It’s one thing to simply recite the words and notes on the page, it’s an entirely different thing to bring those sounds to life. It is vital to sing with emotion, otherwise a robot could do what you do! Here are some tips for how to tap into your emotions to be able to convey them through song.
Begin with understanding yourself as a singer. Ask yourself reflective questions or write them out in a journal. Why do I sing? What do I love or not love about singing? What do I hope to achieve with my singing? Why did I choose this particular song or genre? These answers may change as you develop as a singer, but keep returning to this idea. Being in touch with your own emotions will in turn help you get in touch with the music.
Next, listen to the song you’re going to be singing. How do you feel when you listen to it? How does the person singing it achieve this in their performance? Are there any experiences or memories that you’re reminded of when you listen? These are just things to notice and consider: try not to overthink it. Sometimes overplanning and overthinking will actually prevent you from tapping into a vulnerable place. Instead, just consider the feelings that the song evokes and what you’d like to convey.
Now that you’re in touch with how you’re feeling and what you want to achieve with the piece, begin analyzing the lyrics. If you’re singing a song in a foregin language, it is of course necessary to find a translation to understand exactly what each phrase means. You still want to make sure you’re emphasizing the correct words and accurately conveying their meaning, even if you don’t know the meaning of each word precisely. If you’re singing in a language you do understand, it will still serve you to do a deep analysis of the words. Go through and highlight moments that are especially resonant for you. Find words you’re not familiar with and look up their meaning, or find phrases that are seemingly cryptic and see if you can come up with your own interpretation for them. You should feel like you have a masterful understanding of the lyrics, so that if someone were to ask, “What does this part mean to you?” you’d be able to have an answer at any moment.
As you go through the sheet music, you’ll want to pay attention to details. Find moments where it will be appropriate to take a breath, where you can pause for emphasis, or where you’ll need to do things like belt or intentionally crack your voice. Also, closely look at the markings and notations in the music: there’s likely a reason why the composer wants you to sing softer (“piano) or louder (“forte”) in certain parts, and these reasons certainly have to deal with the emotion of the song.
Try practicing in front of a mirror and watch yourself as you sing. Or record yourself and watch or listen back to it - was your performance believable? Did you accurately convey the emotions you were hoping to? What can you do with your face, body language and the quality of your voice to better achieve this?
Come performance day, once you have a deep understanding of the emotions of the piece and the meanings of the lyrics, find a way to let these emotions come to you in a way that feels natural and comfortable. You don’t want to be too anxious or concerned about getting each part exactly right, so focus on the whole. Place yourself in the shoes of the “character” you’re singing as and imagine the feelings of the piece before you sing. Then, relax into the song and let the emotions take over. If you’re really invested in the piece, you won’t even have to think about it.
Written by Nellie Vinograd