Singing Pop vs. Musical Theatre

Early in the 20th century, musical theatre and pop songs were one in the same! If you were singing pop songs, you were probably singing musical theatre! The same songs you’d listen to in a theatre show would be the same songs you’d hear bands playing at your favorite dinner spot.

Today, musical theatre song styles are very different from what we hear on the radio–what we call “pop music.” They have a completely different feel, vibe, instrumentation, and vocal styling than musical theatre songs. If “Anything Goes” by Cole Porter was played on the radio right after “Shape of You” by Ed Sheeran, we would definitely notice the change in style. Since these styles are complete opposites, they would surely seem out of place played in the same set! Although many modern musicals are leaning towards a contemporary sound, it would be just as hard to imagine hearing most comtemporary musical theatre songs on the radio. If “Defying Gravity” from the musical Wicked came on the radio after “Side to Side” by Ariana Grande and Nicki Minaj, we would certainly raise an eyebrow.

Many working singers want to maximize their marketability by learning how to move in and out of these genres (singing pop and musical theatre), but it’s not always easy for a Musical Theatre singer to be comfortable singing a pop song, or visa versa. It’s always obvious to me when a singer is outside their comfort zone, or when the style does not feel like it’s sitting in their voice fully. Every singer has their sweet spot, but learning how to change styles and manipulate your sound to appropriately fit various styles of music will give you more stock and hirability. 


Check out this 2 minute SIZZLE REEL for a preview of today’s lesson!

(View the full tutorial below!)

Qualities of Singing Musical Theatre Vocals

Within the world of musical theatre, there are many different sub-genres. Not all scores are created equal. Furthermore, they don’t all sound the same, and different character types will experience different vocal qualites. Nevertheless, it’s still possible to create a general list of qualities require to sing musical theatre that are in contrast to singing pop.

  • Over articulation–it’s important that all the lyrics are audible and understood
  • Clear, clean, “on voice” phonation
  • Usually a more forward resonance and bright coloring to the sound
  • In-the-moment acting and performance, as if you are experiencing something RIGHT NOW. It’s more about re-enacting the story for the audience as if the audience wasn’t there. 

Qualities of Singing Pop Vocals

Pop music is another large umbella, under which are various sub-genres and styles. You’ll need to really pay attention to the qualities in the specific piece and genre you are attempting, but here are some general qualities to help you get started.

  • Under articulation and slurring of words (what is she saying?  ¯\_(ツ)_/¯  
  • Breathiness, raspiness, vocal fry, and other distorted phonation
  • Resonance can sit forwad or backward, but forward resonance tends to use a thinner quality, and back sitting resonance tends to use more grit. 
  • After the fact story-telling. Not as “in the moment” or “in your face”. More about including the audience in the re-telling of the story, and letting them be a part of the experience.

Incorporating Style into My Singing

The best way to play with style is to practice mimicing the singers who have made that song famous. Where do they place their sound? Is it clean or breathy? Do they use vocal fry or growling? Is it bright or darker sounding? Do they slur or is it cleanly articulated?

Then imagine that style application is on a scale of 0-10, zero being no style, and 10 being an exact copy of the other singer’s voice. Go back to zero, and play around with different percetages of style application. You might try an 8, so it’s mostly style, but a little less of an attempt at an exact replica. You might want to try a 2, so it’s mostly your authentic voice with a little tip of the hat to the style. 

Ultimately, you’re going to want to end up with a sound that is authentically YOU, but that honors the genre your song is from. Figure out what world you’re song lives in, and then figure out how you and your voice can exist in that world!

Here’s the full training! I’ve demonstrated how to move in and out of some different songs in various genres. To give you a good understanding of what kinds of characteristics give the songs their signature sounds, I attempt to change the style and qualites so that they sound “wrong”, but I have to admit, sometimes wrong feels right because this was a lot of fun, HA! Enjoy!

I hope you enjoyed this! I love hearing about your victories, comment below and let me know how it’s going! Also let me know if you have any struggles, or if you have requests! I’d love to teach you what you want to learn!

Michelle Hernandez

Michelle Hernandez

Coach, Owner of OC ProVoice

For Weekly #TipTuesday's

Tune in for next week’s #TipTuesday, for more FREE singing, acting, and performance lessons! If you have any requests for specific techniques, runs, or any other technique you want to learn or problem you need help on, comment below and I may be able to cover it in a Tip Tuesday lesson!

Can you sing both Musical Theatre and Pop Styles Believably? Find out if you're on the right track!


OCSA Audition – 2018-19 school year

Actions Acting Lesson: Emotion and Physicality

Singing Pop vs Musical Theatre Styles – Are you nailing it?

Sing Like Sia using style and technique!

Audition Success: bringing your Best Self with Maya Jade Frank of Disney’s Bizaardvark and Broadway

Sing higher, louder, and longer with these Breathing Exercises

Harmony Part 2 Lady Gaga’s Million Reasons

How to Sing in Harmony Part 1

Learn the Signature run from Alicia Keys song “Fallin”

Learn a Tori Kelly Run

Too shy to comment publicly?

Send me a note directly! I’d love to hear from you. Let me know how I can help you reach your goals!

Do you want more vocal and performance support???