Sara Bareilles has one of the most beautiful and accomplished voices in the commercial voice world today -says Judy Rodman.
She is an award winning songwriter, writing about life and love specifically from a woman’s point of view, and her main instrument is piano. I became highly impressed with her vocal skills when I bought her DVD/CD “Between the Lines: Sara Bareilles Live at the Fillmore”. In my opinion, this show recording should be in every singer’s music collection.
Here are some things we can learn from her voice:
1. Don’t be afraid to play with vibrato and straight tone
On her song Brave, Sara uses a lot of small wave shimmer vibrato on the verses and bridge. She then uses straight tone on the choruses. At 3:00, you hear her do both… she sustains the word ‘brave’ with straight tone, then goes into a shimmer of vibrato as she finishes the line. She has developed the great vocal control necessary to choose the exact length of time to hold straight tone, the exact width of vibrato she wants to create and the exact moment she wants to make a change.
2. Middle voice is most interesting if multi-colored
Bareilles takes great artistic liberties to play with weight, depth and tone color choices in middle voice. This creates dramatic, dynamic patterns of vocal sound which elicit strong emotional response.
Listen to her ‘Gravity’ video as she takes the ear on an emotional journey by varying these vocal tone factors.
3. Well-developed head voice can be belt voice’s (upper mixed) best friend
One of Sara’s best vocal skills is her brilliant use of head voice. She has developed her strong head register, which she is not afraid to use to great effect in her pop genre singing. The way she pops up to head voice is, of course, very evident in the chorus of her song ‘King Of Anything’. But she has also developed a strong chest mix, and makes playful sport out of mixing the two together. I have grown an aversion to the term ‘belt’ because too many singers think it means to push chest voice up as far as they can. Healthy belt requires a strong head register influence in the upper chest voice, so the full voice can rise strain-free, not have to be pushed to reach up.
To see this in action, let’s take a look at ‘Love Song’. You can hear her start the song with lightweight chest voice, then use head voice at the end of the verse on the words “…hard on me” at 0:57. For the chorus, she switches to rich, conversational chest voice which she pulls up and brings through her mask for powerfully communicative yet strain-free resonance.
4. If you write with piano, let your fingers and your voice collaborate
As a piano-based songwriter, sometimes the brain-voice connection runs through the fingers when looking for melody. Sara Bareilles sings and plays piano as one entity. Check out this version of ‘Gravity’
5. When playing and singing live, know where to place the mic stand at the piano
Note in her videos how the stand is placed so the boom can be in front and on top of the keyboard, not coming over the keys. This is necessary of course with grand piano, but is also the best way to play an electronic keyboard. It keeps you from having to lean in, dropping your ribcage and your breath support.
6. Watch your pitch when out of your most usual position
It’s a good idea not to stay behind your instrument all the time, but when she leaves the piano about 4 minutes into this live version, Bareilles begins to go sharp. The excitement of the crowd and not having the piano to brace against can start a crunch factor in the ribs, and that is when counterproductive pushing begins. There could be a bad monitor situation, too, but still… it’s a good idea to go over the sing-without-your-instrument option with your vocal coach to make sure your technique is good.
7. When you have a great sense of rhythm, add some gritty scat singing to your performance
Another of Bareilles’ strengths is a great inner sense of rhythm. Check out her freedom of expression, vocal runs and variations on the melodic theme of ‘Many The Miles’.
8. It’s ok to write the whole song yourself
The much touted tale behind Bareilles song ‘Love Song’ about bucking her mean record label is not, she says, quite true. It came after she developed writer’s block for a while, and had become very insecure, just turning in portions of songs. Her label tried to set her up with co-writers. After several unsatisfactory co-writing sessions she finally regained her attitude and confidence and wrote this smash hit by herself (oh, and her label loved it!) Sometimes it takes an intuitive collaborator to help you write your truth, especially if you are new to writing or stuck. But sometimes… sometimes… only you can do it.
9. It’s ok to have a name people have to look up to spell
“Bareilles”. I have to spell check myself for this very article. It hasn’t hurt her a bit!
10. Everything you’ve ever done goes into the music you create today
More about About Sara Bareilles:
Born in Eureka California, Bareilles’ participation in everything from high school choir to community theater and University of California accapella group prepared and conditioned her voice for much that she has done since. In researching her, I found she is claimed as student by several different vocal coaches, and appears to be a constant learner. Her breakout single was ‘Love Song’ from the LP ‘Little Voices’. That song has been certified 3x platinum. She has had 5 Grammy nominations and has played for the Obama White House multiple times. She has branched out in other creative directions being a celebrity judge for NBC’s ‘The Sing-Off’, doing some cameo acting roles on TV and writing a memoir “Sounds Like Me: My Life (So Far) in Song”, which has become a NYT bestseller! Bareilles’ musical career is still unfolding. She now has earned a Tony Award nomination for Best Musical Score for the Broadway play ‘The Waitress’, has put out an album of her singing those songs (Jason Mraz joins her on one) and is rumored to have a brand new Sara Bareilles album in the works.
Sara Bareilles started out loving musical theater. In a significant career pivot, she has now successfully created her own with “The Waitress”. Each brave creative endeavor gives birth to the next. Who knows what she’ll do next?
This is the eighth part in our ‘What Singers Can Learn From’ series.
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Judy Rodman is an award winning vocal coach, recording artist, stage and television performer, public speaker, author, multi-genre hit songwriter, studio producer and vocal consultant. Judy is a published author with two “Power, Path and Performance” vocal training courses, a groundbreaking multimedia guide called “Singing In The Studio”, a DVD video presentation for producers and engineers called “Vocal Production Workshop”. She is creator and host of “All Things Vocal” podcast, also available at iTunes, Android apps and Google Play. Find out more on her website: www.judyrodman.com