How to Sing with Emotion - Adding Expression & Feeling to Your Songs

Good singing is about so much more than having solid vocal technique.

It’s not enough to simply sing the right words on the right notes and proper rhythms.

You must sing with emotion.

The best singers do a great job of adding emotion to their songs, creating an experience for their listeners.

In this article, we’ll discuss a few ways you connect with your listeners and sing emotionally.

Table of Contents

First, Let's Define Music...

If you want to sing with emotion, you must first understand what music is.

Music is emotion that we can hear.

Our job as a singer is to make sure that we get that feel across to our listener in a potent and powerful way.

How do we do that?

Well, it’s fairly easy.

We must use our voice in a genuine way, which creates an authentic experience for our listeners.

For this to happen, we must feel we want our listeners to experience.

Let’s talk more about how.

Appropriate Vocal Techniques & Singing Authentically

Often times when we talk about singing with emotion and style, we skip over technique.

But I’d argue that a huge part of singing in an authentic way requires that we have at least one foundational element of vocal technique in place – a consistent and connected sound.

A consistent, connected sound is vital because it is the speech pattern we use when we’re being confident and genuine.

If I were to speak to you… and add… random pauses for… no good rea… son.

It would sound weird. But also, it’d throw you off. Take a listen.

Maybe you’d be less confident about what I’m saying. Or less trusting.

But this hesitancy goes away when I deliver the same sentence in a consistent and connected way.

When that happens, it feels more authentic, natural, and trustworthy. Take a listen.

So one of the first things you want to do when trying to sing with emotion is make sure that you’re believable, and using natural speech patterns.

The appropriate vocal techniques for keeping the sound consistent and connected depend a lot on the breath.

We breathe in a certain way as singers to create a steady and consistent flow of air.

You can learn more about how by reading our article on breathing for singers.

Adding Emotion to a Song

Singing emotionally doesn’t come from simply breathing a certain way.

Expressing emotion requires us to do a handful of things well.

First, we need to know what the song is about. What’s the overall particular mood of the song?

Then, we need to know how it evolves. What’s the journey?

Finally, if we want to create a convincing performance, we want to add little details throughout the song that help better paint the picture of what’s going on.

So let’s dive on in.

Singing with Emotion

What's the Overall Emotion

To sing with emotion, we first need to know the major emotion we’re

Are we singing sad songs? Are we singing happy songs?

Is the song filled with frustration? Love? Fear? Yearning? Joy? Doubt?

Successful singers will create an emotional connection, expressing whatever the main feel is throughout the song.

There are many tools that help us express emotion, but the most powerful way to do this is to genuinely put yourself in that state.

If you find this difficult, acting or drama lessons could be helpful.

When you feel those feelings, your singing instantly improves.

What’s more, something magical happens…

You and your audience connect.

If you want to sing with emotion, this is probably the most powerful way to start.

But remember, emotion has motion. So let’s explore that idea a bit more.

Understanding the Journey of a Song

No song stays the same all the way through. That would be boring.

Songs have to take us on a journey.

It must build. Evolve. Grow.

We must add more emotion.

If we sing a sad song, we may start with an upset feel then evolve to express heart wrenching emotion. And sometimes, that transition is too mcuh.

Even if the overall feel stays the same, it still has variations.

All songs have subtle hints that move us from one shade of that emotion to another.

For most songs the journey is simple. It builds. Usually to some point near or at the end.

Here’s a quick diagram of what I mean.

How a Song Builds

This is not just the job of the singer, but the whole song production.

Often, the instrumentation gets thicker, rhythms hit harder, and keys change.

But we still have quite a bit of responsibility as a singer.

We can evolve or take up the melody line, add harmonies, or use one of many different tools to help evolve the emotion (we’ll talk more about this below).

But we must know where we’re going and use our voice appropriately along the journey.

Let’s talk about some of those stylistic tools we have below.

