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ArtistWorks Vocal School Lessons: Eleven Essential Elements to Learning a Song

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Hello again.
Were' gonna look at the 11 essential
elements to learning a song.
Professional singers as well as beginners
found these points really relevant and
assist in a quick.
Study of a song, but not just fast, full,
So here's the first point.
This is what I call map the song form.
It's just like having a map of where
you're gonna go.
If you don't, if you know you want to go
to a certain location and
you get in your car, but you don't know
how to get there and you don't know,
you know, how many blocks and when do you
turn right?
The unpredictability will make it more
Knowing the map of the song form allows
you to have prediction
on what you're gonna sing and it assists
in your memorizing it.
For example, if you have the song,
I Want to Hold Your Hand, it starts, by
The Beatles.
It starts with a verse and then it goes to
a chorus and
that repeats a certain number of times.
So if you put on paper,
one verse, chorus one.
Verse two or V2.
Chorus would be C or CH2 and you map it
out that way,
then you know how many verses you're going
to sing and
how many choruses you're going to sing.
And if there's an additional aspect like
an instrumental or
something that's called the bridge, which
literally has
a way of bridging from usually a verse
into a new chorus,
but it's a different section of music and
it kind of focuses the message of the song
in a slightly different way.
It's rare to find a song that has more
than one bridge.
So then you just map it out that way.
You're going to have a PDF, you'll notice
that goes with this section and
you'll see right in written form the map
of the song and
what the different terms are that you can
use that pinpoint what it is.
So you just look at the song, you take a
look at the lyrics, you know?
Listen to the song as you're looking at
the lyrics and
you just write your little symbols next to
each verse, chorus.
Sometimes, if a song has what's called the
pre-chorus that
sets up the chorus and then goes into the
I'm gonna give you the definitions of each
of these
terms on the PDF that you'll be able to
read and and
then how it would apply to a specific
song, so you have an exact reference.
The second step in learning a song is to
establish the best key.
Now a lot of singers have a
misunderstanding about what that means and
they think that they have only one key
that's their best key.
That's impossibly not true.
[LAUGH] So basically, this is it.
Every melody has the highest note and the
lowest note that is written in the melody.
Now that doesn't mean you can't sing
higher or
lower if you rearrange the melody for
yourself and
make it more expressive to suit your
interpretation of it.
But if we're just taking a look at a basic
you find out where's the lowest note and
where in the song is the highest note.
And see, those, those we call parameters.
Of course, you would usually be able to
sing anything at,
that's in the middle there, so you can
take the song and
you can shift it a little higher or you
can shift it a little lower, so
that they highest note is one that is easy
for you to sing and you feel that this.
Puts forward your best foot.
You've got to keep in mind that there's a
difference between what is
your comfortable, usable range right now
versus what your potential range is and
given the steps within this curriculum and
continuing your vocalizing and
such that you most likely will be able to
grow into.
The other choice of key has to do with the
mood of the song.
So first, there's the key that's going to
allow you to sing all the notes of it and
if you want to be able to actually
reinterpret some of the melody and
make it go higher or, or lower and then
there's what is the mood of the song?
Now for example, the song Summertime is a
blues song and
it it's kind of almost a lullaby, you
know, to a child and stuff.
And so to me, at least, singing it like
this wouldn't be appropriate,
even though I could sing the notes.
That doesn't
do it for me.
On the other hand, but I can sing the
[LAUGH] If I sang it here.
To me, that gives the warmth
of the song and establishes
the feeling of it much better.
So when I first found that I had a lot of
range, I was like a peacock strutting and,
you know, people would say, okay, we're
gonna do this tune now.
Jeannie, what key do you wanna sing it in?
You know, what's the best key?
And I was like, oh I'll just sing it in
any key.
Doesn't matter, you know, I wasn't quite
that flippant.
[LAUGH] But I pretty much was and and then
one day finally I realized,
you know, not every song, even though you
could sing it in any key
isn't meant to sing it in any key based on
the mood you wanna give it.
So, those are the two aspects of choosing
the best key.
The third point out of the 11
essential elements to learning
a song is to learn the melody.
Now notice I didn't say learn the melody
with the words because that's
then one after it, the lyrics.
You've got to know, just like the map of a
song, you've got to know
what the basic melody is, even if you're
gonna do something different with it.
It's gotta start at the start, which is,
what, what's the basic melody,
and then from there, if you want to
embellish, if you want to change the curve
of the melody a, a, a bit, or a lot, that
would be the next step.
