Over a year ago, we took a first look at the famous Les Miserables song “I Dreamed a Dream,” in one of our Hard Songs To Sing posts. Because there were so many hard songs that came out in the past year that I wanted to write about, I’m just now getting to “I Dreamed a Dream, Part 2.” I chose this song for my Hard Songs To Sing collection, not because it has unreachable high notes, but because it’s so dynamic and offers a great opportunity to give you a mini lesson in vocal technique.
Because it’ll be useful for this tutorial, I’m using the same infographic that we used for Part 1.
How To Sing “I Dreamed a Dream,” Part By Part
Beginning of the Song: 0.17-0.47
The beginning of the song, in this case a few lines of recitative, is essentially just Fantine’s weary, rambling thoughts. Because it’s so low, you may want to just belt this part out, but try to resist the temptation. How do you think you would speak weary, rambling thoughts? Probably not powerfully! Consider singing this in a headmix, a blend of chest and head resonance that has a predominantly heady quality to it. To achieve this, visualize your voice gently falling onto the notes instead of pushing into them. Think of what it feels like to speak quietly when you aren’t in a whisper.
Rising Momentum: 2.20-2.33
The song builds to more of a controlled intensity on “But the tigers come at night.” You still won’t be at full power, but you’ll need to start opening up and concentrating on your resonators. Instead of making this part conversational, start to open your mouth more on your sustained vowels. For example, instead of singing the words tigers and night the way you’d speak them, try modifying to “t-aaaahi-gers” and “naaaaihgt.” To add some warmth to your sound, think about creating more space between your tongue and soft palate by imagining an apple on the back of your tongue.
First Climax: 2.33
For most students I’ve taught, one of the most difficult moments of the song is the 5-note climb up on the word shame. Not only is it difficult to not use up all your air too quickly, but for many singers, it’s the part of the song where they first have to shift registers. I approach this word with students in two different ways. For students very comfortable with mixed belting, I have them modify the vowel in shame to an “a” (as in cat). This will help them stay chesty throughout the passage. For students less comfortable with belting, or when I work with beginners or young kids, I have them thin the vowel to something closer to an “EE,” (as in feet) as they go higher and higher. This will help them transition into more of a head-dominant mix on the highest note.
Second Climax: 3.05
The next climactic moment happens at the word stride. The diphthong makes it difficult to sing this word and make it sound anything other than anticlimactic. For this part, whether my student is a belter or not, I have her modify the sustained vowel in stride to an “AH” (bordering on “a” as in cat) so that the word is sung as, “straaaah’d.” This will allow for both more openness and more twang.
Final Climax: 3.52-3.55
Arguably the most difficult part of the song is the sustained seemed in the line, “So different now from what it seemed.” It’s difficult to make this one happen without sounding shrill. Whether students are belting the word or not, it typically helps to open up the “EE” sound a little, even if it’s just to an “i” (as in kick). The sound won’t come out as pinched-sounding.
After the song’s final climax, the intensity abruptly drops back down to a weary, defeated, “Now life has killed the dream I dream.” Let your voice drift back into the fragile headmix we discussed earlier.
To get through the infamous shame passage, it’s important to develop great breath control. Try a humming exercise on 1-5-3-8-5-3-1-5-3-8-5-3-1. Do it more and more slowly over time, and see if you can do it without draining too much air. When that becomes easy, try the exercise on a vowel.
NEE NEE NEE!
Try arpeggiating on “NEE NEE.” As you go higher and higher, make sure you keep the brightness and spoken quality of it, but begin to open up the vowel just a little bit, verging on an “i” (as in kick). Work toward keeping the same power on the high notes as you get on the low notes, but make sure you back off if the notes start sounding shrill.
Come Back Soon!
I hope this tutorial has at least gotten you thinking about the many ways you can interpret this dynamic song. Please feel free to comment with any questions or to request the next hard-to-sing song for this collection.