What is "Cover" in singing, and how do I achieve it?


Hello all you beautiful singers/teachers of singing. You know, if I had a dollar for every time a student asked me to explain what "covering" means and how to achieve it, well I might not be rich, but I could at least purchase a very nice outfit to wear to a Broadway show! Seriously, I have been asked this so many times, and I figured it was time to explain what this very important concept is and how to achieve it.

"Covering" was something I heard a lot about in college, but never really understood what it meant at the time.

About a month after I began studying voice with Maestro David Jones in 1999, I asked him, "David when are we going to discuss covering?" He said "You are singing in protection now, which is the same thing as covering". I wanted further evidence of this so he had me sing an open "ah" vowel with my head tiled up as if I was going to yell the note. What came out was an ugly, brassy sound. He said "That is an unprotected sound, not covered". He asked me to sing the note again with my head tilted up. As I sang the note, he asked me to place my index finger on my chin and gently pull my head back down to a more level position".

As I sang the note with my head up, the sound was once again ugly and brassy. As I slowly pulled my head down to a more comfortable, level position with my index finger, I immediately noticed that the sound shot straight up into my head, and to my ears, sounded beautiful. I was astonished. All of those years of wondering what covering the sound meant, and there it was, with a simple adjustment of the head position. Singing in "protection" or "cover" is the exact opposite of singing straight out of the mouth.

"When you hear a singer sing straight out of the mouth, like many of the contestants on "American Idol" or "The Voice", you hear a sound that is yelled and strained. This is because the singer has not learned the idea of accessing their internal, acoustic space. For many of these untrained singers, volume is prized over beauty of sound. But when you listen to a great singer like Adele, Sam Smith, Billy Joel, Steve Perry or Luther Vandross, you hear a beautifully produced sound that is "covered". These amazing singers have learned to access their internal acoustic resonance, which maximizes the natural color and ring of the voice. In other words, by singing in protection or cover, we tap into true beauty of the human voice.

It seems that some contemporary, commercial vocal techniques don't understand this very important concept. And that if the singer covers the sound, they will wind up sounding like an opera singer. I learned through my 16 years of study with Maestro Jones, that singing in protection is really the only way to sing ANYTHING over the longterm. In the band I currently sing with, I am required to sing much of the current pop music such as the top 40 hit called "Shut Up And Dance" by Walk The Moon. This is a song that could very easily be yelled straight out of the mouth. But because most of the gigs I do last anywhere from 4 to 5 hours or more, if I yell the song, I will not make it through the rest of the night, much less be able to sing "Journey", "Bruno Mars", "Bon Jovi" or anything else.

I will make a video on the actual process of learning to cover the sound. But until then, I can think of no better way to let you guys see what covering means, than by sharing a video of the great tenor Luciano Pavarotti talking about this concept in the video below. I share this video with every new student who asks about "covering". Regardless of the genre they sing, once they see the video they will usually say something like: "Oh, that makes total sense now!"

Here's the video. Watch, learn and enjoy!



Pavarotti about covered sound

Luciano Pavarotti speaks about covered sound at his masterclass.


Jeffrey Stanfill