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Hard Songs to Sing: There’s Nothing Holding Me Back, by Shawn Mendes

Shawn Mendes live in concert by Josiah VanDien under cc by-sa-4.0

I don’t often spend that much time talking or writing about where to breathe in a song, because frankly, in most cases I think it’s pretty obvious and just a place for voice teachers to hang their hat. Typically, if you breathe at the ends of phrases, the same way you would when speaking, everything works out fine. In the case of Shawn Mendes’s “There’s Nothing Holding Me Back,” not so much. I added it to our Hard Songs collection, not because of the extreme high notes, but because it requires some thoughtfulness if you don’t want to find yourself gasping for air.

Why Is This Song Hard to Sing?

Try singing along with the bridge, starting at 2.39 and see what happens. If you easily made it through, congratulations! You’re ahead of the game. If, like me, you went through it for the first time and found yourself running out of air, then you might need some help laying out a map of where to breathe.

Instant Gratification

This song will instantly feel more manageable if you take a look at the lyrics and space out where you have room to grab some air.

Try taking breaths at the parts I add slashes to. To make it a little more readable, I also eliminated the commas to keep you from wanting to breathe there.

‘Cause if we lost our minds and we took it way too far
I know we’d be alright I know we/would be alright
If you were by my side and we stumbled in the dark
I know we’d be alright I know we/would be alright
‘Cause if we lost our minds and we took it way too far
I know we’d be alright I know we/would be alright
If you were by my side and we stumbled in the dark
I know we’d/be alright I know we would be alright

If after singing through it with those breaths you still think that the phrases are long af (they are! they really are!) hop on over to our next section about words to watch out for.

Because It’s All About that Breath

Improving your overall breath control is definitely the way to go as you progress vocally, but to make things easier fast, watch out for the parts that drain air the quickest. It’s very easy to deflate on the word lost because it’s an open vowel and is sustained. Try holding back air (you can even pretend that you’re inhaling) and sing “la la la.” Now sing lost, but hold back the air in the same way.

When you get to took, try the same thing on “teuh teuh teuh.” Watch out for releasing air there. You can also soften the “t” to more of a “d” for some additional help.

When you get to stumbled, I don’t usually say this, but you might try getting off the vowel faster and heading straight for that “m.” You can get away with this in contemporary music more than you can in, say, opera or legit musical theatre. It’s pretty easy to hold back air on the “mmm” if you’re paying attention.

If after making these changes, the song still feels like an uphill battle, let’s head over to the long-term goals section.

Long-Term Goals

The best case scenario here isn’t just to figure out breath control on “There’s Nothing Holding Me Back,” but on all songs. It’ll not only make it easier for you to get through tough passages, but it’ll make your tone better in general. Try these exercises for better breath support, all the while maintaining great posture (straight spine, broad shoulders) and keeping an open ribcage as you sing. Put your hand on that soft spot below your sternum to make sure your muscles are working. Then try these vocal exercises.

Humming Exercises.

Try humming and keeping a buzzy forward resonance. If it feels like you’re deflating, try visualizing holding your breath, or even inhaling instead of exhaling.

Hum to Ah

Next, move between a hum and an “ah,” keeping the same forward buzz for the ah that you did on the hum.

Pro Tip

If you’re having a hard time keeping the breath in, try sitting against a wall, pretending you’re in a chair. Your core will engage, and breath control should feel easier.

Have a suggestion for a hard song to sing? Add it to the comments section below!


  1. Here’s a good idea for your “Hard Songs to Sing”: Max – Lights Down Low. The song spans from A2-A5, including an above average amount of notes in the fifth octave going up to an E5 in a chest dominant mix!

    • Thanks for the recommendation, Tom!

  2. I’m a girl, and l think I’m some kind of Alto (probably a Mezzo) and l PREFER singing male songs (my lowest note is probably an A2). The more challenging songs are with a fast tempo and requires a lot of “bending” in the vocal lines. As an example, try Craig David’s “7 Days” or “Fill Me In”. Actually, many of his works are quite quick in wording…

    I think he is likely a Leggiero Tenor. His female counterpoint would be Brandy, who is infamous for her complex coloratura. It’s tough going to remembered a lyric, let alone enunciate clearly. It helps to sing softly and a bit nasal and keep the weight off the voice but it’s still a challenge!

    • Thanks a lot for the comment! Those sound like great observations, and I’ll be sure to check out “7 Days” and “Fill Me In.”


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