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Drop your books and grab the mic, because it’s time for a lesson in how to up your karaoke game.

At some point during your time in Japan, you’re likely to find yourself in a karaoke box. Maybe you’re checking off one item box on your Japan experience vacation checklist, or maybe you’ve moved here and your new coworkers or classmates feel the best way to bond is by belting out some pop songs together.

Either way, at some point you’re probably going to have a microphone in your hand and, if you’re a karaoke novice, butterflies in your stomach. So to help you feel a little more confident when the lyrics appear on-screen and it’s time to sing, we turned to singer-songwriter Yu Mamada.

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Mamada is right in the middle of a solo tour, but she took the time to stop by our office and give us the following three pointers for how to step up from singing in the privacy of your shower to singing in front of other people at karaoke.

1. More so than pitch, focus on the song’s rhythm

“There’s something people who are good at karaoke have in common,” Mamada explained, “and that’s that they’ve got the rhythm of the song down. Sure, pitch is important, but it’s really the people who’ve got the rhythm who make the song sound good at karaoke, so pay attention to that point when thinking about how to sing.”

2. Adjust the echo and volume for your song

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Each karaoke room has its own karaoke machine inside, and you can adjust various echo and volume levels by twisting knobs on the unit itself or using its remote control. The three big ones to check for are microphone volume (マイク音量 in Japanese text), music volume (ミュージック音量), and echo (エコー).

Just like a professional would fiddle with these levels before each song in a recording session or concert set list, so too does Mamada recommend setting them to match the mood of the song you’ve chosen to sing.

3. Sing songs you like

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The whole point of karaoke is to have fun, so it’s always important to sing songs that you, personally, like. Not only will you have a better time, your appreciation for the song’s sound and lyrics will shine through in your performance, making it more enjoyable for the rest of the group as well.

The other upside to singing songs you like? You’ll sing them more often, which is good because karaoke, like any other skill-based activity, is something you become better at with practice.

“Taking a song that someone else wrote and making it your own takes time,” Mamada told us. “For me, it sometimes takes six to 12 months before I can really nail it.”

With our lesson complete, we asked for a demonstration, and so it was off to our local karaoke parlor with Mamada, where the musician gave us a private concert in which she sang her own hit, “Idol.”

And while we don’t think we can sing it as well as she did, armed with our three new karaoke tips, we don’t think we’ll sound half-bad the next time we’re out singing with friends either.

Want to see/hear more of Yu Mamada? She’ll be appearing live at Tokyo’s Shinjuku Gyoen Rosso on May 27. Tickets are available here.

Follow Casey on Twitter, and maybe he’ll provide backup vocals when you go to karaoke together (even if he doesn’t know the song you’re singing).

Related: Yu Mamada website, Twitter, Facebook
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