Lorde - Royals

5 Ways Your Song Can Be Improved By Singing It Unaccompanied

Singing a song unaccompanied — no instruments at all — is a great way to check your latest song melody out. Without the distraction of instruments, backing vocals or any other components, you get to hear the tune for what it is. It can be a really useful tool for song analysis.

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Singing unaccompanied — a cappella, as they call it — does a lot more for you than expose the actual shape of y0ur melody. It allows you to see and examine other aspects of your song melody, things that can help or hurt the final product.

Take a look at the following list of what singing a cappella does for you:

  1. You can more precisely examine your song melody’s overall shape and design. This is the obvious one. You can hear for yourself if the melody has enough to be enticing. Not every song will be about the melody, however, so don’t assume that unless your song has a captivating up-and-down shape it’s a loser. (The chorus of Pink’s “Just Like Fire” would be a boring song if it were only about the melody!)
  2. You can isolate some important melodic rhythms for your instrumentalists to use. Singing a melody all by itself gives you the chance to hear and use its basic rhythms when putting together the instrumental backing tracks. That’s not to say the the exact rhythms your melody uses should be the rhythms of your backing tracks. In fact, good backing rhythms will fit themselves in and around the rhythm of the melody.  A good example? Listen to how the vocal line of Lorde’s “Royals” gets supported by the backing rhythms, with rhythms sometimes lining up with the words, and sometimes fitting themselves in between. It’s a great example.
  3. You can more clearly hear what chords are being implied. A melody, just by the notes it hits, will tell you which chords will work. The problem is that once you’ve chosen chords, it can be difficult to free yourself from those choices to explore other possible solutions. The best way to proceed is to listen to your song by itself a good number of times, with no backing harmonies or chord. Once you’ve “cleansed” your mind of your original chord choices, start substituting other chords. If you’re not sure how to do that, read this article.
  4. You make it easier to assess lyrics. With an instrumental track playing, the lyric moves back a bit, and it seems less crucial to have it be a fantastic part of your song. The thing is, sometimes the lyric is not intended to be your song’s best feature, and that’s probably fine. But by singing a cappella, you move the lyric forward in a way that allows you to hear the words for what they are. If you’re trying to fix something in your lyric, singing completely unaccompanied allows you to isolate it. That gives you your best chance for fixing it.
  5. You can assess the overall musical energy that comes from your melody. As songs proceed, they generate musical energy. We hear this easily as a song moves from verse to chorus: the energy usually becomes noticeably more intense. Producers can help this along by doing something instrumentally to boost musical energy. But at its core, a song melody should also be able to generate energy simply by how it moves up and down. Want a good way to know if your melody is helping or hurting this aspect of your song? Sing it unaccompanied. You should still get the energy ups and downs, even if it’s done on a more subtle level.

Gary EwerWritten by Gary Ewer. Follow Gary on Twitter.

“The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” eBook Bundle packages“The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” eBook bundle gives you lots of help when it comes to writing song melodies. Chapter 5 of “The Essential Secrets of Songwriting” shows you how lyrics and melody work hand-in-hand, and “How to Harmonize a Melody” shows you how to add chords to that melody you’ve just created.

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