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BUSTED: Ken Tamplin’s 5 Reasons Speech Level Singing (SLS) Doesn’t Work!

BUSTED: Ken Tamplin’s 5 Reasons Speech Level Singing (SLS) Doesn’t Work!

I shouldn’t be telling you this.

But the lie has gone on long enough!

Speech Level Singing (SLS) actually does work!

Just ask Ken Tamplin.

Who is Ken Tamplin and why should we ask him?

If you’re not familiar, Ken Tamplin is a popular YouTube vocal coach and singing teacher.

Ken Tamplin's YouTube channel videos

In addition to his singing videos, Tamplin is a well-known critic of one of the most popular singing techniques called Speech Level Singing, also known as SLS. 

In fact, in March 2013 Tamplin published a video titled “SLS – Speech Level Singing – Does Not Work – 5 Big Reasons” as well as an accompanying blog on his website called “Speech Level Singing (SLS) Does NOT Work Teaching You How to Sing”

Splash image of Ken Tamplin's SLS Doesn't Work video

The titles say it all:

Tamplin claims SLS doesn’t work and he lists reasons why.

So why ask a teacher who hates Speech Level Singing for proof that it works?

The answer is simple:

Because Ken Tamplin’s teaching is directly influenced by Speech Level Singing.

Don’t get me wrong: Tamplin’s technique is different from SLS in lots of interesting ways.

But out of Tamplin’s reasons why SLS doesn’t work, all of them are either factually wrong or exactly the same thing Tamplin himself teaches.

All this begs the question:

Why would Tamplin pretend to hate a technique that he himself uses?

The answer is simple:

It’s good marketing.

The truth is that controversy always gives you publicity. 

And in the singing world, claiming that one of the most popular singing techniques of all time doesn’t work is pretty controversial.

And it seems to be working!

In fact, when you Google “Speech Level Singing”, Tamplin’s article shows up 2nd.

On YouTube, Tamplin’s video also ranks 2nd.

And with approximately 10,000 searches for “Speech Level Singing” every month, there are probably a lot of people who see Tamplin’s article are turned off of SLS without realizing how much he’s borrowed from it.

So today, let’s discuss Tamplin’s reasons that SLS doesn’t work.

For every reason Tamplin gives, I’ll show you why his reasons are either incorrect or the same thing that he himself teaches.

Now just a quick disclaimer before we get started:

I am not a spokesperson for any of these singing techniques. I’m just a voice teacher who likes to study good vocal technique.

I’m sure Ken Tamplin is a really nice guy. But it’s not fair to the students out there who want to improve their singing technique and are turned off of SLS by someone who teaches some of the same ideas.

So here are six reasons that Speech Level Singing (SLS) actually DOES work.

Myth #1: Speech Level Singing was Designed for Speaking, Not Singing

A man at an office desk gesturing with his hands to convey a point

The first reason Tamplin gives that SLS doesn’t work is that it was initially designed for speakers, not singers.

This was an interesting place for him to start since it’s the easiest to disprove.

The founder of Speech Level Singing, Seth Riggs, has dedicated his life to helping singers improve their voice.

Here’s what you need to know:

Seth Riggs was born in 1930 and graduated with a Master’s Degree in Opera Theatre from the Manhattan School of Music. 

singing coach seth briggs in front of a microphone

After graduating, Riggs began coaching Broadway singers, where he became frustrated that some of the ideals of the Old Italian School of classical singing were being lost.

Riggs then moved to Los Angeles for a short-lived teaching post at a college. But he soon left and built up a large studio of his own clients.

In his career of over 50 years teaching singing, Riggs’ big contribution to modern music was learning to apply the ideals of the Old Italian School of singing to modern music like Rock, Pop, RnB and Jazz.

And pretty soon, Riggs became famous for working with singers like Michael Jackson, Stevie Wonder, Bette Midler and Ray Charles.

As Riggs’ became more well-known, he began to form a vocal training program called “Speech Level Singing”.

