Singing is more than just about sounding good and hitting the right notes. Emotion can make or break the quality of your performance. Singing with emotion means that you are emotionally connected with the song and allowing the energy of the music to positively affect your performance.
Have you ever seen someone singing a superbly heartfelt song, and they sounded good, but it was just dry and stiff? That used to be me in the early years of my performing arts school days. The vocals were there, but I was just a straight-faced kid barely putting any passion into it.
I sing a lot of material in a lot of different styles and genres as a part of my job. Sometimes I'm expected to really feel a song that I just don't. Either I'm not sure what the lyrics are trying to say, I can't relate to what I do understand it to be saying, or sometimes I don't even like the song that much (but I won't tell that to my mom, who hands me sheet music that she requests I sing for church). I'm so nervous on rare occasions that I can't even feel the emotions I would normally have if I wasn't freaking out.
Whatever the reason for the disconnect, I have a few different methods that I use to help me tap into the emotion and become more expressive in the performance. Whether I'm truly feeling it or not, I want my audience to be able to feel it. At the end of the day, it's not really about me anywho, right?
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To feel the emotion in a song, you have to be able to let go of your anxieties. The good thing about anxiety that comes with singing is that it often subsides once you get on stage and start performing. Our anxiety can hit us in full force in the moments before a performance. Still, once you actually start the process and realize that nothing extra disastrous is about to happen, you can begin to relax and feel the music. You may still very well be nervous, but try to tap into the art and expression amid your nerves. Your nervousness can then actually work well with your emotional expressiveness.
Knowing the music extremely well is another way to get out of your own head if you have problems with anxiety. Often, singers lack emotion because they are focused on hitting the right notes and singing the right words. The more confident you are with the song, the more you can relax and let your emotions shine through.
The more you focus on the lyrics of your song, the better your emotional output can be. Lyrics are a critical part of what makes music hit our souls and our hearts. Even with the most basic backing music, powerful words in a song can help a singer perform it with intense emotion and connect with the audience.
For example, think about the song Amazing Grace. Everyone knows it, and we've heard it so many times that some would say it's bland and uninspired at this point. If I'm singing for an upcoming event and am requested to sing Amazing Grace, a negative thought process in might head might say, "that song is overdone and hard to connect with." But once I start going through it and make sure I take a very emotional approach to the lyrics, I'd then realize that it's truly a timeless and heartfelt song that really never gets old and would be great to sing.
If you're not really connected with the lyrical content of a song, but it's sonically pleasing, just go with the vibes of the song. The song's mood will most likely properly reflect the lyrics if it's a good song, so even if you're not sure what the song is about or you just don't like what it's saying, feel the music only.
This works especially well if you're performing a song in another language. While most songs will readily have the translation available, there still may be some things you are missing due to the language barrier and loss of context when the song was transcribed in the new language. Often, the music can tell a story just as well as the actual lyrics can.
Maybe you're singing a song that you understand but you just really don't relate to. If you'd consider yourself a good actor, all you really need to do is tap into that acting skill and create a scenario in your heart where the song really speaks to you.
If you're singing a song about heartbreak and you've never been heartbroken, sure, you may feel like you won't be able to express this song as well as a heartbroken person would. But we all know what heartbreak looks like from the outside! All you need to do is act like a heartbroken person, and you will fool people well enough.
If you're not that good of an actor and need a stronger way to connect, think about if the lyrics you're singing fit anyone's life that you know. This may help you to get emotional about it by at least being emotional on someone else's behalf. This way, you can get that fervent passion directly from how much you care about this particular person.
Another way to channel empathy well in this instance is to think about the creator of the song. Think about how much time, effort, and love they put into this creation and how this is the moment for you to get their point across as best as possible in order to make them proud and feel like their song is actually doing something for people.
Sometimes it can be hard to really feel certain performances due to the space you're performing in. If it's a small or lackluster place, that shouldn't take away from the energy you pour into that space with your talent. Getting into the proper mindset may help to visualize being on a big singing show like American Idol or The Voice where millions of people are watching your every move.
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When you feel like you have the pressure of millions watching you, it may make you nervous to the point where it hinders your emotion. Still, for some people, it pushed them to do their very best in all aspects of the performance, especially the visual and emotional aspects.
Like acting like the world is watching, it may help you act like this is the last time you'll ever get to showcase your singing. Like, last day EVER. If it were my last ever performance, I would definitely be emotional from the start, no matter what the song is about.
This method works well because of the bittersweet emotions that come along with doing anything for the last time. Most types of emotions will match this perfectly; you'll just look so intense that you want to cry, no matter if it's happy tears, stressed tears, or sad tears.
As a session singer, writer, and producer that has worked with over 200 clients to provide high-quality jingles, singles, features, nursery rhymes, and DJ drops, she currently spends her time engulfed in creating and marketing new music and helpful resources for creators. Her most recent creative collaborations include work with PBS Sound Field, Tribe of Noise, and the National Black Chamber of Commerce. Check out Yona’s latest music releases on her Spotify, her Youtube and share the music if you like it!
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