Tools that Help You Convey Emotion

We have many, many stylistic tools at our disposal to help us add meaning in a song.

Some of these tools are more subtle, some are more obvious.

The best singers use all of these tools together to paint a vivid picture of the feel of the song.

Below I’ll list 7 Common Stylistic Tools you can use to grow your singing abilities.

1 - Vibrato

When used sparingly, vibrato can add release when coming from straight tone.

2 - Breathiness

This can be used to signify weakness, giving up, or low energy.

3 - Vocal Fry

Adding a little texture can take on different feelings and can add emphasis.

4 - Dynamics

Usually, the louder we get, the more intensity grows (but don’t over do this one)

5 - Bright, Edgy Tone

This tone can grow intensity when consistent. When brief, could mean sarcasm.

6 - Pausing

Silence can do a lot. Especially after something powerful was said. It gives the listener time to process and experience that emotion.

7 - Scoops & Runs

Scoops can mean just about anything, but definitely draw attention to what’s said. Runs often times do the same & can be impressive, but lose that quality when overdone.

I could go on for a LONG time adding more stylistic tools, but the above list should give you plenty to play with.

If you’d like to receive more, I share a new style lesson each month with my SingFam (and much more). You can download the app here.
For now, I’ll share a video I just uploaded.

Finding & Learning from Good Influences

I am a firm believer that we should all strive to be unique singers.

Your voice has something different to offer the world than even your favorite singer.

That said, all singers learn through imitation (consciously or intuitively).

By playing with other singers styles, you can pick up pieces you like that naturally fit your voice and help further the emotion of your songs.

Who should you listen to? The list is endless. Search Google for an incredibly emotional album. Look up top British soul singers. Or even “unique singers” in your favorite genre.

Heck, I’d argue you can learn something from any brilliant singer regardless of genre.

Taking stylistic elements that are common in one genre and adding them to another can be very effective when done eloquently.

You just have to look for good examples, and then play. Discover what they do that makes their voice uniquely them. Try it on and see what’s a good fit, and take the pieces that work with you.

That said, singing is just one piece of the process. Let’s talk about getting emotion across in a performance.

Performing with Emotion

Having a compelling sound is great, but your stage presence is another important piece of helping to create an experience for your audience.

Singing quietly with no physical emotional response will fall flat. You must connect with your listener while expressing emotion in a genuine way.

To do this, we must be vulnerable. Heartbreaking vocals of brilliant songs exist because of the singers willingness to let the audience in on what that feels like.

So I know this is a section on performing, but forget forget hand gestures for a second.

It’s not about huge motions. It’ more about exuding the right facial expressions and body language.

The first example that comes to mind is Demi Lovato’s performance of “Anyone” at the Grammy’s (search for it on youtube if you haven’t seen it).

The song is pretty chill in the beginning, but her facial expression matches paints such a vivid image of the feeling.

The ideas in the song literally make the singer cry and we go on that emotional journey with her.

Then as the song begins to open up, we hear the most heartbreaking vocals pouring out of her – “Anyone… Please bring me anyone. Is there anyone? I need someone.”

The dominate emotion in the room is the most contagious. And she’s definitely that.

Now imagine watching the same performance with someone sitting on a stool tapping their knee with a smile on their face. It just doesn’t work.

You bring so much more emotion to your performances by channeling the proper facial expressions and body language.

Of course, this happens more naturally when you are genuinely experiencing the song and allowing yourself to be vulnerable.

So in a way, when we focus on being a genuine singer, things tend to fall into place.

Wrapping It Up

To sing with emotion, we must genuinely feel the emotion and be vulnerable enough to share it with others.

Make sure you know the overall emotion of the song, as well as how it evolves.

Use style to help you compliment and further that emotion. Not sure how? Seek out singing influences and learn from what they do.

Then, make sure you’re still checked into that emotion as you perform. Genuinely feel the emotion and vulnerably share it with the room. Make sure your facial expressions match that emotion.

