Tag Archives: belt

Hard Songs to Sing: Never Enough, from The Greatest Showman

Hard Songs to Sing: Never Enough, from The Greatest Showman

A couple months ago, we put together a Hard Songs to Sing tutorial on A Million Dreams, from The Greatest Showman. Since then, other Greatest Showman songs have spiked in popularity as well–in particular, the very challenging “Never Enough.” Not only does “Never Enough” take a considerable range and incredible endurance to conquer, but to sing it the way Loren Allred does, you need to be able to shift comfortably between a head-mix and a belt throughout the song.

Why Is This Song Hard

The Low Note is Low!

Eb3 (that is, the Eb below middle C) is too low for many women.

The Chorus is a Piece of Work

Ideally, you should be able to master the chorus in both a head-mix and a belt so that the song builds. This won’t be possible for all voices to do safely right off the bat, but it’s a great goal.

The Sustained Eb5 on Enough

No way around it. That sustained high note that happens at about 1.50 of the video, is just flat-out tough, especially if you’re going for a belt.

The Buildup to the High Me

“EE” isn’t a particularly easy vowel to sing high notes on, regardless of whether they’re in head voice or belted. So it’s no surprise that the buildup at 3.06 trips people up.

Instant Gratification

When in Doubt, Modify

There’s way more you can do to extend your high range than your low range. Low notes require a certain amount of vocal fold thickness that, frankly, is just not possible past a certain point for women (and men) with smaller vocal folds. If you’re close to grabbing that Eb3 on the words way and now, it might be worth working on. Not pushing into the note will help, along with lowering your larynx by gently sighing into the words.

If those notes are out of reach for you, no worries! Just keep way and now on the Ab. In other words, way can stay on the same note as this, and now can stay on the same note as the “er” in louder. Listen to the sound example for clarification.

Use Vowels to Your Advantage

Head-mix vowels tend to be a little different than belt-mix vowels. “EE” tends to help facilitate heady sounds, so when you first go up to that take in “take my hand,” try lingering on the “EE” part of vowel.

When you get to the section where you start belting never in the chorus (or even if you just want to stick with a head-mix), try the following: Keep the “eh” vowel with the back of your tongue, but say “naver” (with an “a” as in cat) with the front of your tongue. The “eh” will keep your soft palate lifted and will help create more space in your mouth, while the “a” at the front of your mouth will brighten the word and make it easier to belt or get some twang out of.

When you get to the “enough” that gets sustained on the Db5 at 2.35, open the vowel into the twangiest “ah” (as in hot) that you can muster. In fact, it should be so twangy that it almost feels like an “a” (as in cat). Your face should look like you’re taking a big bite out of an apple.

When you get to the “for me” section that climbs higher and higher at the end, change “me” to “may.” The more open vowel will both sound beltier and less pinched.

Bite an Apple

We mentioned it briefly, but on all the tough belt notes, or even if you’re just going for an intense head-mix, make your face look like it’s biting an apple. This’ll serve you on the me’s, the nevers, and even those really high enoughs. The bite face will help add brightness and keep your soft palate high to create a big, rich sound.

Not So Instant Gratification

Never Enough Support

First off, you need a mountain of support for those sustained belts. There’s really no quick fix for that one, so hop on over to another one of our posts to learn how to find your support muscles.

Brighten Your Voice Like a Thousand Spotlights

You really have to learn to twang to have a shot at this one. Here are some vocal exercises to help you out.

Na Na Na

Go for a bratty “na” sound. If you’ve read my blog before, you’re probably familiar with this one. Don’t worry about belting at first, but as your voice feels up to it, try to add to your belt range. ***Remember, if you feel a scratch, tickle, or cough, it means you need to back off and try again later.

Na Na Nah Nah

Start with the “na” and then open up to an “ah” sound. The “ah” is a little harder, because the higher-tongued “a” makes brightness easier and keeps things from getting clunky.

Sustain the Nah

The hardest, of course, is when you add a sustain. When the first two exercises feel easy for you, try holding out one of the Nah’s. Sustaining tends to be where singers get the most tense and uncomfortable, so keep returning to those support exercises and try some of these relaxation maneuvers: rock your head back and forth, walk around, or massage your jaw.

Have a hard-to-sing song you’d like to see featured in this collection? Let us know in the comments section. Want to know if you’re doing it right? Post clips to instagram or facebook and tag our handle, @mollysmusicschool, for some feedback.

