Moving While We Sing – Should We Do It or Not?
The ability to sing and to move to a rhythmic beat or stimulus emerges during early development1. It has also been suggested that motor synchronization (moving) to auditory rhythms (beat) may have emerged during evolution as a by-product of vocal learning. Singing and dancing (both complex activities together) are proven to be very natural to humans universally, across all societies and cultures2. So in short, baby we were born to sing and move!
Moving on stage can range from a fully choreographed routine to a simple sway, the tapping of a toe, a run across a stage or a simple expressive hand gesture. So why do singers move when they sing? The reasons are numerous, but here are a few:
• As an emotional response to a lyric
• To communicate lyrics intention
• For expression
• To accentuate the rhythm of the song
• To engage the audience
• To enhance or as a key feature of their performance
• To release nervous energy
• To keep their balance
Or simply because the music moves them!
Adding movement to a song creates a physical connection to the song that can greatly benefit the delivery of the song. How you move can also define your stage persona. Imagine Mick Jagger without his signature strut, Mariah Carey without gesticulating her vocal runs or Lady Gaga not giving us her stylistic monster hands!
Singing with movement, however, can be tricky for some, especially if they struggle with confidence, coordination or uncomfortableness.The key to connecting your voice to the movement is awareness, persistence and building your confidence.
Here are some tips on how you can connect to your inner drummer. Try these activities in a private place, preferably where there is no risk of feeling judged.
1. Tap to the beat of a song or every song you hear: Choose a few songs with different tempos and styles and start listening out for the strongest beats. Aim to listen out for beat one, and continue to tap beat one every time it comes around. You can also try walking in time with the music; one beat, one step. A metronome is also a helpful tool that produces an audible click at a regular interval (BPM -beat per minute), which you can follow by clapping. You can download a free version on the App Store.
2. Get acquainted with what your body is doing while you sing: Watch yourself closely in a full-length mirror, taking note of how you communicate the lyrics’ intention through your face and your body. Ask yourself: What is my face expressing during this song? How is my body moving? How am I standing? Remember to watch your entire body from your head down to your toes.
3. What’s moving you? Listen and watch out for parts in a song where your body is already naturally moving. What is it responding to? The lyric, the melody, the chords progression? Take note of when this happening and write it down on the songs’ lyric sheet.
4. Analyse the lyric and your physical response to it: Write or print the lyric of a song. Mark down the lyric or phrase where you think a movement or gesture would best be suited. Continue to create the movement every time you reach that part of the song. Remember repetition is key!
5. Permission to be silly: Again, in front of the mirror, give yourself permission to move, jump, dance or do whatever takes its fancy with no inhibition. Take note of what you are doing and then decide if any of the moves are appropriate and comfortable enough for you to include in a performance. Not every move will be silly. You will catch moments of brilliance in your dance craziness that could become your signature move!
6. Get acquainted with your arms and hand gestures: What are you like when you talk? Do you gesticulate when you speak? What are your arms and hands doing whilst singing? Try using them to punctuate the song’s beat or convey an emotion.
7. Get to know your face: What does angry, sad, excited or happy look like to you? Use a mirror and don’t be shy, try and convey a variety of emotions and over exaggerate the actions. Get used to feeling the way your face moves.
8. Get comfortable with your props: The microphone, the lead and the mic stand can be great props to either dance around or to play with. Get to know them and have some fun with them.
9. Watch other performers: Who are the performers you admire? What are they doing physically that grabs you? Try to mimic some of their moves and add them to your own repertoire.
10. Video yourself performing: Analyse your performance. How could adding more or less movement have improved the overall delivery?
11. Be prepared: When rehearsing for a vocal performance don’t forget to also practice the movements you intend to use in the song. Only through repetition of the movement will you be become fully connected to the physicality of the movement and how it connects to the song you are singing.
12. Give a dance class a go: Or if dancing is not your thing, try a yoga or Pilates class. Start to recognise how your body likes to move. Not only will it loosen you up, but moving in a group environment will help you feel more confident when you perform and move in front of a crowd.
13. Get fit: If you want to run around the stage like your favourite rocker and sing that big high note, you are going to have to be physically and vocally fit! Put the time into your physical fitness and prepare vocally with targeted Throga Strength and Breathing exercises to get you through it!
So what’s holding you back? Give singing and moving a go. It can only improve your performance!
1 Patel (2008)
2 (Nettl, 2000, Mithen, 2006)