Sia-SXSW 2008, by kris krug, under CC BY-SA 2.0
When you just listen to the first 30 seconds of Sia’s latest mega hit, “Chandelier,” with its largely monotone verses and self-consciously auto-tuned pre-chorus, (1, 2, 3, 1, 2, 3, drink) you probably wouldn’t nominate it as a contender for hardest song to sing. But then the chorus happens. Just listen to the chorus (beginning with “I’m going to swing from the chandelier”), and tell me that Chandelier doesn’t deserve a place on any list of hard songs to sing.
Why is This Song Hard?
1. It requires a frickin’ high belt!
The belted C#5 that Sia blasts off the chorus with (on the word I’m) will be the least of your problems! Among many other high belted notes, she belts the word bird on a high F5 (two F’s above middle C!)
2. It requires almost a classical-sounding head voice.
Sprinkled in with Sia’s absurdly high belt are notes sung in a ringing head voice, including the end of the word chandelier (on a C#5 and an F#5) and the end of the word exist (on an F#5).
3. It requires a great blend of the two.
Not only do you need to have a great belt (or at least faux-belt) and a great head voice, you’ll need to learn to shift seamlessly between the two registers, often on the same word! (The word chandelier, for example, uses a belt for the first part of the word, “chanda-“ and head voice for the second part of the word “lier.”
As is often the case, the instant gratification for “Chandelier” revolves around vowel modifications, and lots of them. I’ll break the modifications up into ones that’ll help you sound chestier and ones that’ll help you sound headier.
Instead of singing the word I’m at the beginning of the chorus, try modifying it to “ah-m,” with the “ah” close to an “a” (as in cat) vowel. Whether or not you’re able to belt the word, this vowel modification will give you some added twang and help add some much needed chest resonance.
Instead of singing the word swing, try “swin.” The slightly more open vowel will give you some added chest resonance, and dropping the “g” sound will make getting off the word in a graceful way more manageable.
Instead of singing the word fly, try “flah,” again with the “ah” close to an “a” sound. Dropping the diphthong (the ah-ee sound in fly) will keep the sound open and healthier to maintain.
Instead of singing bird, try modifying to “beuhd.” The “euh” sound will help keep you larynx closer to neutral so that the word doesn’t feel too pulled.
Instead of singing “tears,” try modifying to “teahs.” Again, openness openness openness. Your throat will thank you later.
Instead of singing the “ier” at the end of the word chandelier, open it up into a yawny “i” (as in “kick”) sound, with your jaw as relaxed as possible. Feel like you’re falling onto the high note rather than pushing up to it. Almost drop the “r” entirely. The open, yawn-like feel will help kick the sound into your head voice.
Unfortunately, no vowel modifications will entirely save you on this song if you don’t have a strong mix and head voice. Whether you plan to attempt the high notes in a belt mix or a headier mix, you’ll need to develop a lot of twang.
Because all those belty I’s at the beginning of the chorus can be modified to a twangy “ah” sound (verging on “a” as in cat,) try arpeggiating up and down on an “a” sound, keeping it as bright, twangy, and borderline obnoxious as possible. If your family isn’t complaining about the noise pollution, you’re probably doing the exercise wrong. When you feel yourself needing to change registers during this exercise, thin the vowel even more and use as little air as possible.
You’ll also need to develop a strong head voice. All of those classical exercises you were taught in choir will now come in handy! To find this part of your voice, try sighing from the top of your range down on an “EE.” Once you find it, you can start adding pitches. Descending arpeggios are a great idea here, because they will keep you from trying to pull up to the high notes. Try descending on an EE starting at C5 and moving downward: C5-G4-E4-C4; C#5-G#4-E#4-C#4; etc. Keep your jaw relaxed and the sound lighter than if you were trying to belt it.