5 Tips for Feeling the Music When You Sing

by | Sep 24, 2018 | Voice


Think About the Emotion You Want to Project

What does this song mean to you? It doesn’t have to be the same thing the song meant to someone else. When you listen to John Denver’s version of “Leaving on a Jet Plane” you get the idea that he was sad to leave his significant other but felt optimistic that they’d one day be together permanently. When you listen to Chantal Kreviazuk’s version, it really feels like this is all self-talk and that part of her knows this relationship is doomed. Almost the exact same words, totally different emotion. What does your song mean to you, and what do you want to convey to your listeners? There isn’t necessarily a right or wrong here (although there are better and worse acting choices). The main thing is that you know what you’re singing about and how it makes you feel.


Find a Connection to the Song

You don’t have to have experienced the exact content of your song to implement this. Your boyfriend may have never broken up with you like he did in the song, but I bet that if you reach back you can connect to heartache, whether that was being rejected by a friend, losing a pet, being laughed at, or saying goodbye to a parent. You don’t have to be ready to get married like you are in the song to know what joy, anticipation, and excitement feel like. If nothing else, use the beauty of the song itself to tug at those proverbial heartstrings. Chances are, unless you’re being made to sing it for something, you picked it because it grabs you on some level. Does it make you feel joyful? Melancholy? Strong? Whatever its effect on you, let that trickle into your performance.


Learn the Tropes of Your Genre

“But what does genre have to do with feeling?” you ask. Feeling should transcend style! But it doesn’t. Each genre has its own unique way of conveying emotion. In pop music, you might use extreme breathiness to suggest vulnerability. This would sound absurd if you tried to sing opera that way, and yet opera isn’t devoid of emotion. In opera, you might go into a relatively soft head voice without quite as much squillo (that ring that helps your voice carry) as you’d use in a bigger part of an aria. In pop, you might use a belt for a rise in intensity. In opera, if you’re female at least, this would be the moment you hit that high note in your fullest head voice. Using stylistic options that don’t correspond to your genre feels incongruous to your audience and (even if it’s felt genuinely by the artist) will have a tendency of coming off as slightly absurd and inauthentic to your listeners. Just imagine a pop star wailing the sad part of the song in an operatic head voice.

I’ll use myself as an example. I was trained in musical theatre singing as a child, so when I’m not concentrating on technique, that’s where my voice wants to go. I can dump every ounce of my emotion into an Adele song, but what’ll come out is a very trained musical theatre sound that comes off as inauthentic in that context. Ironically, when I’m focusing a little less on emotion and concentrating on the tropes of a pop song, my performance comes off as more authentic and convincing.


Think About the Emotion You Want to Project

If you want to think about the song’s emotional content as a whole, you can do it that way, but in many instances it’ll be more effective if you break the song down. What does the verse tell us? What about the chorus? Maybe the first 3 lines of the song are about vulnerability but that 4th line is where the strength comes in. Then make some stylistic choices based on that. If it’s a pop song, maybe you want to go breathy for the first 3 lines and then add some more tone in the 4th line. Maybe the chorus is where your excitement comes to a pitch, and that’s where belting makes the most sense. If it’s an operatic piece, maybe it starts out in a soft classical-sounding wail and then builds to a fuller-voiced sound in that 4th line. Maybe the intensity continues to rise, and you express your most joyful section with a sustained, rounded head voice.


Knowing Your Genre Well Doesn’t Mean Straight-Up Copying Everyone Else’s Performance

You’ll usually start to come off as inauthentic if you just imitate stylistic elements without having some emotional platform the elements can spring from. If you’re using breathiness as a tool to convey fragility, vulnerability, or brokenness, it may work very well. If you’re using breathiness constantly because you’ve heard everyone else in the genre do it, it’ll probably be fairly dull. If you’re belting and doing heavily ornamented runs on the biggest part of Beyonce’s “Listen” because that’s the moment you’ve been emotionally building toward, this will play nicely. If you’re just belting the whole song and throwing in vocal acrobatics it’ll likely fall pretty flat and just feel wearing to listen to.

Remember! There isn’t a linear progression between emotion, technique, and style. The 3 feed off each other in multiple directions. Know your genre, master your technique, and find some feeling for what you’re singing. Expression is the whole point of the game.

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