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ArtistWorks Vocal School Lessons: Choosing the Right Songs

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Once you know that you're going to
next big step is knowing how to chose the
right song.
If you've watched different seasons of
American Idol and
especially if you have listened to or
watched the early audition videos,
which are really interesting as part of
your research to do.
I mentioned it in an earlier lesson, but
really educational to do that.
There are three common problems that get
spoken of over and
over again, frankly, by the judges.
And it's been since the beginning of Idol
and sometimes you'll hear it also
in The Voice that show and others but,
here, here they are.
It kind of boils down to this.
The first is the judges will say that the
singer is pitchy.
So that means that the note or notes that
the singer is singing are going off.
Either a little too high, a little too
low, you know,
just they aren't dead center.
And so that's what's meant by pitchy, and
that's the first big,
big thing that is pointed out as a crit,
as a criticism of course [LAUGH].
The second one is that the song choices
don't showcase the unique
characteristics of that singer.
And we're, we're gonna talk more about
that pretty soon.
What does that mean and how do you find it
for yourself?
The third one is that they're basically
told that they sound like
boring to adequate record copies.
Sometimes the way it's put is, it sounds
like the song is
singing you and you're not singing the
So, let's take a look at these in more
Singing on pitch has.
Well, let's say singing off-pitch,
there are a number of reasons why that
would happen.
Certainly one of the reasons would be that
the singer is nervous.
And what is nervousness?
I mean, it means that you're basically
feeling out of control.
And so it sounds that way in your voice
because the voice is emotion and
thought sensitive.
That's a good thing on a good day.
And it can be a difficult thing on the
times when you are under the weather and
not feeling good.
You're distracted or whatever, and
all of a sudden the voice just doesn't
have that aligning factor.
Which is you being sure of yourself and
knowing what you're going to sing and
meaning it.
There's also some physical reasons, not
just mental, for
why a person would lose control of pitch.
That has to do with not really knowing the
Which we've already talked about in an
earlier lesson.
And how to do, how to do that.
And you'll find I'm gonna refer you to one
of the earlier
sections of this curriculum in the
fundamentals section warm-ups,
cool-downs, and quick fixes to sing better
There's some really on point remedies that
assist in singing on pitch.
And we're going to get into another one.
Another really cool fast tool in just a
little bit.
So the other thing is not being able to
hear yourself.
And it's very important for a singer to be
able to hear what they're doing,
because we tune and, and, and
instinctively make our.
We'll call it tuning choices and
melodic relationship, the relationship of
note to note.
We instinctively make those choices based
on hearing ourselves back.
Violinists are, are the same way.
They've got to know and hear themselves to
know where to put their finger
exactly on the string, because there's no
It's just a, a neck with strings.
At any rate in case you played violin, you
know exactly what I mean.
So the,
the choice of what song you sing
has a lot to do with doing your research.
And getting a sense of, well what other
singers sung and
what way have the sung whatever their song
choices are.
That have won the hearts of those who they
are auditioning for.
What about it?
How are they doing it?
Both as a performance aspect, as well as
the way they've styled the song,
and you'll notice that different songs
give you different opportunities.
Part of making the right song choice has
to do with well
certainly knowing your voice well enough
to know what's your best range to sing in.
That has to do not with your potential
range because range will grow
if you do all the steps that I'm providing
you within this,
this school, your range maybe already has
grown, and I expect that.
It's a byproduct of all of the basic tools
that you're developing and
range just kind of happens.
On a personal note, when I started singing
I had a really small range.
It was very powerful and strong, but past
a certain note, I, I disowned [LAUGH]
any upper notes because they sounded so
bad, and I was so not in control of them.
And so, I just ended up adopting the idea
that I would never have a big range.
When I went into the research that I did
on the voice, it began
developing this method and applying it to
myself cuz I was my first guinea pig.
I was doing my different vocal exercises
that I was designing.
And I'm practicing and practicing them,
and I didn't really notice that I was
starting to sing the exercises higher, and
it was easier, and
I didn't have any break in my voice, and
all this good stuff was happening.
I, somehow I, I guess I was so focused on
applying research and
whatever I didn't notice it.
And then I had a rehearsal with a
guitarist that I was doing a lot of
performing with and we were improvising
some things.
And all of a sudden these sounds came out
of my mouth and I was, and
I like was, stop.
What is that?
And I realized it was my voice.
And I ran to the piano and found that all
the sudden I had over four octaves, which
I never went into any of this to achieve
cuz I didn't think it was possible.
And of course ever since then I've known
that it's possible.
And everybody that I've worked with has
experienced the reality of that.
Okay, get back on track here.
So, the whole idea is that you sing
something that you believe in.
The conviction that you sing a song with
is paramount.
If you don't agree with the lyrics, if you
don't agree with the message of the song.
If you don't like how the melody is
If it's boring for you, it's gonna be
boring for somebody else.
If you just sorta tra-la it through and
let the music kind of play and
you don't connect with that song.
Then the song is gonna play you and you
will not be at
the helm of your ship, steering that song
to port.
