How do I get more emotion into my singing voice?
October 30, 2011 1:43 PM   Subscribe

How do I get more emotion into my singing voice?

So I picked an instrument, and I bought myself a mic/headphone set so I could record myself practicing. I sound OK, but no matter how much emotion I actually feel when I'm singing my voice comes out flat. I've tried imaging the stuff actually happening to me, and I've tried singing loudly/dramatically. Still nothin'. What are some things I can do to actually get some emotion into that voice?

Maybe related, maybe unrelated, but I also feel like I sound like I'm 12. I'm starting voice lessons soon, but I don't want to wait until then to see some improvement. I've tried googling but haven't found any helpful advice yet.

Here's an example of what I'm talking about. Here's the song I'm singing.
posted by biochemist to Media & Arts (15 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Ever done any sense memory work?
posted by Ideefixe at 1:54 PM on October 30, 2011

I suspect that any method acting mefites will scoff at this advice, but sense memory stuff never worked so well for me back when I was an actor. What did work was imitating a voice that sounded the way I would like to sound, and then gradually over time making that voice my own.
posted by wittgenstein at 2:00 PM on October 30, 2011

Feeling an emotion is not the same as transmitting it. In performance (acting and singing), feeling a strong emotion can actually interfere with the transmission and audience reception of any emotional content of the performance.

Some suggestions:

Focus on your technique. Once you can reliably sing well in a variety of situations (e.g. walking, standing, swinging your arms around, different room sizes and ambient noise levels), emotion is much less likely to interfere with your performance.

Read the lyrics aloud, as though performing a spoken-word play. Work on the melodic and emotional content separately, even to the level of singing on a single vowel.

Study the text and the context, including the instrumental accompaniment to your singing.

Put the emotional content of the song in front of you where the audience can see it, not in your body where it will tend to choke your performance.
posted by thatdawnperson at 2:04 PM on October 30, 2011 [1 favorite]

Read the lyrics very closely and make sure you understand each word, and what it expresses, both on the face of it, and what it might mean to you. Tell it and sing it, to express that. If you mean it, the emotion shouldn't need to be layered on.
posted by StickyCarpet at 2:08 PM on October 30, 2011

Sounds like you need better breath support to me and that's only going to come from technique work. This is best coming from a good voice teacher, but before you start lessons you can practice abdominal breathing.

Start by putting your hand on your lower abdomen and feel it pushing outwards (technically this is just relaxing those muscles) when you breathe in and tightening and moving inwards as you sing (and therefore let the breath out).

Your voice sounds better when you are singing louder/with a bit more energy. You can try practicing maintaining that intensity when you are singing quieter.

There is a lot of technique that a singing teacher can help you with and I wouldn't be too bothered about learning lots before you start because they will inevitably change it all anyway. Maybe learn a bit of anatomy and just see what your voice can do.
posted by kadia_a at 2:10 PM on October 30, 2011

A lot of "emotionless" and flat singing comes from poor pitch which seems to be the problem in your case. I don't think you're going to improve much on your own until you enlist the help of a professional who can teach you proper techniques.
posted by MaryDellamorte at 2:20 PM on October 30, 2011 [1 favorite]

Agreed that you need better breath support. The above advice is a good start, and of course vocal lessons will help you improve further.

Something else that will help with adding a sense of emotion to your singing is learning to (1) use a little vibrato where appropriate and (2) vary your dynamics appropriately. Improving your breath support will also help with the latter; it's easy to think that when singing more softly you can sing with less support, but in fact you need at least as much support when singing softly as you do when singing loudly.

In short, worry about your technique first, and then you'll have the tools to be able to perform with more emotion. Enjoy your lessons!

Disclaimer: I have far more classical vocal training than pop training.
posted by divisjm at 2:25 PM on October 30, 2011

" I suspect that any method acting mefites will scoff at this advice, but sense memory stuff never worked so well for me back when I was an actor. What did work was imitating a voice that sounded the way I would like to sound, and then gradually over time making that voice my own"

posted by misspony at 2:35 PM on October 30, 2011

Listen to what people do with their voices when they are emotional.

