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Hard Songs to Sing: Shake It Off, by Taylor Swift

YouTube Presents Taylor Swift, by Marcin Wichary, under CC BY-SA 2.0

As most radio listeners have heard by now, Taylor Swift has gone full-on pop, attracting a lot of media attention by pulling all her albums from Spotify after a run-in with the famous music-streaming company. Love it or hate it, her biggest single right now, “Shake It Off,” has hit the airwaves and is a hard song for many singers. Never fear though. If “Shake It Off” is your guilty pleasure, the way it’s mine, we’ll help you conquer it here as the latest in our Hard Songs to Sing collection.

Why Is This Song Hard

Right off the bat, “Shake It Off” opens with a D5. That’s enough to give away the fact that it isn’t an easy song. As long as it isn’t sustained, D5 isn’t astronomically high, but trying to powerfully (read beltily) hit the note without building up to it isn’t easy. The verse continues with Taylor repeating the D5 at the beginning of each line.

The yeah that comes between the rap and the chorus is also particularly difficult to control. The word is made up of a multi-note run, including a sustained D5.

Instant Gratification

Luckily, most of the out-of-the-blue D5’s can be modified to an “a” as in cat vowel, arguably the easiest one to do a mixed belt on. The I can be modified to “a,” and the two lines that begin with that’s already have the “a” sound built in. The word nothing can be modified to “neuh-thing.” It’s not quite as easy to belt as the “a” sound, but the thinner vowel should make the word more manageable on the high note. The on in “I go on too many dates” can be modified to “ahn,” verging on “a.” In the third verse, never can be modified to “naver,” and lightning can be opened to “lah-dning.” In the line, “I make the moves up as I go,” the word moves can be modified to “meuves,” since the “OO” is a headier vowel than you’ll probably want to use.

Not-So-Instant Gratification

If you get no power on that D5 (either because you can’t comfortably belt to it or because your head-mix is weak), no vowel modification can completely save you. I’d recommend an exercise on the “a” sound. Try sticking out your tongue (I know that sounds weird, but it’ll give you a maximum amount of twang with a minimum amount of tongue tension). Arpeggiate on the “a” sound, making your sound as thin and twangy as possible. You’ll figure out how to mix up to a D5 with power in no time.

The yeah at the end of the bridge is also difficult. Sustaining that D5 can be difficult, and you’ll need to get good at your breath support to make it happen. Start with a sustained hum, letting as little air out as possible on each note, building up to sustaining the D5. When this becomes easy, sustain the note on a vowel, preferably the “OH” sound, as that’s the one Taylor uses at the end of her sustained yeah.


  1. This song is the most difficult of taylor song especially for the belting note at the end of the bridge. She sustained well and in very extremely sharp and sounds full on my ears. The D5 note makes me addicted.

  2. Besides, this song is demanding much of proper control tone and good breathing since it’s very upbeat song. For example in the reff part:
    Cause a players gonna play play play..and the haters gonna hate hate hate baby I’m just gonna shake shake shake shake shake it off shake it off…

    You’re gonna die soon if you’re not getting proper control tone and breath. No pause or space between the lyrics.

    Even Taylor almost left some part of the reff lyrics to give to her backing vocals or added playback track while live performance. Because she needs to do multitasking job. She’s not only think bout her vocal, but also her stage performance, her choreography, her outfits, etc. So it’s a difficult task to do.

  3. For the evidence you can check on YouTube for taylor swift live performance of Shake It off on gma 2014 or Jimmy Kimmel show 2014 or Ellen Show 2014.

    She often leaves some part of the lyrics to take over by her backing vocals or put her recorded track to covered her live voice, especially in the refrain. But the good thing is she always doing live for the D5 note and overall she did live performance.

    Go Tay Tay Swift!!!

    • Thanks for the comments! It’s great to hear from someone who listens to music that carefully. I completely agree. Breath control is difficult in a lot of Taylor’s songs. Her phrases tend to be really long. And, yes! That sustained D5 at the end of the bridge is tough!


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