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Tips for Singers:
Advanced Tips For Song Mastery
by Richard Baisner

In this article I’m going to discuss the phonetic system I use to help me learn new songs and master those that I already do.

Oftentimes I’ll hear someone tell me, "You sound just like so-and-so." Of course, my natural voice has something to do with it, but a lot of it has to do with the fact that I’ve studied the singing style of the original artist and practiced repeatedly. So let’s begin!

First, I begin by dissecting the song, syllable by syllable. I’ve stressed before the importance of having the lyrics of the song in front of you while practicing, and it helps tremendously if the lyrics are in a word processor where you can modify the words as you see fit. Examples of how I do this follow.

Vowel Variations: The on-screen lyrics might display the word "doing", but how does the original artist pronounce it? For example, does it sound like "do-en", "do-in," or "do-ing"? I’ve found that oftentimes the word "to" is often pronounced more like "ta", and "you" sounds more like "ya". The word "motion" may be pronounced "mo-shun," "mo-shin," or even "mo-shen". More examples include: "lover" vs. "lovah", and "thee" vs. "the". These slight variations in vowel pronunciations put icing on the cake on how closely you match the song to the original. Of course, you can always add your own style, but I find it challenging and fun to try to imitate the original artist as close as I can. The following are other subtleties that I consider when analyzing the song.

Special Effects: Do certain syllables sound more raspy, guttural, or breathy than the others? If so, I make a side note to myself next to the word on my lyric sheet. To do these effects, practice singing words with your tongue in different locations, or changing the shape of your mouth while singing. If you have difficulty producing the right effect, consider whether or not there are emotions associated to the words. Meaning, if you can sing with emotion behind the words (even if you’re just pretending), this can often help you get the special effect you desire. Try to create a mental scenario of what the song is about. Is the singer signing with feelings of sadness, surprise, anger, or excitement? You can pretend you are "telling a story" to the audience, sharing a personal experience, or whatever the song may be about.

Connected Words: Which words of your song mesh together? I find it extremely helpful if I change my lyric sheets to reflect this. For example, I might change the words "what you need" to "wutchaneed." If there is more of a pause in between the words, I might in extra spaces in between the words or separate them with a comma, depending on how long the pause is.

Syllable Length: Pay special attention to the length of each syllable. However, don’t just consider the vowels. I’ve found that almost every consonant can also be "stretched out," either at the beginning of the syllable or at the end. Place special emphasis on the consonants where appropriate. I have found that the most common consonants that I hear length variations are on "S’s" and "T’s". "S’s" can be sung with more of a hissing sound (or a lisp), and "T’s" can sometimes be pronounced very distinctly or even barely heard at all.

Volume: Check for the volume of each syllable being sung. It might vary from a whisper to more of a shout. The syllable may start off quiet and progressively get louder or vice versa.

Pitch: Some syllables don’t always maintain the same pitch. This topic is quite broad for this article, but I’ll give a few examples. Some syllables can start off in one pitch and slightly rise up or down, or it can be even more drastic, putting you into falsetto. On my lyric sheet, I’ll draw a curvy line above the syllable to designate how the pitch goes. If the last word in the lyrical sentence goes up in pitch, it helps if I pretend the sentence is really a question. This way, my voice will raise in pitch automatically.

Once you get the little twists and turns in your song documented, you can listen to the original and read along when practicing. This way, when you’re on stage you’ll find that the on-screen lyrics don’t mean a whole lot anymore. Your brain will replace the words seen with what you practiced with on your customized lyric sheet! All these little distinctions can make quite a difference in your performance. And, as always, have fun!

(reprinted with the kind permission of
Richard Baisner a.k.a. Grateful)

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