As singers, we are both musicians and actors. We have a responsibility both to the music itself, and also to the lyrics and emotional truth of the story each song sets out to tell. While singers are generally expressive people naturally, putting your feelings on display can be challenging. Whether you’re feeling guarded and unable to connect with the emotional content of the piece you plan to perform, or whether you’re too connected to the emotional messaging and struggle to stay in control and present it musically in the way you want to, emotions absolutely have the power to make the whole thing a messy experience. Here are some tips to master your feelings and perform the way you intend to:
- Reflect on the simplest core truth of the piece. Simplify the message down to a short, meaningful phrase that you can call to mind as you’re singing. This basic tool can help you maintain your focus– mentally, emotionally, and vocally– without getting too wrapped up in the details. By keeping it simple, you’ll avoid getting carried away with your emotions, and you’ll project clarity in your expression that your audience is more likely to connect with.
- Breathe with intention. When we get nervous, upset, anxious, or too emotional in general, our ‘fight or flight’ responses kick in– shallow breathing, elevated heart rate, racing thoughts, maybe even a tight throat. Counter-act this normal response by consciously forcing the opposite. Slow, deep breathing will help your nervous system re-route to the ‘rest and digest’ settings, helping you feel calm and in control. Of course, if your song is emotionally elevated, you’ll need to express it that way, so try to draw from feelings you know and can honestly reenact. But, don’t go on stage already wound up; instead, focus on inner calm and just an outside presentation of turbulence.
- Share the experience of heavy feelings with your audience, but don’t indulge in them yourself. A healthy detachment can save you a lot of trouble, while still being authentic to what it is you mean to express. In rehearsal, dare to go there. Let yourself fully experience the emotions of your song/piece/scene. Allow things to get messy. Then, carefully memorize what it looked like from the outside. Aim to recreate the changes in your breathing, movement, vocal intensity, but do so from a place that respects your musical foundations.
- Don’t bring your personal life on stage with you. Always keep a healthy distance between the emotions of your stage persona (the narrator of your songs) and your true self. If you are dealing with feelings in your personal life (even if singing something calmer), those feelings can still have the effect of spurring your parasympathetic (‘fight or flight’) nervous system responses, even if the content you’re performing doesn’t call for it. Be sure to give yourself quiet, contemplative time before stepping into your role as performer. It is necessary background work for a singer to be fully present in the music, no matter what is going on in your personal life. Never ignore your feelings; rather, give attention and respect to both yourself and your performance separately.
Of course, some feelings are too big for a song. If you’re finding music isn’t enough to help you express and release negative feelings, please don’t be afraid to explore other outlets, such as talk therapy. Getting mastery of your emotions will only aid you in creating more effective musical performances with more authentic emotional interpretations. This is one challenge to be careful not to put the cart before the horse!
Need a little help assessing what interpretive choices are honest to the emotional message of your song? Coaching with an experienced singing teacher can be a wonderful way to gain outside perspective and support. Try out a Free Vocal Coaching video exchange to receive personalized feedback and guidance from a Cardon Voice teacher.