[LAUGH] I'm trying to keep this analogy
And really driving it into the universe of
the judge or those for whom you're
So, knowing who you're auditioning for
is part of your research and
assists you in deciding what song to
Some of the reality shows will
actually give you a list of song choices.
You can't choose any other song than what
they have on that list.
If you are developing your musicality,
you can take a simple song and actually do
it in a whole different style.
That can have to with the change of rhythm
or a change of sound.
Like, if you sing something That was
originally done,
kinda clean and you know, like a Beatles
I don't know the words.
And you go
All of a sudden, you've taken something
that was just straight down the road,
and you've done something a little
stylistically different.
And it's interesting.
And you can put it an, an emotion to the
song that it
wasn't originally sung in that way.
And it changes it up.
And this is about stylizing.
So, one of the things that I ended up
learning about myself and
the choices that I make is that I tend to
like bluesier, Blues oriented stuff.
And I, and I, when I sing Rock a lot of
the time,
I'll add that element or even Pop.
So I don't have to do it that way.
But it's something I like.
So as you explore and develop your voice.
And this is part of getting ready for
anything that you're gonna do vocally.
It's, it's a matter of discovering what do
you like doing with your voice?
Do you like using a lot of range?
Do you like only using a short amount of
Do you like sounding dark?
Do you like sounding breathy?
Do you want to be kinda gentle and subdued
as a vocal personality.
Do you want to be powerful and booming?
What are the things you like to do?
This does take exploration, and
it takes, as part of the exploration,
trying songs out.
I have spent who knows how many thousands
of hours trying one song,
nah, it's not really for me.
Try another song, maybe, so I put it on
the side.
Trying this song, yes this is it.
Then you can go back to the one that you
put on the shelf, and
see is there maybe a different approach
you could take with it.
That would really put it on home base for
you and, and
give you the vehicle that you want to have
to express yourself.
But the bottom line is you've got to
believe in the lyrics that you're singing.
They need to mean something to you.
And, they need to mean enough to you to
wanna communicate to someone else.
I have heard ss, as probably you have,
some songs that I adore listening to.
And then I've tried to sing them.
I could sing them.
But you know what?
They weren't, they had nothing to do with
any kinda message that I wanted to
give, tell anybody else.
So, they remained my enjoying, as a, as,
as a listener, but not to take on as a
Recognize that when you're going to an
audition, they want to
hear your voice more than they want to
hear the song.
Now, that still doesn't mean that you
can't and shouldn't sing that song,
but they really need to hear a song that's
going to showcase your voice.
I've had a lot of singers come to me at a
terribly last minute.
You know, days before a big audition.
And all the sudden they decided that they
wanna do it.
And they haven't a clue what song to sing.
They don't know how to stylize a song.
I'm like, do you wanna win this, or are
you just going for fun?
Oh, I wanna win this.
Well, whoa, three days beforehand ain't
the time
to suddenly get ready, unless you're
already such a seasoned singer.
That all you need are a few tips and
you're off and ready to roll.
There aren't that many seasoned singers
who go at the last minute to an audition.
Because a seasoned singer knows
that they need to do their homework.
And sometimes you've got to try the song,
and try the song, and try the song, and
then shake it up and see if there's
something different.
And take a look at the lyrics and decide
if, is this a story that I can
make my own rather than sing it in a way
that I think the writer meant?
Because you've gotta make these lyrics
your own.
That's your story now.
Not the story of the person who wrote it,
who cares what they meant by it.
It's gotta mean something for you.
So making the song your own has a lot to
do with
you believing in the lyrics, finding your
own back story.
You know, what, okay so this is your
story, what happened?
What happened before you started saying
these words that led you to say
these words?
And what do you mean by them?
And what are the emotional transitions?
And we're gonna list out a lot of other
things having to do with actually making
the song your own in our next lesson.
Now, another thing is many auditions
don't let you sing with a backing track.
And don't have an accompanist for you to
sing with or even a band.
And that can be in fact, any of the big
televised competitions,
your first and sometimes and usually
second round.
The first one and two rounds, cuz there
are several rounds.
You do not get to sing with a backing
track, you've got to sing A cappella.
That enters you into a whole other thing,
as far as choosing what song to sing.
Because some songs need to have the music
what's going on with the music to drive
And if you can't drive that song without
any of the other, you know,
instruments and stuff, just you, your
voice, then it's not the song to sing.
Or you need to learn how to actually do
Because if you, if you have a song that
has a usual
say you sing a phrase or two and then
there's some music.
And then you sing a phrase or two and then
there's some music.
You can't wait all that time cuz there
isn't any music when you're singing
A cappella.
By the way A cappella means without
accompaniment and it's Italian.
And it's two words.
And then capella, which actually has to do
with the head.
It means without a head.
But hopefully, you'll bring your head with
you in more ways than one.
So anyway, that's the other choice that
you have to realize is
how to drive that song and not wait for
what is usually the musical part.
And just keep it going.
That not only has to do with tempo but
that has to do with you owning
the fact that this is your communication
when you sing that song.
And it's gotta drive out to the listener.
You're not singing it to yourself.
You're singing for
somebody, to give them an experience that
is going to be meaningful.