A Million Dreams - The Greatest Showman: Hard Songs to Sing

Hard Songs to Sing: A Million Dreams, from The Greatest Showman

By far, my most requested song to learn in voice lessons from both boys and girls right now is “A Million Dreams,” from the film The Greatest Showman. It may not be as tough to sing as “This is Me,” from the same movie, but it poses a unique set of challenges that singers new to belting sometimes struggle with. We thought it would be the perfect addition to our Hard Songs to Sing collection.

Why Is This Song Hard

1. The choruses start low and then quickly build to higher notes, leading some singers to tense up, get shouty, or flip into falsetto and drop out at the top.
2. The bridge has some sustained B4’s that can get tough.
3. The last “A million dreams for the world we’re gonna make” in the song will test your breath control. Seriously.

Instant Gratification

The Main Choruses

The problem with these choruses that move from low to high is that singers will have a tendency to start at an easy speech tone and then try to yank that speech tone higher and higher until they’re just shouting.

Try not to visualize the vocal line in the chorus as an upward diagonal line.


Instead, think of a series of waves that slowly drift upward.

This visual will do a number of wonderful things: your larynx won’t have a tendency to go higher and higher, the up-and-over visual will help your soft palate lift and your thyroid cartilage tilt (creating a warmer, more open sound), and the downward motion will help prompt you to use good breath support.

In addition to this visual, there are also some vowel and consonant modifications to try. On the word million, the “l” sound will cut you off prematurely, so just swallow it. It should almost come out “mi-eu-yen,” but maybe not quite that far.

Slightly open the “ee” vowels, like be and see. Your tongue should stay in the “ee” position, but your jaw should release in a way it normally wouldn’t on such a thin vowel.

The Bridge

It’s easy to want to shout up to the high notes in the bridge. Since they aren’t crazy high, it feels like you shouldn’t have to set up for them. But don’t be fooled. You still want to keep that up-and-over feeling we discussed in the chorus section.

When you sing eyes at “close my eyes to see,” visualize that up-and-over feeling and sigh down onto it on an “ah,” keeping your soft palate lifted, your face energized and your breath well supported.

The Final Chorus

The arc of the pitches in the “A million dreams for the world we’re gonna make” line in the final chorus is illustrated by the turquoise curves below.

It requires a significant amount of breath support to go up and down like that and tends to lead singers to run out of breath, go flat by the end, or sometimes just get very tense. However, you can mitigate these difficulties by visualizing the arc differently. Instead of thinking of the line as something that goes up and down, have your body in place for the high part the entire time. Visualize the vocal line as if it were more like the dark black diagonal line that moves downward over the top of the curves instead of the curvy turquoise line.

If you’re set up for the high notes before you get to them, instead of trying to readjust every time you feel one coming, you’ll probably use way less air and sing more comfortably and efficiently.

Not-So-Instant Gratification

Unlike some of the songs we’ve worked on in our Hard Songs collection, this one probably won’t be out of reach for that long. Whether or not you want to belt most of it, you’ll need a lot of twang in your voice to keep a consistent sound from the lows to the highs. Try this “na na” exercise. For now, just be kind of bratty or witch-like with it.

What have been your challenges with “A Million Dreams”? Let us know in the comments section below, and as always, if you have a song you’d like us to write a Hard Songs tutorial about, make sure to mention it!

Hard Songs to Sing: Praying, by Kesha

Hard Songs to Sing: Praying, by Kesha

Close to a decade ago, when Kesha (then Ke$ha) was out there performing “Tik Tok,” it didn’t feel likely that one of her songs would eventually make it into our Hard Songs to Sing collection. But “Praying” is a whole different beast. If you’ve tried it, you may have found that it begins lower than you can sing and/or ends the bridge higher than you can sing. You may also notice that the belt notes (if you even opt to belt them) in the chorus are high and wearing. Luckily, some of this can be worked on and improved over time, and the rest can be modified. Before you know it, you’ll be able to use technique to make it through this song instead of, you know, just praying.

Why Is This Song Hard

I think the better question is why isn’t this song hard? Here are a few of the many reasons this is a monster.

The Low Notes

Let’s start off at the very beginning. Those notes are low for most women! The word “fool” is on a D3, the D below middle C. Most of the female singers I work with have low ranges that stop around F3 or G3 at the lowest.

