Where’s Your High Note?


Photo by Tom Barrett on Unsplash

Ever wondered what makes a hit ballad a hit? Sure, the singer has to kill it, and the right arrangement helps too. But what made songs like “I Will Always Love You” and “My Heart Will Go On” kick serious butt on the Billboard charts?

A major player in this game is the placement of the highest note in the song. When writing a song, sometimes where the highest note ends up is natural. It just kind of flows as you’re writing the melody. Other times, when trying to write the next big hit, where it’s placed is very strategic. Let’s examine this idea a bit more in depth.

Since we’ve already mentioned it, let’s look at “I Will Always Love You”—an epic ballad written by the epic songwriter Dolly Parton and made popular by the epic singer Whitney Houston. (RIP, girl.)

If you examine the melody of the verses, it teases reaching the highest note in the song. But Whitney doesn’t get there until the chorus. Let’s look at the song in the key of A.

Here’s the highest note in the first verse:

Screen Shot 2018-04-26 at 7.36.43 PM

And then, the fabulous chorus hits and Whitney lets loose those beautiful high notes that the verse hinted at:

Screen Shot 2018-04-26 at 7.39.49 PM

And then there’s the modulation that happens at the end of the song, but we’ll leave modulation for another blog post.

Now, let’s look at “My Heart Will Go On” in the key of E. Here’s the first verse that hovers around the root note, E:

Screen Shot 2018-04-26 at 7.45.46 PMAnd then the chorus takes us for a ride up the melody roller-coaster:

Screen Shot 2018-04-26 at 7.48.34 PM

Notice the jump in the melody here when songwriter Diane Warren has Celine Dion sing “wherever.” It’s an entire octave, which brings out the high note — a feature that doesn’t appear in “I Will Always Love You.” If you’re a belter and a songwriter, consider working this into your melody in the chorus.

Here are some other places high notes do (and should!) show up

  • When singing the word “high”. This seems silly, but it makes perfect sense. Try shaking your head “no” while saying the word “yes.”  Tough, right? Why sing the word “high” on a low note? Consider the song “High and Dry” by Radiohead. Thom Yorke gets way up there when he sings the word “high.” It happens to be in the chorus, but perhaps in your song it happens elsewhere. Consider using this idea when singing other “high” words like “top” or “above.”
    • At the end of the bridge leading into the chorus. The bridge is the place where you build the tension as we wait for the chorus–getting us ready for the “drop.” Consider Kesha’s comeback hit “Praying.” I mean, holy cow is that note at the end of the bridge amazing! You don’t even realize the chorus came back to hit you in the face while you’re listening to her belt out that Mariah Carey-esque note. Again, if you’ve got that range as a singer, go for it in your songwriting!

I hope I’ve given you some ideas and inspiration for the placement of your high note. I wish you a lack of writer’s block and a pen that flows easily.

Until next time!




Cover Dos and Don’ts: 3 Ways to Make Your Cover (Song) Stand Out

A great way to grab the attention of your potential listeners as a singer or original artist is to cover songs that are hits. Beyoncé and Imagine Dragons already have a fan base that loves their music — and those fans will probably love your sound if you match theirs (or Adele’s or Shawn Mendez’s…you get the idea). 
So let’s talk about how to capitalize on a market that already exists, while making you stand out as an artist too!
My three main pieces of advice are:

  • Don’t be a copycat. If you are unable to sing it better or different, then pick a different song! My biggest pet peeve is when an artist sings a song EXACTLY like the original. A trick for females is to choose a male song, and vice versa for males. If you are in the early stages of recording and learning, then this isn’t as important. But once you’ve had some experience and made the decision to be an ARTIST, this is a MUST in order to carve your own path in this business. (See “Can’t Help Falling in Love” by UB40 or “Wild Horses” by Alicia Keys for examples.)
  • Understand the lyrics. It’s your job as a singer and performer to tell the story. It’s surprising to find out how many singers actually don’t understand the words or message they are singing about. Rewrite the lyrics in your own handwriting, or retype them and print them out. Grab a marker and highlight what you think are the main emotional words or phrases of the song. Listen to the song while reading the lyrics. Live and breathe the song as if you wrote it yourself. 
  • Match the genre, not the artist. If someone tells you that you sound like Bruno Mars, DO NOT pick a Bruno Mars song. Sure you can use this as inspiration and a guideline, but in order to be recognized for your own unique sound, it’s important to choose a song that is not like an artist with a similar tonality as you. You’ll want to choose a song in the genre of Bruno Mars. But if I can’t tell the difference between you and Mr. Mars on your cover of Mark Ronson’s “Uptown Funk”, that’s probably not the right fit. Perhaps an Usher cover would work better for you. 

For inspiration to choose a cover, visit Billboard.com’s chart page: http://www.billboard.com/charts#id-chart-category-pop. This link takes you to the pop charts, but you can choose other genres when you get there. 
Until next time, 



Nailing That Performance: 7 Ways to Improve Your Stage Game

Blog Title- Nailing That Performance

Lessons and practice are certainly important as an artist. You want to get to a point where you’re not even thinking — you’re just in the “zone” and the music takes over.

