Singing with Emotion: Add Emotion, Expression and Feeling to Your Songs
Singing with emotion is just as important for singers as vocal technique in the success of any performance. It will win the hearts of your audience and inspire an emotional response to the song.
Emotional singing requires more than expression, you have to engage the audience with your eyes and use expressive body language. The techniques covered here will stop you from losing control of your voice and put less strain on it when you sing with emotion.
Singers need to bring life to the emotion in the song and connect the audience to these emotions. Learning how to sing with emotion, show feeling and portray the correct emotions of a song is essential.
How to sing with emotion
- Connect emotionally to songs
- Sing expressively with feeling and passion
- Engage with the audience
- How to sing with energy
- Sing with vibration/vibrato
- Use riffs and runs
- Control dynamics
- Sing with your eyes
- Practice singing warmups
- Put less strain on your voice
- Learn to control your natural chest voice, head voice and falsetto
Songs to sing with emotion
We’ve put together a great list of songs from emotional singers to help you sing with emotion. Practice these songs and you’ll have no problem connecting with your emotional side.
- Jeff Buckley – Hallelujah
- Birdy – Skinny Love
- Tracy Chapman – Fast Car
- Sam Smith – Stay With Me
- Gary Jules – Mad World
- Amy Winehouse – Love is a Losing Game
- Alicia Keys – If I Ain’t Got You
- Adele – Someone Like You
- Beyoncé – Listen
- Billie Eilish – Ocean Eyes
- Lewis Capaldi – Someone You Loved
- Pink Floyd – Wish You Were Here
- Otis Redding – Sittin’ On the Dock of the Bay
How do you show your emotions when singing?
To sing with emotion, learning how to embrace the meaning behind the song (or at least your interpretation) is vital for giving your audience a convincing performance and conveying the lyrical content successfully.
For some, creating an emotional connection will come naturally, for others it will take time to develop. The more you perform, practise and analyse your performances the better you will become at expressing emotion.
How to sing with emotion
#1 Connect emotionally to songs
If you can connect with the song emotionally you are more likely to sing emotionally, making you feel more confident and believable to the audience. Choose the right song and make sure it means something to you, it’s hard to be sincere about songs you don’t care about.
Look over the lyrics and try and find out more about the meaning behind them. Caring about the meaning of the song you are singing instantly improves your performance as connecting with it will enable you to sing with emotion.
Song choice is so important to performers if you want to sing with emotion so make sure you choose a song that you can relate to as well as sing. When you can relate yourself to a song, you can easily get into the right character for the song.
#2 Sing expressively with feeling and passion
Capture the emotions, feel them and express them through your singing and performance. Before you start, make sure you understand the lyrics and sing them like you’re telling your story.
Facial expressions are a great way to help sing with emotions to your audience. When singing with emotion, your facial expressions will enhance the particular mood of the song, which will also add dynamics and further help the audience connect with your performance.
It is important that your facial expression matches the feeling of the song. It’s no good having a frown on your face if the song is upbeat. If your expressions aren’t matching the feeling of the song your audience will not connect to it.
The most common cause of not matching facial expressions to songs is by not focusing on the words or timing. A good way to combat this is to practise your song in front of a mirror and/or film yourself to find an expression that looks genuine.
#3 Engage with the audience
It’s not all about the voice when performing; you need to be able to create audience engagement so they are able to connect and relate to you.
If you are performing a song where you can’t make use of the stage as easily, it’s even more important that you don’t forget hand gestures and facial expressions which can help to enhance performance and sing with emotion. It is important to have a presence on stage which lets the audience know that you are confident in your singing abilities.
Being able to sing with emotion and make an emotional connection is paramount for singers because it will change your creative process for the better. You need to reach out to the audience and connect with them.
#4 How to sing with energy
Body language is a further tool in which you can convey the energy and emotion of a song to the audience. Body language is just as important as the ability to sing with emotion. Imagine watching a musician singing on stage and they just stared at their feet as they sing without moving; it would be a horrific performance.
Always remember when singing on stage, energy and body language is important. However, it has to be fitting to the performance: don’t move just for the sake of it!
How to sing with soul and expression
#5 Sing with vibration/vibrato
Singing with vibrato is an incredibly effective and soulful technique to add more emotion and expression to your voice. This is where you are slightly altering, or vibrating, the pitch of a sustained note.
It actually happens naturally to ease tension on vocal cords but can be masterfully controlled when you train yourself to sing from your diaphragm. You want to use it sparingly because if you do it on every note then it will lose its ability to stir up feelings.
#6 Use riffs and runs
Vocal riffs are an ornamental technique where you go on a ‘run’ of notes across the scale that you are singing in and is commonly referred to as vocal gymnastics. The added notes, demonstration of controlled technique and spontaneous expression of how you are feeling can add a lot of emotion to a performance.
Many soul singers are renowned for their riffing ability. Their technique is so good that they can go on incredibly complicated runs across octaves. However, you can overdo it and by trying too hard to use riffs for emotion, you could just be dismissed as trying to show off.
Practising riffs and runs are great to help add emotion and improve your technique. They can really impress an audience but make sure you use them sparingly and in the most emotional moments of a song.
#7 Control dynamics
Using appropriate vocal techniques for controlling dynamics will help you sing with emotion and build an emotional connection with the audience. In particular, by varying the volume and tone of your voice in your performance, you can draw people in and lock in their attention.
Different feelings have different sounds and tones. For instance, anger could be expressed with much louder dynamics, whereas a more peaceful and relaxed song needs a quieter dynamic to reflect that.