You can learn the melody simply by humming
it along with the original, or
you can sing or you can sing i,
or sing la, la, la, it doesn't much
matter, but learn the melody notes,
because then you're going to add to it
with the fourth point.
The fourth point is to learn the lyrics.
Now, there's a number of aspects that go
into learning the lyrics.
For example, have them in writing, take a
look at them and
find your own connection with the words.
If there's any words in the lyrics for
which you don't know the definition, take
a moment and look it up in a dictionary.
I have a story that goes with this.
A singer came to me, young singer, amazing
big voice, eight years old.
[LAUGH] And she had been contracted to
the National Anthem of America at a huge
ballgame, really big one.
I already said huge, okay.
So she needed me to help her prepare for
her dad brought her in, and the, the
father said
she has difficulty remembering the lyrics,
and she just keeps forgetting the lyrics.
So I had her sing it for me.
And at a certain point in the lyrics I'm
like, what is she saying there?
So, I had her talk the lyrics to me.
And sure enough, there were points where
she did not know
the definition of the word she was singing
and it had no meaning to her at all.
So, number one, she couldn't engage
herself in like meaning the song.
So it was kind of da, da-da, da-da.
Instead of this powerful voice that she
has being able to really come out.
And, and she was forgetting the lyric
because she didn't know what
the definitions of, of some of the key
words was.
I had her define them.
I helped with that.
Oh, that's what that means.
And all of the sudden the song came to
life and
she never forgot the lyrics after that.
So, keep that in mind, you know, people
can say
you learn the words in the context of the
sentence, that's ridiculous.
The context is made up of the definition
of the words that are in the sentence, so
if you don't know the definition or
you don't, you know, you know, words have
more than one definition,
a lot of times, especially in English, oy,
gets confusing.
And sometimes, a word will be used in one
way, and you know that definition, but
then it gets used in another way, and you
don't know that definition.
So the key is, if you have any
uncertainty, or
you think, well, I'm not really.
This does, this doesn't make sense to me
here, this, this line.
Then find out what word might, in fact, be
misunderstood or not known by you and look
it up, and maybe it's the third definition
of the word is the one that fits.
And all of a sudden, now you can sing that
song with conviction.
We're gonna pick up the next points in the
next lesson.
Now we're going to take a look
at number five of the 11 essential
elements of learning a song.
Number five has to do with what I call
mapping the lyrics with your mouth.
This has to do with the importance of
Instead of just knowing something
theoretically, if you apply it,
that's where your connection with whatever
the tool is that you're working with.
And the know how, the expertise.
That's where it comes to life.
I think often that is what people mean
when they say I'm a visual,
I learn visually.
You know instead of just like, hearing
something or
hearing about something in the way that it
Actually demonstrating and having more
hands on.
In this case, it's mouth on instead of
hands on.
[LAUGH] Yuck, yuck.
So mapping the lyrics with your mouth
means actually saying them,
because what ends up happening is there's
a muscle coordination between the vowels
and the consonants, so even when you say
out loud.
Map the lyrics with your mouth.
There's these different changes that
In learning a song and memorizing the
lyrics, the actual
coordination step by step from one word,
syllable to the next.
Has all these different coordinations with
your tongue,
your lips, pretty much your tongue an your
And your, and your palate where the tongue
might touch the hard palate or
touch the soft palate back here.
This is there, et cetera.
On occasion, you'll run into a song that
is almost like a flow of consciousness,
and it's a little more difficult to
What, you know, I'm saying this line here,
then when it comes around again I'm saying
a different line, word-wise and
with the same melody but in the second
verse or something.
And it's which one does it go with?
So, that's where finding little tricks of,
okay I ended a line with my tongue here
for the word,
let's say with, and I start my next line
also with a th.
So it goes with the da da da da.
I'm just making this up, but, and then
just remembering that hookup,
you remember oh yeah, the next line starts
and goes through like that.
So it's these little things that you can
find in your lyrics
if you map the lyrics with your mouth.
You get accustomed to the words being in
that order.
The sixth step has to do with resolving
any pitch or range difficulties.
I want to refer you to an earlier lesson
in the warm up, cool down, and
quick fixes to sing better fast section
much earlier in this curriculum.
And there are some very specific things
that I mention there and
give you as tools to help resolve, like a
spot cleaning, a spot fix, where in a song
there's a little difficulty with a certain
little section of range.
