Golden Rules For Singing Karaoke

Published: 13th March 2012
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Here's to that unknown Japanese inventor who first brought us the "empty orchestra". "Empty orchestra" is the literal translation of the word "karaoke", and it's a real winner at parties. Who doesn't like singing along with good old classic songs and listening to your friends do the same?

It's so easy to hire (or even buy) a good karaoke DVD and a half-decent microphone, and then you're all set. Karaoke is very popular at pubs as a special activity, and it's also often on offer at clubs and the like for big dos and parties, but don't overlook karaoke as a fun activity at private parties. After all, it's something the whole family can do, making it perfect for those get togethers such as family reunions, Christmas parties and New Year functions - or even "just because" barbecues. Everyone loves them, from Great Aunt Margaret singing her old favourite Beatles track ("and I remember when this one came out - I went and screamed outside their hotel...") through to the little girls who try to belt out "We Are Family" amid lots of giggles.

The only reason why people tend to hold back from karaoke (at least while they're sober) is because they feel shy about singing in public, even if that public is just your cousins and a few workmates. A lot of people take singing lessons to improve their voices so they can become more confident when singing karaoke. Maybe there's a karaoke competition coming up that they really want to win, or there's a special person they want to impress by singing a romantic song in public (now, that's love!). More confident people grab the mike and sing along a lot more readily. These people have a tendency to hog the system at family parties until someone else comes along to have a go - which takes confidence. So, brush up on your singing skills and technique, and see if you can lever the microphone off Uncle Bob (who used to be the lead singer in a garage band doing covers in his younger days and wants to show those youngsters that Old Bob still knows how to groove) and the kids trying to sing "YMCA" with actions.

Singing karaoke is not quite like singing along with a band or singing solo. If you sing with a live band, there's that bit of interaction going on between the musicians and the singer so you get the timing all together. You can slow down and speed up as needed, and you can repeat the chorus or the last line as often as you like (having some hand signals to keep you all together helps, but that's another story). A karaoke track keeps a constant speed and might have the timing of the lyrics slightly different to what you're used to, which can catch you out.

The first rule for singing karaoke successfully is to LEARN THE WORDS. A lot of people know the tunes to popular songs really well but have never really picked up on the lyrics. If you are doing karaoke at a private party or somewhere you can see the lyrics on a screen, these do help, but you can still get caught out very easily. This writer had an excruciating experience (stone cold sober, too) involving "The Wind Beneath My Wings" and knowing the tune but not the lyrics - enough said!

If you are planning on singing in a karaoke competition, it pays to practice. The same applies if you know there's karaoke coming up for the office party and you want to make a good impression. All you have to do is to grab a handful of popular classics that are likely to be on the karaoke playlist and get singing. At least karaoke versions of popular classics are at the same pitch as the CD, so you can sing along with your album collection. Radio stations which feature classic rock (read 60s to 90s) on their playlists are also good for practising with. Get hold of the lyrics if you can, preferably off the CD or album cover (try your local library) rather than some of those online lyrics websites. Most of those online sites have the words submitted by everyday Joe and Jill Smiths like you and might not get it right.

If you are singing karaoke solo, then you just need regular singing techniques to be able to do well. You know the sort of thing - proper breathing and posture, enunciation of the words and using the stomach for volume rather than your lungs and throat. If you're a guy, it probably wouldn't hurt to work on your falsetto voice (counter-tenor) as a lot of pop songs for guys have a high bit - make sure you can do it comfortably and naturally so you don't sound the way you did when your voice was breaking. And don't forget gestures!

Singing with a group takes a bit more practice. If you plan on singing with a group of your girlfriends, choose a song performed by girl groups - "We Are Family" mentioned above is a popular favourite, plus Boney M numbers. Abba tracks are also very popular and singable, but watch out for any harmonies and practice these! Guys singing in a group should pick things sung by a bunch of guy singers - the Village People have some real winners (go on - dress up for it!) but you can also get away with Beatles, Rolling Stones and Elvis numbers, even though the originals featured solo singers.

What about couples? You can get up and sing some soppy song as a duet ("The Power of Love" or "I Want To Wake Up With You"), but this can get a bit sickly and saccharine for the audience, even though it will do wonders for your relationship. This is OK at private parties, but for the office, club or pub do, choose something a bit less schmaltzy. "Time After Time", "Don't You Want Me, Baby?" and "I Got You Babe" can fit the bill. Or sing the soppy song and ham it up for laughs! If you can do harmonies together (which you can in "Time After Time") do so, but remember to practice.

As always when singing in public, practice is the key!


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