The Performance Tips We Give Over and Over AgainNov 06, 2023
Written By: Chelsea & Cynthia
In our experience as coaches and teachers, there are a few performance tips that come up again and again.
Whether you're a newer singer or an experienced performer, we're sure you may askd a few of these questions yourself! So we collected all of our frequently asked questions about performance and narrowed them down to provide YOU with our best advice right here on the blog.
Let's dive in!
Tip #1: Pick a Scene Partner to Sing to
This is like acting 101, but you'd be surprised how often we forget to do this. Oftentimes folks will say, "Oh, I'm singing to myself" or "I'm just singing about a feeling" or "I'm singing to a group of people, but I haven't picked anyone specific."
That specificity or lack thereof comes through in your performance, especially if you're prepping audition material. If you're prepping music that's going to be sung out of context or in an audition room, make a specific choice about who you're singing to, not just a friend, but your best friend, Julie, who you've known since sixth grade, and you exchanged friendship bracelets with in seventh grade. This gives you so much more context to play with and develop a performance around.
The other thing that goes along with this, is when you're picking a scene partner, give them lines to say that you can respond to in your song. It provides you with a moment before to start your song with and gives you things to react to as the song goes on. In general, we need some kind of dilemma, a conflict, or a battle -- we need some reason why you're going to keep singing that song.
Tip #2: Think About Your Context
This can also be called "given circumstances", which you might have heard of before. This is where you'll get specific about who you're talking to, where you are, who you are, what your background is, etc. You can even get really specific, like what year it is, because when you think of it, it's wildly different to sing a song from the 1920s versus the 2020s.
Or even the season you're in, think how different it is to sing a song walking alone in the middle of winter at midnight as it is to be singing a song at one o'clock in the afternoon on a hot July day. This is all of your subtext, it's to give you an imaginary world in which to play. And it's an opportunity to be creative.
This is one of those places where you can ignite what made you love theater in the first place, which is imagination, fun, and play.
Bonus Tip: We often hear from performers that it's hard to find time to practice, or they're scared to be too loud in their apartment so they have trouble singing out loud. But it's this kind of work, picking your scene partner, choosing your battle, thinking about your given circumstances, all of that rich storytelling stuff can be done on the subway, or on your coffee break -- this is such great silent work and people forget how impactful silent practice is.
When you get in an audition room, that is the kind of thing that is way harder to punt on than the singing. You sing all the time, if you had to open your mouth and sing something right now, you could. Could you in a second come up with this kind of rich context? No. That's going to take work. So don't underestimate how much mileage you will get out of an audition. Even if you haven't practiced the singing part as much, if you have made the storytelling rich, it will come across in an audition.
Tip #3: Think About and Use Dynamics in Your Singing
What's a real quick fix to slap a story on a song? Choose some dynamics to sing with. We see so many folks who bring their song into studio class or just sing it through for the first time and it's mezzo forte, medium loud, the whole time, beginning to end for 30, 60 or 90 seconds. There's no story in that, there's no vocal color change in that. there's no choice. You've made no choices with that choice.
And what have we learned? There is never, ever a reason to be general. Thank you, Mary Sugarman, for that piece of lasting advice.
Bonus points if you've done the inner work, by picking your scene partner, and delving into the context of your story of the scene in this moment. Then the dynamic choices come along with it, like when you feel impassioned and your voice naturally grows and gets louder, or when you're having an intimate moment and your voice naturally diminishes and gets softer.
You can even work at the problem backward and identify the obvious loud point in the song and to grow that, you have to pick a time to be quiet before. Even that is just a simple exercise to make any kind of choice with your song. This is such an easy way to infuse your song with a bit of personality, choice, and vocal color, which is so refreshing as a listener to be taken on an aural journey, where even if we closed our eyes and we didn't see your performance, we could hear that you had made choices about the story that you were telling.
Tip #4: Explore Your Physicality
How does one find physicality in their song? This is one of the age-old conundrums. There's that feeling of what do I do with my arms? What do I do with my hands? If I'm singing a rock pop song, do I do a step touch while I'm singing? What do I do?
With physicality, it's always a conscious choice. Whether you stay very still or move, either way, you've decided your physicality so that you don't end up in the no-choice part where you're just crossing your fingers and hoping you look natural.
If you've done the work of the context and your given circumstances, that's going to help a lot. Again, imagine if you were in 20 degrees below zero weather shivering on a cold street in Russia versus sitting on a beach when it's 85 degrees in the middle of July. Even that is going to inform your physicality. Or whether you want something in your yearning or whether you are furious.
From there, start at a high level and make your physicality over the top. Make it so huge that you have the option to start bottling it up. Even if you are standing very still, there's a difference between standing still with an impulse for movement and standing still as if you're a couch potato.
If you're interested in diving deeper into this interview or exploring other interesting musical theatre conversations - check out the Broadway Vocal Coach podcast! Or check us out on Instagram, and get involved in the conversation!
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