Often, a person can sing a song most of the way through, but there’s one section that is bringing the whole thing down.
A Typical Popular Song Form
For the sake of this discussion, we are going to look at James Napier and Sam Smith’s song called “I’m Not the Only One.” It follows what I would consider a typical format for contemporary pop songs:
- Intro Riff (first 8 bars)
- Verse 1
- Verse 2
- Verse 3
In order of confidence, a person can usually sing the chorus pretty well. If you know the song a little better, you might be able to sing the verse. Come the bridge and the coda, well, just forget about it.
How An Amateur Singer Usually Practices
If you are a typical amateur singer, you would start your practice session by singing the song all the way through from the beginning, and then the practice session would be over.
The number of times you would have sung each section would be:
- Verse – 3x
- Chorus – 3x
- Bridge – 1x
- Coda – 1x
If you were extremely ambitious, the practice session might consist of singing it through, say, ten times, and probably while you’re doing something else like vacuuming, texting with your friends, or watching TikTok.
By the time you get to the end, you’ve sung the following sections this many times:
- Verse – 30x
- Chorus – 30x
- Bridge – 10x
- Coda – maybe 3x because, well, it’s hard, and the rest of the song is so much more fun to sing.
I’m a singer. I know.
And then, because you never felt confident about landing that ending, you throw your hands up and say, “Oh! I can’t sing that song!”
Sometimes It’s Just One Note That Is Bringing You Down
Believe it or not, sometimes only ONE NOTE is preventing you from crossing the finish line. The hard part is not so much learning how to sing the one note as it is figuring out which one it is. It’s far easier to find it if you have the sheet music and can read it, but even if you don’t have it and can’t read music, you can still find it.
Here’s What You Need
- A lyric sheet with ALL THE LYRICS written out all the way to the end in the correct order
- Access to YouTube or some other music player that will give you a timeline on an iPad or a desktop (the phone is too small)
- About 20 minutes
- A quiet space
- An open mind
- An attitude of “that coda is going down!”
Call up the song in YouTube or on your player in such a way that you have easy access to the timeline and can easily move the play head around. In the instance of this song, the coda starts at 3:30, so move the play head to that timestamp.
Get your lyrics out, and notice that there are only four lines in the coda.
Listen through a few times to JUST THE CODA and DON’T SING. This requires not doing anything else except listening, reading the lyrics, and repositioning the play head back to the beginning of the coda at 3:30 several times.
Figure out which lines you already know. In this case, the second and fourth lines “I know I’m not the only one” are exactly the same as the ones you heard in the chorus. Notice that you probably already know how to sing that third line “And I know and I know” because it’s so much fun to sing.
Tell me if I’m wrong, but the one phrase that’s bothering you is the FIRST one, “I know I’m not the only one.” Now we’re homing in on the target.
Let’s Break It Down Even More
Try singing with Sam again, and pay attention to which lyric is giving you the problem. I’m guessing it’s the word “only.”
Now listen to Sam sing it (without singing!) and pay attention to what is different about it. In the regular chorus, when you sing “the only,” the note for “on-” goes UP a step from the word “the.” In this instance in the coda, it goes DOWN a step. Whoa. Wrap your head around that, and listen to Sam sing it at least five more times WITHOUT SINGING. (This requires the tedious task of moving the play head back to the exact count of 4:14 which is why it’s helpful to have a LONG timeline to work with.)
Now try it by yourself slowly. You might find that once you fix that one note, the rest of the phrase just flows out.
Voilá! Now you can sing the whole song.