Working Words for The Singer

Whether you’re a singer-songwriter or a singer it’s important to connect with the message of a song. The meaning of the message is measured in part by the depth, weight, rhythm, texture, and sound of the lyrics that are sung. The connections words make in creating lyrical content paint pictures or evoke feelings that resonate with personal truths that have some degree of a universal ring.

You need to be able to deliver the message of a song to its fullest potential. This requires not only a fully developed voice; but it also calls for a rich, supple understanding of and appreciation for the lyric.

Develop Your Delivery

The following exercise will help you master the words and phrases of the messages you deliver with each song. It’s designed to help you play with words, to bang them together to see what sounds they make, what images they stir, and help you feel and think more deeply about the lyrical content.

You can take this exercise and twist and turn it any way you feel. The more you play with words and images, the more heightened your interpretive skills will become. You’ll be able to infuse more layers of subtlety as well as punch up what needs to be underscored to make a point, warm the heart, strike a nerve, or simply drive things home.

Starting With Sounds

To get your mind away from thinking too much, start with five consonants. Let’s say you choose W, L, T, R, and C. Then take each letter one by one and write down a list of ten words that start with that letter, but make sure your list includes a variety of vowel sounds. For example, with the letter “W” your list might read: water, wishing, witchcraft, waffles, weird, winter, wisecracks, wonderful, wrinkle, and western. For “L” you might choose: lover, lightning, lick, loot, lugubrious, luminary, luck, loft, landfill, and leaning.

For “T” you might choose: treadmill, trying, tour, taxing, theoretical, typecast, tough, tuxedo, time, and texting. For “R” your ten words might be: racing, roots, righteous, restaurant, rustic, riot, rotting, rushing, rank, and remember. And for “C” the list is: careful, cautious, comfort, cede, cubic, cynical, cider, cycle, cradle, and crutch.

Singing Scales + Speaking Spiels

Once you have your five lists of ten (or how ever many) words, the first thing you do is sing scales as you speak your way through each list. Do that through as many rounds as it takes to move without stumbling too much. This gets you warmed up to take a closer look at the words in terms of feeling, images, and meaning.

Now speak your way through each list starting with a different word. You want to speak through each list ten (or however many) times. Once you finish all five lists, pull one word from each list to paint a picture that you can relate to. For example, based on the lists presented, you might choose the first words listed: water, lover, treadmill, racing, careful. What picture do those five words collectively suggest?

Perhaps a friend or “lover” is working out because they’ll be “racing.” Maybe they’re a swimmer, but they’re rehabilitating and have to be careful. Maybe it’s someone whose heart is racing and they need to be careful. They’re a “lover” of the “water” and kick their feet like a “treadmill” after they dive in.

Warming Up With Words

The point with this relatively simple but profoundly flexible exercise is to get you to “feel” words, to play with their sounds, and to experiment with the images they create in combination. This will warm up your senses and help to sharpen technical aspects of your interpretive skills while also stimulating your imagination.

This exercise can be engaged with just three lists of five words or ten lists of ten words, whatever you have the time and patience for giving your full attention. It will seem annoying at first. But you’ll find that it stimulates your creativity and really opens your ears and your heart to the sights and sounds sparked by the words you sing.

The more you play with words, the better you will become at working them more effectively. The more effective you become as a communicator the stronger the connection you make with the song, the music, the words, and ultimately, with the listeners that fall in love with your singing!