So you’ve done your vocal training… you know the song(s) you’re going to perform… you have your moves mapped out…you have picked THE perfect outfit… but something’s missing. What is it? Chances are, it’s the ever-elusive emotional connection.
Have you ever watched or listened to a vocal performance and thought, “hmm.. every note was right, they nailed the riffs and runs… why don’t I like it?” I know that I have! What’s lacking in those performances is a genuine emotional connection to what they’re singing/ saying. So, the question becomes, how do we make sure we don’t fall into that trap? I will share some tangible tools that you can use to catch that emotional connection and apply it to any song.
Authenticity is an unspoken language that humans are fluent in. You may not consciously know if someone is speaking the truth, but you know when something feels “off” or like it’s falling a little flat. As singers, we may not always have experienced the same exact story we are telling through the song we are singing, especially if we are singing a song we didn’t write. It’s totally ok to sing a song that isn’t your story, BUT if you want it to translate authentically, you have to find a way to connect the emotional truth to your own reality.
So what does that mean?
Let’s pick a well-known song as an example: “I Will Always Love You” by Dolly Parton/ Whitney Houston. Dolly wrote this song about leaving a long-time working relationship with Porter Wagoner. Whitney made the song ICONIC when she sang it for the movie: “The Bodyguard.” They both wholly encompassed the feelings of love and loss so beautifully- even though they approached it from different perspectives. If I want to sing that song and make it my own, it does me no good to think about leaving the Porter Wagoner show, as I know nothing about the way that feels! Instead, I have to search my heart for something that resonates with that emotional truth and bring those feelings to the table when I sing it.
Ok, so now we are all in our feelings… how can we practice and get better at emotional connection? I have a few favorite methods! Firstly, I love to write out the lyrics and look at them on paper. What is the message genuinely saying? Once I have read it a time or two, I like to read it aloud, conversationally. Not only is this helpful in committing it to memory, but it also shows me where I add natural inflections (lifts, dynamics, emphasis), and these are great places to add some vocal pizazz! I find it helpful to do this conversational reading of the lyric in front of the mirror. I can notice where my body is getting involved, see what my face is doing, and better emotionally connect with the big picture of the song.
I like to finish my “song homework” by imagining performing this song in a room full of people who don’t speak the language I am singing. What would be required from me to honestly communicate through my tone, volume, dynamics, stage presence, etc., to make this song understandable to this audience? If they can’t understand what this song is about based on my performance, I haven’t gone far enough into the emotional well.
And there you have it. Some tangible tools for any singer to use when chasing the ever-elusive emotional connection. When you first try these exercises, you may find them cumbersome, wanting to just dive right into your song. I can assure you that the work you put into connecting to your song will bring undeniable dividends to your eventual performance on stage.