That doesn't mean that you chose the wrong
that just means that there's just a little
bit of strain in, in a few words,
or, you know, just feels a little too
And you feel like your straining and
if you could just get that under control
the song would be perfect.
So these are quick fixes and along with
the earlier lessons that deal with that.
I'm going to bring someone on,
who will help me show you another, tool
you can use for that.
So now I have Marcus with me and
we'll be demonstrating a few tips and
tools for your use and benefit.
Hey Marcus.
>> Hi.
>> Okay you're gonna be singing a few
phrases from a song.
>> Yeah.
>> And why don't we just go right into it,
and then I'll break some things down and
give you some tips.
>> Okay.
>> Okay.
>> So this'll be the chorus.
>> Mm-hm.
>> [MUSIC].
>> Good, thank you.
Okay so to my ear, there are points where,
he sounded a lil, a bit strained,
and it got the note almost on the mark but
that strain kind of, interrupted the,
the actual full impact that I believe you
were going for,
as far as you know, big open volume and
So, the first step is gonna be this.
I want you to put your hands on your
cheeks like this with your,
I'm gonna turn you a little bit so you're
this way.
>> Okay.
>> The purpose of putting the hands here
this demonstration is that when he was
his head, your head was going this way.
So, this was straining these muscles,
which impacted on the internal muscles
that make the sounds of your voice.
[COUGH] Now I don't want you to san, stand
like a robot or
[LAUGH] when you're singing and certainly
not with your hands like this.
But the first step is to get accustomed to
for, for
him and for you if you need to use this.
To get accustomed to not jutting the jaw
forward with the neck.
And still you're gonna let the mouth open
as it wants to, and such and
let's see what happens?
So I want you to sing me just the first
two phrases of it.
>> [MUSIC].
>> You're pushing forward.
Do it again.
>> Oh, okay.
>> Uh-huh.
You start again.
>> [MUSIC].
>> Okay stop.
Okay, so the moment that you start to sing
you're here.
>> Okay.
>> So I want you to.
>> Just really capture your head, yeah.
>> [MUSIC].
>> That's better.
>> [MUSIC].
>> Good.
Now turn this way.
Do it again.
>> [MUSIC].
>> Mm-hm.
>> [MUSIC].
>> Good.
That, that, how did that feel?
>> Yeah, it was things,
something that I wouldn't have been aware
of had I not had my hands here.
>> Mm-hm.
[COUGH] Okay, so you can then use your
hands here with
your arms resting on your chest and use a
So that your head doesn't sneak your hands
forward [LAUGH] And you don't realize it.
So you have that two aspects of, of
feedback for yourself.
You know, using a mirror and having your
hands here together really helps.
It's very common that a singer will do
And that I've seen happen a lot when a
singer builds volume,
but it can happen at a lower volume, also.
Now, next step is this.
Still, there's a bit of pulling these
muscles up to get your higher notes.
So, the next this is
honesty is such, okay, on such, if,
can you pick it up from is such a word?
>> [MUSIC]
>> Yeah, yeah, from there.
>> [MUSIC]
Such a lonely word.
>> Good.
Now I'm gonna do [LAUGH] Something here.
Okay, when you do such I want your jaw to
drop down and not go wide.
>> Okay.
>> Okay, try it.
It is.
>> [MUSIC]
>> Yeah, do it again.
>> [MUSIC]
>> Good, now you have some lip tension, so
let's get rid of that.
>> Okay.
Maybe feel for it?
>> Yep.
>> [MUSIC].
>> Again.
>> [MUSIC]
>> Good.
Now next step is to let the sound resonate
here rather than pulling it back here.
You're sucking it into the little cavern
And it's locking those muscles.
So we're gonna get it here.
So with your fingers here, this will help
clue you, this was in earlier technique
that we went over, if you may, may
remember in an earlier lesson where I had
Caroline Novi putting her hands here and
thinking the sound here.
So we're gonna work that now.
>> [SOUND] Such, [SOUND] Such.
>> Yeah.
>> Okay.
>> Yeah.
>> [MUSIC].
>> That's it.
Wanna do it again?
>> [MUSIC].
>> Yes, sir.
Now you're right on the note.
And it's big and bold the way you intended
Without sounding,
Such, you're, you know?
>> Right.
>> Without it sucking you forward.
>> Yeah, it doesn't have reach.
>> Yeah, uh-huh, uh-huh.
Okay, last thing.
Do the second phrase.
>> Hands down?
>> [LAUGH].
>> [LAUGH].
