If you read Part 1 of this three-part series, you’ll also have listened to three different performances of the song “It’s a Man’s Man’s Man’s World.”
What you may have learned is that the way you interpret a song makes a difference in the way people will react to your performance. This means the way you choose to sing each phrase, emphasize key words, and bring in dynamics and emotional expression are important in making an emotional impact.
So, now I want to get into the Song Interpretation Exercise that I mentioned, which can help you think more intentionally about all of these elements.
Just a note: I’d like to think I’m brilliant, but I didn’t make this all up. A huge thanks goes to my former vocal teacher, Véronik Fournier (a.k.a. V), who passed on this incredibly helpful exercise to me.
First things first, choose a song you want to work on. Then download the Song Interpretation Exercise template here and get going with Step 1!
Step 1: Character, Objective, Moment Before, Win or Loss?
It may seem obvious that the “Character” in question – i.e. the person singing the song – is, well, you.
Technically, yes. However, is every story that you communicate through the songs you perform actually about you?
Maybe you are singing a song that you wrote completely based on your own personal life story. In that case, when you do the rest of this exercise, you’ll probably be drawing from the exact events and emotions you experienced.
However, sometimes we perform songs that aren’t based on our real life history. For example, one of my songwriting collaborations involved me having to sing about how my now-ex-lover just ran off to Havana. Well, I assure you that this has never happened – but I needed to convince everyone that it had!
So, I created a character in my mind who I could embody when singing “Havana”: a young woman who had gotten in deep with her Cuban lover and brought him back to her homeland. Yet, after a tumultuous time together, he packed up and left her high and dry.
Although creating this made-up character may have seemed a bit disingenuous at first, I was able to own the performance by drawing from my own, very real experiences of having felt the emotions of longing, bitterness and despair that are expressed in the song.
If you are performing at a show, you will, of course, be singing to your audience. But, again, let’s get to the heart of the story behind the song.
Who are you, as the character of the song, singing to? Are you singing to your cheating, ex-boyfriend who is now trying to win you back? A group of angry protestors who are demanding change? Your first, newborn baby?
There’s something kind of freeing about approaching a performance in this way. Rather than getting the jitters about singing to a sea of faces watching you from their seats, you are simply communicating a story that is really about, and being directed at, someone else.
What is your objective, or reason, for singing these words to the person (or people) you are singing to? Is it to assure them that they are going to make it through their challenging situation? To convince yourself to take the leap into a new romance?
Clarifying this for yourself from the outset can help in shaping the rest of the exercise. Read more