Singing And Human Emotion"

One of my college professors had a saying: 'It doesn't matter what you said. It doesn't even matter what you think you said. It only matters what THEY think you said.'

It was his way of saying that it takes great care to communicate what you intend to communicate.

As communicators, if we are experiencing trouble getting our point across, it is OUR responsibility to adjust what we are doing or saying so the listener 'gets it.'

In singing, it is the same. The burden of making a connection with your audience rests almost totally on you. There are those 'magic moments' when an artist and an audience 'fall in love' at first sight, but normally, it's the artist 'wooing' the audience, hopefully with grace and skill and selfless love.

But we don't always sing to communicate. We sing at different times for different reasons. And oh how many reasons there are!

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Pure Pleasure

For instance, we sometimes sing for pure pleasure. We are all alone in a car or doing a chore. And it just comes out. I have 5 daughters who love to sing. One of them is ALWAYS singing. She has been known to start singing in the middle of a college English class without even realizing it!

I get pleasure from going to the advanced section of Brett's course (CD 11), where there are style improvisation 'exercises.' I can put the CD in my car and just improvise for pleasure over the chord progressions. (This works with instrumental jazz radio too.)

Because it's 'pleasure', it actually adds to my repertoire of available vocal licks without registering in my brain as 'work.'

Seduced by a Song

Unless you are a grizzled old professional, you probably make your decision to learn a song based on the pleasure it gave you when you first heard it.

When you heard it, you experienced some emotion and then the song began calling to you AS A SINGER. It began to suggest that you form a new, different relationship with it.

You are drawn to be more than a listener. You are wanting to 'take the song in' and let it help you do something else.

To Communicate!

We 'partially learn' many songs we hear on the radio-- just for pleasure. In your car, you sing along with just the chorus of the song. But that doesn't mean you necessarily want to learn the whole song for performing.

Ah! But once a song is learned completely, it is at your command! And you know what that means, don't you?

This is why you sing for others. You have experienced the power of communicating musically, and you are addicted to it!

Admit it.

It's ok. This addiction doesn't have any necessarily harmful side effects. I'm addicted too.

'Hi. My name is Morgan and I'm a singaholic.'


If you want to know why people listen to music (especially vocal music), it is to FEEL something! And if you look at your singing addiction closely, you'll see you are addicted to MAKING PEOPLE FEEL.

We are emotional creatures by God's design. And singing is like an emotional hypodermic needle. Music can transfer a lot of emotion easily and quickly. It bypasses our emotional defenses and BAM!

So I would say that one of the main reasons we sing to others is to TRANSFER EMOTION.

You can transfer both information and emotion just by speaking. But with singing, you can transfer the emotional side of the equation so powerfully that it's nearly dangerous.

I heard a quote from somewhere that I can only remember vaguely:

'You can make all the laws you want. Let me have a nation's music and I will rule that nation's hearts.'

Yes, song is powerful because it reaches the heart.

So I have thought about this potential for emotional transfer. And I've come up with 4 depths of 'emo' as my daughter likes to say.

As a singer, these would be good to keep in mind:

1. 'Amusement': to 'muse' means 'to think.' Add the Greek negative 'a' to the beginning and it means to 'not think.' Sometimes music does just that--it let's me STOP thinking. It just gets my mind off my immediate mental chores. It relieves me of life's burdens for a moment.

2. 'Emotionally moved': I have heard music that stirs me. I can't always necessarily name the specific emotion. It just feels like they're all stirred up together and they might just 'spill out.' I'm sure you've been 'moved to tears' by a song.

But be warned, songs don't always move everyone to the same emotions. Have you ever been moved to jealousy by another singer? I have. Have you ever been 'impressed?' I have many times.

You can move people to sadness, embarrassment, laughter, shame, love (and sometimes lust), inspiration, joy, grief, or nostalgia. That's a lot of power!

3. 'Transport': Have you ever been in the audience for a live performance where you were SO 'moved' that you stopped feeling and thinking and just 'went somewhere' that the singer took you? I have. It's sometimes trance-like. You don't have this experience every day. If you did, you'd be a wreck.

You can probably name a few times even though they might have happened years ago. I had this experience when I heard my first black gospel choir, in college. I remember that night like it was yesterday.

It happened again just the other night, when I first heard rock singer, Jimmy Gnecco and his band 'Ours' live in a club in Nashville. (Chase that group down on the web, listen, and imagine hearing that voice live, in a small room.)

You recognize this occurance when you are overwhelmed with the thought of 'why didn't I invite so-and-so, and so-and-so, and...'

You 'come back' to reality after the performance only to be flushed with a melancholy from the realization that you will NEVER be able to express the experience with words.

Now I'm going to make some of you angry!

4. 'Transport to the Record Store': I realize this can be taken as crass. I put this #4 on the list, but that doesn't mean it's the most important. It's just something us musical people don't often understand.

Commerce is one of the realities we seem to find uncomfortable.

Just think about the radio for a second. You listen to hundreds of songs that entertain (amuse) you. A few of them 'move' you. Even less really 'transport' you.

But there ARE a few that come along and transport you to the record store to buy a CD. Think of what that means. You have to actually connect with the singer and the song to the point that you will part with cash to hear more!

You must literally drive yourself to the store (or to iTunes or another favorite download site) to get the song or full CD.

This happens more commonly when you hear someone's live gig. You feel the connection heart-to-heart and want to take that connection home with you. You want to save the moment.

My friend Tom Jackson (the best live performance coach alive, in my opinion), says that unfortunately, it's the flow of funds (or lack thereof) that is the most common barrier to being able to do what you love-- singing--more often.

He asks singers all the time: 'If you could make a great living singing, would you do it?' MOST answer 'yes.' This doesn't mean they love money more than singing. It just means they have recognized the financial aspect of real life.

Honing your talent, learning your craft, connecting effecively with every audience you stand in front of...these are the things that make us singers succeed in moving emotion. It's what we do!

This certainly deserves some 'thinking work' if you want to make a strong connection with listeners--whether that will be for fun or profit.

Come see us in Nashville,

Morgan Cryar

About The Author

Morgan Cryar - SongwriterMorgan Cryar - Songwriter

Morgan Cryar is a contemporary Christian music vocalist, songwriter, and producer from Louisiana. His fourth album, Kingdom Upside Down reached 27 of the Billboard Christian charts. This album included the single Father, which hit number 1.

Read more about Morgan here. 

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