Ask any experienced vocalist for a list of what they consider to be hard songs to sing, and they can probably provide you with five or six examples without much thought. However, there are as many examples as there are different voices, and every individual singer will have individual vocal hurdles to overcome with their repertoire.
On the other hand, it is possible to identify a few examples across a few genres where a majority will agree that, yes, those are hard songs to sing. Here are five of them, along with a few suggestions for exercises that will help you master them for yourself.
This beautiful aria is the soprano’s first appearance at the beginning of Act II. It looks incredibly simple on the page; a clear melody in 2/4 time, with no difficult passages. However, that very simplicity is what places it high on any operatic soprano’s hard songs to sing list – with no ensemble or recitative to warm up with, and no colleagues with you on stage, it’s a nerve-wracking experience even for a seasoned professional.
How to improve: An adequate physical and vocal warm up will help you. Make sure that you open your ribcage by stretching gently from side to side, and touching your toes a few times. A gentle walk will also set you up well, as you’ll clear your head and warm up your muscles. Vocally, gentle humming through intervals up to the fifth and back to the tonic each time will warm your voice up.
- Easy Listening – Brodsky: Be My Love
Made popular by Mario Lanza, this is a song requiring an open sound and intelligent negotiation of register breaks. What really adds this to the list of hard songs to sing, however, is the necessity of being absolutely certain of where to place the notes.
How to improve: Learn the pitches first without the words; use a good open vowel sound, and check the pitches against a keyboard. Next, practice on the vowels of the words only, and make sure you’re singing a smooth line. When you add the words as a third step, imagine that each phrase is one long word, and think of joining your final consonants to the beginning of the next word.
- Popular/Film – Harold Arlen: Somewhere Over The Rainbow
Everyone knows this classic from The Wizard of Oz, made famous by a young Judy Garland! So what is it that makes what appears to be such a simple song on a list of hard songs to sing? Think again about where you’ve heard it – not only does it appear at a particularly poignant point in the film, it’s common fare at weddings, parties, and other events. The emotional control required is considerable.
How to improve: Learning how to show passion and emotions, while at the same time not letting it distract you, is an important skill. To help with this, make sure you’re practiced any emotionally-charged songs a ton before performing in front of others. With enough practice, you’ll get to a comfortable level with the song, so that you feel more in control.
- Musical Theater – Schonberg: I Dreamed a Dream (Les Miserables)
Five years ago, an unlikely looking Scottish woman stepped on stage in a national talent show and silenced the audience’s laughter with vocal power that astonished the judges as well as the viewers at home. Following that, this wistful anthem to missed chances immediately became a popular choice with singers everywhere. However, it too requires the same level of emotional control as the “Somewhere Over the Rainbow”, as well as considerable vocal power.
How to improve: You cannot “make” a big voice; all you can do is hone the one you have until you’re using it properly. Although opening your mouth unnaturally wide can encourage your voice to spread, make sure you are actually giving it space to escape! Stand up straight, and make sure that your weight is distributed evening on both feet. Imagine that your audience is at the other end of a playing field, and that your voice has to carry there – don’t be tempted to shout or oversing, as a good, projected power will be enough. Singing long phrases to open vowels will encourage you to make economic use of your breath and also help your voice open up.
- Classical song – Frank Bridge: E’en as a lovely flower
This beautiful example of an early twentieth-century English song is full of the post-Victorian harmonies and pastoral key changes that color not only the likes of Vaughan Williams and Walton, but are also apparent in the work of Bridge’s famous student, Benjamin Britten. This one joins the list of hard songs to sing because of its gently shifting tonality and therefore tricky pitching issues – but once you learn how to fix that, it is absolutely rewarding for its simple beauty.
How to improve: Take each page as a single unit, and work out which notes you need. Fix them in your head, and learn the “map” between them. Finding security over the intervals will help you.
When tackling any difficult piece of music, there will likely be some technical demand that you can’t cope with on your own, or that your stage of vocal development can’t tackle even with relevant exercises. Keep in mind that finding a good teacher is always the best way to help you tackle hard songs to sing and become a better singer! Good luck, and keep on singing!
Photo by U.S. Army