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Four Important Strategies For Singing the National Anthem

Posted By singingcoach 272 days ago on Music - Every year when July rolls around, I assign new students The Star-Spangled Banner.  Since we celebrate Independence Day in July, it’s a good excuse to work on this song.  Any singer living in the US has a very good chance of performing this song for an event, big or small, and the song is quite difficult! It has a huge range and is often sung a cappella.  It’s a bit of a high-pressure situation too - everyone is silent, watching and listening to you, and you are kicking off an event that often comes with high stakes and wild crowds (read: sporting events).  So you are very much in the spotlight – no pressure, right?!  Does anyone remember the singer who went viral for singing the anthem at a CPAC Conference not too long ago?  When I watched it, I could hear that she actually had a nice quality to her tone, but not many people could hear past her disastrous, frequent, and unintentional key changes.  You can watch it here.    Here are some strategies to help ensure that you rock the anthem, instead of it rocking you!CHOOSE YOUR KEY CAREFULLY – This one is the very most important and deserves some serious thought and experimentation.   Some singers have huge ranges, but most of us only have a comfort zone of about 1 ½ octaves.  And guess what, the range of the Anthem is 1 ½ octaves!  So if we’re going to be able to sing that “land of the freeeee” (highest note of the song, which you also have to hit on ”red glare”) in a strong, strain-free voice, we need to make sure we don’t start too high.   The safest bet is to start at or near the very bottom of your range.  A lot of singers will unnecessarily struggle in the higher moments of this song, simply because they didn’t start low enough. The word “say” in the first phrase, “O say, can you see,” is the lowest note in the song, and is repeated on “gleaming,” and “whose broad stripes”.  Make sure you can hit that note, but it’s ok if it’s a little weak or soft – you’ll want to really sell the peak moment of the song later on beginning at “and the rocket’s red glare.”  If you start too high, you’ll have to flip into a pure head voice or falsetto and will lose the momentum at the biggest moments. VOWEL MODIFICATIONSVowel modifications are one of the great secret tricks singers utilize to hit certain notes.  Singing a word the way you speak it doesn’t always work so well.  Opening your mouth to a very pure “ah” sound, or closing it to more of an “ee” sound can help you nail challenging notes such as the high notes in the anthem.   The peak phrase “o’er the land of the free,” has a closed vowel which might be hard to create a powerful belt tone on.  Try opening your mouth to “frah.”  You’ll notice in the video link to the girl with the multiple key changes, the mouth shape on “free” is one thing she does well (though she holds the note too long for my taste). CONSIDER THE “BONUS” NOTE IF YOU CAN’T BELT “FREE” Speaking of that peak phrase, don’t be discouraged if you have a hard time belting that high note.  It will take a combination of the right key, air flow, vowel shape, and mix placement to get a belted tone there, more than the scope of this blog post (may I suggest taking a lesson with Your Online Singing Coach!).  If you find that you do have to flip into head voice or falsetto to hit that note on the money, first of all accept it!  Don’t try to belt it out and end up singing it flat or have a crack in your voice.  Play it safe and hit the note perfectly, if softly.   But there’s another option to impress the crowd, which you have probably heard in some renditions.  There is an optional second note on “free” a fourth above the first notes (i.e. from C to F).  The second, higher note, sounds harder because it’s higher!   But once you’re in head voice, going a little higher really isn’t much harder.  So it sounds impressive, but is actually pretty easy to execute!  PRACTICE STAYING IN THE KEYIf you will be singing the anthem without the accompaniment of a track, piano player, band, etc (in other words, “a cappella,” It’s important to start in one key and stick with it!  Beware that your voice may try to trick you, because it wants an easy job, so it might try to switch to a more comfortable key as you get to the high end of the song.  In the below lyric sheet, I have bolded every “root” note in the song.  If you have a piano, or a piano app (I use a free app called “The Piano”), just play this note every time you see a syllable in bold.  You will hear if you’re matching up on the note.  The more you practice this way (playing the root note each time you sing that note) the more engrained the key and the placement in your voice will become.  You will subconsciously hear that root note playing along with you and keeping you on track during your performance.   If you notice you are not matching up at a certain point when practicing, go back to the beginning and start again, paying special attention to the section just before the mismatch.  If you continue to struggle with staying in the key, see if you can sing along to a karaoke track.

 Download the lyric sheet with root notes in bold print here.I created a video demonstrating all these concepts for a deeper dive.  You can watch it here.  Let me know if these tips helped you, and how you do the next time you sing the Anthem!

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