10 Pointers for Choosing the Best Songs for Your Group

Guest Columns

Erin Steiner is a freelance writer from Portland, Oregon, who writes on a variety of topics.

The very last thing you want to do is open up your Reputation.com account and find out that people have panned your group’s latest performance. Thankfully there are plenty of things that you can do that will keep that from happening, and it all starts with making sure you choose the right songs.

Wouldn’t it be great if everybody had the same favorite song and its arrangement perfectly matched your group’s requirements? In the event that this isn’t the case for your group, here are some things that will make choosing your next song easier.

1. A good a cappella song is one in which your vocalists can comfortably and easily form “chords.”

2. The best songs are those that are tuned to your group’s existing register. Instead of trying to find a way to “soprano-ize” a baritone line, simply choose songs that are in a higher register (or a lower register if your group is light on sopranos).

3. Choose songs that will showcase your entire ensemble. This means that the song has parts outside of the melody line that are worth highlighting and letting stand on their own. If the supporting “instrumentation” is boring, find a better song.

4. A good song, particularly for an a cappella group, is one in which voices in other ranges can take over the melody line. Typically it is the higher voice or the sopranos who focus on the melody line, but a good song is one in which even the baritones can take over the melody without making the song sound weird.

5. To earn extra points with your audience, choose a song that has varied beats and rhythms. Something that stays in the same time signature with the same repeated beat progression is easier to sing, but they won’t be fun to sing and won’t wow your listeners.

6. Find a song with a melody that lends itself nicely to harmonizing. This way you can have a vocally layered lyrics as well as “supporting” vocals. This makes the sound more layered and interesting to listen to.

7. Use songs that are easy to mash up to create something new. Mash-ups are all the rage right now, and they can be really fun and interesting to sing.

8. There are certain songs that should be avoided at all costs—you know them because you’ll groan when you hear them and, for some reason, they seem to be the favorites of karaoke singers. Stay away from the songs that karaoke singers love to sing.

9. Balance is important: It’s hard to do a song as an a cappella group when it has an extended instrumental break in it (you can simply cut it off if it happens at the end of the song). Sure, you can beat box and do scat vocal versions of the instruments used in the song, but that stops being interesting and turns into an awkward cliché pretty quickly. Choose songs in which the vocals are the focal point.

10. Choose songs that you love! If you’re having fun singing, the audience will have fun listening. It’s that easy.