Singing with expression is perhaps one of the skills that best lend art to singing. This article addresses the question of expression in singing with the intent of helping singers to hone the art to world class quality.
Wikipedia (2021) beautfiully summarizes my interpretation of expressive singing:
Musical expression is the art of playing or singing with a personal response to the music. At a practical level, this means making appropriate use of dynamics, phrasing, timbre, and articulation to bring the music to life.
Vocal expression is very important in singing. All singers should pay attention to developing these skills since they can make or break the song.
Singing with expression is important in order to grab the attention of listeners. When singers are compared to public speakers, it is easy to visualize how expression relates.
For example, speakers use inflections and gestures to convey meaning. In the same way, singers need to add inflections, dynamics, and other vocal effects in order to capture the listening audience.
A public speaker with a flat, toneless voice puts the listeners to sleep. Singers can create the same effect if there is no expression. Sales and downloads can be lost if there is no vocal effect.
Special note for gospel music singers
Singers in the gospel music genre should become aware that there is an additional dimension to musical expression called the anointing. This is the expression of the Spirit of God through song.
The anointing is the life energy that comes from God. It produces the effect
of transformation in the hearers.
However, this amazing power can only be accessed by close contact with God, inner spiritual truth and righteous lifestyles.
How do you become expressive when singing?
Expression begins when singers understand certain elements of the song. A singer can only make a vocal or another expression when he or she knows when and where to take the action. Let’s explain a few helpful tips.
Study the theme, message, or story related to the song.
Familiarity with the theme, message, or story gives the singer an overall feel to the song. The singer should fix the theme clearly in his or her mind in order to capture and to convey it to others.
Studying the theme helps with song interpretation. For example, a song about happy memories should be sung in a manner that conveys those emotions to listeners.
Study the mood of the song.
Singers should understand the mood or emotions or feelings of the song? What is the mood or emotions to be captured by listeners? It is important to define the mood clearly in order to match it when singing.
How do you add emotions to singing?
The ability to convey the mood depends on how the song is interpreted. The mood of a song can be conveyed by matching the lyrics with relevant:
– facial expressions.
– hand gestures.
– vocal inflections.
For example, joy can be conveyed by:
– lilt and lightness in the singer’s voice.
– joyful inflections in the voice on phrases or particular joyful words.
– placing joyful emphasis on words that are important in the song.
Most music scores (if used) would usually give the musical dynamics that are needed, but the singer, in my mind, can still explore with techniques that add to the flavor of the song.
Singing with emotion can be enhanced when the singer gets a feel for the song
Singers should try to get a feel for the song. Interpretation and impact are enhanced when the singer has a feel for the lyrics and meaning of the song.
It therefore helps to sing about things that one is passionate about. Lack of interest can lead to a fake sound or even expressionless delivery.
Use inflections in the voice that fit the phrases and words of the song
Singers should use inflections in the voice that fit the phrases and words of the song. When singers use inflections they:
– change the volume.
– add emphasis to words.
– add emotions to the voice.
– change the tone of the voice.
– add various dynamics to the voice
Here are explanations of inflection from Vocabulary.com (2021)
Inflection refers to the ups and downs of a language. Even if you can’t understand Italian yet, the inflection in your professor’s voice should tip you off to whether she’s asking a question, giving a command, or making a joke.
Inflections change the patterns of stress and intonation in a language.
Inflections are a manner of speaking in which the loudness or pitch or tone of the voice is modified
How to apply inflections when singing
Here are examples of how singers can add inflections in singing.
Inflections for emphasis
Inflections for emphasis means that specific word or phrases are sung with greater attention. For example, if you are singing that someone or something is “sweet”, you would want to make the word sound “sweet”.
If you are singing about joy, inflections could be placed on the word “joy” where it appears and where appropriate. In order to create the effect, the singer will have to change the tone in the voice to suit.
Emphasis can be applied by making the voice louder on certain lines or words. Placing a strong, sudden accent on particular words gives emphasis.
Add inflections by paying attention to musical dynamics
According to Wikipedia, (2021), musical dynamics refer to the:
softness or loudness of a sound or note.
stylistic execution of a given piece. These include styles like staccato and legato.
functional execution of a given piece. Examples include velocity of a song.
Singers therefore need to pay to these elements of musical dynamics in order to enhance expression in singing:
volume of the sound.
style of the sound.
speed of the sound.
Examples of volume inflections
a. Volume inflections with varying degrees of softness or quietness:
• “very quietly” (pp, pianissimo).
• “Softly” (p or piano)
• “medium or moderately quiet” (mp, mezzo-piano).
b. Volume inflections with varying degrees of loudness
• “loudly” or “strong” (f or forte).
• “medium-loud” or “moderately-loud” (mf, mezzo-forte)
• “very loudly” (ff, fortissimo).
c. Volume inflections with gradual changes in volume.
Crescendo means that the singer becomes gradually louder.
Decrescendo or diminuendo means that the singer becomes gradually softer.
Mezza di voci is a combination of crescendo and diminuendo. This is a beautiful technique in which the sound is gradually increased then decreased all in one breath.
d. Other examples of inflections in singing:
• The singer can also make the sound fade away to nothing, die away, lose volume.
• The voice can also become softer on certain lines or words.
• You can also sing beneath the voice (not too long).
Conclusion to singing with expression
Singers should hone their craft by studying the songs to be sung and applying the varied techniques. This will become a more effortless activity as time progresses.
Gospel singers are to sing always with the expressive inspiration of the anointing of God’s Holy Spirit. This is an amazing power that produces various changes in the hearers.
Next time I will talk about the style and speed of the sound.