According to the website, the goal of Speech Level Singing is to have the “vocal cords stay together from the very bottom of the vocal range to the very top” while keeping the larynx relaxed.

Riggs believes that if the cords remain together, you’ll be able to sing from the bottom to the top of your voice without any breaks or strain and this way you can sing easily across your whole vocal range.

Speech Level Singing teaches the best way to keep the cords together is to keep the voice strong, resonant and relaxed like in the speaking voice.

So Speech Level Singing is called “Speech-Level”, not because it’s designed for speakers, but because SLS teaches you to sing across your range with the same relaxation and tone as your speaking voice.

And that means hitting high notes with power, learning to belt safely and singing without falsetto.

You can see Riggs explain the technique himself in this interview:

So now that you understand that the purpose of Speech Level Singing was always to help singers, not speakers, let’s get into myth #2.

Myth #2: SLS Doesn’t Teach the Bright Vocal Sound Needed to Grow the Voice

A male guitar player singing into a microphone on stage

The second reason Ken Tamplin gives that SLS doesn’t work is that Speech Level Singing doesn’t teach the “bright vocal sound” that singers need to grow their voice.

Again, this is a pretty silly idea since it’s so easy to disprove.

There are a lot of exercises in the Speech Level Singing program that use the exact same “bright” sounds as Tamplin.

And since Seth Riggs began teaching more than 20 years before Tamplin, it’s likely that Tamplin was influenced by SLS.

Here’s a little background:

Around the 7th century in Rome, voice teachers from the Old Italian School of singing began experimenting with different ways to help singers hit higher notes.

After a lot of trial and error (and a lot of really weird sounds), teachers discovered the “witchy” voice which helped singers transition between their chest voice and head voice more easily.

This “witchy” sound is very bright and brassy, like the sound of the Wicked Witch of the West’s voice.

Wicked Witch of the West from the film The Wizard of Oz

So how does this “witchy” singing technique work?

Well, voice teachers found that when a singer added the “witchy” sound to their high notes, the head voice register became stronger and less breaky than falsetto.

With the head voice stronger, students were able to blend their chest voice and head voice registers together more smoothly.

Now that we have the benefit of vocal science, we know that the “witchy” sound brings the vocal cords together more.

The vocal folds closed or approximated

And when the vocal cords are vibrating together more, we get a richer, clearer and often brighter sound.

Now, here’s where it gets crazy:

Seth Riggs was a HUGE advocate for using the “witchy” sound when training singers. There are tons of “witchy” and bright vocal exercises in SLS.

Remember, “keeping the vocal cords together from the bottom to the top of the range” is the entire goal of Speech Level Singing.

And the “witchy” voice is a great tool to help students do this.

You can see Riggs demonstrating this “witchy” sound with a student (start video around 15 minutes) :

That’s exactly the same sound that Ken Tamplin is referring to!

Now, even though Riggs didn’t invent the “witchy” sound, he definitely made it famous!

And since Riggs began teaching these “witchy” sounds years before Tamplin, it’s easy to see that Tamplin simply borrowed this technique.

A lot of people may disagree and say that Tamplin’s version of the “witchy” sound is different.

But the biggest difference in Tamplin’s “bright vocal sound” is that he uses the exercise “La” as in “Law” in order to teach this “witchy” sound. SLS uses more “front” vowels such as “Ae” (as in “Apple”) or “Ay” (as in “Ate”).

However, when you see Tamplin explain the “witchy” sound, it’s pretty obvious that this is exactly the same idea that’s taught by SLS.

By the way, if you want to hit higher notes, here’s a vocal warmup that uses some of these ugly sounds:

How to Sing High Notes without Falsetto–Works for Guys and Girls!

So now that you see that these bright vocal sounds are a big part of Speech Level Singing, let’s get into the Ken Tamplin’s 3rd myth for why SLS doesn’t work.

