. is the last stop along the teaching roadmap. Effects are considered advanced and the three overall principals, modes, and sound color should be well within the control of the singer. Producing effects with an underlying faulty technique and/or the wrong understanding of how and where to produce them can really trigger vocal problems. As a CVT teacher, SanSoucie understands how these effects are produced and can guide singers in making these sounds safely. SanSoucie points out that effects can be tremendously powerful and moving and encourages singers to consider their expressive intent and not simply fall into a habit of using them.
“Technique doesn’t just become technique but becomes a means of expression that is very authentic to the singer” - Claudia SanSoucie.
SanSoucie said that her favorite part of teaching is helping singers find their emotional connection to a song, so that “technique doesn’t just become technique but rather becomes a means of expression that is authentic to the singer.” SanSoucie loves working on interpretation because it often solves technical problems and highlights why a technical problem exists in the first place. It reveals choices a singer would like to make and can inform what may be required technically. Interpretation work really opens up a singer’s experience of a song which is very exciting to me as a teacher.
SanSoucie’s teaching method is a multi-faceted approach that covers many aspects of singing and performance and with CVT the singer is at the very core of what it is all about.