10 Ways to Sing It with Emotion
By Teri Danz
We’ve all been there. The singer is “singing their butt
off” in the vocal booth, but the vocal performance is
just not cutting it. The producer says, “Sing with more
emotion,” and the singer says, “I am!”
Now begins a train wreck in progress. The singer
tries again, but doesn’t know what to do to actually
get it. The producer tries to get them to sound more
emotional with myriad directions about feel, but fails.
The result is lots of studio time wasted, frayed nerves,
and frustration—all because some singers have a disconnect
between how they’re singing, and how it
actually comes across. The following ten tips will help
you light the fire under those vocals.
Forget How It Feels
Feeling sad and sounding sad are very different. To
sound sad, you have to know how to get the right
sound and produce it.
Use Vocal Techniques to
“Feel the Sound”
It’s all about mouth sound in pop singing. This means
that different mouth sounds create different feels. If
you do them, you will sound a certain way—every time.
Think of Christina Aguilera’s “Beautiful,” and the edgy
sound she gets. The technique is called a “creak” or
“cry.” You don’t have to feel the emotion—just use the
Connect the Emotion to
the Vocal Sound
Here’s the key to all of this. It’s not enough to feel the
emotion or just produce it—both elements have to be
connected authentically for a performance to sound
real. Take the “creak” example. If I’m using it, but my
emotion isn’t behind it, I may sound sadder, but end
up not giving a convincing performance. Skilled vocalists
know how to express their emotion through their
technique—not the other way around.
Work with a Coach
Hey, you wouldn’t play major league basketball without
a coach, would you? Michael Jackson had one,
and it’s a pretty sure thing that every other vocalist
you like does, too.
Train the Voice
Singers are athletes, and training with a vocal coach
is paramount to creating success. Without training,
even great natural singers get into problems when
they can’t repeat what they did right—much less
know what they’re doing wrong.
Any singer can get more emotion by enunciating
vowels and coloring tone with consonants. This does
not mean singing the whole word as you might speak
it. To enunciate in singing, you need to break the
word down into its phonetics. This adds clarity to the
words, and your ear does the rest.
Which vowels you sing, and how clearly you
produce them impacts the emotional intent. For
example, the vowel in the word down is pronounced
with the diphthong (ah-oo). So down is sung like
“dah –oo” with the “n” sound at the very end. Pop
singers add color in a diphthong by holding the first
vowel (dah) longer than the second. If I then add a
creak to only the last part of the vowel, it will sound
like I’m becoming more pained.
It’s hard to sound emotional if you can’t control your
air—or sustain notes—with power and stability. Get a
breathing technique and build your stamina.
Sing in the Shower
If you just want to get into the “groove” of singing,
and not worry about communicating effectively, sing
in the shower, or the car or your living room before
you go onstage or into the studio. Unchained from
performance angst, you may discover some parts or
phrasing that will ultimately help your “actual” performance
communicate the lyrics better and move
Build a Performance on
If you practice singing one word over and over in different
ways by changing its emphasis, tone, intensity,
or melody, you can then emotionally build any song.
Check out 30 Seconds to Mars’ frontman Jared Leto’s
performance on the end of the song “Modern Myth”
from their debut album. He builds a performance on
only one word—“goodbye”—emotionally moving from
hurt to frustration to pain and ultimate rage to being
over it. When you can do that, you’re golden!