The High Note at the End of the Bridge

The note that Kesha slides up to on “forgive” is an F6, 3 F’s above Middle C. So just to be clear, the song sits in over a 3-octave range if you don’t plan to make any melodic or stylistic adjustments. For your own peace of mind though, Kesha neither hit the lowest, nor the highest notes in her live Grammys performance, so there’s no shame shortening the range.

The Chorus is a High Belt

The syllable “pray” in the second chorus’s “praying,” along with many of the other words, is belted on a D5. To top that off, it’s a sustained belt, one that you need a high degree of breath support to conquer.

The Upward Runs

Upward runs (i.e. vocal flourishes that go from low to high) tend to be more difficult than downward ones. With upward runs, the tendency is to not set up for the high note and to clench more and more to get up there when your body realizes it isn’t prepared. In “Praying,” Kesha uses both runs that move from low to high in a belt, and ones that transition from a belt into head tones at the top. Both types take a ton of control.

How to Sing Low Notes

Let’s get the ball rollin’ by discussing how to sing low notes. First thing’s first. There are anatomical limitations here. If your vocal folds can’t achieve a certain level of thickness, there are just some low note that are going to be out of reach for you. That doesn’t mean there aren’t ways to gain a few notes at the low end. First off, stop trying to push them out. The more you push at the very bottom of your range, the less of a shot you’ll have at hitting these notes (at least in any way you’d want to hear them). Try lowering your larynx by slightly yawning into the note (a lower larynx can help you grab a few notes at the bottom of your range); as you do this, hold back air and just sing quietly. You may not hit every note you’re hoping for, but you’ll probably get closer. Read some older posts for a more in depth look at how to hit low notes.

How to Sing Whistle Tones

While whistle tones might be a little more achievable as a long-term goal than extreme low notes, there are also anatomical limitations. The two key ingredients to work at are support and extreme lightness and agility. Create the smallest sound you can muster (i.e. don’t push out a lot of air), aim it for the top of your head, and allow your larynx (located in your neck where your Adam’s Apple is) to gently rise without constricting.

How to Belt High Notes

The second chorus and bridge have some high belt notes, but they do have one thing going for them: the belt happens on a lot of “ay” sounds—something fairly conducive to a belt.

Support

To get a healthy belt, first start with those support muscles we talked about earlier. Stand with a stable stance–with a straight spine all the way up through your neck. If someone were to try to push you over, they shouldn’t be able to. You can try bending your knees, scrunching your nose, and gently lifting your chin (without jutting it out). You should feel muscles throughout your torso working all the way down to your pelvic floor, but be careful not to suck in your stomach and ribcage in the process.

Use Vowels and Mouth Shape to Your Advantage

On the word “praying,” pretend you’re biting into a big apple. The vowel should start off in a big open “a” (as in cat) at the front of your mouth and an “eh” (as in sweat) at the back of your mouth to lift your soft palate. The same goes for the “change” syllable in “changing.”

Don’t pronounce the “ing” sounds. The “ng” will force your soft palate to drop when you need it to stay lifted the most. Instead, sing “prah-ehhhn.”

On the word, “I,” as in, “I pray for you at night,” modify it to an “ah” verging on “a” (like cat).

Open the word “peace” way up. Keep your tongue in an “i” (as in “feet”) position, but make your mouth large and rectangular. It won’t quite be an “i” vowel anymore and may be closer to an “ay” or “ih” (as in “kick”), but no one will be able to tell when you’re that high up.

On the bridge, try modifying the word “sometimes,” to “zahm-dahms” and “someday” to “zahm-dah.”

How to Sing Upward Runs

Upward Runs on a Belt

For upward runs that remain belted, the number one thing to do is set up for the high note before you get there. Take the word, “give,” in the bridge, for example. If you just sing that word as if you’re only ever going to hit the Bb4, you’ll have next to no shot at sounding good on the D5 the word slides up to. You probably won’t have enough support, your soft palate won’t be lifted enough, and your vowel will be too closed. Try hitting that D5 first. Figure out how open your mouth needs to be. Figure out how much support you need. Figure out exactly what your body is doing to make it work. Then be there before you even sing the word instead of trying to do a rapid adjustment when you realize the high note is coming.

Upward Runs on That Switch Registers

For upward runs that start in a belt and then flip into a head voice or falsetto, start by taking it apart. Practice the belt note separate from the head voice part, and make sure all the elements are there. When you start to put them together, the tendency when you switch registers will be to back off your breath control and just let a bunch of air stream out at once. Instead of doing that, keep the same stable stance from bottom to top and continue to hold back air as you transition. As with the fully belted upward runs, make sure your soft palate is lifted before you even get to the head voice part so that you aren’t having to make such a quick modification.

