Judy Rodman - All Things Vocal Blog

Training & insights for stage and studio singers, speakers, vocal coaches and producers from professional vocal coach and author of "Power, Path & Performance" vocal training method.

Saturday, December 3, 2016

10 Lessons from the Beautiful Voice of Sara Bareilles

My favorite Sara Bareilles album... 

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The voice of Sara Bareilles is quite beautiful and powerfully emotive. And also... I could be wrong... but her technique is so good I don't think we'll hear about her having to cancel a tour from vocal abuse! I find her a very worthy voice to study.


I've admired Sara Bareilles from the first time I heard her sing her “King Of Anything” smash.  She writes award-winning songs  about life and love from a woman's point of view, heavily influenced by her skills as pianist. Her DVD/CD "Between the Lines: Sara Bareilles Live at the Fillmore" should in my opinion be in every singer's music collection. 

Born in Eureka California, Bareilles' participation in everything from high school choir to community theater and University of California acapella group prepared and conditioned her voice for much that she has done since. In researching her, I found she is claimed as student by several different vocal coaches, and appears to be a constant learner. Her breakout single was 'Love Song' from the LP 'Little Voices'. That song has been certified 3x platinum. She has had 5 Grammy nominations and has played for the Obama White House multiple times. She has branched out in other creative directions being a celebrity judge for NBC's 'The Sing-Off', doing some cameo acting roles on TV and writing a memoir "Sounds Like Me: My Life (So Far) in Song", which has become a NYT bestseller! Bareilles' musical career is still unfolding. She now has earned a Tony Award nomination for Best Musical Score for the Broadway play 'The Waitress', has put out an album of her singing those songs (Jason Mraz joins her on one). It will be interesting to see what kind of work this evolving artist puts out next!

Here are some lessons singers can learn from her voice: 

1. Well-developed head voice can be belt voice's (upper chest voice's) best friend.

One of Sara's most intriging vocal strategies is her brilliant use of head voice. She has developed strong head register, and uses it freely as part of her uniquely recognizable pop sound. A clear instance of the way she uses head voice is in the chorus of  'King Of Anything'. But she has also developed a strong chest mix, and makes playful sport out of mixing the two together. One of the hallmarks of popular genre singing is the so-called 'belt voice', a term that I've come to avoid because to get this sound, too many singers push chest voice up as far as they can. But healthy belting, which I prefer to call full voice singing, requires a strong head register influence in the upper chest voice, so the full voice can rise strain-free, instead of being forcefully pushed up. 

To illustrate, let's take a look at 'Love Song'. Listen as Bareilles starts the song with lightweight chest voice, then uses head voice at the end of the verse on the words "...hard on me" at  :57. In the chorus, she switches to rich, conversational chest voice which she pulls through her mask for strongly communicative but strain-free resonance: 


2. Middle voice can be more interesting when varied and multi-colored.

Bareilles takes great artistic liberties to play with weight, depth and tone color choices in middle voice. This creates dramatic, dynamic patterns of vocal sound result in strong emotional response.
Listen as she takes the listener on an heart tugging journey by varying these vocal tone factors in 'Gravity':

3. Don't be afraid to play with vibrato and straight tone.

On her song Brave, Sara uses "shimmer" or light small wave vibrato in verses and bridge. She uses straight tone on the choruses. At 3:00, she does both... sustains the word 'brave' with straight tone, then changes into a shimmer of vibrato to end the line. She has developed the vocal control necessary to choose the exact length of time to hold straight tone, the exact width of vibrato she wants to create and the exact moment she wants to make a change:

4. If you write with piano, let your fingers and your voice collaborate.

As a piano-based songwriter myself, I know the brain-voice connection can run through the fingers when creating a melody. Sara Bareilles sings and plays piano as one integrated whole. Watch her in this version of 'Gravity': 

5. Watch where you place a piano mic stand.

Notice in her videos how the mic stand is placed so the boom can be in front and on top of the keyboard, not coming over the keys. This is necessary of course with an acoustic grand piano, but I find it's also the best way to play an electronic keyboard. If you do have the boom coming from the front over the keys, be sure it's close enough so you don't have to lean in, and tight enough so it doesn't fall on you. Wherever you put the mic stand, do it to avoid leaning your head forward, dropping your ribcage and losing your breath support.

6. If you have a great feel for rhythm, carefully consider scat singing in your performance.

Bareilles definitely owns a great inner sense of rhythm. She can embellish her vocals with runs and scats, but she also knows when NOT to do them. Learn the art of 'when' to scat... so just enough doesn't become too much. Check out her freedom of expression, vocal runs and variations on the melodic theme of 'Many The Miles' here:
  

7. Watch your pitch when out of your most usual position.

It's a good idea not to stay behind your instrument all the time, but when she leaves the piano about 4 minutes into this live version, Bareilles begins to go sharp. The excitement of the crowd and not having the piano to brace against can start a crunch factor in the ribs, and that is when counterproductive pushing begins. There could be a bad monitor situation, too, but still... it's a good idea to go over the sing-without-your-instrument option with your vocal coach to make sure your technique is good: 


8. It's ok to write the whole song yourself.

The rumor behind Bareilles song 'Love Song' about bucking her mean record label is not, she says, quite true. It came after she developed writer's block for a while, and had become very insecure, just turning in portions of songs. Her label tried to set her up with co-writers. After several unsatisfactory co-writing sessions she finally regained her attitude and confidence and wrote this smash hit by herself (oh, and her label loved it!) Sometimes it takes an intuitive collaborator to help you write your truth, especially if you are new to writing or stuck. But sometimes... sometimes... only you can do it. 

9. It's ok to have a name people have to spell check and hear pronounced.

"Bareilles" hasn't hurt her a bit - in fact, it adds to her uniqueness!

10. Everything you've ever done informs the music you make.

Sara Bareilles started out doing musical theater. In a significant career pivot, she successfully created her musical: "The Waitress". Each brave creative endeavor gives birth to the next. Who knows what great work she has to come?
***
What about you? Is there something in Bareilles' voice you'd like to aquire, too? Could you use a stronger, smoother mix? How do you use your vocal registers to define your way of singing? Check out PPP vocal training, and see how fast you can mix, improve and master all parts of your vocal range, without strain!  www.judyrodman.com

Note: This blogpost contains information from my article originally published by TC Helicon's VoiceCouncil Magazine.

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