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Hard Songs to Sing: Listen, by Beyonce

Beyonce-2008, by Noemi Nuñez, under CC BY-SA

It’s not as current as most of the songs on this list, but it’s certainly one worth revisiting and, even more than many other songs I’ve written about, deserves a place in my Hard Songs to Sing collection. The first couple verses and courses of Beyonce’s “Listen,” while not easy, are relatively manageable. And then the confidence-shaking bridge happens, not to mention the out-of-control difficult last chorus. If you’ve found that “Listen” is a melody you can start but can’t complete, we’ve got some tips to help you find your own voice throughout the whole song.

Why Is This Song Hard?

The Runs Are Brutal.

Beyonce’s runs are tough anyway, but “Listen” includes a long Beyonce run that she belts all the way up to an F#5.

The Notes are High For a Belt. Really, Really High.

The end of the bridge isn’t the only F#5 in the song. The note is also used on the word complete in the last chorus.

The High Belt Notes Are Sustained.

The only thing harder than a high belt is a high belt you need to sustain. Beyonce may not be sustaining the F#5’s, but she does sustain some Eb5’s, along with Db5’s with very long holds.

Instant Gratification

Drill the Runs

Once you have the vocal chops to sing through a run and hit all the notes comfortably, you can drill the runs like anything else you’d practice again and again. Try putting “na” onto every note in a run so that you can get used to the individual notes. Learn a few notes at a time, starting at the end. Once you have 2 or 3 notes down, add some more, until you’ve worked your way to the beginning of the run. Eventually get rid of the “na” sound and put the word back in. If you feel your run getting muddy, go back to the “na.”

Modify Toward Twangy Vowels Wherever Possible

Modifying toward the “a” (as in cat) sound works wonders for a high belt, or even a faux-belt (basically a twangy head-mix.) “I’ll” can be modified to an “a” sound with the “l” almost dropped. “Listen” can be opened up until it’s almost “lasten.” “Me” can be opened to “mae.” “Find” can be modified to “fand.” If you listen to Beyonce, she even narrows the word “won’t” on the long run at the end of the bridge to almost an “a” sound toward the end of the run.

Kill the Consonants

On that high a belt, pronouncing all your consonants just isn’t going to fly if you want to keep everything open and relaxed. Beyonce gets rid of the “t” in “won’t” entirely. She modifies the “t” in “heart” and “start” to the softer “d” sound, along with softening the “r” in heart until the word is almost “hahd.” She also greatly softens the “l” in “will and knocks out the “g” in “feeling.”

Not-So-Instant Gratification

“A” Exercise

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As with “Problems,” by Ariana Grande, “Listen” is also a clear case where the “A” exercise is perfect. Arpeggiate on a witch-like “A” sound, maybe even sticking your tongue out if your tongue has a tendency to retract. If you’re twangy enough on those incredibly high notes, not only is it easier to develop a relaxed, light belt over time, but it’s even possible to go into more of a head-mix early on and still sound like you’re belting.

“A” Exercise With a Sustain

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Now try the exercise with a sustain on the last note. It’ll feel harder to belt this one, and you may need to go into a head-mix earlier than you did in the last exercise, but keep the forward witchy sound, regardless of which register you’re in.

Have a song you’d like to see a Hard Songs To Sing post on? Let me know in the comments section below.

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