Pitch and timbre convey emotion, amplitude is a much smaller element in comparison. A rougher or less stable timbre or a pitch that won't sit still (a touch of melismata or vibrato) will easily get you an "emotional" performance. Not so much pitch change that you are going out of key mind you, it should be a more or less subtle effect.

A little of this goes a long way - it is easy to sound like a campy torch singer or a crazy person if you overdo it.
posted by idiopath at 3:00 PM on October 30, 2011

"Real" emotion messes with your voice. Your voice will crack, go sharp/flat, your breath control will suffer.... you will stop performing, and start being just some dude on stage in the middle of an emotional episode. That's uncomfortable to watch and isn't what you're trying for.

What true artists can do is convey the emotion without sacrificing performance quality. The best make it look so easy. All I can offer is to perhaps consider whether you can play a character, rather than try to "be yourself." That way you can distance yourself from the havoc that real emotions can wreak on the performance.
posted by I_Love_Bananas at 4:58 PM on October 30, 2011

I'm not a professional, but it sounds like you are not singing in the "your" correct octave. Also, I agree with those who say that you need to work on your breathing, specifically that you need stronger breathing technique. But yeah, more importantly, it sounds like you are trying to have a voice that you don't have. Not that you aren't talented, but that you just need to find your true voice. A professional (which, again, I am not!) will help you with this. Good luck!
posted by two lights above the sea at 6:23 PM on October 30, 2011

I think the main thing causing you to sound "young" is the breathiness in your tone. A more focused tone will sound more mature and affecting, and is also healthier for your voice. Voice lessons will definitely fix this, but one exercise you might try in the meantime is to sing "ng" on a comfortable pitch and then open up to "ee" while trying to keep the same tone quality. More precise pitch will help too, of course.
posted by en forme de poire at 6:54 PM on October 30, 2011

Streisand. No comparison. Listen to how she 'acts' a song. Obviously, we cannot all sound like she does, but her interpretation and how she gets into character is amazing. When I sing a great song (and I'm not a professional by any means), I look for the meaning in the lyric, supported by the music, and gain 'emotion' as such. It's kinda like Frank Lloyd Wright's expression of the exterior of the building being revealed from the layout within.
posted by rtodd at 7:59 PM on October 30, 2011 [1 favorite]

Best answer: In the song you posted, the lack of emotion you're hearing is actually a lack of singing the correct pitches. The song you're singing has a very lyrical, emotional melody, but you are missing most of it. I can't tell from your post if you are aware of that, but that is why it sounds "flat," even when you sing louder.

To me, your voice does not sound unemotional - pitch is the main issue there. Your teacher will be able to determine where the pitch issues are coming from when you start taking lessons. As for something you can do before you start lessons, focus on matching the notes you're singing to the notes you're hearing. It may help to find a simpler song than that one. It sounds like a simple song, but the melody does jump around pretty quickly.
posted by wondermouse at 9:26 PM on October 30, 2011 [2 favorites]

This is the sort of thing that's difficult to describe at a distance, because a good voice teacher, in teaching you to sing, will be working with you very intently - starting you with small tasks, giving you immediate feedback, and showing you what you need to do with your body. (And it would be very easy for a beginning singer to read about technique and do it wrong, getting into bad habits that will have to be unlearned - my favorite choral director said you had to do it right twice to unlearn doing it wrong - so I'd say enjoy your singing as it is for the moment and look forward to meeting up with your voice coach soon and starting on the "work" of learning to sing.)

Breath support, breath control, pitch, dynamics, attack, and vowel shape are all things that you'll work on that will contribute to the nebulous idea of "emotion," which is more often called "interpretation." And interpretation comes further down the line, once you've gotten a good handle on technique. My experience in working on dramatic interpretation in singing (including a year-long class specifically on this that I took in acting school after ten years as a trained singer) has been that transmitting emotion through a song means not only using all the techniques you've learned, but paradoxically, sometimes letting go of technical perfection a little bit in order to serve the meaning of the words you're singing. But in order to do that, first you have to learn technique.
posted by jocelmeow at 10:36 AM on October 31, 2011

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