Organizing Your Songs

Organizing Your Songs

It’s time to make those lists AND make them work for you – says Donna McElroy

The first thing I say to students is, “List your favorite songs you have sung; then list songs you don’t know but want to learn.”

You have probably learned more songs than you realize. Listing them is a cool project that could inspire more consideration.

After the name of each song you could write what key/style/feel /tempo you like to sing it in.

After listing your keys, you might find that you’re most comfortable singing ballads in certain keys so your “money note” can help you really make the performance incredible.

When you get a list of songs from a bandleader, sit at the piano and experiment with the keys or tonal centers singing the melody, modulating up or down, to find your most comfortable key.

I sing “Misty” in Bb, Summertime in C, The Christmas Song (Chestnuts roasting on an open fire…) in Db.

Once you know your best key, your artistry has begun.

The Basics

Remember: a singer can communicate on a musical level even without a prepared chart or sheet music.

All you need to know is the key and tempo of each song, then you can be off to a great start building and developing a versatile repertoire, and will never be at a loss for a great song to sing for any occasion!

The songs you want to learn are less of a challenge because you’ve already heard the melody.

If the song has been recorded, listen to many versions of it. Your perfect version is somewhere in the mélange of different other artists’ interpretations.

And remember, once you’ve learned a song, there is no version of it that you HAVE to do! Good luck organizing your repertoire!

My Reactions to This Week’s Peer Review Vids

Gerald Paul Gibson Gerald Paul Gibson – “Gold on the Ceiling” (Cover)

Gerard, I urge you to organize the development of your music abilities! Spend 90 minutes a day on strumming in different feels and developing the muscle memory of those “feels”. Then spend an hour singing to warm up your vocal “chops”. Self-accompaniment is a really intricate deal. It requires hours and hours of practice in both instruments exclusive of each other, then even more hours of combining the two exercises! Good luck; can’t wait to hear you again!

Prarthana Kalmath Prarthana Kalmath – “Begin Again” (Cover)

Prarthana!! Such a precious vocal sound!! I think you are distracted by the guitar playing and it steals all the priceless joy from your presentation. Work on your voice!! It is worth the time you will invest, and the guitar skills will evolve as you grow as an artist. The voice is already vital and strong enough to merit your full attention: scales, breathing exercises, warmups, do it all! You are a true singer!!

Maria Rose Maria Rose – “Birthday” by Katy Perry (Cover)

Hello Maria, you are the full package! You know your instruments very well, and you are singing songs you know match your range perfectly! I would suggest you take some writing classes and start composing your own songs if you are not doing that already! Remember to rehearse standing so you can get the full filling of your lungs, and always take full breaths and keep your ribs expanded. The danger of being under pitch is always a consideration if a singer doesn’t have good support technique, so engage your full body in the performance! Good job, Maria, and keep growing!

Alex May Alex May – “Chasing Cars” (Cover)

Alex! You are an adorable soul! Take some basic voice lessons, work on breathing technique, concentration and focus on the song! This song, though perfect for the artists who recorded it, seems to be a bit unchallenging and boring for you! I believe you are looking for a melody that is a bit more interesting than this! Find a voice good teacher to help you as you transition into young manhood and your voice takes a little falsetto vacation for time to time. Keep concentrating and don’t give up that you didn’t fully intend to crack/yodel!! Whole careers have been built on the yodel, so I was with you until you giggled! Don’t be too shy to use it. Keep growing that great instrument!


Donna McElroyDonna 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.


  • mfguitar11

    I think that is one of the great things about apps like OnSong. There are songs that I thought…”never…too high” but then I found a key that worked and kept the energy the same. Good stuff!