Weekly Teaching Tip – Sep. 7, 2015
by Tricia Grey
Having a great voice or perfect vocal technique is wonderful, but most
audiences don’t pay to hear perfect vocal technique. They come to a
performance or buy a song because they want to feel something- they want
to be moved. The ability to move an audience is what distinguishes an
artist from someone with a great voice who, though they may sing well,
is not an artist.
The next layer to add to your skill as a performer is the ability to
always be absolutely in the moment, believing every word you are
singing. How do you reach that level of commitment to the words of the
song every time you perform? You need to personalize the song.
Especially if you did not write the song.
Singing is not just making beautiful tones and coming in on time. A
singer is also an actor! And you need to be a convincing actor. Often,
singers who have spent years developing their vocal technique tend to
ignore this equally important component. Countless times in sessions, I
ask singers to tell me what they mean when they are singing a certain
phrase, and they either don”t know, or they “3rd person” it-
“She is sad because”, Uh- she? YOU are singing the song!
You have to take another person’s words and convincingly make them
your own, if you want an audience to be moved by your performance.
Unless you can use your body, face, and gestures believably, your
beautiful voice will not move the audience. You must learn to act
convincingly, and that requires a complete commitment to the text.
The first step is to separate the lyrics from the music and be able to
convincingly and emotionally act the text. Once you can do that, you
can add the music again, but with a deepened awareness of the emotional
content you are singing about. Don’t let the music do all the work
for you- you have to do your part as an actor too! You must give a
completely original and fresh interpretation of any song you sing. If
you try to copy another artist, you will always be compared to that
artist. Your interpretation must be unique to you, and must be
different from the original. Change the improvisations, change the
subtext and meaning, change the gestures. Don’t be a copy-cat- make
your song uniquely yours!
LEARN ABOUT: CONNECTING TO THE TEXT
Let’s work on a song:
1. Writing prep: Get out a notebook. Your preparation will include
writing! Print your lyrics out double spaced. You will be writing in
the spaces. You will also be answering questions in your notebook.
Read through the lyrics several times, and answer these questions about
Who? What? When? Where? Why How?
Rather than assuming what the songwriter had in mind when he wrote the
song, you are instead going to make this song personal to you. You are
now singing this song as if you wrote the song and the lyrics are coming
out of your deepest heart and soul. You are designing a scene in your
own personal play or movie. You can write the scene any way you want
and create the characters any way you would like. Your story doesnâ€™t
have to have any relationship to the “truth”. but you do have to be
specific about the who, what, when, where, why, and how of the lyric.
Who are you singing to? Who are you singing about? Pick a very
specific person and keep that person and your relationship with them in
your minds eye as you sing the song. This has to be a person that you
feel some kind of emotional intensity around. Otherwise you won’t be
as connected when you sing the song.
What just happened before you started to sing the song? What made you
suddenly have the urge to break into song to express yourself? If you
can’t think of something real, make something up! You are writing a
screenplay, remember? What does the setting look like? What are the
characters saying to each other, what are they wearing?
When and Where does this scene occur specifically? Is it today, or in
the future, or at a specific time in the past? Provide details about
where you are. Make some cool stuff up; just let your mind wander and
How does each line you are singing make you feel? How would you like
the audience to feel? How would you like the person you are singing to
(in your mind) , to feel? What is the dominant emotion you are
expressing in the verse? In the chorus? (It can change as the song
progresses) Be specific- instead of “happy” or “sad” decide if
you feel “delighted and amazed” or “so despondent you can’t do
anything but sit on the couch waiting for the phone to ring”.
Specific details in your mind create a much deeper palette of subtle
emotions on your face and in your body language, which the audience will
pick up on.
If you do this kind of work, writing out the answers and creating the
world of the character, then inhabiting that world yourself, your
performance will be much more connected to who you really are
authentically- and when that happens, the audience feels it and knows
If you have not answered these questions, your lack of preparation and
connection will show up in your eyes and on your face, and the audience,
while they may not know why, will not be moved. Being totally involved
with the story you have created may mean the difference between polite
golf claps at the end of your song and a rip-roaring standing ovation.