Master the Lyric
Owning the Song
Creating A Road Map
If you’re anything remotely like I’ve been in my life, you might be thinking “This is so much more work than I really want to do! I mean, come on this only memorizing a song” Yes it’s a lot of prep to sing a song but to me it’s the difference between learning a song by rote or OWNING A SONG - Making it your OWN. Uncovering your soul's relationship on a song, or dropping deeper into the essence of your own songs.
I have had plenty of experiences of singing a song, long after writing it, where it takes on a new light or dark for that matter. In any given moment life throws us “curve balls or even knuckle balls” Life moves in a direction we did not plan on. Death of a sibling or parent, loss of a lover, loss of a job, loss of a friend, upset with people we know or don’t know…. the list goes on. When I sing “from” the midst of my life school being in session I can be, if I allow myself, a conduit of my highest self. It’s out of that vulnerability that I express more fully than I do when I am in my head “trying” to express something.
My affirmation when I got to music school was: “I’m terrible at remembering lyrics, but I’m great at making it up.” ( to be honest I did not even know what an affirmation was at that point, but I was using them all the time) Yet, I didn’t want to keep "making it up". I wanted to remember lyrics. I wanted to own a song if I was going to sing it. I never had mentors to teach me the importance of this.
My 1st performance in music school I forgot the lyrics and I was devastated. I was so ashamed and embarrassed, which is another chapter all together. A. I had just moved to Los Angeles and into a new apartment. B. I just got a new job. C. Just started school that week and D. I didn’t make the time necessary to prep for the class. I wept at the fool I perceive I had been.
So I created a method of learning a new song so I could:
Own the lyric
- Memorize the words
- Create a vocal map with breath marks , pause, dynamics, etc...
Here are the steps to said process. but first before you begin:
I suggest hand writing the lyric in pen or pencil. Choose a color, any color. Use lined paper and skip a line between each phrase. Write neatly, leave room across the page. Don’t cram it in. Leave space. Begin adding breath marks, at the beginning of phrases. Some people will put an apostrophe or a check mark a bright color. My suggestion is that you use a different color for each element of your road map. For example- Lyric - blue, breath marks - red, phonetics- black, hi-lite the implied vowel you are actually singing on in a bright color. You’ll find what you need to use.In fact, it will serve you to create your own road map for each song. So here we go…
1 First, I listen to the song in it’s entirety. Top to bottom, beginning to end, no interruptions. Listen Listen Listen.... noise canceling head phones are optimum. No outside interference.
2 Listen to the 1st line of the song. Sing the 1st line of the song. Say the 1st line of the song. Write the first line of the song.
3 Skip a line.Listen to the 2nd line of the song. Sing the 1st and 2nd line of the song.Say the 1st and 2nd line of the song. Write the 2nd line of the song (remember to put your breath marks and eventually you will put the correct phonetics/ implied vowels above each word)
4 Skip a line. listen to the 3rd line of the song.Sing the 1st 2nd and 3rd lines of the song.Say the 1st 2nd and 3rd lines of the song. Write the 3rd line of the song.
5 Skip a line.... you get the idea. you do this to the very end of the song . One line at a time listening, singing, saying, and writing. I think you’ll have it by then. AND you’ll have worked out when you breath. How you’re going to sing certain words. If there is a challenge in the song you HiLite that word or section so you know what you’re doing when you get there.
After doing this for myself 20-30 times I began looking at songs in an entirely different way. While it was originally tedious work, breaking songs down to such a degree I found I had more dominion over the song. It became a 'rite of passage' with each song I was learning. I feel like I became more effective at learning and embodying songs.
Obviously, it might be neater and perhaps more effective using a computer to generate something like this, just as Sibelius and other notation software made creating charts easier and far more effective. Yet, there is something about the hand writing tactile experience that assists us taking greater ownership of our songs. Whether they are our songs or cover songs taking great care and devotion in embodying and owning a song is a gift we give ourselves and ultimately we give our audience.
The idea is to move beyond the technical aspects of a song to get the conversation you’re wanting to have with your audience. You want to get to the SOUL of your unique expression.
Yes this is a long, tedious process to begin with, but what I realized was that I was having a multi sensory experience to learn the song. Hearing it, singing, which meant I heard it again but also allowed to come out of my own mouth, then speaking it once again. I heard and felt the words in my mouth. Writing it, ink to page, so I was seeing it and feeling the words through my hand. If I could taste and or touch it I would.
It’s about more deeply embodying the songs you sing. It is so much more than lyric and melody. I was using more than sensory experience to learn the song. WhenI got to the end I had heard the song over and over and over so none of the subtle nuances were lost on me, because I was forced to get inside the song. Then go inside myself to bring forward my heart of the song, my point of view.
I’m always deeply honored when someone sings one of my songs. But when I hear someone sing a song that has moved through me and they give it their own life, OH LAWD! What a joy to witness. The first time I heard my friend Kelly Corsino sing “Something’s Calling Me” on a youtube video of her performance I knew she had brought her story to the song.
It’s also why I am a writer (there’s always an “AND”). I’ve done this with my own songs. It keeps the songs that move through me fresh and new. I never sing any song the same twice. This may be a challenge for some, but I don’t tire as easily of songs that are requested of me.
My job is to bring the best of me, in any given moment, to a performance. Sometimes I am feeling sad, depressed, angry…etc. I do not leave that at the door. I use it in performance to fuel a performance. In the truest sense of the word I am not performing a song. I am living it from wherever I am in that moment. It is probably the best meditation I do in my life, hands down.