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Seeing the Song As a Story

Every well-written song takes the listener on a journey that uses text and music to tell a story. Well-written songs offer you an opportunity to create a partnership with the words and music. Working the text as a speech or monologue, you may find that the song doesn’t mean what you originally thought it did. Just as when reading a poem for the first time, you may not initially absorb all the meanings.

The second time around, several new things may jump out at you. The more you read the text, the more you can enhance the relationship between your singing and the words coming out of your mouth.

Don’t fall into the trap of thinking that just singing the song well is good enough. It isn’t. Singing well is a wonderful start, but you want to take it a step farther. Saying words out loud forces you to decide what the words mean. For example, you can emphasize the words “I had a cat” in three different ways:

  • If you emphasize I, you’re saying that you — and probably you alone — had a cat.

  • If you emphasize had you may mean that the cat is no longer with you.

  • Emphasizing the word cat may mean that you had a cat instead of a dog.

Playing with the various words makes you think about what you’re trying to say and how best to say it. As you speak through the text of your song, make specific choices about what you think the text means, as you did when you said, “I had a cat.”

Your specific choices give listeners an opportunity to really focus on your story so they hear the words, not just the glorious sounds of your voice.

Emphasizing repeated words is just as important. When your song repeats certain lyrics, you want to say them differently, as if each time they have a new meaning. Think of a line from your song and repeat it several times. Most likely, you emphasized it differently each time to try to get your point across. When you repeat the lyrics, you have another chance to get your audience to understand you.

When you begin to work your text as a monologue or add expression to your singing, you may find that your eyebrows tend to go up. If so, put a piece of clear tape on your forehead to convince them to go back down.

Place the tape vertically on your forehead so you can feel it each time your eyebrows flex. With practice, you can find a way to express your thoughts without tightening anything on your face.

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