Myth #3: SLS Teaches Early Bridging Which Pampers the Chest Voice

baby in a weight room standing in front of a barbell

The third reason that Tamplin gives that SLS doesn’t work is because it teaches “early bridging”.

Tamplin goes on to explain that if a singer “bridges” too early, this will weaken the chest voice leading to muscle atrophy.

Yikes! Muscle atrophy? That sounds super scary!

But don’t let Tamplin’s scare tactics frighten you. There are no studies or vocal science to back up his claim.

Now that that’s out of the way, let’s talk about bridging.

If you haven’t heard the term “bridging” before, don’t worry.

Here’s what you need to know:

“Bridging” refers to when a singer transitions from their chest voice to their head voice.

a diagram of the vocal registers

When a singer bridges correctly, you can’t hear any change between the chest voice and the head voice and the entire range sounds even and strong.

Remember, keeping the voice sounding even and strong from bottom to top is the entire goal of SLS training.

But Tamplin argues that Speech Level Singing teaches singers to “bridge” to the head voice too early, leading to a weak chest voice.

So where does SLS teach singers to bridge?

Speech Level Singing teaches that men should start bridging around an E4.

And women should start bridging around an A4.

Here’s a video where Riggs explains the bridges:

Seth Riggs: Moving Through the Bridges

Now, here’s where it gets crazy:

Let’s look at where Ken Tamplin recommends for singers to bridge.

Tamplin also recommends that men bridge at an E4 and women bridge at an A4!

So if SLS teaches singers to bridge too early, why would Tamplin recommend men and women bridge in the exact same location?

It’s clear that Tamplin just borrowed the idea for where men and women should bridge from SLS.

Now that you understand that Tamplin teaches his singers to bridge in the exact same place as SLS, let’s talk about Ken Tamplin’s 4th myth why SLS doesn’t work.

Myth #4: SLS Doesn’t Teach the Bright Ping in the Head Voice

Young woman singing into a microphone on stage in purple lighting

The fourth reason Tamplin gives that SLS doesn’t work is that Speech Level Singing doesn’t teach the “bright ping” in the head voice.

Tamplin explains that this bright ping is what makes the chest and head voice sound equally strong and resonant.

And just like Tamplin’s second reason SLS doesn’t work (that SLS Doesn’t Teach Bright Vocal Sounds), Tamplin’s 4th reason is equally easy to disprove.

After all, the “witchy” voice is built directly into a lot of SLS exercises to help singers sing from the bottom to the top of their voice evenly.

The truth is that helping singers go from the bottom to the top of their voice is the entire goal of Speech Level Singing training.

It even says that on the website:

A Description of the Speech Level Singing Method from the website

And one of the best ways to help a singer learn to make this transition is to use the “witchy” voice.

Remember, this “witchy” sound was discovered around the 7th century by teachers in the Old Italian School to help singers hit higher notes with power.

But Seth Riggs made this bright “witchy” sound famous because he helped his students in Rock, Pop, and RnB music blend their vocal registers better.

And this “witchy” sound is exactly the same “bright ping” sound that Tamplin claims is not a part of SLS.

Here’s a great video where Master Teacher Guy Babusek explains how to get the bright ping of the “pharyngeal” voice on high notes:

The Pharyngeal Voice

And again, since Riggs began teaching this technique 20 years before Tamplin, it’s pretty likely that Tamplin just borrowed this technique from SLS.

So now that you understand that helping students transition between their chest and head voice using these “bright” sounds is a huge part of SLS training, let’s talk about Tamplin’s 5th myth that SLS doesn’t work.

Myth #5: SLS Is Bogged Down with Exercises That Have No Practical Application

Little blonde boy holding breath by plugging his nose

Tamplin’s fifth reason that SLS doesn’t work is that Speech Level Singing has tons of vocal exercises that have no application to singing.

Now here’s the bottom line:

At the end of the day, Tamplin’s fifth reason is just an opinion. And you can’t disprove an opinion.

But let’s unpack this idea for a minute.

