Adding Emotion to Your Performance – Simple Techniques for Singers

Adding emotion to your singing is one of the most powerful ways of raising your profile. Many albums are bought because of the lead singer's ability to express strong emotions

And of course you couldn't really call it singing if it didn't have emotion. So how do you sing with the same emotion as your favorite artist?

First, let's separate out a couple of things. If you want to sing for yourself, it's perfectly ok to feel the emotion and get really tied up in it (sometimes we just need to do that to help us feel better). However, if you want to sing for other people (and particularly if you want to sing professionally), getting tied up in the emotion of the song is just not going to work long-term. Strong emotions have an unfortunate tendency to make our throats close down. The result? You can't sing. That's a bit of a problem for a singer!

Here's a secret that not many people know. When your favorite singer is suffering through their song, he or she is not necessarily feeling those emotions. Part of the job is to help you to feel them, to show that they understand what you are going through, that they've been through it themselves. So you can really identify with them and their pain (and of course buy their album).

So the "trick" is to sound like you are feeling the emotion without letting it overwhelm you. That way you can make everyone believe you are going through something huge, but you can carry on doing the gig, and repeat it night after night without becoming a vocal wreck.

Here's an exercise I use in my vocal studio to help my singers discover how to portray strong emotions. You might want to do this by yourself (when no-one else is home).

First, listen to the song you like and decide what the main emotion is - sadness, anger, hurt, happiness. Listen to how the singer expresses the emotion - not just with the words but with the way they use their voice, the sounds they make.

Now talk out loud as if you have that emotion too - if it's happiness, tell an imaginary friend how happy you are. If it's anger, act out shouting at the dog. Notice what your voice does, what sounds you make, what tone of voice you use, how fast or slow you speak, whether you speak high or low, and even whether you stay speaking high (or low) or move around with lots of different pitches. (At this point, don't worry what your body is doing).

Happiness will often have the sound of an inner smile or a "bubble" going on behind it. Hurt might sound slow and heavy, or sound like there's a "sob" in your voice. Anger could be harsh or "pointed". Remember each feeling/sound.

Now take a phrase from your chosen song and make it sound happy. Start by "being" happy or "thinking" happy, and move on to sounding happy without feeling the emotion. What do you have to do?

Now sing it again and make it sound hurt. What do you have to do? It might be the same as what you do to portray "happy", it might be different.

Go through as many "emotions" as you can, and discover what you have to do for each one.

This is a very powerful way to discover emotion in your own singing - you start by feeling the emotion itself, then you notice what that emotion does to your voice, then you reproduce the effects of the emotion in your singing, so you "portray" that emotion without feeling it. Believe me, as a professional performer myself, it's not cheating! If I really felt angry or hurt or deeply sad when I performed, I wouldn't perform well - I'd be too wrapped up in the emotion to be able to sing at all.

So now you can put everything you've learned together. You will be pleased how much better you can share the emotion in your song - and how much better your singing is. And I'm sure it's given you a greater understanding of how skilled your chosen singer really is.


Jeremy Fisher trains singers and performers to find and maintain their best. He's the author of Successful Singing Auditions, creator of the UK's first endoscopy video ebooks, and is fascinated by bringing technology and innate skill together.

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