So how can you increase your odds of having this kind of mind blowing performance? Make these seven tips part of your pre-show routine and you’ll begin to see a difference — both for yourself and for your audience.

  1. Relax the day of show. We have all experienced pre-show jitters, sometimes so much so that it affects the quality of our voices. To steady your voice, try humming, feeling that breath on your lips, in your cheeks, even in your eye sockets. It’s a soothing feeling, even if you’re not about to perform. 
  1. Keep your stomach (somewhat) full. An empty stomach could send you onto the stage with a dizzy feeling, leading to poor vocal quality and forgetting important techniques you’ve spent weeks rehearsing. Try eating a banana before you perform. It will lower that empty or nauseous feeling in your stomach, but won’t make you feel too full either. 
  1. Stretch! Some people hold tension in their arms, their legs, even their faces! Stretching various parts of your body is great way to reduce the tension in your body. Even try puffing your cheeks to loosen your facial muscles or wiggling your toes to remind yourself that you’re rooted in the ground — and remember, you got this!! 
  1. Avoid Caffeine. This should be a huge “duh” for any singer. Caffeine is a HUGE no-no. Caffeine can not only make you more anxious, it will dry out your system which is just plain being mean to your vocal chords. Now, if you’re a caffeine addict, this isn’t the time to try to quit. (The withdrawal can cause shaking, headaches, or even vomiting!) Just don’t have extra caffeine on the day of the performance. You may think that it will make you perform with more energy, but it will actually make you feel more nervous and jittery. 
  1. Get adequate sleep the night before. I know it’s easy to get caught up in the excitement and late night parties once you’ve been exposed to the spotlight. But I cannot stress enough how important it is to sleep at least 8-9 hours a night, especially before a performance. Your body is actually preparing for the show as you sleep, through repairing and replenishing itself in your comfy pj’s! Don’t deprive it of this oh-so-important part of the preparation process. 
  1. Confidence is everything. Lets face it, confidence is everything in this business. If you believe you are good enough, the audience will too. Confidence comes from within, so get your meditation on and focus on how amazing you’re going to be on stage. You will exude positive energy that will become infectious, and the audience will be able to do little but explode with applause!! 
  1. Bring real-life experiences to the stage. This is a tough one, but it might be the most important. Imagine saying “I love you” to someone you care about while doing something unrelated —  maybe cooking dinner, reading the newspaper, or just simply not paying attention. Would that person really feel that you truly love them? Probably not. When performing, you need to be in the moment and allow yourself to feel real feelings. Believe me, the listener will relate to you so much more. Try thinking back to that time when your heart was broken. Or, if you’ve been so lucky to not have your heart broken, think of a movie or a book that touched you, or a friend or family member. It’s important you humble yourself and remain vulnerable and open. Your audience will not only hear and see you, but even more importantly, they’ll feel you.

You might notice that these seven tips not only apply to performing, but to life in general. But that’s what music is — it’s life! We’re performing every day, sharing our gifts with each other. Make these part of your everyday living, so much so that they become habits. Little by little, you will begin to build your story and help define the person you are to become!

Until next time.



When Your Stage Fright Creeps into Your Vocal Lessons – 3 Simple Things to Remember

Blog When Performance Anxiety Creeps into Your Vocal Lessons

You’re on stage, microphone in hand, and you open your mouth to sing. But instead of hearing the roar of your voice belting that note, you hear the nervous whimper of your throat closing and the blood drains from your face.

Yeah, I’ve been there too.

Unfortunately, this feeling can overtake us during our lessons too. (You mean, even when I’m not on stage? Yes, even then.) We can freeze up and feel vulnerable, even in front of our trusted vocal coach. The lights may not still be on us, but it sure feels that way.

We don’t want to waste that hour of lessons — and we especially don’t want to waste that chunk of change we saved up to pay for it!! So here are three tips to help you through the jitters the next time this happens during your lesson:

  1. Drink water and keep a relaxed throat. Nerves cause both dehydration and tension, which means those otherwise slippery, stable vocal chords are now sticky and shaky. Grab your water bottle and drink slowly. If possible, try to drink water at room temperature.
  2. Ask questions, and don’t be afraid to go slower! You’re not in a race and you are not being graded on progress. Lessons are meant for learning, and your mistakes will only make you better! Take a deep breath, close your eyes for a moment, and reboot your system. Then ask your vocal coach what you can do to improve your technique in that moment. Any advice he or she gives you will be useful not just for now, but for the big show!
  3. Center on yourself. Your vocal coach makes it look (and sound) easy, so you may wind up imitating your teacher just for the sake of imitating. Remember that you’re here to find your own voice and sound. Focusing on yourself also helps you to identify and understand when you are doing an exercise correctly or incorrectly. And that will make for a better outcome at the end of that hour.

