After a long stint without any of those really popular songs all my students want to sing at once (think “Let It Go,” “Hello”…you get the idea), everyone is requesting “How Far I’ll Go,” from Moana. I love this one, because as you’d expect from something composed by Lin-Manuel-Miranda, it’s catchy but full of surprising rhythmic elements and quirky word play. We’ve certainly included some harder songs on this Hard Songs to Sing list, but “How Far I’ll Go” has enough challenging aspects that I thought it was important to include it. I like both versions (the Alessia Cara version and the Auli’i Cravalho version) for different reasons, but for the purposes of this tutorial I’ll use the Alessia Cara version, since it poses a few more difficulties.
Why the Song is Hard
1. The Note Jumps in the Chorus
While B4 isn’t a particularly high note, jumping up to it from an E4 can sometimes be a hard-to-control leap.
2. The Sustained High Notes
The me in “wrong with me” at 2.03, and particularly the sustained go at 2.47 can cause singers to tense up or push too hard.
1. Set Up For the High Notes
Each note requires a slightly different anatomical setup. High notes take a different amount of energy and breath support than easier mid-range notes. Often, singers will fail to set up for the high note and, instead, let their bodies relax the way they would for an easy-to-sing note. What usually ends up happening in that instance is that they can’t readjust for the high note fast enough, and it sounds poorly controlled. If you’d prefer to have some control over your high notes instead of relying on hope and fairy dust, practice the higher notes (that is, the calls in “it calls me” and the hind in “behind me,”) first. Figure out exactly how much support and energy you need to sing calls and hind. Once you’ve determined that, make sure your body is in that energized position before you go for the note instead of right when it happens.
2. Lose the Diphthongs
Instead of closing off the “I” sound in behind, hold out the “ah” longer and soften the “d,” so it almost sings as “be-hahn.” Same goes for blinding and find. Blinding can be modified to “blah-nding,” and find can be “fahn.”
3. Modify the Sustained Vowels
In “wrong with me,” the high me can sound shrill or pinched. Try opening it to an “i” as in kick sound, all while putting a slight dopey sound into it to help your soft palate lift. (Once the sound feels more open, you can back off of the dopey sound, since it is not the end goal). Finally, the “go” at the very end of the song can be challenging to sustain without straining. Try starting it as a dopey “guh” and then closing it off into an “ooh” sound right before getting off the note.
Not So Instant Gratification
Try These Vocal Exercises!
Humming Up a 5th
Humming is one of my favorite breathing exercises. It takes very little air for an effective hum, and it’s easy to tell if you’re exhaling too fast because the frontally resonant buzz will disappear. Try humming up and down a five-note pattern, and then skipping the in-between notes the second time around.
You can play around with just how much support you need for the highest note the first time around. Then when you skip the in-between notes, you can begin using more support on the bottom note before attempting the higher one. If it feels like all the air is leaking out at the top, like it’s going flat, or like you have to jam into it to get it out, try holding your breath more from the very beginning. This is the same type of breath control you’ll need for the note jumps in “How Far I’ll Go.”
Guh Guh Guh!
Relax your jaw and sing a dopey “guh guh guh.”
This should help lift your soft palate, retract your false vocal folds, and keep your larynx a little less high. In layman’s terms, it’ll help everything feel more relaxed and less constricted. Now arpeggiate up an octave, and sustain the high note. Once you get comfortable with this action, you should have an easier time on that high note at the end of the song.