9 Steps to Stylize a Song

by Carol Jacobe, Professor of Vocal Studies and Vocal Jazz Director at Le Moyne College

Do you ever wonder why you hear the same tune sung differently from various recording artists? Each artist has his or her own particular flair of singing a standard, pop, or musical theater tune. Performers like Frank Sinatra and Michael Bublé are instantly recognizable for their “style,” which is like their trademark. As you listen to a particular artist, you notice that certain nuances recur from one song to the next, and  these become known as a performer’s style. When you incorporate such nuances into your rendition of a song, you are “stylizing a tune.”

There are many steps that you can take to make a song your own, but here is the easiest way with  these 9 steps to stylize a song. As you implement some of these ideas, you will begin to develop your own “style.”

Here are 9 steps to stylize a song

1. First, learn the melody exactly as it appears in the lead sheet.

2. Think about the lyrics. Decide what message the lyrics convey. This will help you determine the mood of the song and the musical style (swing, ballad, etc.) that will best convey the message.

3. Go through the song and circle “power” words that are important and that you want to emphasize.

4. Decide what style you want to sing it in: ballad; slow, medium, or fast swing tune; with a Latin feel, as bop, or funk, etc.

5. The easiest way to stylize a tune is to start with the rhythm. Think about how you would say a particular line in ordinary conversation; this will likely result in several rhythmic changes. Think about the power words. If you syncopate these words, their importance will stand. Here are some rhythmic ideas to try:

  • use triplet quarter notes
  • use triplet eighth notes
  • enter on an off beat
  • back phrase (sing phrases slightly behind the beat)
  • pulse a particular syllable
  • delay entrances
  • change the note values

6. Next, you can make changes through “melodic” adjustment. There are numerous means of doing this. Here are some examples:

  • add notes to embellish a motive
  • add various nonharmonic tones
  • change some pitches within the harmonic structure

7. You can also make harmonic changes by extending the chords. For example, Instead of just a major chord, try a sixth chord, or a seventh chord, or a ninth chord, etc.

8. Think about the overall structure or form of the song. Perhaps you want to add a scat section, or add a piano, bass, or drum solo. Or you might want to add a tag at the end.

9. Try some lyric changes. For example:

  • repeat lyrics
  • leave some of the lyrics out
  • change some lyrics

The more renditions of a particular song you listen to, the easier it will be to recognize the unique nuances chosen by performers. As you continue to perform various songs, you will become accustomed to incorporating some of these ideas, thus creating your own “style.”


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