>> Yeah, [LAUGH] let's do hands down.
>> [MUSIC].
>> Okay, good.
What is the vowel sound for the word,
for the first syllable of h a r d l y?
>> Uh-huh.
>> In this [CROSSTALK].
>> Yeah.
What is the vowel sound.
>> Yes.
Not ha, cuz that's a consonant plus a
Okay, so, [SOUND] Good.
Know that vowel sound and sing that again.
>> [MUSIC].
>> Yes, sir.
[SOUND] [LAUGH] Know the vowel sound that
you're gonna use in
the context of the syllable.
You've gotta isolate it totally.
And then, with that in mind, that's the
sound you use as you sing that note.
The sound of the pitch has to be inside
the vowel.
Not a pitch that you're throwing a vowel
up to.
If you even think of it that way.
[LAUGH] But that's how it gets approached
a lot of the time,
which will tend to cause you to sing
either sharp,
if you put too much energy into just
reaching for the note, or a flat,
if you've also got strain, which will
always tend to accompany it.
That was awesome.
Use these tools.
They're fast.
Step seven in the 11 essential elements to
learning a song have to do with learning
all the important rhythmic and
musical cues that are part of the song.
So this of course means, where do you
start singing, right from the beginning.
More often than not, the music, crea,
creates some kind of an introduction, and
then we'll start with the beginning of the
first verse if it starts with a verse,
or on rare occasion might, the song might
start with a chorus, or
something like that.
Let's just say it starts with a verse.
So you can count how many beats are there.
This is where we get into some musical
terms having to do with a downbeat and
an upbeat.
The only reason why there's an upbeat is
cuz you can't come down
again unless you're up.
[LAUGH] That's simply true.
So you've got, you know, let's say the
beat is like this.
Bum, bum, bum, bum.
One, two, three, four.
And it's about at that speed.
That's called tempo.
So there's the difference between tempo,
that's how fast or how slow it is.
A slower tempo would be one, two, three,
You can
rock to it.
That would be more of a ballad.
Okay, so then if we made it like a jumping
jazz kind of thing.
So that's a faster or
a slower tempo.
But there's also what's the basic pulse of
Now for your cues, that means like, when
do I come in?
Is it now?
You have to be in control of that,
otherwise if you're late it sounds crappy
and you feel rushed, and then you have to
bunch your phrase together and such.
So you can count how many beats before you
enter at any
point that there's a question in your mind
about it, and then just memorize that.
I have four beats, and then I come in, or
I have six beats, and then I come in,
whatever it turns out to be.
Sometimes you have very little time and
it's like one, and
you begin singing, and that's it.
So, it's all about counting.
And that often is more predictable
than what otherwise could be used which is
a musical cue.
The, the melody that you sing coordinates
with the chords that are being played
as you're singing, and the melody needs to
match up with
the notes and the note possibilities that
are within each chord.
This gets us a bit into music theory,
which I really urge you to
get at least some basic music theory under
your belt if you don't have it already,
because we are singers, and that means
that we're dealing with music, and
that's our realm of expression.
And the more you know about music theory
and can work with it,
the more ideas you can develop and
the more savvy you are with arranging a
song that really
makes it sound like you've just done
something totally unique with that song.
In this year's competition on the Voice
American Idol, the singers that have been
selected, all of them are so
much more savvy than any other season I've
watched where these singers have
really developed their own thing with each
song they're doing.
It's, it's a wonderful demonstration of
these tools.
Musical tools, sometimes there's a note
that's being played,
or a certain chord tone that's being
played, that tells you now is the time for
you to sing, or now is the time for you to
sing the next phrase.
They aren't always played the same way,
unless you're using a backing track, which
of course will never vary, but if you're,
if you're playing with other musicians,
sometimes they'll forget something or
they'll play it in a different way than
you're used to, and so
that's more, that's not as predictable as
the rhythmic cues are.
The eighth point has to do with locking
into or onto or
within the rhythm of the song.
If the rhythm that you're singing
melodically, doesn't work,
with the pulse, the groove of the music
that you're singing with,
you will not sound professional.
And the band will be leading you instead
of you leading the band,
and that's an expression that actually
applies to even when you're singing with
a backing track or karaoke or whatever, it
doesn't matter.
You've got to be the one that leads the
It's all about the song, and that is all
about the singer, when there is one.
If it's an instrumental, fine.
Nobody's expecting it, but the moment that
a singer comes into the scene,
everyone really relates to singers.
