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.

Tricked into worship? The great “manipulation” debate

The godfather like stencil reading The ChurchThis is something that has been on my radar ever since I came across a rather spirited (no pun intended) conversation about it in a worship leaders group on Linked In. To be honest I’ve avoided writing about the subject because I really couldn’t wrap my mind around the whole notion. I’m speaking of the rather “secret” debate going on among certain social circles, networks and blogs that suggests that praise and worship music “manipulates” audiences by creating atmospheres that encourage a strong emotional response.

I confess, I was absolutely blown away the first time I read about this. I had no idea. There are so many angles, philosophies and positions on this subject that I could write endlessly and aimlessly in circles if I tried to touch on them all. But some of the most jaw-dropping things I came across as I started doing a little more research on the subject were things like the following;

1. Many people apparently believe that musicians deliberately choose certain chord changes and progressions specifically to manipulate the audience emotionally. Other musical changes like swells in volume at certain points are seen by some to be designed to encourage a certain emotional response that is “artificial” and not real worship.

2. Worship music as a whole is being seen as “emotionally manipulative” by a growing number of people.

Let me say right off the bat that there are some valid concerns that all of us who work in music ministry should take note of. We must at all times be sure that it is God we are worshiping and NOT the music. We must be able to separate a real worship experience where you are having an encounter with the presence of God’s holy spirit, vs. something that is not much more than an “emotional high”. So I do get the concern that fuels this debate.

But the problem I’m having with the whole issue is that there seems to be this belief that any kind of musical stimulation that enhances or encourages an emotional response is a bad thing and should somehow be seen as manipulation. The more you read about it the more hopelessly convoluted the whole thing becomes. For example, there are those who argue that worship songs with beautiful chord changes and progressions create this atmosphere that manipulates the audience’s emotions.

Yet there are others who argue that it’s those simple, repetitive songs that are the worst. They “hypnotize” you, or put you in some kind of trance that makes you think you’re having a spiritual experience when you really aren’t; at least that’s the argument.

Then there are those that constantly scrutinize the lyrics themselves. Apparently for many people a worship song should lyrically describe their entire theological doctrine to be authentic. Simple songs that repeat a certain phrase like “Jesus Saves” are not theologically sound because they don’t also describe in detail “how” He does it. I hope you see what I’m getting at here.

It all goes on and on, but I guess the biggest problem I have with all of it is the notion that true, pure, authentic, transparent worship only happens when there is no external stimulation whatsoever. I have a problem with that for several reasons. My biggest one though, is that I believe with everything that is in me that God gave us music specifically for that purpose. The bible is full of scriptures encouraging us to use music in our praises to Him.I believe He gave us music specifically because it DOES help us get into His presence.

Just Sunday morning, for example, we had a special prayer service. The prayer carried over into the rest of the service and the holy spirit was just powerful throughout the service. At one point we were all worshiping and praying to God and the musicians were just playing softly. There was no real script, or program. It was all just happening in a very organic way. At one point I switched over to a lush string sound, and there was just something really sweet that it added to the atmosphere. The worship seemed to get even more intense, in fact.

But was that because people were worshiping the strings? Or because the sound caused some kind of artificial emotional response that everyone was mistaking for an experience with the Holy Spirit? I really don’t think so. Anyone who was there can tell you that if we had completely stopped playing the intense worship would have simply continued. In fact that’s exactly what we did do, more than once. But believe it or not I’ve even seen one or two people refer to that as “a dramatic silence” that is also designed to manipulate your emotions. Are you rolling your eyes in your head yet?

You see what we’ve always known that to be was simply “setting the atmosphere” for worship. Creating an environment conducive to worship and praise God freely. But what we’ve always known as setting the atmosphere is now being seen by many as emotional manipulation.

But here’s the most puzzling thing of all for me about this whole debate. It is true that we are in covenant relationship with God, right? We are His children, He our Father. He loves us, and we love Him. I mean this, in every sense of the word, is a relationship. How can we worship Him, or commune with Him without emotion?And if we use music to enhance that experience, then how can that be seen as manipulative?

I guess I have a hard time thinking of the word “manipulation” in context with something as awesome and wonderful as worship. A lot of things come to mind when I hear the word manipulation, but worshiping God or the feeling I get from it isn’t one of them.

And if I can’t tell an emotional high from a real encounter with the Holy Spirit, who really has the issue here? I’ve never once in my whole life been in the presence of God, crying and praying with my hands lifted, pouring my soul out, and right after it was over felt like something bad or dishonest had just happened to me. I’ve never at the end of a powerful worship experience thought “haay, you guys tricked me!!” No, usually I feel new. Cleansed. Refreshed. Like a weight has been lifted. Like I’ve been in His presence. And if music helped create the atmosphere that helped me get there, I’m having a tough time seeing that as a bad thing.

Personally I think we can analyze, scrutinize and question every little detail of every little spiritual thing until none of us believes anything we feel is real. But then maybe that’s the plan, hunh? Think about that.