Melody Modifications

So you’ve gone through all these tips, but you’re just not getting those low notes at the beginning or that whistle tone in the bridge. Don’t despair! You can still sing this song like a pro. In fact, you can sing it like Kesha did at the Grammys!

Here’s some of what she did so that you can do it too! For “Well you almost had me fooled,” try the melody line: C# C# C# B D C# C#. For “After everything you’ve done,” modify to C# C# C# B B A A. For “I’m proud of who I am,” modify to C# C# B D C# C# again.

At the end of the bridge, you can easily just skip the slide up to your whistle register and either just hold out “forgive” or pick any other note that fits into the chord to slide to–maybe a Bb5 if you’re feeling ambitious!

Vocal Exercises

If you aren’t currently able to pull this song off the way you’d like, you can work on your vocal strength and range over time by running through some targeted vocal exercises. Try to do a little a day. Even 5 minutes a day to build muscle memory and strength tends to be more effective than doing one long session a week.

Na Na Octave Jump

Start with this one to learn how to belt higher without tension. Keep a very stable stance, and pretend you’re just throwing that top note like you’d throw a ball instead of clenching or jamming into it.

Na Na Sustain

Before you know it, you’ll be solid on those belt notes, but now it’s time to work on sustaining them the way you’ll need to in “Praying.” Try the exercise again, this time sustaining the top note. Instead of visualizing it as a horizontal attack, imagine that you’re falling onto the note and that it continues to move in a relaxed downward motion as you hold onto it.

Ooh Descending

Along with a great belt, you’ll also want to be able to shift seamlessly into head voice for this one. If you’re having a hard time finding this register, try this exercise on an “ooh,” making sure to keep it light.

We love to hear from our readers, so let us know how “Praying” is going for you! If you have any songs you’d like to see featured in our Hard Songs collection, mention them in the comments section below!

How to Sing in Mixed Voice

How to Sing in Mixed Voice

Last year we gave you an article detailing what mixed voice is. In short, it’s many, many things, and you’ll get different answers from each voice teacher–everything from “It’s a healthy belt” to “It’s a twangy head voice,” to “It doesn’t exist.” The bottom line is that mixed voice (or middle voice) blends resonance from your chest voice and head voice , but it can do so in any number of ways–from being almost all chest voice with a little head voice mixed in to almost all head voice with a little chest voice mixed in. Learning how to sing in mixed voice so that you can eliminate (or at least mask) that dreaded voice break is an important and challenging part of learning to sing.

How to Sing in Mixed Voice

Where to Feel Mixed Voice

I usually stay away from telling singers exactly where to feel something, because everyone experiences sensations differently. But if it helps you to have an image in mind, aim the sound for somewhere in the middle of your face, like your nose and cheekbones.

Try Just Talking It

Try yelling “hey!” like you were calling a friend across a crowded room. It’s not a big low chesty sound, because that won’t carry. It’s a light call. Play around with that on various pitches. You can make it a little more trebly toward the high end of your range, and a little bassier toward the low end, but keep that forward but relaxed energy. Eventually you can try moving up a scale making this sound, and if you keep the fowardness, you should have a fairly consistent sound from low to high.

Try These Exercises

Lip Trills or Tongue Rolls

Lip trills and tongue rolls are great for blending registers, because they help regulate the speed of your exhalation without your having to think about it. It’s also virtually impossible to sing them very heavily, and their natural lightness will help you shift seamlessly into your upper registers. To learn how to mix, I prefer longer exercises that force you through more than one register at a time.

Humming

Imagine putting a puppy-dog cry into your voice as you go higher and higher to keep your registers connected. You can also visualize holding your breath or inhaling instead of exhaling.

Nay Nay

Thin vowels help add twang to your voice, allowing you to more easily maintain a consistent level of volume and brightness through your registers. If you’re having trouble shifting into lighter registers, add some “EE” to your nay sound to thin out your vowel. “EE” is a headier vowel than ay, so the vowel modification will help you shift from chest, to chest-mix, to head-mix, to head voice. Keep the sound twangy (think of a bratty child) in order to keep the volume and brightness consistent between registers.

