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Hard Songs to Sing: Wildest Dreams, by Taylor Swift

Taylor Swift 1989 Tour at Ford Field in Detroit, 5/30/15, by GabboT, under CC BY-SA 2.0

I recently got a request for a Hard Songs to Sing post on “Wildest Dreams,” by Taylor Swift. Although I think this one is tamer than some of the other Taylor songs I’ve written about, like “Shake it Off,” it poses its own unique set of challenges–shifting from a belt to a breathy quality, for example. For anyone not familiar with “Wildest Dreams” by now, here’s a video to help you out.
*Warning: To any young viewers, the music video isn’t exactly explicit, but adult content is strongly implied. I looked for a lyric video to replace it, but this is the only video that actually exists with Taylor’s voice.

Why Is This Song Hard?

It Sits in an Uncomfortable Range.

“Wildest Dreams” isn’t unmanageably high, but the belt in the chorus (which goes up to C5) sits in an uncomfortable transition spot for some voices.

It Transitions to Breathiness

A breathy quality isn’t that difficult in and of itself, but this song transitions from a belt directly into breathiness without, well, taking a breath.

It Doesn’t Leave Much Breathing Room

As is characteristic of Taylor Swift songs, “Wildest Dreams” doesn’t leave obvious places to come up for air, particularly in the bridge, starting with “You see me in hindsight.”

Instant Gratification

Open the “EE’s.”

The “EE” sound tends to feel pinched and sound nasal in the upper middle part of your voice if you don’t open it enough. Open it into a slight “i” (as in kick) sound and make sure your soft palate stays slightly lifted. You can feel this action by simulating the beginning of a yawn. Don’t go so far with the yawn that the sound starts to sound hooty or heady though. Experiment with it until you have a nice open-sounding mixed belt on the chorus.

Take Apart the “AH”

One of the more challenging aspects of “Wildest Dreams” is the “Ah” at the end of the chorus, because it moves from a mixed belt directly into a breathy descent. I would recommend taking it apart. Work on getting a nice mixed belt on the Bb4 at 0.57 of the video. Then for the Eb5 at 0.58, sigh onto the note with a slight “h” sound. The sigh, coupled with the “h” sound, facilitates the breathy voice quality. When you get very comfortable separating the two parts of the “Ah,” try putting them together. Visualize the sound going back, up, and over your head, like it’s creating a “C” shape around your ear.

Figure Out Places to Breathe Ahead of Time

Sometimes knowing where to breathe is just a matter of working it out before you’re in the process of singing. We’ve all been in that situation where we’re happily singing through a phrase and then suddenly realize that we have no shot at maintaining enough breath. In the bridge, make sure you get enough air before singing “You’ll see me in hindsight” and take your first breath after “burning.” Take another good breath before “Someday when you leave me,” and take your next one after “follow.” Just knowing how long you have before you get a breath can sometimes help determine how much air you need to take in ahead of time and how slowly you need to release it.

Not-So-Instant Gratification

Learn to Retract Your False Vocal Folds

Next to your true vocal folds (the part of our voices that open and close to produce sound), we have what’s called false vocal folds. When our false vocal folds are constricted, our voices feel tight and uncomfortable. When they’re retracted, our voices feel comfortable and stay healthier. Here’s a video to demonstrate what it looks like to constrict and retract your false vocal folds. Don’t worry. I’ll explain how to do this.

Because Taylor’s choruses often sit in an uncomfortable area of the female voice (the upper-middle register) and tend to hang out there, it’s important to keep your false vocal folds retracted and comfortable. To do this, try simulating what your throat does right before you laugh. If this is difficult, you can also let out a hearty laugh and then do that same laugh silently. You should feel your throat open up. Work on this action, and then try it right before a chorus.

Develop a Mixed Belt

You don’t have to have a giant, powerful belt to pull off Taylor Swift, but you’ll at least want to find a relaxed mixed belt. In Part 1 of my belting collection, I give you a series of exercises to help you develop this technique.

Have a song you’d like to see as part of this Hard Songs to Sing tutorial? Recommend one in the comments section.

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