This all goes without saying that if you’re studying with a coach that makes you feel uncomfortable and nervous, it’s probably time to find another teacher. You’re paying someone your money (and, even more valuable, your time) to make you the best singer possible. Make sure your teacher is just as committed to that mission as you are!

Now go have the best lesson ever this week!!



The Only 4 Pre-Show Tips You Need As a Vocalist

Blog Post - The Only 4 Pre-Show Tips You Need as a Vocalist

You’ve finally done it — you’ve booked that amazing show you’ve dreamed about your entire singing career. It’s at the best venue, in the best time slot, with plenty of room for your family, friends, and your friends’ friends.

But how do you prepare for it?

Sure there’s plenty of promoting that you need to do, letting everyone know the date and time of the show. And don’t forget, of course, planning that set list!

But what’s even more important is taking care of YOU before the show.  So you’re going to need a plan in order to give your audience the best show possible!

Luckily, that pre-show plan includes only 4 simple instructions to follow:

  1. Do your vocal warm-ups: You should see a vocal coach to learn how to do these correctly. These can include things like humming and lip or tongue trills. Here is a great article about vocal warm-ups from The American Academy of Otolaryngology.
  2. Stretch: Your voice is your instrument, as I’ve mentioned in a previous post. And it’s coming out of your body, which needs to be loose and ready to emit beautiful sound. You don’t need to get into your downward-dog-yoga-pose, but a few minutes of deep breathing from your diaphragm and some gentle neck stretches is certainly a start. You might want to choose a few physical warm-ups from this list on the For Dummies: Making Everything Easier site. (And you’re no dummy — so click on that link and get started stretching!)
  3. Don’t over-rehearse: Run through your set once or twice but do NOT over-rehearse on the day of the show. Rehearsing should be done weeks in advance, and the day of the show should be saved for just a light run-through. There’s no improvement to be gained practicing only hours before, except for maybe running through some tough-to-remember lyrics. Otherwise, you run the risk of straining your vocal chords.
  4. Hydrate up and eat light: WATER, WATER, and more WATER! I can’t stress this enough. Not only is it great for your overall health, but it keeps your vocal chords in tip-top shape and prevents the chance of you causing any damage to them. Dr. Ronald C. Scherer, a voice scientist at Bowling Green State University, explains it like this:

“I ask my students to clap their hands hard – there is a slight stinging sensation. Then, I ask them to do the same thing with a little soapy water: no sting. When you’re singing, your vocal folds are essentially slapping together. What the singer needs is a ‘cushion’ between the folds and this is achieved by having a nice mucus coating on the vocal folds. This coating requires proper hydration. If you are not well-hydrated the vocal folds can become irritated more quickly, leading to redness and swelling.”

Quoted from: http://www.voicecouncil.com/w-a-t-e-r-sound-advise-for-singers/

I know that sometimes water can be boring, so I recommend adding a hydrating fruit like watermelon in it to add extra flavor. My #1 recommended tea is called Throat CoatEvery singer should drink this with a spoonful of honey. And definitely pass on Grandma’s gooey lasagna — just for the night before of course! You can reward yourself with it after the show.

You’ve been singing your whole life, but this one performance happens ONCE! Treat yourself and your vocal chords well, and that once-in-a-lifetime moment in front of your audience will be memorable for everyone watching — and most of all for you!


The Top 5 Ways to Ruin Your Voice

singer screaming

Imagine you’re a guitar player (and many of you are!), and you’ve been given the most unique and exquisite guitar anyone has ever owned. You are the only one who can play it, and you are the only one who ever will.

Would you bring it home and knock it around your room like you would your backpack full of homework?

I doubt it highly.

That’s how you should view your voice: it is an instrument, and indeed a rare one that no one in this world can play but you.

While you can’t bash your voice against an amplifier, you can ruin it in other ways. Here are the top 5:

  1. Drinking or eating dairy. Dairy creates mucous and a false barrier over your vocal chords. Do not eat or drink ANY dairy products for AT LEAST 48 hours before singing!
  1. Smoking, drinking, or taking illicit drugs. This is quite obvious, but you would be surprised how many people would rather look cool and fit in rather than take care of their instrument!
  1. Misusing your speaking voice. Once you have been properly trained, you will learn the importance of speaking above your vocal chords rather than directly on them. Most of the time when singers lose their voice, it’s from how they speak.
  1. Whispering. Whispering is something I recommend be avoided at all costs. Air and sound both move your chords differently, so when you mix them together, you run the risk of rubbing your chords together sporadically which creates friction and swelling!
  1. Clearing your throat. This is definitely one thing that most singers do not realize how heavily their chords can be affected by. If you feel the urge to clear your throat, I advise using a backwards cough or making a gentle “Kah” sound. Sometimes even drinking water can help!

I hope these tips can help you continually take care of your rare instrument. Remember, you’re the only one who can play it!