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Hard Songs to Sing: O Holy Night

Christina Grimmie, by Justin Higuchi under cc by 2.0

It’s been 3 years since the last Christmas song we wrote a Hard Songs blog about, Mariah Carey’s notoriously difficult “All I Want For Christmas is You.” We thought it was time for another popular holiday favorite, “O Holy Night.” I enjoy teaching Christmas songs, because they can be interpreted in so many different ways. You’ll hear “O Holy Night” sung in practically every style, from gospel, to choral, to country, to indie pop, to belt-pop. Since I don’t think you want to be here reading this Hard Songs to Sing tutorial all day, I’m going to limit the scope of this article to two ways to sing the song: mostly belted/more contemporary sounding and mostly head voice/more traditional sounding.

How to Belt “O Holy Night

There are countless examples of great belters singing “O Holy Night,” but I chose this one to honor the late Christina Grimmie.

Why Is This Song Hard to Belt

1. It’s Rangy for a Belt

Sure, you can pretty much start this song in whatever key you want, but keep in mind that it spans over an octave and a half, so if G3 is the lowest note you can hit, you’re looking at D6 as your high note.

2. The High Notes Are Sustained

We all know that quickly belting a high note is not the same beast as sustaining one, and “O Holy Night” is full of sustains.

3. The High Notes Use Diphthongs,

Diphthongs are not the most fun things to sustain, let alone on a high belt.

Instant Gratification

1. Hold Off on the “L” in Fall

“L’s” are not the friendliest of consonants to sing. The “aw” sound isn’t either. Make “fall” into “fuh-” and change the whole phrase to “fuh-lon your knees.”

2. Thicken Your EE’s

If you’re sustaining an “EE” sound (think knees and hear) with too low of a soft palate and/or too high a larynx, there’s a good shot the words will feel pinched. Put a slight “euh” into your “EE” sound to thicken it. While you’re at it, soften the “r” in “hear” so it sounds more like “heeuh.”

3. Dump the Diphthongs

On the words night and divine, emphasize the “ah” (verging on “a” as in cat), so the words sing as “naaaaaaht” and “divaaaaaahn.” The narrow “AH” sound makes for an easy belt.

4. Pick a Good Key

Last, but possibly most important, pick a key that works well for you. If you don’t have a very high belt, I’d recommend figuring out the lowest note you can hit comfortably and making that the lowest note of the key you sing in.

Not-So-Instant Gratification

1. NA Octave Jump

The first step in improving your belt is to work on it without sustaining. Try an octave jump on “NA,” slowly increasing in pitch as you’re able to with ease.

2. NA Sustain

Because “O Holy Night” is full of sustains, it’s important to eventually work toward sustaining a belt. Try the octave jump “NA” but this time holding out the top note.

How to Sing “O Holy Night” Using Head Voice

To keep things simple, I chose Jackie Evancho’s “O Holy Night” as an example of a head-voice dominant version, since she sings in head voice or a head-mix almost the entire time.

Why Is This Song Hard to Sing in Head Voice

1. It’s Still Rangy

Range is difficult for a different reason when we’re considering head voice. It may not be very high to sing in head voice, but that means you’ll either need to be comfortable singing in a low head-mix or that you’ll need to learn how to blend your registers well.

2. The High Notes Are Still Sustained

Yep, sustaining a belt is hard, but getting a big sound out of a sustained head voice isn’t too easy either if you don’t have a lot of vocal training.

Instant Gratification

1. Sigh Into Your “EE’s”

“EE” can be a hard vowel for some singers to transition into head voice on. If your “EE,” (knees and hear) feels pinched, give yourself some space by feeling like you’re sighing down onto it instead of reaching up for it.

2. Dump the Diphthongs (In a Different Way!)

Instead of modifying to an “AH” verging on “A” sound, try modifying to an “AH” verging on an “UH” sound. This will help lower your larynx and give you some back resonance. Night can be sung as “nuuuuuuueet” and divine can be “divuuuuuen.”

Not-So-Instant Gratification

1. “EE” Descending Arpeggio

If you have a hard time opening your “EE” sounds when you get up into head voice, try sighing down onto them. You can build up some muscle memory by doing this exercise.

2. “MAH” Arpeggiated

One of the biggest road blocks to building a strong head voice is leaking too much air. As you go through this exercise, try to hold back air on your exhalation. The “m” sound will help give you some extra forward resonance, but instead of pushing up to the high note or jamming into it, visualize the sound going back behind your ear and then down over your head toward your face, like a rainbow being drawn around your ear.

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