I think that's one of the reasons why
singers are so
popular often far beyond just instrumental
The singer is always the one that is known
and is listened for
and sets the style of the song.
Even while a guitarist might have their,
their cool sound, and
you know, people who know will say oh,
that's so-and-so playing guitar,
but it's always the singer, so you've got
to drive it,
and there are certain songs that really
depend on this pulse, you know, and
it's those kind of songs that you can sit
and listen to and
you find yourself rocking with of, you
know, nodding your head and stuff.
And in, within the lyrics there are going
to be certain words in each of
your phrases that hook onto that pulse,
onto that down beat, and
those are the ones that you use to bring
across the meaning of the song.
Those are the keywords if the song is
written well.
If it's not, then the songwriter didn't
know that the,
the, the words that have the heavier beat
that lock into that downbeat
really need to be the ones that are gonna,
you know, meaning-wise,
have that meaning, [LAUGH] that sounds
It's like the word at, usually is not an
important word,
but at the heart of my soul, you know,
it's all about the heart and the soul, not
the intermediate words.
And those are the ones that you bring
forward and
hook into the rhythm if you were singing
that line.
The ninth point of the 11
essential elements to remembering,
dealing with, living your song
is the development of your phrasing.
This is a favorite aspect to me, because
phrasing can take a song,
and within one signer's phrasing, and
somebody else's phrasing,
you end up with two completely unique
Phrasing has to do with how you
rhythmicize the words that you're singing.
It's which words do you give more
prominence to?
So if you were singing let's go to Georgia
on My Mind.
So you've got Georgia,
Georgia, a song of you.
Okay, what if you did, I'll,
I'll, I'll put it into the melody so
you'll see what I mean
so now I gave song more importance
than you, but the first time
I gave you more importance.
The second time I gave both Georgia's
like Georgia, Georgia, rather than
Georgia, Georgia, a song of you.
You know?
Its, that's phrasing, and
it means something different.
If I was telling you.
I was walking down the street, and I saw
my best friend.
That's phrasing.
Based on what do I mean, how do I feel
about that.
I saw my best friend, or I was walking
down the street and I saw my best friend.
I didn't emphasize best friend, so it has
a different meaning,
it sounds like I was kinda bored with it.
If you mean to sound bored then that's
perfect phasing.
If you didn't mean to sound bored, and you
did by the way you phrased it.
Now you're si,
being sing-songy in the song it's rather
then really expressing it.
It doesn't mean anything unless it means
something, [LAUGH]
which actually, even though that sounded
silly, is very true.
That brings to mind a song.
no, what is that song?
[LAUGH] It's all about phrasing,
it's rhythmicizing based on what it is
that you want to express,
how you want to express it, and
what words carry that main meaning based
on what you mean.
And that all has to do with taking a look
at the lyrics, and
bringing them into your own heart.
So that you're living these words.
And the, and you are expressing it.
You mean to express it.
And you mean to be understood.
And received your meaning.
By your audience.
And then it just feels more alive, cuz
that's what it's all about communication.
The final point in the 11 steps of
[LAUGH] that we're doing here is
determining dynamics,
and that has a lot to do with phrasing, as
Dynamics have to do with the increase or
decrease of your volume.
What words or sounds do you give more
emphasis to?
So if you're singing if you're singing a
and it's all one volume, and it never
The fact of the matter is that becomes
That's boring.
That becomes monotonous.
Because monotony is everything is kind of
the same, and it keeps going on the same.
Even if you were singing loud, or your
singing you know, in, in a metal band.
When you've got everything at ten.
Boom, boom, boom, boom, boom, and it never
varies, never varies, never varies.
Believe it or not that becomes monotonous.
When the dynamics change, and build, and
come down, we've got more of life, because
hopefully, is not boring [LAUGH] and
Well, sometimes it can be, but we don't,
it [LAUGH] life has ups and downs,
not in a bad way, hopefully, [NOISE] but,
you know, there's certain things you
feel more strongly about, and other things
you don't feel as strongly about, so it.
In, in, in and of itself life has dynamic.
To have a song be real,
it needs to reflect life, your
sensibilities, how do you think about it,
where do you feel the strongest why?
You need to answer these questions for
yourself to really breath your life into
the song, and give life,
through the song, to whomever it is that
is listening.
And that creates a very fulfilling
experience both for
you as the singer, you're the giver, and
your receiver,
who wants, and is there, in hopes that you
will move him or
her by the way that you perform, and sing
your song.
I hope that helps.