Updated: Jul 23, 2019
Welcome to the second part of 5 Key Ways To Enhance Your Song Performance. In my blog post last week I talked about using your eyes when performing a song. The importance of keeping your eyes open, knowing where to look and energizing the eyes when singing is definitely a key component when performing a song. I just taught a singing lesson today where a young student was working on the song “What It Means To Be A Friend” from the musical 13. She is preparing the song for an upcoming music recital so it was vital to know where she was going to look in the room when she sang this song. We clarified where she would look, so that she didn’t have any wandering eyes. We spoke about who she was singing to and where this imaginary person would be in the room. We also began examining what the song was about. This brings us to the second key way to enhance song performance…Acting the song!
It’s not enough to have a good voice. There are millions of people who have amazing voices, but it’s the ones that can tell a story when they sing that are captivating and connect with their audience. Whether you are singing a pop song or a musical theatre song, music is story telling. It is your job to take the words and lift them off the page. To give the words meaning. To give them life. As a voice teacher and as a composer, I know that I am working with a good singer when they can take material and give it a depth that is rooted in an understanding of the character’s story.
When dealing with a song from a musical, it is your job to know what musical the song is from and what the story is. Some questions to ask yourself when working on a song are:
What has just happened before you are about to sing?
Songs usually start with a four or eight-bar intro. Your job as a performer starts the minute that intro music starts to play. You need to be telling the story from the very beginning, even if you haven’t started singing yet. What has just happened that is making the character say what he or she is about to sing?
Who are you singing to?
In figuring out what the context of the song is, you should know whom you are singing to, if anyone. By knowing if you are singing to your mother, a friend, an enemy or a romantic interest (to name a few), this will greatly inform the choices you make in tackling the story telling of your song.
Why are you singing this song?
This is a very important question to ask. Characters usually start to sing when the stakes are very high or when something important is about to be revealed. Knowing why your character is singing will inform you, the actor/singer, what the character’s motivation is. Is the character trying to convince someone of something? Is your character begging someone not to leave? Or is your character singing to themselves about remembering a time when they were most happy…and if so, why do they need to remember this happy time? These are all just generic examples, but I’m posing these questions to hopefully inspire you to find out what the appropriate answer is for your song.
A lot of singers will just practice their song by singing it a few times and then that is it. A great way to deconstruct a song is by treating it as if it were a monologue. This means reading it out loud, not only singing it. When you read the song out loud, I want you to try to not think about the words you are saying as lyrics, think about them as words that your character is saying. Speak the text at the normal rate of speech that you would if you were to say these exact words to someone. The point of this exercise is to examine the words on the page without the music. Sometimes, we get lost in the beauty of the music and forget to use the words on the page. Performing a song is more than singing the beautiful music from that ballad or singing a fun cheery up-tempo number. You need to be able to tell your character’s story. Deconstruct the lyrics, or words on the page, like you would a monologue. Determine why your character is saying these words, what the intention is behind it and what your character wants in this song.
If the song is a stand-alone song, research what the writer intended. If you can’t find that, it is your job to make it up. Create a story that makes sense with the given lyrics. If you don’t have a connection to the lyrics, how do you expect your audience to?
An audition panel or audience is after one thing…they want to feel a connection. They want to be moved. Remember, it’s not enough to have a beautiful voice; you have to create magic when you sing a song. And how do you do that? Through acting the song and telling the story.
Stay tuned for the third key, which will be revealed next week!