The concept behind vocal exercises is pretty simple:

If you can sing a specific sound from the bottom to the top of your voice without breaking or straining, then you can gradually learn to do it in a song.

For example, if you can sing a “Gee” on a scale from the bottom to the top of your range without breaking or straining, you can apply the same feeling to a song.

If you’re interested, here’s a video where I show you how to do the “Gee” exercise:

10 Singing Techniques to Improve Your Voice

But why start with vocal warm ups? Why don’t you just start by singing songs?

The answer is simple:

In songs, everything is changing all the time.

The melody, vowels, consonants and dynamics are changing constantly.

And if you’re just learning how to sing, it can be a lot harder to sing when things are changing so much.

But with a vocal exercise, it helps to keep something the same.

Then once you can sing across your range without breaking or straining, you can try to do the same in a song.

But to Ken Tamplin’s point, yes, SLS does have lots of silly exercises in its training.

But here’s the ugly truth:

EVERY singing technique has ridiculous exercises to help singers improve their voice.

And Ken Tamplin gives his students scales, exercises and ugly sounds just like SLS does.

The difference is that in SLS, these exercises have been proven to help you sing songs better.

So now that you understand that every singing technique has some funny exercises (yes, even Tamplin’s), and these warm ups can help you sing songs better, let’s talk about Ken Tamplin’s final myth that SLS doesn’t work.

Myth #6: SLS Teachers Don’t Show Themselves or Their Students Singing

stevie wonder with a mic

Tamplin’s sixth reason that SLS doesn’t work is that Speech Level Singing teachers don’t show their students or themselves singing on their websites.

After all, Tamplin argues, if SLS works why wouldn’t you show your students singing?

And just like the first myth (that SLS was designed for speaking, not singing), this one is easy to disprove since Seth became so famous for teaching very popular singers.

The fact is there are tons of SLS teachers that showcase their students singing on their websites and social media.

Actually, I’m constantly amazed at how talented some SLS students are, not to mention the teachers themselves.

So why would Tamplin say something that’s so easy to disprove?

My guess is that back when Ken Tamplin made his video in 2013, there weren’t a ton of SLS teachers with very good websites.

But there certainly are now!

Here are a couple videos of Australian vocal coach, Lara Tenhorn’s, students. Tenhorn is a phenomenal voice teacher certified with the Institute for Vocal Advancement.

None of these students are famous yet. But as you can see they’re all spectacular!

"Smoke" by Bobi Andonov – Cover by Matt Swift

Here’s one of Lara’s students Chelsea LaRosa covering Justin Bieber’s “I’m Sorry”.

"Sorry" by Justin Bieber – Cover by Chelsea LaRosa

And here’s another student of Lara’s singing Tori Kelly’s “Confetti”.

Confetti – Tori Kelly cover by Grace Izzard

But even if Tamplin believes that only celebrity singers prove that a vocal technique works, everyone in the music industry knows which famous singers have had SLS training.

If you’re interested, here are just a few famous singers who have had Speech Level Singing training:

-Brandon Flowers (The Killers)

-Brandon Urie (Panic! At the Disco)

-Sara Bareilles

-Regina Spektor

-Adam Lambert (Queen)

-Michael Jackson

-Stevie Wonder

-Anthony Kiedis (Red Hot Chili Peppers)

-Selena Gomez

-Michael Bolton

-Justin Bieber

-Bette Midler

-Ray Charles

-Madonna

-Olivia Newton-John

-Ozzy Osborne

-Prince

-Bonnie Raitt

-Lionel Ritchie

-Diana Ross

-Nina Simone

-Tina Turner

-Franki Valli

As a matter of fact, here’s a cool video of Michael Jackson having a lesson with Seth Riggs: 

Michael Jackson & Seth Riggs Vocal Training Session

So now that you’ve seen that Tamplin’s six reasons SLS doesn’t work are either factually wrong or the same thing that he himself teaches, let’s talk about the true reason that Ken Tamplin claims that SLS does not work.