Experiment with Sound Colors

You’ll notice as you play around with mixing that some notes you could do in either a head-mix or a chest-mix. With some it may feel obvious what makes the most sense, but others could swing in either direction. Play around, and try different things. On the exact same pitch, you might use head-mix in one section and chest-mix at the part that builds into a climax (often a bridge or a last chorus). Listen to the way Phillipa Soo builds into a chest-mix at 2.45.

Prior to this, she was singing many of the same notes, but was mainly sitting in her head-mix, just adding a few chestier notes at the bottom. There’s no real right or wrong here. She could have remained in a head-mix and played this part of the song as sweeter and more melancholy. Instead, she opted to interpret the sleepless winter sky as an excited build and chose to belt it.

Just have fun, be playful, and try new things. Some will feel great, others not so much. But this is the best way to explore all the colors your voice is capable of creating.

For a more involved look at how to sing in a chest-mix (i.e. belt), take a look at some of our other online singing lessons.

Types of Musical Theatre Singing

What Are the Different Types of Musical Theatre Singing

New vocal students often envision musical theatre singing as one particular style, distinct from styles like classical and pop. The truth is though that musical theatre encompasses a wide variety of styles itself, some much closer to classical singing and others closer to rock (and nowadays, even rap). While each of those genres still has its own musical theatre flare (i.e. pop musical theatre singing is still a little stylistically different than radio-friendly pop), it’s important for musical theatre singers to both have a solid grasp of the different styles and to know when to use what. To get you started, I’ve compiled a list of a few of the main types of musical theatre singing with some examples. If you listen closely, you probably won’t have a very hard time hearing the difference in vocal production.

Legit

While there are still some stylistic differences, legit musical theatre is closely tied to the classical voice tradition. It uses rounder vowels, a high soft palate, tilted thyroid cartilage, and typically thinner vocal folds (i.e. it uses more head resonance). That may all sound complicated to you, but just think Julie Andrews, John Raitt, and Barbara Cooke. More Cosette and less Eponine. More Kristen Chenoweth here and not so much here.. You hear more legit musical theatre singing in revivals of Golden Age musicals, like Carousel, but it’s also made a comeback in neoclassical-driven shows like The Light in the Piazza. Here’s the great Audra McDonald singing “I Could Have Danced All Night.”

Character

Character songs are usually not sung in a way that we’d typically call great singing. They’re usually funny, often more nasal than is pleasing, and more driven by acting choices than singing choices. That said, character singing is its own special skill that often pulls from elements of legit and musical theatre belt. It’s rare that you find shows that are mostly character-song driven. Most have one or two character singers with others singing different styles, like legit. Think Little Red’s character song, “I Know Things Now” in Into the Woods alongside Cinderella’s legit “On the Steps of the Palace.” But occasionally, shows like Avenue Q and You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown that contain pretty much all character songs come along, and it’s hard to get cast at all if you aren’t good at the style. Speaking of Kristen Chenoweth, here’s a quintessential example of a character song, “My New Philosophy.”

Traditional Musical Theatre Belt

People often associate older Broadway with more legit voices, and there’s some truth to that, but even in the Rogers and Hammerstein days, there were plenty of Broadway belters. Belting is a more chest-voice driven, thyroarytenoid dominant, brassy style of singing. Think Ethel Merman, Chita Rivera, and Patti Lupone. Traditional musical theatre belt songs, unlike more contemporary ones, tended to be lower, and brassy enough that they could fill a theater without the use of amplification. Ethel Merman was famous for this. Here she is, boys! Here she is, world!

Contemporary

Contemporary musical theatre singing can span a number of different styles, but it tends to be very speech-driven. It’s often belted, but more often than not, it uses a more speech-level mixed belt instead of the low, chesty brass of Ethel Merman’s day. Listen to the stylistic difference between this speech-like, contemporary Jason Robert Brown song and this heavier, more traditional belt Patti Lupone is doing. Even Idina Menzel, who is famous for her big belty voice, tends to use a lighter, more speech-driven mix when she isn’t approaching the top of her range. Since you guys are probably all familiar with Wicked, I’ll shake it up and throw an If/Then song out here.

