Hard Songs To Sing: Problems, by Ariana Grande

Grande At the World Wide Day of Play in September 2013, by Peter Dzubay, under CC BY-SA 3.0

We recently got a request for “Problems,” by Ariana Grande for our Hard Songs to Sing collection. It’s a great choice, because anyone who’s tried it knows what an intensely hard song it is. Grande has over a 4-octave range, and while we may not be able to give you that, we can give you a few tips to help make “Problems” a little less problematic.

Why Is This Song Hard?

You probably don’t need an explanation of why this one is hard, but just in case…

The Verses Are High Immediately

Right off the bat, the verses begin with a B4. There’s no build up and no time for your voice to warm up a little bit.

The Pre-Chorus Mixed Belt Is High. Really, Really High.

In fact, it caps out at G#5 on the word got. Ouch!

Her High Ooh’s Are Even higher

Yes, she’s in her head voice at 2m50s of this video, but singing a run on “ooh” that caps at B5 (that’s two B’s above middle C, if you’re counting) is nothing to sneeze at when you’ve just been belting your face off.

Instant Gratification

Don’t Enunciate

Staying relaxed is key here. For an extremely high, extremely wordy song, enunciation is not your friend. “Baby” should always be “beh-beh. “Hate you” can be connected by singing “hae-cha.” “Want to” can be modified to “wan-da.” “Can’t You” can be sung as “can-cha.”

Modify Toward Chesty Vowels

“A” as in cat, for many people, is the easiest vowel to belt. Modify all the high “you’s” to “ya.” “Ooh” is a fairly heady vowel and, up high, will typically not make for a very easy belt.

The word shoulder is problematic for a number of reasons: it goes up to a high F#5 and contains both an “L” and an “R,” both irritating consonants to sing. Realistically, you won’t be able to modify the “OH” in “shoulder” all the way to an “A” sound, because “shalder” would sound ridiculous. But you can at least move toward that vowel. Open up the word shoulder to a “shahl-dah” with a fairly twangy, thin “AH” sound that verges on the “A” sound. Soften the “L” sound, and drop the “R” entirely, opening it up to an “AH.”

Luckily, the highest notes in the pre-chorus are sung on “I’ve” and “Got,” both words that can be modified toward the “A” sound. Sing “A’ve gad” using an extremely thin “A” sound. Scrunch your nose to add even more twang.

Not-So-Instant Gratification

Okay, so reading this post may not instantly have you belting up to a G#5. Let’s try some vocal exercises to help you work up to it. Remember, if your voice begins to get tired, take a break and come back to it later! Hurting yourself will only prolong the process of learning to sing.

“A” Exercise

Here’s an exercise to help you get a twangy mix. If you’re twangy enough, you’ll be amazed at how much chest resonance you can still feel, even on those high F#’s and G#’s. Try arpeggiating on an “A” (as in cat) sound. Make it thin and irritating, and as an added bonus, you can stick out your tongue to ensure as much forward resonance as possible.

Heady Ooh

If you have a hard time finding your head voice altogether, start by just sighing from the top of your range on down on an “Ooh” sound.

Once that’s easy, let’s try to make it a little more controlled and add some pitches. To keep you from reaching up from your chest, let’s sing on a 5-note descending scale.

Thanks to Daniel for his request. If anyone has suggestions for July’s Hard-to-Sing Song, feel free to comment below.

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