Almost every student that I have ever dealt with has some sort of problem with “showing” emotion while singing a song. Almost to a person they say they are concerned that they will “look silly”. Most vocal coaches at this point refer these singers to an acting coach or have them take a stage movement class. But is there something else available for these singers?
In mundane daily situations and contact with others, some people have difficulty expressing themselves. Many others look for every opportunity to communicate. Sometimes, surprisingly so, the outgoing person finds out that these tendencies do not transfer when trying to become a singing performer. I have a friend who is well-known in the academic world of singing who claims to have had a student who wanted to be a star in Musical Theater. When he put the student on stage she turned to my friend and gasped, “Who put that spotlight there?” He claims that this is a true story and then laughs heartily.
Some singers tend to hold back on the emotion of the song due to concern for some technical problem that has not been resolved. Some of these problems can be the basic fundamentals, like breath management, resonation, phonation, and articulation. If any problems exist, they must be fixed. Good fundamental singing always lead to good emotional singing. If the singing fundamentals are in order, maybe the singer simply needs some reassurance that it is okay to be more confident in expressing emotion while singing.
Maybe a singer who has a good voice and good technical skills is the one who claims to be “looking silly.” There may be some truth in this “looking silly” statement. The singer may have observed others singing in a false, exaggerated performance manner and deep down decided that they are never going to do that. Many of us have seen these overly dramatic and comical performances time and again. I have a video of an audition where the young lady is singing “Don’t Rain on My Parade.” This singer has a movement for every phrase in the song. She marches, she swings a baseball bat, she has some drum major moves with her arms, and she shakes her finger as she sings, “No sir.” It is a hoot. Even now I am laughing while I write this.
It is easy to overlook and ignore the fact that performance communication and emotional expression can be taught, just as singing technique can. There are fewer “born performers” out in the world than most people think. To stand alone in a concert or singing situation is not normal communication. But communication skills and emotional singing techniques can be taught and can be learned. It doesn’t just happen.
How do we unlock these emotional singing techniques? First of all, be aware of your body. Start moving! Practice moving forward and backward while practicing your songs. Move your arms side to side or up and down. Try to match a hand movement to the words of the song. All of this movement will eventually lead to a greater naturalness during your singing performance.
Secondly, facial expressions. A “deadpan” singer usually has a fear of appearing foolish when going beyond normal expressions. When working with facial expression, always keep in mind that they can be expressed subtly without a sense of comedy. A singer needs to be aware of what his face is communicating as well as his body.
A singer can attain emotional communication by practicing this correctly in every session. Singers do not achieve this by a natural giftedness. Now go sing well!