the Song That Fits
Baxter - source
a vocal therapist, my client list mirrors the music business
pyramid; a few stars, a dozen or more on their way
up, and hundreds of hopefuls.
has become clear to me that these plateaus do not necessarily
reflect vocal ability (the unknown talent I work with would
blow your mind), but more of a combination of elements. At some
point, those who feel passed-over by this random selection of
fate ask the question: What makes some people great singers?
Assuming everyone is giving their best effort, why do some vocalists
stand out from the pack? The answer is so simple, and its
so often overlooked.
singers do is sing songs that they sing great. I know this seems
like doublespeak but its the truth. No one can sing every
song well. Can you imagine Celine Dion trying to sound like
Melissa Etheridge? Of course not, so she doesn't try. Every
singer needs to create a wardrobe full of songs which fits their
voice as naturally as a favorite pair of jeans would their waist.
Forcing and squeezing yourself into the current vocal trend
is the surest way to highlight weaknesses. Not surprisingly,
with every new singing style, vocal therapists like me see an
emergence of new complaints. Often, the problem is not the singers,
but the songs.
Range Is Home?
Two important aspects need to fall into place before singer
and song become one. The first and most obvious is range. When
singing cover songs, it requires finding the best key. Its
best to prepare a song in a couple of keys, just to insure your
comfort. To find the best key, sing the song a cappella. Without
a musical reference, you'll naturally adjust. Before settling
on a key, however, factor in performance adrenaline. If you're
too comfortable, you'll miss the physical connection on stage.
Isolate the highest and lowest notes of the song. The general
range between the two is called the tessitura. Sing the phrase
with the highest pitches several times in a row. If you're fatiguing
after two or three repetitions, drop down a half step and try
again. Don't forget about the lowest pitches. Are they difficult
to project? If you can't seem to find a good key for the song,
the problem may be psychological. Popular songs are often so
stuck in our heads that its hard to imagine them sung
differently. The best way to override this barrier is to sing
the song using gibberish instead of the lyrics. Once you get
past the silliness of it, you'll find notes slipping out which
are usually strained. If a compromise cant be found, drop
the song. Remember, singing covers is like wearing someone elses
clothes. They wont all fit perfectly.
find a comfortable pocket for your song you'll need to be able
to tell the KJ what key you want. Using a keyboard or guitar,
find the pitch of the first word in the original recording (the
hunt and peck method works fine). You dont need to know
the name of the pitch, just remember where it is on the instrument.
Then find the pitch of the first word in your version. Count
the number of keys or frets between the two. This is the number
of half steps you would like the song to be lowered or raised.
Experimentation and experience will make you a pro at this.
The second most important factor in custom fitting a song is
the lyrics. All too often, singers fail to relate to the lyrics
theyre singing. Instead they concentrate on pitch. Im
not talking about changing the world with a chorus line, but
inspiring yourself. Pitch and projection are muscle related
aspects of singing and emotion is the all too important third
dimension. The physical challenge of singing a song is not enough
to captivate an audience. The lyrics have got to stir something
inside you. Screaming is no substitute for emotion. The combination,
however, of a heartfelt sentiment sung at the threshold of physical
ability is too powerful to ignore.
Do not confuse
great with popular. All great singers do not automatically become
popular, but I do consider all popular singers great . . . great
at being themselves. To connect Whitney Houston with P.J. Harvey,
or Beck with Michael Bolton (all have either won or been nominated
for a best vocal Grammy), look no further than their personalities.
Their one common trait is that each found the courage to be
themselves -- sometimes at the cost of relentless criticism
or financial success. On the karaoke scene this means letting
the real you shine. Youll be pleasantly surprised at how
much better your reception will be when you sing a song you
truly love rather than one you think the crowd will love. Singing
a popular song only works if it highlights your strengths. So,
if there are songs in your repertoire which are either inconsistent
or require you to oversell them -- take them back to the laboratory.
If vocal limitations are preventing you from letting go, then
you owe it to yourself to improve your skills. To access the
full potential of your vocal instrument, though, your songs
have got to be like your favorite pair of jeans. Because all
it takes to be a great singer, is to get lost in a song.
Baxter is a vocal therapist
who offers private and video lessons. To contact him, call:
Visit his website at: www.voicelesson.com
with the kind permission of Singer