Once you do this in a genuine way, expression in singing is natural.

Alright, that does it for the main part of this article. Feel free to share your thoughts or questions below in the comments. I’ll add some to the Question section below.

Got Questions about How to Sing with Emotion?

We’ve got answers!

When you join our Sing Fam, you can submit your questions for our monthly Q&A livestream where our professional coaches hop online and answer your questions LIVE. Sign up for that here, and enjoy one of our answers below. 

The short answer – Play.

Sometimes expression comes from tone. Sombre expressions may be better expressed with darker, more rounded tones. Where different emotions might be brighter.

Playing with the use of chest voice or head voice could help. Head voice tends to be lighter and less powerful, chest voice is more present and powerful. If you need a more powerful sound while singing high notes, a mixed head voice might be an even better choice. Singing too high in chest voice results in strain and yelling.

You can also play with how you say the consonants and vowel sounds. Longer or shorter vowels or consonants can make a big difference (aka phrasing).

It’s a way of singing that helps your listeners experience the emotion of the song. So, put simply, if the song is happy, your singing makes people feel happy.

Emotions are contagious – So, the easiest way to sing with emotion is to feel the emotions yourself.

There are many ways most heartbreaking vocalists show emotion – some are obvious, others are more subtle. Shifting tone, dynamics, texture, pauses are just a few ways. Find more in the “Tools that Help You Convey Emotion” section part of this article. 

The most soulful singers often times have quite a bit of variation to their sound.

While there is no set soulful technique, there are some common traits. Many soul singers tend to shift tone and dynamics. Often use texture and dynamics for variation. And they usually use pitch bends, vocal riffs, or runs tastefully, as well as add spontaneous expression.

Most singers will over focus on riffs and riffing ability. Riffs can help bring emotion when done well. So sure, practice riffs. But just know that this type of vocal gymnastics can easily be over done and then take away from the feel of the song.

Many singers start off too loud when adding intensity through dynamics. Doing this often results in pushing for much louder dynamics at the end than is necessary (or even sounds good).

You express feeling in emotional songs the same way you’d express your feelings in real life. Being real and letting it out. This requires that you be genuine and vulnerable.

If you’re struggling to do this, think of a time when you experienced a similar feel as what’s in the song. Practice singing with that feeling. How did you breathe? What did you feel. What were your facial expressions? What was your body language like? How were you standing?

The more you can channel that state, the easier it’ll be to express those feelings.

You must feel an emotional connection to the script. Decide what emotions fit your character, and add that feel.

Most emotional moments require action. Emotion comes from motion. So use more stage presence, even if you’re just standing in a studio behind a mic. It helps to get your whole body involved.

You also want to play with emotional sounds like vocal cry. It’s important that we do this in a healthy way, because using too aggressive of a vocal cry reflex or anything else with texture can put too much strain on the vocal cords. This can leave your voice raw.

So be good to your vocal cords, they’re good to you.

Great, how about you? Lol. Sorry. Couldn’t resist.

The same way you feel any other time. By thinking through that feel. Making it more and more real in your mind, and then your body. Harnessing that feel is a process, and comes with practice.

If you want more emotion, you must go deeper mentally and make it more real.

Different singing voices have different characteristics. So I’d need to know where you are before I could give you an accurate path.

But a few questions up I talked about some characteristics of soulful singers. I’d start there.

The short answer – Play.

Sometimes expression comes from tone. Sombre expressions may be better expressed with darker, more rounded tones. Where different emotions might be brighter.

Playing with the use of chest voice or head voice could help. Head voice tends to be lighter and less powerful, chest voice is more present and powerful. If you need a more powerful sound while singing high notes, a mixed head voice might be an even better choice. Singing too high in chest voice results in strain and yelling.

You can also play with how you say the consonants and vowel sounds. Longer or shorter vowels or consonants can make a big difference (aka phrasing).