Cabaret Tip Tuesday At McElrath Cabaret: Tips For Singing Intervals–Join Us!

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This is Charley Drew singing “Caviar Comes From Virgin Sturgeon.”  A flyer for a Charley Drew show appears on the inside front cover of James Gavin’s excellent cabaret book, Intimate Nights.   The flyer says that Mr. Drew played at the Village Room at the Hotel Taft in New York.  Mr. Gavin says that Charley Drew performed “songs teacher never taught” from the 1930s through the 1960s, and was a “round-faced, grinning fellow who played and recited original stories in verse that seldom lived up to their titles (“She Got Them Caught in the Wringer,” “You Can’t Fool the Boys Behind the Desk,” “It’s Better Than Taking in Washing”)” (20).  Mr. Drew recorded “Sings Witty Ditties” Albums 1, 2 and 3, which were published in 1955.  Enjoy!


Welcome to Cabaret Tip Tuesday at McElrath Cabaret, where we offer cabaret performance tips to help you put together a great performance at your next show!


Today I’m thinking about singing tips for cabaret singers, so my tip for you today is this: Here are some tips that will help you in singing intervals.


This is a tip I learned from singing in choirs for many years.  This is basic stuff, but helpful to know if you are starting out with singing, and especially singing with accompaniment.  (And as a side note, if you want to get better at singing intervals and singing parts, participate in a choir.  It’s fun to sing in a large group, and you will get intervals hammered into your head!)


I like to highlight my lyrics in the sheet music, just to stay on track during complicated parts of the song.  This is vital if you are singing a part in a group–it’s very easy to have your eye jump up to the wrong line, and the highlighting helps you stay on track.  You’ll quickly memorize the lyrics, and then you can focus your attention on the notes that you need to sing.


As a daily singing warmup, you want to practice singing all of the intervals on the scale, in both major and minor keys and above and below the root tone, just like an instrumentalist would warm up by playing scales.  The more you practice this, the better you get at it until it gets in your inner ear and you can feel in your body where the sounds are produced, so you don’t have to think about it very much anymore.  In singing with accompaniment, you are often called upon to vocally carry a note by yourself which, when combined with the other instruments or voices, creates the finished chord.  You have to be able to hear the correct note in your head before you can sing it–this is a big reason why people might sing a wrong note–because they can’t hear the correct one in their head.


So how do you go about hearing those intervals in your head, so that you can draw upon them when you need to sing?


You might find that some intervals are easy to hear, simply because your ear is used to hearing them played and sung in popular music.  The root, third and fifth intervals are commonly used in Western music and form the basis of a three-note chord, and harmonies are often based on these intervals when sung in relation to the melody note.


Other intervals can be more challenging to hear and thus sing.  The tri-tone comes to mind in this regard.


Here are a couple of ways to find your note when your ear is hearing a wave of music being thrown at you by the piano, and often the bass and other accompaniment instruments.


  • Look in the music for a note that is the one you’ll need to sing that appears right before you have to sing it.  It might be somewhere in the chord that the piano plays before, or it could be in the bass line.  There might not be a note that exactly matches the one you’ll need to sing, so you will want to find a note that will give you your relative pitch; you might hear a note and know that you’ll be singing a third above it, for example.  This will help you stay on pitch during the singing of the song.
  • If you are singing with a small (or large) instrumental group, really listen to what the bass player is doing.  The bass often has the root of the chords, which are often made pretty and extended by the piano and guitar, but if you can hear the root tone of the chord in the bass player’s part, it can then help you find your note to sing in relation to it.
  • Another little tip that is not technical but I find helpful is that if there is an interval in a song that I keep coming close to getting right but not quite, it helps to put a little arrow by the note in the music:  an up-facing arrow if I need to pitch the note I’m singing a little higher than I am currently doing, or a down-arrow if the note needs to be sung a bit lower.  That visual reminder often helps me get it right in the heat of the moment in rehearsal, and once you’ve done it correctly a few times, it often ceases to be a problem.

KJ, who has been a music instructor, is a composer and arranger who is also the proprietor of the music theory and composition blog Guide Tone Lines, offers a great “cheat sheet” that he’s used to help students find the correct sound of intervals that are used in common songs.  If you can remember what the interval sounds like in a song that you know, you can then hear that interval in your head to then sing it in your new cabaret music that you are learning.  Here is his list for your consideration:

  • m 2nd:  ”Theme From ‘JAWS;”, “More Than You Know”
  • M 2nd:  ”Frere Jacques”, “Doe, A Deer” (Rogers)
  • m 3rd:  ”O Come, O Come Emmanuel,” “Song of the Volga Boatmen”
  • M 3rd:  ”Holy, Holy, Holy,” “In The Mood”–Intro. (Garland)
  • P 4th:  ”Here Comes The Bride,” “For All We Know”
  • TT:      ”Maria” (Bernstein)
  • P 5th:  ”Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star” (Mozart)
  • m 6th: “Theme From ‘Love Story’”
  • M 6th:  ”My Bonnie Lies Over The Ocean”
  • m 7th:  ”There’s A Place For Us” (Bernstein)
  • M 7th:  ”Anyone Can Whistle” –bridge (Sondheim)
  • P 8va:  ”Somewhere Over The Rainbow” (Arlen/Harburg)

Hope these Tuesday cabaret tips help–let us know what other topics you’d like to see us cover here, and we’ll do our best to work through them!


Do you have any tips that you like to use for singing intervals correctly?  Do you have any other cabaret show tips you’d like to share?  Do tell down in the comments! We always love to hear from our readers!


Till next time, 

ps–The Cabaret Soiree Link Party is still going strong–you can visit anytime to click on the links and see what others have posted, or you can share your own recent cabaret blog or cabaret website link from now through Thursday.  Link is below.


Weekly Post Lineup At McElrath Cabaret:

Mondays:  Cabaret Soiree Cabaret Blog Link Party

Tuesdays:  Cabaret Tip Tuesday

Wednesdays:  Ask A Cabaret Question

Thursdays:  Featured Cabaret Blog, Website, Performer

Fridays:  Cabaret Through Time

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About Athena at McElrath Cabaret

Athena McElrath is an entertainer with a love for theatre and singing. She enjoys delving in the area of historical cabaret, researching the singers and clubs that were in business from before 1920 to the present, in New York and beyond.
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2 Responses to Cabaret Tip Tuesday At McElrath Cabaret: Tips For Singing Intervals–Join Us!

  1. Cynthia L.Stewart says:

    6/6/12 11:03am Any Idea how I might find out the going price for Gala Records Presents Cahrley Drew and his Witty Ditties?….Thanks….CLS