My students will often hear me say, “Speak the lyrics as a monologue, oh, and by the way, this time use the pitches that the author of the music intended you to use”. This statement is made after the student has had the opportunity to speak the lyrics of the song as a monologue using any pitch that they so desire. Have you ever thought about the fact that when you speak, you are speaking on a pitch? Listen to yourself talk. Is your speaking voice a high or low pitch? Does it change in the middle of a sentence? How about when you ask a question, does the pitch raise?
I think it is important to remind the student that singing is communicating. I will frequently have my students use Ute Hagen’s Six Steps or Nine Questions to aid in the research and discovery of his/her character. Uta Hagen was a German-born American Tony winning actress and drama teacher. She originated the role of Martha in the 1963 Broadway premiere of Edward Albee’s, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? The student is required to answer such questions as Who Am I, To Whom am I Speaking, What are the Given Circumstances, What Do I Want, How Do I Get What I Want, and What Is In My Way? Even my youngest students get a simplified version of these questions.
While they are learning about their character, the student will learn the pitches of the song. They will not be able to sing the lyrics of the song until the notes are mastered in a technically correct manner, as per the genre of the song. Simply put, relaxation is the key. So often, the student constricts extrinsic muscles causing the airflow through the vocal folds to decrease. No air, no sound. I have noticed that relaxation is encouraged when I remind the student to communicate. I had a Broadway casting director tell me that a person who is communicating honestly will be hired for a job over the perfect, technically correct vocalist who is just singing words without any engagement of the text. I believe there are many ways to share your thoughts. I’m thankful for the opportunity to help my students functionally and emotionally feel free to communicate through music.