How to sing with emotion- without getting too emotional

The subject of singing with emotion is a challenging one for all singers, but especially so for Gospel and Christian music singers. On the one hand, we want our singing have feeling, sincerity and heart-felt emotion. We want the audience to feel that and, because we want to be authentic in our service to God through music ministry, we want to feel it too. But there is a very fine line between singing with emotion and singing while emotional. The former you can certainly do, and you should. The latter though, is next to impossible to do. You can sing with emotion, but you can NOT sing while you’re emotional.

Have you ever tried to actually sing while you were crying? It’s just not gonna happen. Your voice gets all quivery and starts cracking, and who knows what else. You simply can’t hold your voice together and under control while you’re an emotional wreck. This though, is the ultimate dilemma for many singers. How do you give a song all the emotion it deserves without crossing that fine and becoming too emotional to even sing? I have 2 really simple tips I think might help.

1. Spend lots of time listening to the song.

Every once in a while I hear a song and it just wipes me out. And then it wipes me out again 2 days later when I hear it again. And again the 3rd time I hear it. But something starts to happen around the 4th time or so. The song still touches me and ministers to me deeply, but now I can hear it without crying. A similar process happens with all things that make you really emotional to the point of crying. Time and repetition doesn’t harden you or change your feelings. It just gets you to a point where you’re in much better control of them.

So when you’re scheduled to do a song that really takes you there emotionally, spend lots of time listening to the song. Practice singing it. After a few times through it you’ll get to a place where your emotions are more under control, even though you still feel the same way about the song and the message.

2. Open your eyes

Aside from the complete disconnect between you and your audience, there are other reasons why you should never sing entire songs with your eyes closed. Singing songs entirely with your eyes closed has a way of blocking out everything and focusing only on the lyrics and the message you’re singing. It becomes very, very personal and you’re almost sure to get the water works going. However, when you sing with your eyes open and actually look at people in your audience, you’ll find that you still have the freedom to sing with all the emotion you like. But you’re a lot less likely to get too emotional and start crying when you’re engaging the audience. Break your audience into 4 squares. Then pick someone in each square that seems to be with you and supporting you. As you sing, just move from square to square, looking at that one person briefly and then moving to the next square. Try these two tips the next time you’re faced with the difficult task of getting through a song that makes you really emotional. Remember, at home or in your car, when you listen to that song it is to, for and about you and only you. When you get up to sing it though, it becomes a message that is for, about and to the audience. Switching to that frame of mind allows you to sing with as much emotion as you like without becoming too emotional to sing.

And that would be a great last sentence for this blog.  BUT!! 

I’d be remiss if I didn’t stress that even in all of this, the Holy Spirit must be allowed to have His way. No matter how well you do all of the above, there will be times when the presence of God is so thick in the room you just can’t go on.. Forget about the song at that point. :O)

Are you ready to lead a song but you’re avoiding it because you don’t think you can do the ad-libbing part? If that’s all that’s holding you back I have something that will help. Check it out here.

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20 Responses to How to sing with emotion- without getting too emotional

  1. Bill says:

    Mr. Cross,
    Thanks for your insights. I came across your site after searching “how to sing sad songs without getting choked up”. I’ve been learning to play and sing John Prine’s “Hello in There”, and it’s tough to get through the first verse “We lost Davey in the Korean war, still don’t know what for. Doesn’t matter anymore.” With Christmas coming around the corner, “O Holy Night” gets me every time. “Fall on your knees” is one of the most beautiful, beltiest phrases of music I’ve ever known, and it hits me like a Mac Truck. I will do my job as a conduit, and honor the privilege of serving the listeners. I can be the song when performing, and hear the song (and get choked up) when I’m a listener on my own time.
    Sidebar: This topic would make a great documentary.
    All the best,

  2. alyce says:

    I really like the “open your eyes’ advice. I feel as if its about “sharing” what the song does for you with those in hearing range. Open eyes lets the artist/singer know that they are, at that moment, in relationship with the listeners. And sharing that emotion.

  3. Godwin says:

    I love singing gospel rocks but i always get crazy along the way what can i do about it or how can i control myself

  4. janess morales says:

    Hi yes I will try this I am new to public singing besides worship and I just can’t help crying I love God and Jesus so much!!! I can’t keep my tears from falling sometimes when singing I will try and let you know how it went few weeks till Christmas worship night God bless and thanks

  5. Eunice says:

    you av sorted me out.Thanks and wud wish to hear from you again and again.Am new in everything and desire to learn alot from your site.God has sent you!

  6. koko says:

    nice one MR Ron i really enjoyed what you said here i have grab some important ones out of it.Thanks

  7. Jackie Pack says:

    Great points, Ron! I discovered a helpful tip for singing or speaking at highly emotional times. A gorgeous soprano singer asked me how she could get through singing at her mother’s funeral. I told her to go to the funeral home before the service, and in privacy, sing and cry to her mother in the casket. She did this, was able to sing with composure at the service. I did the same to be able to speak at my brother’s funeral; after crying my heart out to him at the funeral home, I was able to minister to dear family & friends at the service. I’m so glad you spoke to this, Ron. Thanks!

  8. Veronica says:

    Great Info!!

  9. Claudia Looi says:

    Sing with your eyes open, that’s good. I’ve seen few that do not when they sing solo. Why is that?

    • Ron Cross says:

      Well Claudia, many people do it because of nerves or stage fright. But most of the time people are just worshiping and praising God while they sing and have simply forgotten to include the audience.

  10. Jenny Shain says:

    Good points!
    I think you do have to desensitize yourself sometimes when learning a song to make sure you can get through it without being overcome with emotion.

    Open your eyes- that is funny! but true! haha!

  11. This is good advice for public speaking as well…. I used to do that, focusing on people in different parts of the room that I felt I was connecting with. This is very helpful, Ron – thanks!

  12. Blessed to connect with you through the Christian FB page Ron! Great tips for anyone who sings in front of others. I know that with certain songs I would need to do this. I think it would really help to sing it over before several times.

  13. Olga Hermans says:

    Love what you are saying here…songs bring out our emotions, which I always really love. I have always seen it as my part to back up the worship leader or the preacher somehow…I know they need that. (Plus I think God expects from us to really be with them). I don’t like it when the worshippers worship ALL THE TIME with their eyes closed, it’s like they are not really with us…Always learn something from you!

  14. Matthew Reed says:

    Good stuff here Ron, obviously for musicians but also for anyone who communicates. Powerful speakers and communicators also have to learn how to speak the emotional power of their message without losing it!
    I know that when I have an emotionally charged presentation, I put much more prep into it to make sure that I hit the ’emotions’ hard without getting sidetracked myself by them.

  15. Isn’t wonderful that music can produce such emotions in us. I agree with what you say about singing a song through a few times, because if you are singing in public you don’t want to distract from the meaning and power of the song. Which if you are ‘bubbling’ as you sing, will happen!
    Love your comment about keeping eyes open. I really find it off putting when watching someone sing and they have eyes closed!

  16. Maria Pibernus says:

    Thanks Ron, very clear and wise, practical too.
    What you say about having the song minister to our hearts deeply while listening 3-4 times and more is so true.
    Te problem with getting emotional while singing in a service is that we might be ministering maybe a grief, a sorrow to the people, instead of leading them into reflection which would be different

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