Pop/Rock

Sometimes musical theatre composers write original pop, rock (or other types of commercial music) scores–think Rent and Hedwig. Other times, this style comes in the form of jukebox musicals, where pre-written pop music is woven into a story. Mamma Mia and its Abba score is a very famous example of this, but lately we’ve seen a Green Day musical (American Idiot), a Queen one (We Will Rock You), a Four Seasons musical (Jersey Boys), a Carole King one (Beautiful), and many others. Often, these musicals still have a more Broadway-tinged sound to them than the original band did. Listen to “21 Guns” in the American Idiot musical vs. the Green Day version. Granted, the first one is a woman, but regardless, notice the more blended registers, the sweeter tone, and the purer vibrato. I think you get the idea of what this style is all about, but for your amusement, here’s “Dancing Queen”!

Hard Songs to Sing: Issues, by Julia Michaels

Hard Songs to Sing: Issues, by Julia Michaels

On the surface, “Issues,” by Julia Michaels, may not seem like a tough a song. It doesn’t go that high, and when it does, Michaels transitions into a light head voice. But you’d be surprised at how many problems those little note jumps can cause you if you aren’t prepared for them. The result I often see with students trying it for the first time is a lot of unnecessary vocal tension or some shoutiness on the higher parts. If these sound like, well, issues you’re having, take a look through our latest Hard Songs to Sing tutorial.

Why Is This Song Hard?

1. The Ab’s in the Verses

The beginning of the first verse sits in a very easy area for female chest voice, but then on the line, “When I’m down I get real down” leaps up to an Ab4 (a place many singers no longer feel that chest tones are effortless).

2. The C’s in the Pre-Choruses

The line, “baby I would judge you, too” moves from an Ab4, a note many singers are tempted to belt, to a C5 on the word I, which probably shouldn’t stylistically be belted for this song.

3. The C#5’s in the Choruses

It’s not that C#5 is crazy high. But the whole chorus sits in a fairly high, uncomfortable area for many singers, and it’s worth discussing.

Instant Gratification

Figure the High Notes Out First

Whether you lighten up and move into a headier spot for the note jumps (“down I get real down,” etc.) or stay a little chestier, you’ll want to make sure your body is set up for the higher notes before you attack them. The beginning of the verse doesn’t require much in the way of breath support, but if you don’t put in a little work and thought early, the higher notes will feel like you need to make a sudden adjustment–causing many people to just slam into them. Start with the highest notes first (down, I, etc.) If they’re feeling throaty, make sure you distribute that work to your torso through good breath support.

How to Support Your High Notes

1. Stay wide across your back and broad in your shoulders
2. Keep your spine long.
3. Use your external intercostal muscles (the ones between your ribs) to keep your ribs open instead of sucked in like you’re doing crunches.
4. You should feel so stable that if I came and tried to push you over (don’t worry! I’m not that strong or intimidating!) I wouldn’t be able to.

How to Relax Your Throat

While you do all this (as if this breath support didn’t take enough concentration) work on relaxing your throat. Here are some tips if it’s causing you trouble.
1. Pretend you’re about to laugh or sigh
2. Visualize pulling your ears apart.
3. For something more tangible, rock your head back and forth to keep from clenching.

All that was in the service of getting those higher notes down first. The next step is to add the lower ones; but get your body set up the way it needs to be while you’re singing the low ones, so you aren’t making quick adjustments when you maneuver into the higher ones.

Easy Modifications

Lose the Diphthongs

1. The word down has both the “ah” and the “ooh” vowels in them. That can be a little unwieldy, especially given how fast the verses move. Just go for the “ah” sound like you’re saying “Don.”
2. The I in the chorus can be modified to an “ah” as well, as if you’re just letting out a big sigh.

Modify the “a” (as in cat) sound to an “eh.”

If you’ve read my Hard Songs blogs before, you might be surprised to hear me say this, since I’m often a big fan of modifying everything to the bright, twangy “a” sound. But for this, you want something to help you lift your soft palate and lighten up a little bit. “Eh” is perfect for that, so try making your that and fast in the verses “thet” and “fest.”

Not-So-Instant Gratification

Vowel modifications, coupled with some quick tips to help with support and relaxation, are great, but there’s nothing quite like building up long-term muscle memory through some vocal exercises.

Humming Up a 5th

This is a great one for figuring out how to support high notes (see Instant Gratification section). Sing a 5-note scale on a hum, and end it by jumping up the 5th and back down. The first pass will help you figure out how to gradually get to that high note, while the second pass will force you to prepare for the high note without any gradual build.

