Learn how to make inspired repertoire choices so that your students shine on stage and in auditions. Here are eight time-saving tips to help you source great songs.
1. Don’t source them at all
When it comes to sourcing repertoire, students may need guidance and support – especially for occasions such as drama school auditions – but that doesn’t mean doing all the heavy-lifting for them. Encourage students to be proactive in finding material; this will help them develop the skills and confidence to source great songs themselves. This student-led approach also means that repertoire will better reflect your students’ musical tastes rather than your own.
2. Consider goals
If a client wants to improve a lacking chest voice, be sure to suggest songs that have a melody that sits within the ‘chest voice’ territory. (Steer clear of something like If The World Should End from Turn Off the Dark, which asks for a lighter, eerie vocal quality). Remember too that you don’t always have to pick songs for performance reasons. They can be taken out of context and used as a ‘work’ song, to focus on specifics of vocal function or to explore the pick’ n’ mix of vocal style.
3. Provide a comfortable challenge
It can be demoralising if a song is an uphill struggle with very little alleviating level terrain. Challenging material can stimulate motivation and progress, providing it is not too far beyond a singer’s capabilities.
4. Make sure it’s appropriate
A 12-minute aria about a woman’s passionate affair with an Egyptian King would be technically, lyrically and contextually unsuitable for nine-year-old Nancy Normans. When making repertoire suggestions consider:
- Age-related vocal limitations.
- The lyrical content. This is not always age-related – some adults may feel uncomfortable singing about certain subjects, and some audition panels frown on swearing.
- The song’s tessitura. Make sure the piece isn’t too challenging for the singer and that it’s contextually appropriate (thinking about both subject matter and if it could be emotionally triggering).
It can be tricky to reject a singer’s song choice due to its degree of difficulty – there’s a risk of unwittingly provoking feelings of disappointment or self-doubt. Make sure you celebrate your student’s efforts thus far and explain that while the song is not right for them at the moment, it may well be in the future.
5. Don’t be afraid of key changes
More song choices are available to us with a simple key change. However, lowering a key can put off some students and make them feel less able as a singer. Reassure singers that the change is temporary and that the goal is to work towards the original in a much more accessible way.
6. Find out what’s popular
You might adore 80’s pop-rock (find me a better genre, I dare you!), but suggestions of Melissa Etheridge and Bon Jovi are unlikely to satisfy an R’n’B singer or jazz vocalist.
After a day of riffing and belting, it may not be appealing to crank up the radio and find new songs. But it’s important to know what clients are listening to as having a wide repertoire will help you satisfy students’ tastes. Tune in to Spotify while you’re preparing dinner, cleaning or walking the dog to discover what’s charting.
Also, find out what songs are being ‘overdone’ at auditions. Pianists often draw up a list and circulate it on social media platforms at the end of the audition season.
7. Use inspirations and cast lists
Find repertoire leads by researching the musical influences of your clients’ favoured artists. For example, a singer who enjoys performing material by James Bay may also appreciate Half Moon Run, Bob Dylan and Bruce Springsteen (artists who Bay has noted in past interviews).
To source great songs for Musical Theatre singers, research show cast lists for typecasts that are similar to your client’s. Once you’ve identified a performer within your student’s casting bracket, find out what other characters they have previously played. For more MT repertoire tips, follow Amelia Carr (aka the Curly Coach) on YouTube.
8. Be led by lyrics and context
In So You Want to Sing CCM, Musical Theatre coach David Sabella describes an exercise that has quickly become one of my favourites. He says: “When I give a student a new piece of music that they do not know, I forbid them to listen to it. First, they must memorise it as a monologue, doing all of the necessary ‘actor’s’ work for the song.” Introducing a student to a song via lyrics and story can help them to connect with the material. I’ve witnessed musical theatre singers be drawn into the legit style by the lyrical and contextual content alone when they would usually shy away from it.
It’s also inevitable that singers will share parts of their lives with us. Use this information to select material with a relatable context and steer clear of repertoire that could induce anxiety.
If you’ve got tips on how to source great songs, share them on the BAST Trainers Facebook group.
We’ve also got some great tips on sourcing backing tracks. Read them here.