7 Tips to a Great Vocal Performance

My Song Coach

There is no rule that says every songwriter must be a good singer. But, as the writer of a song, you can bring emotional authenticity and insight that a hired vocalist might miss. You don’t have to be Celine Dion or Josh Groban. Many times it’s more about phrasing and presence than hitting the pitches perfectly. Still, you can give yourself some help when writing your song and recording your track with these tips.

1) Figure out the highest note that you sound good on. Then figure out the lowest note. Try to keep your melody between those two notes. Sing your song while your write it and notice when you’re getting too close to your top or bottom notes. You can easily change the melody at that point.

2) Emphasize your strongest vocal notes in your melody. If your high notes are weak, use them as passing notes only; don’t try to sustain them or use them for important words.

3) Take a couple lessons from a vocal coach. If you want to extend your range, a coach can help you release into your high notes without straining. OR… sing along with some of your favorite artists and see if you can figure out how they jump into falsetto/head voice then return to a lower range.

4) Singing loud. Again, a vocal coach can help you learn how to do this effectively. OR consider singing in a softer style like John Mayer, Ingrid Michaelson, or Frank Ocean.

5) Think about phrasing. Too often we focus on pitch and volume and forget that phrasing can allow even a poor singer to deliver a great performance. Will the words fall right on the beat, a little behind, or a little ahead? Will you break up a phrase with a pause in an interesting place?

6) Choose a pace that works for you. Don’t forget the rhythm and speed of your song.  If the song is too fast and you’re rushing to keep up with it, you won’t have a chance to express emotion through your voice or vary the phrasing in interesting ways. Try slowing the track down or, if you can’t do that, drop out a few words to make more space. If the song is too slow you’ll have to work at keeping the vocal interesting. Try stretching out the ends of lines to fill the space or adding vocal riffs to end the line.

7) Look for your vocal strengths. How do you communicate emotion best? What kinds of songs work best for you? What genre features singers that sound like you? Study those singers. How do they begin and end lines vocally? Sing along with them to get a feel for their phrasing then blend that with your own style. Notice the special vocal tricks they use – like using falsetto or sliding and scooping into notes.  Practice these by singing along with their vocal tracks. Keep learning what works. You’ll sound good. 🙂

by Robin Frederick

Copyright 2013. All rights reserved. Reprints by permission.

Robin's Songwriting BooksThis post is based on my books Shortcuts to Hit Songwriting and Shortcuts to Songwriting for Film & TV. In each book you’ll find over one hundred useful, real-world shortcuts that will show you how to craft songs that work for today’s music market, plus dozens of hands-on exercises to get your creative ideas flowing.

Author: Robin Frederick

Robin Frederick is the author of Shortcuts to Hit Songwriting and Shortcuts to Songwriting for Film & TV. She has written and produced more than 500 songs for television, records, theater, and audio products. She is a former Director of A&R for Rhino Records and Executive Producer of 60 albums. Visit Robin's websites for more songwriting tips and inspiration: www.RobinFrederick.com and www.MySongCoach.com.