The Real Reason Ken Tamplin Says “SLS Does NOT Work”

Image of Ken Tamplin with the text "Busted: Ken Tamplin's 5 Myths SLS Doesn't Work"

By now, you’ve seen proof that Tamplin’s six reasons SLS doesn’t work are not true.

So why would Ken Tamplin claim that SLS doesn’t work?

Again, the answer is simple:

It’s good marketing.

Remember, controversy breeds publicity.

And in singing, there’s nothing more controversial than saying that a time-tested technique is actually BS.

In fact, it’s hard to estimate how many people have seen Tamplin’s articles and decided that his technique was more effective than SLS without knowing how much he uses it.

So if you’ve had your doubts about taking lessons in Speech Level Singing, I hope that this article will encourage you to give it another shot.

But in the end, the effectiveness of any singing technique isn’t in the exercises or scales that a teacher gives.

In fact, the power of a vocal technique comes down to one thing:

Having a relationship of trust with your singing teacher.

And if you feel that your singing teacher can help you sing better and has your best interests at heart, you will progress. That’s all there is to it!

But when teachers make false claims to inflate their publicity, it takes some trust out of that relationship.

It’s already hard enough to learn to sing without having to be skeptical of whether a teacher knows what they’re doing.

So if you’d like to take lessons with a teacher that cares about you and your goals, perhaps book a lesson with Ramsey Voice Studio or enroll in my premium singing course, Master Your Voice.

2 Comments

  • by Darren Posted August 6, 2019 8:55 am

    What a great article, Matt! There is an old joke – show me 100 voice teachers and I will show you 100 opinions on voice technique. it is a shame when people like Ken Tamplin use their influence to criticise or pull-down another teacher. TRUE PROFESSIONALS DON’T PULL DOWN OTHERS TO MAKE THEMSELVES GREAT. IN FACT, TRUE VOICE COACHES WHO SEE THEMSELVES AS PROFESSIONALS AND WHO ARE MEMBERS OF PROFESSIONAL ASSOCIATIONS, SUCH AS NATS, SIGN A CODE OF CONDUCT THAT SAYS WE WON’T BEHAVE IN UNPROFESSIONAL WAYS LIKE THIS. DOES TAMPLIN HAVE ANY FORMAL QUALIFICATIONS IN MUSIC OR VOICE PEDAGOGY? IS HE A MEMBER OF ANY PROFESSIONAL ASSOCIATIONS? DOES HE ATTEND CONFERENCES AND PRESENT? DOES HE READ PROFESSIONAL LITERATURE? IS HE OPEN TO THE OPINON OF OTHERS? I’M SURE HE WOULD SAY HIS EDUCATION IS IN THE UNIVERSITY OF LIFE…

    IN THE PAST TWO DECADES, There has been countless research into the VALUE OF singing IN A PERSON’S LIFE. THE RESEARCH DEMONSTRATES THAT IT IS SINGING AND SHARING SINGING WITH OTHERS THAT MAKES A HUGE DIFFERENCE IN THE QUALITY OF A PERSON’S LIFE. IT IS SINGING THAT IS TRANSFORMATIVE, NOT devotion to a PARTICULAR TECHNIQUE. the census figures show a very small per cent of the population is involved in recreational singing – probably less than 10%. Therefore, there is 90% of the population who are still to discover the joy and life-changing gift of singing. Why focus on the internal squabbles about which technique is best, when we all (that is all voice coaches) have our work cut out for us?

    • by Matt Ramsey Posted August 6, 2019 10:12 am

      Thanks for your comment Darren!
      I couldn’t agree more.
      Again, the point of the article is not to “pull down” Ken Tamplin or any other vocal coach, but rather to illustrate the ways in which his technique is directly influenced by SLS.
      And since he so flagrantly criticizes SLS, in my opinion, it’s not fair to the 90% of the population who want to discover the joy of singing, but are probably turned off by Tamplin’s negative marketing.

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