So, Taylor Swift has decided to go a little more pop. She received a little help from the Swedish pop demi-gods, Max Martin and Shellback. Shake It Off has a vocal range of an octave and a fourth (G3 196 Hz – D5 590 Hz). The verse range is from E4 (330 Hz) to D5 (590 Hz) while the hook has the full G3 (196 Hz) to D5 (590 Hz) range. Even more important than the range is the tessitura, or the part of the voice she sings in most consistently.
Pop music favors the singer’s break, that part of the voice that can either be sung in chest or head voice. It takes a lot of work to navigate this part of the voice. Pop seems to be in love with the nearly out of control aspect of this part of the voice. Pitching a song a half step either direction can make or break a singer’s interpretation of a song. Shake It Off sits right at Taylor Swift’s break, giving it an edge. It also shows off her vocal range in the part of the song that sticks with most listeners, the Hook.
The Pop Turn at 2:34 is also at this break. This is the same turn you hear 2:22 into Katy Perry’s Waking Up In Vegas, written by Bonnie McKee. Before you immediately decide this song is a rip-off, consider that this turn is shorthand for “I can sing this high.” It simply ornaments the highest pitch in a typically Pop fashion, and builds to the Hook. It gives the song one extra push.
So, the moral of this story is to make your Pop songs sound expansive by giving them a range right around an octave and a half. Set the key so the highest note is right around the singer’s break, but give her lower notes in the verse, so she doesn’t require surgery after she’s off tour (unfortunately that’s not a joke). If you’re writing for a specific artist, listen to what she (or he) has already performed. Listen to the highest pitches you’ve heard her sing well. Don’t push that envelope!