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Why to focus on the lyrics first

It's not just a song: why to focus on the lyrics first

Save time and be more effective performers by first addressing the song’s “who” and “why”

When starting a song, the singers usually learn the words and notes first, using sheet music, learning tracks, plunking on a piano, sectionals, and even blowing the notes on a pitch pipe. You rehearse over and over trying to get “off the paper.” Next, you are asked to remember breath marks, dynamics, interpretation. After a coach comes in, you now have to remember word color, texture, expression, speed and delivery style, plus the emotional impact you are trying to portray. And don’t forget the message to your audience and how you should physically look in your performance, plus the dreaded choreography.

Whew, that’s a lot!

What if you read the lyrics as if the song were a poem or a story? Focusing on the words first allows you to look at who might be singing the song and how they might feel when delivering the lines of the song. You become better attached to the song, thus helping you understand expression, feelings, emotions, and a connection to the characters in the song. Once you do this the song will start to build on its own.


Let’s take a line from “Let Me Call You Sweetheart”:

“Let me hear you whisper that you love me too!”

Now for ease, let’s decide after reading the lyrics, that this is a grandfather speaking to his young granddaughter. This line (“Let me hear you whisper that you love me too!”) is a request that would be sung with warm feelings.

So warm feelings lead to an emotion; the emotion could be love. And if the emotion of love leads to energy, the energy could be gentle. And if energy leads to pacing, the pacing might be light and easy. And if pacing leads to dynamics, it might make the dynamic soft. And if dynamics lead to your stance, then your stance would be relaxed. And if your stance is relaxed, it might make you smile. And if your expression is a smile, it could lead to your movement, and the movement might be a graceful lean in towards your granddaughter.

Now a simple feeling leads to an emotion, and everything follows. The emotion leads to energy, energy leads to pacing, pacing leads to a dynamic, the dynamic leads to a stance, the stance leads to an expression and expression leads to the movement.

Instead of having to remember each and every task, like stance, staging, dynamic, expression, pacing, energy, feelings and more, all you need to remember is that you are a sweet old grandpa singing to his beautiful young granddaughter, asking her to whisper in his ear, “I love you.” Everything else falls into place.

About the Author

Cindy Hansen Ellis has for 37 years helped Barbershop Harmony Society, Sweet Adelines International, and Harmony, Inc. groups emotionally connect their music with their audiences.

She is also judging for NACC, AEA, Nordonia A Cappella Festival, and more.

This article was originally published in the March/April 2021 issue of The Harmonizer.