Sometimes, it’s good to take your singing practice back to the basics, and just sing with a small ensemble. Most satisfying of all is working only with a good pianist – the level of detail just you and one other musician can achieve when working on material for piano and voice is very valuable to your development as a singer, no matter what stage you’re at.
If you’re stuck for ideas of what to work on, the following six songs – one religious, two modern pop classics, one German-language lied, one jazz standard, and one music theater number – may give you some ideas. They won’t all be suitable for your voice type, nor will they all be suitable for your current level of ability, but these six songs for piano and voice can give you an idea of which composers or artists to start your search with.
Schubert – “Ave Maria”
Perhaps the most beautiful and appropriate setting of the Latin text for this combination, “Ave Maria” is the perfect addition to any singer’s repertoire of songs for piano and voice. Suitable for singers at an intermediate level and up, it demands great purity of line, good breath control, and a moderate level of vocal flexibility. When working on this song, concentrate on evenness of tone, and experiment with dynamic contrast.
Adele – “Someone Like You”
British sensation Adele supplies a variety of modern classics for the female singer. This breakthrough hit requires considerable vocal control, however, and a solid technique. Make sure that you aren’t changing the shape or sound of the vowel as you change pitch on it, and practice exercises of arpeggios through the fifth on “ah” and “ooh” vowels before you sing this song to help you master this.
The Fray – “How to Save a Life”
Lyrics-driven pop songs for piano and voice are an excellent addition to your vocal repertoire, as they make you pay close attention to text, and how to color it. For this song in particular, the vocal line itself isn’t that difficult, and a beginner to intermediate singer should be able to master it quite quickly. However, bland and colorless words can be a problem for a beginner singer, so rather than preparing for this song with vocal exercises, practice speaking the text aloud, and pay special attention to your diction.
Schubert – “An die Musik”
We make no apologies for including a second Schubert song in this list of songs for piano and voice; the undisputed king of song repertoire, Schubert’s beautiful “An die Musik” is an ideal first foreign-language song for a beginner singer, as it covers many of the singing basics that you will cover in your first few lessons, including sustaining a lyric line, mastering vocal leaps, and managing dynamic contrasts.
George Gershwin – “The Man I Love”
Gershwin’s great jazz and big band standard is the ideal starting point for a female singer at an intermediate stage of vocal development to learn how to develop flexibility within a rhythmic pulse, and how to improvise around an existing written vocal line. Classical singers have been experimenting with similar vocal embellishments – called cadenzas – for hundreds of years, and it’s a great way to add some excitement to your singing.
Lerner & Loewe – “On the Street Where You Live” (My Fair Lady)
Sung by the hapless Freddy Eynsford-Hill, this is a perfect addition to the music theater and concert repertoire of a young male singer. Ideal for learning purity of vowels, it will also help for work with high notes and working toward a big climax at the end of the song. Aim for breathless, enthusiastic innocence and don’t be afraid to use your full voice.
For every song you discover by a composer that you like, try to find at least one more, as this is an excellent way to build repertoire and to explore music that you might not already know. Finally, although exploring repertoire can be fun on your own, make sure that you’re also working with a good teacher, who can help you find songs that are appropriate for your specific development and abilities. Have fun!
Photo by Thorsten Krienke