Having a balance of dynamics is important to make them effective. Singly loudly throughout a song won’t have nearly as much impact as going from quiet to loud. Just make sure you are on top of your microphone technique so you don’t suddenly deafen the crowd.
#8 Sing with your eyes
Eye contact is also really important to connect with your audience. Engaging with the audience is essential if you want to sing with emotion. It can be from simply smiling and giving eye contact to show that you’re enjoying yourself, or using your facial expressions to reflect the emotions of the song.
It’s also worth considering acting or drama lessons to help build your stage presence and learn to act and sing with emotion. Many singers have experience acting as well as singing and it can only help you become a better performer.
Sing with emotion without losing technique
#9 Practice singing warmups
If your voice isn’t warmed up, singing with emotion has the potential to really do some damage. You should practice warmup exercises before you perform or sing with emotion for an extended period of time. Your vocal cords are muscles and you can’t just get them fixed like other instruments.
Warmups will loosen up your vocal cords and prepare them for the strain of singing emotionally. Vibrato, riffs and runs and using powerful dynamics all require significantly more effort from your voice than if you were to just sing normally.
It’s hard to tell how long you should warm up for, with some exercises only taking five minutes. However, it is a good idea to spend 20 -30 minutes warming up. This will also help your voice recover more quickly after an intense session of singing.
#10 Put less strain on your voice
Sometimes you don’t need to be belting at the top of your lungs to express emotion. Some successful singers, such as Billie Eilish, sing very quietly but manage to pack their performances with emotion.
This can be a harder skill to acquire as we tend to associate adding emotion to adding more to our voice. However, you can add more emotion by taking away the frills and power. Leaving your voice raw and bare will still show the emotion but without distracting the audience with fancy techniques.
#11 Learn to control your natural chest voice, head voice and falsetto
Singers can express emotion by appropriately using different singing voices. The chest voice results in a thicker tone as it tends to be used for lower notes and dynamics. When you sing at this range you should be able to feel the vibrations in your chest.
As you move up a scale, your voice won’t resonate in your chest as much. You will feel your voice resonate higher up as it becomes your head voice. These two voices don’t have to be separate and most singers tend to use a mixed voice where they blend the two together.
Falsetto uses a lot more air and is solely produced from your head, thereby completely eliminating your chest voice. It is more common in male singers as they struggle a lot more to hit higher notes with their chest and head voice.
It is important to learn how to control these voices and use them appropriately for different feelings. Your chest voice will be more appropriate for quieter and more sombre expressions, whereas your mixed head voice should be used for powerful high notes. Falsetto is a lot thinner than your head voice so it is good for high notes that don’t need power.
Singers who sing with soulful emotion
There are some singers who are renowned for the ability to sing with emotion. Have a look at our list of the most heartbreaking vocalists who fill their songs with emotion.
After her debut album, 19, Adele went on to become a global superstar. She is now regarded as one of the most soulful singers of all time and with her next album, 21, she became one of the biggest selling artists of her generation. Her ability to express heart-wrenching emotion through her singing, as well as writing brilliant songs that can cater to her abilities has been a massive part of this.
Beyoncé will go down as one of the greatest entertainers of all time. She is capable of so many amazing things but one of her biggest strengths is being able to sing with emotion. Whilst she’s capable of performing dazzling riffs and runs, she is tasteful with showing off her technique, which gives her voice a bigger emotional impact.
Amy Winehouse is another brilliant singer whose life ended far too soon. Her distinct twang and retro style were unparalleled amongst British soul singers at the time. With her success and idolisation, she opened up a whole new market for a generation of singers, including Adele.
Despite an incredibly short career that was tragically cut short, Otis Redding will always be remembered as one of souls best singers. His unique tone was loaded with feeling and he set the standard for a whole generation of soul music.
Jeff Buckley will always be remembered for his incredibly emotional album, Grace. It features a cover of Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah that brought the song to a wider audience and showed how emotional a singer with their guitar can be.
Birdy was the first winner of Open Mic UK and displayed an unprecedented amount of emotion for a 12-year-old. She has gone on to release albums with one of the biggest record labels in the world, Atlantic Records.
After a great feature on a Disclosure track, Sam Smith went on to receive 6 Grammy nominations for his debut album, In the Lonely Hour. One of the most acclaimed aspects of the album was his singing, especially the emotion he puts into his voice.
Why does it feel so good to sing?
Singing releases chemicals that make you happy, such as oxytocin and endorphins. It is also a great form of physical exercise that can get your heart rate going. Breathing exercises can also be likened to mindfulness and meditation so, overall, singing really make you feel good.
How do I stop crying when I sing?
When you practice, don’t hold back and just let it out. The more you do this, the more you’ll be able to hold it in for the future whilst still expressing the pain of the song. The vibrations from singing can also make you more likely to tear up so try singing at a lower dynamic.
It can be overwhelming when your singing sad songs and really connecting with the underlying meaning. Seeing a singer cry can melt an audience but you don’t want it to affect your ability to sing the song.
What is a vocal cry?
When you are about to cry, you can feel your larynx shift and you feel a lump in your throat. This is because crying and wailing can be very loud and your body instinctively adjusts to protect your voice.
Vocal cry is a method of singing with the larynx in this position and can be incredibly powerful for expressing emotion. If you can command and control this vocal cry reflex, your voice will be configured for expressing emotion, as well as be more stable for singing high notes with power and emotion.
It doesn’t just have to be used for sad songs but for any kind of performance and practice. Your larynx won’t naturally be in this position but if you try and practice this in your warmup, it should become more easy to ing in this way.
Let us know in the comments who you think the most emotional singers are?