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Techniques for singing through tears

Hi everyone,

Please forgive me if this topic has been addressed and point me there. My searching came up empty however... In short, what I'm wondering is what techniques people use when singing a really emotional song, that moves you to tears, to be able to sing powerfully through those tears and not choke up. My technique has been to practice the song to death however, when I listen to earlier vs later versions of these songs, I can easily hear the decreased emotion in my own voice which is not what I want to accomplish.

It also affects me when performing; for example, I'll be singing at an intimate open mic type setting, and a very personal song of mine touches someone in the audience. Seeing them wipe away tears, sometimes just making eye contact with a person who is obviously powerfully affected, is a WONDERFUL feeling to have as a songwriter, but lousy as a performer because I get choked up and have had to stop and restart, etc.

Have any of you run into anything like this? I hate to limit my sets to "only songs that never make me cry" but that's often what I end up doing, and most of my most powerful songs are those. One coach just straight up said "stop writing such heart wrenchingly sad songs" but that's not a real solution either...

Much gratitude for any helpful advice any of you might have.




  • highmtnhighmtn Administrator, Moderator, Enrolled, Pro, 3.0 Streaming Posts: 15,346

    This is a great topic, and something we really haven't gotten into much, because we're always breaking things down into such technical elements so that we can sing the right notes and get a good sound.

    Beyond all of that is where we get into some of the really powerful stuff, of how we can connect with others and with ourselves on a level that is pure expression of feelings. It's one of the real reasons that many of us aspire to sing in the first place.

    Yet, here we are talking about how to maintain just enough of our normal, technical, vocal composure, so that we can make it through a song or a line of a song, and yet keep that connection to our feelings and the feelings of the audience.

    Forgive me for getting technical about this, but that's kind of the subject.
    I think that it's having anchor points for our attention that allow us to hold on to "vocal reality" just enough, so that, like support (one of my main topics), we never let go of an awareness of it, yet we simultaneously let go just enough to not be a robot on stage. So a part of our brain needs to remain in "robot mode" because everybody knows that robots rust when they cry.

    Yes, I just made a little joke about a serious question, and the topic is maintaining our composure. Sometimes such a thing as a little laugh helps us to release slightly from bad moods, sad moods, fear...

    I also talk a lot about balance being important with our vocal techniques.

    This is another example. Now instead of balancing how wide our jaw is open, we are talking about finding a real way to moderate how much we can "feel" a song's meaning as we sing it... and a true master of song delivery will find that balance.

    An audience LOVES to be taken on an emotional journey through song. That's really what singing and music are for. To love, to hate, to rejoice, to comfort us when we mourn, to worship, to defy... so many feelings and emotions.

    So first, we get our vocal techniques into the ball park that they need to be, so we can go ahead and just "be" ourselves when we perform... but from a practical standpoint, we can't afford to just break down and sob during a song. The fact is, that when we begin to cry, we lose control of our support, and our pitch and volume will begin to wobble. We hear our voice begin to fall apart, and an avalanche of moving targets, as well as emotions, completely yanks the rug out from under us.

    So how do you turn down the cry knob to get it adjusted to the desired level?

    I think we have to remain a storyteller, rather than a machine, but we have to realize that it's also our job to keep going, while still letting the audience see our soul, and our weakness.

    A good actor can cry on cue. We need to find a way to maintain at least a shred of our composure on cue. If we're an effective singer, and convey emotion in our voice and our delivery, we will be able to balance our ability to keep going, and to remain physically and emotionally composed, or "compressed" so as to show our feelings, yet not allow them to run away or break down in the moment.

    Emotions have a way of being like a genie. Once the cork comes off the bottle, you can't keep it inside anymore. So maybe we just need to gently and carefully loosen the cork a little bit... but watch out, there's a lot of stuff bottled-up in there.

    Emotions are a funny thing... or a sad thing. Or a mad thing. Or a crazy thing. But on another technical level, they are chemicals, surging through our bodies, and we respond to them, we feel them, and they make us do things that are not easy to sing through. Our nose can run, tears can start to well up in our eyes, our diaphragm starts quivering, and there we go...

    This topic is related in many ways to the topic of Stage Fright itself, yet this is another level of the psychology of singing. It's a more complex level, because we want to take our listeners to the brink of these emotions without the entire audience, or us, losing our composure... don't we?

    When those chemicals of fight or flight, of loss or sorrow, all those feelings start to surge, we have little choice but to go on the ride. We can, however, try to find our balance and keep our focus on moving ahead through the song, keeping our breath steady, keeping the train on the rails... so as to keep our bodies from overproducing the chemical cocktail of adrenaline-related products.

    I know what you mean when you talk about eye contact. If you happen to look out there and see somebody wiping a tear in their eye, just at the same moment you're feeling the meaning of the song in your own emotion, look out. About all you can do is look above them, into the back of the room for a moment, and stay on the tracks. Otherwise, you two are going to be an emotional lightning rod for crying. You need to let it flow, let it go, and possibly think of the lyrics as more of a mechanical thing. If you keep amplifying the larger meaning of the lyrics, you may lose it.

    This is a really interesting topic, and I'd like to hear what others feel about this one. Are we not men? We are Devo! And Divas!

    How do you keep the human element going at the right level while maintaining a professional ability to continue through it all?