Na to Nah Belt

Belting is often easier for people on the “a” (as in cat) sound than on the “ah” (as in fox), so to work on your belt, let’s start with a Na and then move to a Nah. Try to keep the same narrow twang on the “ah” as on the “a.” C#5 is the note you’re aiming for in “Issues.” If you can’t quite get there right now, just work on this exercise, and over time your belting range should increase. Don’t forget to use the same support we talked about earlier to get that pressure out of your throat, and most importantly, if you feel a lot of tension in your throat, it might be time to take a break from this exercise. You can always come back to it when you’re fresh on another day.

Have a song you’d like to see a Hard Songs Tutorial on? Let us know in the comments section below!

Hard Songs to Sing: Burn, from Hamilton

Hard Songs to Sing: Burn, from Hamilton

Typically, I use this blog as an outlet to write about hard-to-sing pop songs that I get a lot of requests for. But occasionally, I’ll venture into the musical theatre realm, which poses its own unique set of challenges. The score of Hamilton, and the song “Burn” in particular, is widely sung and full of unexpected difficulties that are often more demanding than they sound. If the song’s sentences are leaving you defenseless, read through this Hard Songs to Sing tutorial and conquer Eliza’s brokenhearted ballad!

Why Is This Song Hard

1. It Takes a Lot of Control

Some songs are hard because they require a constant heavy or high belt. Not so with “Burn.” Control is what makes this one so tough. The quiet parts of this song tend to trip singers up as much as the loud ones because of how much precision they take. If you’re most comfortable as a belter, sometimes dialing it back can cause a lot of vocal tension.

2. The Series of D5’s

It may not be the highest note we’ve ever discussed, but if you have a nice light head-mix that you’ve happily glided through the song with, you might be in for some problems when you reach the climax and need to belt “forfeit,” “sleep,” “only,” and “when.”

3. The Sustains and Runs are on a Hard-To-Sing Word

Runs are already a pain. Couple that with singing a fairly frustrating word, burn, where the “r” wants to cut your vowel off, and you have yourself a difficult passage.

Instant Gratification

Modify the “R”

Let’s start with what I think should be most obvious to trained vocalists. Soften and delay your “r” sound whenever the consonant is in the way. This doesn’t mean you have to ditch it every time you sing, as you’ll hear from some voice teachers. In fact, if you listen to Phillipa Soo, the one who originated Eliza in Hamilton, you’ll notice that she doesn’t modify her “r” that much when she’s belting out the word world. But the sustain on the word burn is long enough that you don’t want to make that sustain (or the runs) sit hard on the “errrr” sound–unless you’re thinking of making the song into a classic country cover. Try sitting on an “euh” sound and saving the “rn” to the very end.

Modify the Vowels on the D’5’s

If you’ve read my Hard Songs blogs before, it probably won’t surprise you to learn that I’m including some vowel modifications in here for the high notes.

  • Instead of “foreit,” try “fahr-fit,” using a softened “r” sound that almost verges on “fah-fit.”
  • Make sure your soft palate, that fleshy part toward the back of the roof of your mouth, is lifted on your “ee” sound when you sing the word sleep. You can do that by putting a slight “euh” into your “ee” sound. You can also purse your lips and see what happens to the vowel. Once you do that though, try to create the same sound without pursing your lips, because that is not the end goal.
  • Probably the hardest vowel in here is the “oh” in only, as the diphthong doesn’t make for a very good belt. Try modifying it to an “uh” sound. The line should sing, “wi-thunly the memory.”

Not-So-Instant Gratification

Interestingly, it’s not the belty parts of this song that take most of my students the longest to master. It’s the quiet parts: the beginning of the song; the verse that begins with “I’m erasing myself from the narrative”; and the final word, burn, on the A4. Developing a head-mix is the most important element of this. To find this voice, hover around the pitches the song centers around (lots of A4’s and F#4’s) and try speaking very quietly but without whispering, like you’re in a library. Don’t make the sound to breathy.

Try an Exercise on “Ng”

The “ng” sound is very difficult to belt and will most likely put you in a head-mix without your needing to tweak it that much. It’s also a great one because it forces you to work on restricting air in your exhalation. Sing a descending scale on “ng,” being careful not to push it into a belt but also holding back a lot of air on your exhalation.

Now, try replacing the difficult passages with the “ng” sound, including that last sustain on burn at the end of the song. Once the “ng” is at a good volume level and a place in your voice you’re happy with, put the words back in, but leave them in that same small, light space the “ng” sat in. If you feel your jaw starting to tense up, use some of these tips to relieve jaw tension.

Have a song you’d like to see featured in our Hard Songs collection? Let me know in the comments section!