As singers, we are blessed with the gift of lyrics. With that gift, comes great responsibility, which is to communicate the text to your audience. Often times, singers focus solely on technique and forget this essential element. For many, the desire to communicate is the reason why they became musicians in the first place. Although many of us are aware of our tendency to be consumed by technique, it can be difficult to quiet that voice and immerse ourselves in the character. Here are few ways of approaching the text and character to break out of that endless cycle and practice true artistry.
1. Speak the Text
Some people refer to this as a songologue. The act of stripping the text from the music and speaking it as though you are reciting a monologue is an excellent tool. You will begin to notice how beautifully crafted the text is and pick out all the wonderful literary devices the lyricist employs.
Spend some time doing research to learn more about your song. Who was the composer? Why did he/she write the song? When was the piece written? Does it come from a movie, musical, or opera? If so, what happens in the story? Is it based on a book, short story, or poem? Who is the character you are portraying? If it is in a foreign language, be sure to have both a poetic and word for word translation. All this information will inspire you to get in the head of the composer, lyricist, and/or character and will dramatically change the way you approach the music and text.
3. Decide To Whom You Are Singing
Songs are conversations. Determine to whom you are singing. Whether it is a character or someone in your life, having a specific person in mind while you are singing will aid in conveying the message.
4. Define Your Objective
There is always a reason why our character is saying the words that the composer or lyricist wrote. It is our job as artists to take a close look at the text and interpret our character's objective. Before you begin singing, remind yourself of your objective and reinforce that throughout the piece.
5. Practice the Way You Perform
It is important to practice exactly as we will perform. We sometimes take for granted the power of adrenaline and assume that "it will just happen" when we get on stage, and maybe you will get lucky and it will, but why would we want to take that chance? Just as mastering technique takes practice, doing justice to the text and music does as well. Treat your practice sessions like they are performances.
Try out these techniques before your next lesson with your voice teacher or vocal coach. Your teacher will be able to point out the parts of the text that are being conveyed effectively and those that are getting lost. Keep up the good work! Becoming an artist is truly a lifelong journey. Fortunately, it is an incredibly rewarding one.