Phrasing and song interpretation can be dramatically improved by this seemingly simple exercise.
First read through the lyrics a few times and examine their meaning. (especially important if you aren’t the composer) Understand what they mean to you and possibly to the listeners.
It’s surprising how often students won’t have a clue what the song they LOVE and have sung time and time again is really about. Big lightbulbs go off above their heads and a whole new approach is possible. So carefully read the lyrics and deepen your understanding of the song.
Then speak the lyrics out loud as if you were in conversation with someone. Remove the sing-song sound from your voice. Do not recite it like a poem, but instead make it really conversational.
Stop thinking about the melody and the original song phrasing. Really disconnect the lyrics from the structure of the song. You may find it’s hard to remember the words without the melody because the lyrics have become just a group of sounds connected to the melody.
Now for some reason this next part can be stressful and embarrassing. Everyone sweats when I ask them to do this and in fact I sweat too when I do it. But it has to be done so sweat away.
Are you talking to another person or are you talking in your head? Test this on a friend. Look them in the eye and pretend that your conversation is real.
Notice how your voice sounds. Check in with the, tone, intent, and volume. Which words stand out in each line and are these the KEY words in the phrase? Which words do you choose to say louder, gentler, whispered? Which words do you stretch or elongate? Do you string together a group of words and say some words slowly by themselves. “aaaall…. I EVER, really-want-to doOOOO, is bAAby, BEee friEEEnds with you” How is the meaning changed by these inflections? Try saying the same sentence several times with different inflections and see how the meaning changes each time.
If there are repeating words in a song like “baby, baby, baby” you can use this as an opportunity to say them differently each time to bring deeper meaning to the song either by intensifying or softening with each repeat, or by altering the timing or phrasing slightly to refresh the meaning.There is so much room to play with phrasing both with emotive intent and rhythmic change up. You do not have to do it like it’s been done in the past.
Now sing the song. Remember the things you previously noticed from speaking them and import them into the melody.
LAST BUT NOT LEAST, once you have an understanding of the lyrics and how you would say them it will help you FEEL the emotion behind the song. You could imagine you are singing to a very specific person, your body feels the sensation of the emotion, you can see the person, or place you are singing about. You have a clear vision and sensation of the physical surroundings that pertain to the song. Often these changes are subtle but the result can be FELT by the listener. Suddenly the song seems more meaningful, believable, and powerful. YOU actually KNOW what you are singing about so the chances are the listener will know it too.
You have just made the giant leap from unconscious mimicker to song interpreter!