And all of a sudden you've captivated your
listener, and
they're in that world, they're in your
And it's a beautiful, it's a beautiful
merging, and
it's one of the aspects to being a singer
that makes it so fulfilling.
Now, if you are going
to do a video presentation
of your audition song,
which is being permitted more and more.
Then, you can use a backing track.
But, of course, you still need to be able
to drive that song.
There's also another type of audition, if
you're a musical theater singer,
where it's very common that you would have
an accompanist.
So now, I'm gonna address the backing
track audition and
the accompanist audition cuz they're, of
course separate things.
Even with acapella, you have to decide
what key you're going to sing in and
we will address that in the next lesson.
But, because I'm talking about this right
now, I want to hook it up.
There's a way of determining the best key
for you, and
it has to do with both your range and the
tonal qualities of your voice within
whatever is your comfortable range as well
as the mood of the song.
So, I've said it now, and
I'll, I'll get in to it a bit more in
depth in the next lesson.
With backing tracks, there are certain
websites which
give you the opportunity of changing the
key before you buy it.
One such wonderful eh, website that,
they're just great.
They do great, great job.
Is called
Dash, version, V-E-R-S-I-O-N .com.
And you can raise the key or lower it by 3
half steps up or down, and,
they give you about, I don't know, maybe
20 seconds or so to listen to the tune.
You can get it with backing vocals or
without backing vocals.
And you can listen as a preview and
sing along with it to see if it's a key
that's good for you.
And then if it's not you can raise it or
lower it before you purchase it.
It's a download as an MP3.
And then you can burn it to a track or
save it in your, in your music library
however you want.
And anyway, it's a great resource.
Of course, iTunes also has a lot of
karaoke backing tracks.
But you can't change the key.
And so does has some really
good choices for many of the songs.
So those are the three main places that I
go when I need a backing track.
Now, with an accompanist, there's a whole
other thing that has to happen,
which is you need to have sheet music and
the sheet music
needs to be in the key that you're going
to sing the, the song in.
Usually your told how many minutes you've
So, most
of the, well, let's see, actually, it
breaks down like this.
If you go, let's say, to an audition for
American Idol or The Voice,
the first segments of auditions,
you're usually told to sing 20 to 30
seconds, maybe a full minute.
That means that you can't sing the entire
But you can rearrange the song.
So for example, you can start with the
verse, do a chorus,
time that and then if there's still a
little time,
you can take the end of the song which
usually is more dramatic.
Or you can take the part that's called the
bridge, which is its own section and
it only happens usually once in a song,
then add, end the song in a more dramatic
Always, you're going to want to have a
build in the song, so
that the dynamic increases and something
happens with a bit more range.
Because, as I mentioned earlier, they're
looking to hear your voice.
They want something that lets your voice
step out.
And, of course, you need to sing it with
complete conviction.
But you can take the song and you can
break it up.
And if you listen to any of the
competition songs
on the big televised shows, you may
notice, they're never doing a full song.
They do a truncated [LAUGH] version of it
and it gets figured out.
It gets arranged in a way that allows a
build of dynamic and a dynamic ending.
That's what you need to learn how to do.
So, I can help you with that and
you can, when you want, if you want, you
can send me a video of a,
you know, say, a possibility that you're
And, try to arrange it the way that I've
just described.
If you're not sure of the key, let me know
you're not.
And if I hear that it needs to be a
different key change,
of course I'll let you know.
And I can give you some tips on that.
So, with the accompanist, as I mentioned,
you've got to have
the song in sheet music in the key that
you're going to sing it in.
And it's helpful to designate where you're
gonna start singing,
cuz you don't have to start in the
You could start with the second verse or
you could start with the first chorus.
It's just up to what makes the best
And then on the sheet music you take a red
pen and
you do a double line across the music just
before you're gonna start.
And you draw an arrow there.
And then the song goes where it goes and
then you put a double
red line right at the end of the measure
that you're going to end the song in.
That gives the accompanist an immediate
visual designation of where to start,
where to end.
The other thing about working with an
accompanist in an audition
is you need to be able to count off the
Like if you're gonna do a song that's a
Know what the tempo is.
You know you can, if you have an iPhone,
or any of the smart phones,
you can go to the App Store, and for free,
download a metronome so
you can find out exactly what the tempo is
that you're going to sing that song in.
And practice singing it with that
metronome at the speed
that is appropriate for you.
And then you can tell the accompanist,
what you're gonna do it in.
The idea is, to not let the accompanist
start deciding [SOUND] and you're like,
want to sing it slow.
And then, there goes the audition because
you're all ruffled.
This is a way of taking command of this
kind of audition.
You know what the tempo is.
You can even count it off, like okay, one,
two, three, four.
Whatever, so, so
you can kind of get that groove.
Let the accompanist know, and then you
sing and perform the song.
These are many of the ways to make the
song your own.
That is the ultimate in preparation for an
Remember that part of your prep work
has to do with earlier lessons that we
have gone through.
Or, if you haven't gone through it yet, I
urge you to do so,
so that your voice is in top shape to
present yourself with
the best foot forward, because that gives