    A lot of what singing is about is joy, and we love to bask in that when we perform. But in its purest form, singing is about all emotions, and we want to be able to touch hearts and enrich people's lives. How do you do that, and keep going without falling apart?

    Let us hear from you.

  • EnglishTea123EnglishTea123 Enrolled Posts: 80
    I'm not like a professional singer--I am still saving up to buy the program!--but I did hear a lot of professional, prominent singers say that they have to control their emotions, lest they lose their technical side as Bob mentioned. "Storyteller" in my opinion is the best way to describe it. Those singers that I have vaguely mentioned--and vaguely mentioned because they're Korean singers--said that bringing out too much emotion excite them, and that could also cause unnecessary tension, so I think it is best to balance your focus between technique and emotion. Singing is, or at least, can be, a part of acting.
  • highmtnhighmtn Administrator, Moderator, Enrolled, Pro, 3.0 Streaming Posts: 15,346
    edited October 2015
    Interesting points. Not only are we the "storyteller", but we are also the "Guide". We are leading the song. Where we take the listener, they are following... So we have some responsibilities to present the feelings to the audience in a tender and meaningful way, and hopefully a way that invites them to feel the intention of the songwriter's expressions, yet in an environment that is both inviting and safe. A place where we can look around and notice that others are wiping a tear out of their eye, and they are noticing that just about everyone else is also sharing that moment in the same way. A proper setting on the cry control, if you will. Obviously we all have different thresholds for this setting, as well as settings for attack, sustain, and makeup smear... Uh-oh, there I go again, taking a sad moment and making a funny.

    You know, we can do this with joy and excitement, as well. I guess you might lump all of this into something called "crowd control", but I like to think of it more as bringing everyone along for the ride. It's good to share. It's good to allow others to see our humanity, to get a glimpse of our inner selves, our soul. When we are in that place, we don't have to glitz or B.S. anybody, we just have to be who we really are, and accept our audience for who they are... and keep one hand on the cry control to make fine adjustments, as needed.

    To get back to the nuts and bolts of how to focus and keep going when you get that old familiar feeling of "It's Cryin' Time Again", perhaps a wise thing to do is begin to do that thing musicians have to do just about all the time, and that is: Focus your attention on the next line, and the support and notes you need, so that you will not get caught up in the other, more tempting feelings of beginning to cry. As a musician, even though your body is in robot mode (to some extent) playing the NOW notes, your brain's attention is subdivided into "what's next" mode and bringing up the next measure in the music so that you can play that segment when it arrives. That's the way computers work. They have a "stack" of commands, and one portion is always executing the current command, while another part of the computer does nothing but ask "what's next, what's next, what's next".

    If you get too absorbed in the "Oh, NO! I'm Crying!" mode, you will crash and burn. So you let that sink a bit into the background of your attention, allow the tear to roll down your cheek without wiping it off, and ask "what's next?" and NO, beginning to sob more and more is not the correct answer.

    It amounts to a bit of mental direction and control, in order to keep forging ahead, however tenderly, but forward, onward, through the tears, being mindful of others that may be feeling the same emotions. You are their guide. Help them through this. With composure. Show them you can do it.
    That's your job, storyteller. Guide. Trusted One. Help them work through this. Help yourself work through this.

    Stay focused on the song. If you let your mind start going into your own memories of some tragedy that you wrote the song about, that's probably going to take you too far to keep your composure going. That is why having your brain focus at that time on the mechanics of staying on track is important. You will allow enough of a portion of your attention to cry its heart out, while you, the singer, keep going and keep telling the story. You don't want the story to stop before you bring it to its finish. Perhaps you want to write the song, or to perform it in such a way that the emotional center of the song doesn't fully happen until the ending, or at a point where the song pauses momentarily, at which point you, as the artist and storyteller, sew it all up in a moment that your audience will always remember. A moment that they will tell their friends and relatives that they just HAVE to come and see and hear you for themselves.

    That is the story you want to be told about your storytelling.


  • AJFAJF Enrolled, 2.0 PRO Posts: 4
    edited August 2016
    Thanks for all your thoughts everyone!

    @EnglishTea123 - I can't recommend Ken's program highly enough and I get no reward for saying that. For me and the way I learn, Ken has a great balance of technical and demonstration that is perfect and has helped me get through many vocal plateaus I was stuck on for years prior, and I've only started the course!

    @highmtn - Thanks Bob, as always, your lengthy, considered responses are most welcome and you hit a few nails on heads that I think will help me a lot. Mostly, I think you're right on the money that a balance must be found where it doesn't get so mechanical as to lose emotion, but doesn't get so emotional that the performance quality loses all its (important) mechanics. I do believe that many people seek the emotion whether it's intentional or not, and the sweet spot is finding that balance where you can draw the audience out of the reality of them sitting in a chair at a concert, and take them on a journey; one which ultimately overlaps with the performers, which is precisely what makes the deepest connection with an audience - making them feel like the performer is singing a song about them and their unique life.

    Thanks again all, and I really hope others chime in if any positive methods have been found to finding this balance.

  • EnglishTea123EnglishTea123 Enrolled Posts: 80
    AJ, that's really great to hear! I cannot wait until I get it this December!!! Thanks for sharing your experience!
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