Choose Your Challenge


Be brave and choose an area of weakness; then, make your plan of attack–says Donna McElroy.

As much as it looks natural and second nature for some singers, it takes an abundance of qualities to be a successful vocal entertainer.

Knowing the skills you lack and merely wishing you were better will not lead to vocal success.

It’s time now for you to identify some key areas that go into the mix of a well-rounded vocal performer.

I’m speaking of aspects beyond warm-up and exercises, practicing in the mirror using the hairbrush as your microphone.

This week why don’t you choose 2 or three aspects of the list below as areas to develop:

* Movement skills
* Memorization
* Stamina to vamp as long as you want
* Audience interaction and crowd management
* Interaction with band members
* Online fan base management
* Song writing and publishing
* Band decisions
* Song lists and keys
* Event consciousness (How many wedding songs do you know? How about the National Anthem?)
* Sound equipment, i.e., mics, chords, mixing boards, amplifiers, pre-amps, reverbs and effects, EQ software, voice-enhancing programs…

The list of possible things to be aware of is endless, of course, but just choose 2 or 3 things from this list as a start.

Find Your Testing Ground

I grew up in a time when there were many community opportunities to compete as a musical talent.

Louisville, KY, was a great environment for the arts, and I auditioned for every thing and usually got in.

In your community, too, there are probably places to test out your skills and develop them without the pressure of “big-time” stakes.

This experimentation is so key and is missing in the lives of most young performers I see.

Explore youth choirs in your area and church and P&W(Praise and Worship) groups where you can work on your writing and performance skills and get great feedback from audiences comprised of your peers.

My Reactions to This Week’s Peer Review Vids

Tamara Kim – Beauty (Original)

Joni Mitchell would be proud! Phoebe Snow you should know! Remember, Miss Tamara: there’s no new story. Uniqueness is the way you deliver it, and whether your way is more “embraceable” than the next storyteller. Take your instrument more seriously; don’t just use it to “accompany” your guitar playing. The brighter and clearer your voice, the more coherent your message. So work on your enunciation, especially the sibilance and bringing the consonant sounds right to the very front of your mouth. Opening your mouth more to accommodate this sibilance will pay off for you in live performances and in the studio.

Christen Sawyer – Ashes (Original)

Christen: big voice, great playing, good song! Remember, your voice frequency is in the relative area of the frequency of the strings on a guitar, and you are being cancelled out by the string frequency if you play louder than a certain volume. For the sake of clarity and a better sound, I say stand and use your diaphragm, or upper abdominal muscles, as well as the lower abdominal, or pelvic muscles, to help you project over the guitar. I sense a bit of weariness toward the end that this full-body approach might remedy.

Dan Paul – City Romance (Original)

Dan, I would like to hear your falsetto or even your upper “head” voice. To develop more than the one sound sometimes pays off in the course of a career filled with lots of opportunities to sing your music (as well as other people’s), jingles, group blending, sound-a-likes, possibly some musical theatre, maybe even duets. Work to expand your menu a bit: a lighter falsetto-like breathiness, or a tender passionate long note; nobody does that anymore, and I miss it terribly. Your song writing might be complimented as well, as this increased ability will give you more melodic choices.

– 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