Back to Basics


Be the sole proprietor of your audience’s emotions during your performance – says Donna McElroy.

I’ve always found that everything falls in place for my performances once my basic strengths have been re-established.

Your audience doesn’t expect you to do all the technical work, though you may know how.

They do, however, expect that you are the sole proprietor of their musical tastes and emotions for the duration of your performance.

So, let’s review the basics.

Your commitment to the gig is evidenced by:

1. How well you know the song
2. How well you know the arrangement
3. How the song speaks for you and your audience.

These three aspects are your responsibility.

Some Basic Ideas

Even a cappella, you should have the arrangement in your head playing while you sing the song.

Knowing the bass line and concentrating on it as you sing is a good way to stay with the form and arrangement.

I often ask students to just sing the bass line to the song, or “chart”, they bring in.

The singing of the melody is just one aspect of the totality of the performance; the most important puzzle piece in vocal performance is your awareness of the overall presentation and what message you want to leave with your audience.

Remember: one never graduates from the need to practice these basics.

My Reactions To This Week’s Peer Review Vids

Alex Hepburn – 2.4 (original)

If , Alex, you can maintain this quality sound, the “Rasp'”, as I call it, you’ll be in the ranks of some great rock and roll legends, Joe Cocker, Rod Stewart, Janis Joplin! You have a gorgeous voice with a natural raw quality that I hope you fastidiously maintain! It’s a very commercial sounding instrument that, it seems, you’ve found a really cool way to record. Make sure your video posture doesn’t transcend to the studio; stay on the straight and narrow in your technique and posture, and experiment around with abdominal strengthening exercises to keep good support as you belt.

Michael Stefinjak – Jump (cover)

Michael, you are definitely an old school rocker!! Do you want to enrich your singing skills or just seeking commentary on your use of the technology? All of the rock anthems need no significant vocal prowess other than being able to holler on pitch and not get too exhausted by the end of the song. In this mix comments on your personal vocal skills are difficult to give since I’m not hearing your voice clearly. You’re seemingly on key though, so boost your vocals in this mix a bit! You are such fun to watch, now let’s hear more of you!

– Donna McElroy

Read Donna’s Exclusive Interview for VoiceCouncil

Donna McElroy is a Grammy nominated vocalist, celebrated arranger and well-loved Voice Professor at Berklee College of Music. Her contributions include arranger/background vocalist on gold and platinum releases “Why Haven’t I Heard From You?” by Reba McEntire; “We Shall Be Free” by Garth Brooks, “Addictive Love” by BeBe and CeCe Winans, and “House of Love” by Amy Grant. She’s been the recipient of a Grammy nomination for Bigger World (WB) and a Dove Award for Songs from the Loft (Reunion). Television appearances include Arsenio Hall, The Tonight Show, and The Grammy Awards.

Useful Links

Donna McElroy’s Website

Watch Donna Perform


  • Videohere

    Donna respectfully, your quote “All of the rock anthems need no significant vocal prowess other than being able to holler on pitch and not get too exhausted by the end of the song” was incorrect. Would we say that about Lou Gramm, Steve Perry, or Chris Cornell?