Sing like you mean it!

Back to 'Things to Try' in 'Learn to Sing'



This section of a larger video talks about presenting yourself to an audience.

Don't practice junk

If you practice junk, you learn junk.

When you're trying to get the notes right during a rehearsal, it's OK to concentrate on the notes. When you're learning a new technique, it's OK to concentrate on those details. But when you do a full run-through of a song during rehearsal, you must do it exactly the way you intend to do it during a performance.

If you think, "Oh I've got this song. I can sing it without thinking. I've been singing it since I was five years old," then you'll probably sound like a five-year-old singing.

The director is listening to the rehearsal and making adjustments based on what he hears. If you're only giving eighty percent of your effort during rehearsal, and planning to wait until you get on stage to deliver one hundred percent, forget it. You will make the chorus sound bad.

It doesn't matter that the woman in the far corner of the performance hall is falling asleep. It's not your responsibility to make sure that she hears you. The director has already determined during rehearsal that the chorus is loud enough. If the performance requires audio equipment for the chorus to be heard, the chorus will use audio equipment.

It's important that you sing relaxed and freely during a performance. It's also important that you sing that way during rehearsal.

And above all, pay attention to the director during a performance. If the expression on his face seems to say, "If my arms were longer, I'd like to throttle you!" then back off. Check your sound. Check your tempo. Listen to the rest of the chorus. You've probably gone rogue.

Make Them Feel Something

Ask yourself why someone in the audience would want to listen to you sing.

Here's another take on the same idea.


From The Structure of Singing by Richard Miller:

A major fault in performance among some singers, particularly if they study with a technique-conscious teacher, is to listen internally to the sound they produce rather than to listen with "outside" ears. A shift to "external listening" may produce remarkable improvement in the outward projection of text and music, when a technique that "internalizes" control is the problem.

A related problem of communication in singing concerns the imaginative singer who falls into the trap of publicly wallowing in private emotion. We, the listeners, feel quite left out of it all, even uncomfortable, reduced to the role of "peeping Toms." Unless the emotional experiences and sentiments of a performer can be externalized, they have no value beyond personal therapeutic ones.

Posture itself is a major vehicle of communication. It should not be assumed that the performer will instinctively know which physical attitudes outwardly portray inner emotions. A singer has to learn almost as much about what the body can say during a performance as must be known about what vocal timbre can convey. That earmark of the beginner, extraneous movement as an attempt to communicate, should be eliminated very early in preparation for performance situations. The body must be free of rhythmic synchronization with either the impulse of beat or phrase movement, or of physical motion in dramatic works. The constant need to move about is not an indication of freedom but of slavery to rhythmic impulse.

Although it is essential for a singer to know what the body is saying during performance (the body is often most eloquent in absolute quietude), it is the face that is the chief transmitter of emotion, in partnership with musical and textual ideas. An unanimated face in singing belies all that vocal timbre and textual nuance may be communicating. Because of the close coordination of the ear and eye, we do not believe the emotion we hear in musical phrase and word if the singer's face does not register the sentiment expressed. On the other hand, the mugging that sometimes goes on under the guise of singing-acting, complete with musical comedy stock gestures or the physical cliches of the television review, is perhaps even more detrimental to actual artistic communication. Self-awareness and self-esteem are not communication.

The spectrum of communicable facial expression is not unlimited. Constant facial mobility exercised in an attempt to heighten communication should be as taboo as the deadpan. The singer must learn how the face "feels"when registering the emotions called for, honestly and accurately communicating sentiment, so that specific expressive postures may be summoned up at will. The value of using the mirror cannot be overestimated. The video tape is an additional valuable resource. Both excessive physical movement and exaggerated facial mannerisms often are attempts to mask uneasiness associated with the performance. Excitation of the creative imagination does not come about through physical movement and mugging, nor does such movement disguise the disquietude.

We have already made mention of the merit in imitating some previously experienced physical event as a device for gathering up many technical aspects of singing into one concept, one psychological attitude. We have stressed that in so doing, the singer fuses into one whole the many technical facets of singing; a single mental concept at the inception of the phrase combines them into one unified act. At the same time, in the musical realm, an equally important happening takes place: conception of the entire contour of the musical phrase in that instant in which the phrase commences. Collected into one split second of insight, by the same psychological process by which any conceptual thought can be born in an instant, the singer should sense the contour, the shape of the entire musical phrase and its literary idea, prior to the initiation of the phrase in word and tone. To do so is but to follow the procedure already established for intelligent thought and speech. Unfortunately, because of the duration factor, all too often "thought" and "expression" in singing are approached in a moment-by-moment, word-by-word, note-by-note fashion.

Even though they occur on two levels of consciousness, physical and tonal-musical-textual concepts can be fused into one experience through the simultaneous anticipation of them at the inception of the phrase. It is not enough to be aware of the possibility of such fusion. The imagination must be subjected to the schooling of this technique and artistic unity; such fusion can be practiced, and it can be mastered, as readily as any other technique of singing. The artistic temperament must be trained to think of this unified fashion without becoming fractured and splintered over the many individual factors involved in performance. "Creative thinking" cannot be reserved to the performance situation, but should be engaged any time the singer commences a phrase. (To practice without such conceptual thinking only ingrains fractural approaches to singing.)

A direct result of such conceptual coordination is the emergence of legato in singing. Conversely, a proper understanding of legato as the constantly flowing stream of uniform vocal timpre will give shape and contour to the phrase. (Without doubt, the most expressive device, the most technically efficient procedure, in singing is the legato.) Word painting, vocal coloration, dynamic variation, rhythmic pulse, accentuation, rubato, and general nuance in good singing are only decorative details on the flowing legato structure.

No intelligent singer can conceive of a phrase shape independent of the literary concept that accompanies it. In this respect, the singer has a great advantage over any other musician; the emotive character of the word, in fact, is often the determining factor in phrase shaping. Words that act as symbols cannot be intelligently sung without mental imagery. Such imagery should be so distinct, so strong, that for the singer, visualization is as perceptible as sound, during the singing act. In fact, with many imaginative artists this process of visualization is so forceful that it occurs in color. (This too, is an artistic tool acquirable by practice.)

When this form of communication exists, the singer is neither involved in self nor in individual members of the audience. The singer visualizes the world of the song, projects it outward to the audience, which in turn looks in on and shares that world. No longer, then, must it be, "Watch me, listen to me tell this story or describe this emotion," because audience and singer are participants in the mutual sharing of the world. Just as one can pick up the miniature world of the glass paperweight, shake it, hold it out for a friend to share in looking at the world, so can singer and audience look into a common world of the imagination and together find communication there.

About being nervous on stage

Faking it

This video from isn't about singing, specifically, but it still rings true.

When I first joined Barbershop, I thought I was out of my league, but I was willing to learn to improve. I just hoped they wouldn't kick me out while I was figuring it all out.

After a while, though, I realized that everyone was still learning, even those who had been members for decades. You never stop. The book by Renee Fleming [listed on the main "Learning" page] shows that even the most elite singers sometimes doubt their ability.

When I started singing with the barbershop chorus, I would say, "I sing." Now, after three years, I finally feel comfortable saying, "I am a singer."

From the heart

A final word about life that you can apply to singing.