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How To Effectively Use Vocal Range In Your Writing

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A songwriter’s primary focus is to keep his listeners from falling asleep, inside of that short three minute time slot. It seems simple enough, yet many performing songwriters are greeted with their listener’s heads slamming against tables during minute seven of verse one… or was it the chorus?

One important concept in songwriting is contrast between sections (i.e. between Verse, Chorus & Bridge sections). It seems like common sense, yet it’s often ignored. There are so many different ways to achieve contrast from Verse to Chorus to Bridge. You can sing your vocals in a different range than the section before. You can start your vocals on a different beat that you did in the section before. You can play different chords on the guitar. You can play the same chords to a different rhythm. The list goes on and on. And you’ll often see the best results when you use many of these contrasting ideas together, to highlight the contrast. I’ll talk about some of the other ways to achieve contrast in future blogs, but for now, I want to talk about the first idea I mentioned… about singing in a different vocal range from verse to chorus, since it’s such a common and often effective strategy in tons of hit songs.

There are a plethora of great examples here, but the one that strikes me as being really successful at the moment is Katy Perry’s “Firework”. In case you’re over the age of 104 and haven’t heard it, here’s the link for the song:

: )

The Verses (starting at the opening line: “Do you ever feel like a plastic bag…”) are sung in the lower register of her range. Then when she hits the Chorus (at “Baby, you’re a Firework…”), she appears to be at the top of her range, hovering at about an octave higher than she was in the Verses. Pretty standard, yet effective stuff so far. And it’s set to what sounds like the extremes of her vocal range, for added contrast.

In this song, what really sells it for me is the Pre-Chorus (starting at “you just gotta ignite… the light… ”).. She bridges that fairly large pitch gap between low and high vocals in the Verse and Chorus by slowly stepping-up the notes in the Pre-Chorus. Not only does it really highlight the fact that the contrast in the Chorus is coming, but it builds tension that’s begging to be released in the higher pitched Chorus. By the time the hook kicks in at the chorus, not only are you ready for it, you’re singing along at the top of your lungs. Okay, maybe that’s just me. But still…

And yes, there are other factors in this song that help contribute to the contrast between sections, but the change in vocal register, highlighted further with the Pre-Chorus to bridge the gap, stands out clear and proud as one of the dominant ones. And rightfully so. It works exceptionally well in this case.

But the coup de grâce (I had to google that for spelling) here is how this whole starting-low-in-the-verses-but-building-up-to-the-high-pitched-choruses ties into the overall “Firework” concept. A low lying Verse that goes to a Pre-Chorus shooting up higher and higher which leads into a high flying booming Chorus! Wow! That sounds just like something an actual firework might do! Coincidence? Probably not. Moves like this always work best, when they hit on multiple levels. And this one does. Like this song or not, it’s writing techniques like this that not only keep her listeners faces off the tables in front of them, but keeps her at the top of the charts.

Either that or I just made this all up because I’m a heterosexual man desperately looking for any excuse to like this song… : ) Then again, I’m pretty sure the above speaks for itself.

There are a ton of other great examples of contrast between sections by varying the vocal register. I’d love to hear some of your favorites. Genre is irrelevant. If you think of any, please feel free to post them (or any other comments or questions you may have on what I’ve written).


Anthony Ceseri

btw – For more articles like this one, plus a free songwriting video, click the link in my signature below...

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