How do you go about choosing the best songs to sing — the ones that define what you are about and why?
There’s no way MapQuest can tell you how to get from your local hole-in-the-wall all the way to Hollywood, but a big part of a singer’s success comes from having a good nose for sniffing out the right songs at the right time. So, how do you know if you are choosing the best songs to sing?
Some of you may feel that a good singer ought to be able to sing any song at all — including the phone book. But there are certain parameters — social, vocal, and age — that define what is normally considered to be acceptable. So why ask for trouble? Why not get songs that are exactly right for you?
First and foremost, songs should be age appropriate. If you’re young and you haven’t had fourteen steamy love affairs, it’s hard to sing “You give me fever, baby” convincingly. It always shocks me when a nine-year-old turns up with a song about whiskey and failed second marriages. On the other hand, neither should a mature artist ramble on about what happens after school and the end of summer vacation.
I find that a majority of singers choose songs that are way too high for them to sing comfortably. Perhaps they feel the need to challenge themselves. Forget that, you should sing what makes you sound best. I mean, it’s fine to challenge yourself in private, but choosing material that is too high to present well in public doesn’t make any sense. I find myself suggesting lowering the keys for many of my students, and most of them are already pretty evolved singers. So, especially if you are fairly new to singing, the best songs to sing are those with notes you can reach with ease.
Social and Ethnic Background
You would also be wise to avoid songs that are sung in dialect. If you’re not Irish, don’t sing an Irish jig. If you are Irish, why not make the most of your heritage by exploring it in your music? Writers are told to “Write what you know.” Singers should take that same advice and “Sing what you know.” If you were born and raised in New York City, it’s a good bet you know little about tractors, barns, or hay rides. But, you do know about Times Square, all night dancing and perhaps what it’s like to be lonely in a big city. The same is true for a Tennessee farm boy. If he’s never been off the farm what does he know about bright lights and the big city? The best songs to sing are those you can, in some way, personally identify with.
Who are you? It’s a simple question, but oh, so hard to answer. Know thyself! Know who you are and choose songs that you can identify with, wild child, county boy, or classy lady. Are you a high-energy singer who moves all over the stage? Then you should look for songs with an upbeat tempo. If you are the more George Strait stand-in-one-place-and-strum-a-guitar type, look for ballads and easy-going songs. This does not mean all your songs have to be one or the other, but you want to load up with songs that play to your greatest strengths when you are performing.
What do you listen to most
Perhaps the best songs to sing are simply the songs you like to listen to. Check your radio dial, your CD collection and your MP3 play list. Do you see a pattern? Our favorite songs tend to be the ones we like to sing along with because they are in a comfortable range: the ones that don’t require three octave high notes sung at full throttle. Make note of those songs that you have loved for years and keep their properties in mind when you are choosing the best songs to sing for yourself.
Some of the above suggestions may appear to be obvious. However, the number of singers that don’t seem to take these issues into consideration is surprising (and alarming). Remember to keep in mind when you choose songs that your age, range, personality, and personal history are all very important factors.
Comments always welcome.