Lesson Plan: 3 Tips on Singing Musical Theater Songs

Sarah Wiechmann, Ordway 3/31/20

Ordway Teaching Artist Andy Kust leads you through 3 simple steps to creating a musical theater vocal performance

Check out our Challenge Activity at the end of the lesson and put these concepts to work for you!

Video Lesson Guide

  1. Choose Songs To Which You Connect
  • One of the most critical elements when singing a musical theater song is that you, the singer, is able to connect to the words that you’re singing. At the most basic level, we have to treat the lyric as text and the audience has to see the singer creating these thoughts authentically for the very first time, during every performance or audition.
  • The way to encourage this connection is by taking initiative when you choose your repertoire. It’s a huge time commitment, but a great investment to really listen and sing through a ton of songs to find those 3 or 4 pieces that really fit you like a glove. Look at new composers as well as shows that were perhaps nominated for Tony Awards, but didn’t win….
  • When you approach the character that is singing the song that you chose, assess which personality traits of your own that you need to enhance, as well as the personality traits that you need to turn down in order to serve the story. We all have a common well of emotions that we have access to – it’s just a matter of being specific when you choose which ones to use for each song.
  1. Use All The Tools The Composer Gives You
  • When you choose a musical theater song to sing, there are a ton of musical elements that we can tune-in to, like melody, rhythm, song form, volume, harmonies, meter, range, and so many others! Each of these elements can clue you in to the composer’s intent, and can help you create interesting, nuanced, detailed performances.
  • If you just examine the rhythms, look at what words have been assigned to shorter rhythms and what words have been given longer, sustained phrases. A purposeful composer would give more important thoughts more time, so in general, the longer a note is held, the more thought and emotional weight the should apply to it.
  1. Enhance The Relationship Between Your Singing and Speaking Voice
  • This is a topic that not many coaches talk about, but it is so essential to being a musical theater actor. Your singing voice and your speaking voice should share as many characteristics as possible. Why, you ask? Because when a character goes from speaking in a scene to singing in a song, the bridge between those two sounds needs to be as well-constructed as possible, thus making it believable that the character breaks into song without sounding like a completely different person.
  • The first step of this is to choose a phrase from one of your songs and start in the middle of your range by speaking the phrase. Then, without changing the tone color of your voice, add the prescribed pitches. Go back and forth with this until you can feel the similarities between the two elements. Once you’re comfortable with this, start to add more musicality to the phrase until it feels performative.
  • The ultimate goal is to be able to slip in and out of singing and speaking without the audience really hearing the difference. The “Dear Evan Hansen” original cast is filled with actors who are masters at this craft. Give them a listen!

Activities and Lessons

TRY IT:  Find a recording of your favorite Musical Theater song, and a copy of the song lyrics.  First look at the lyrics: what emotions do the lyrics remind you of?  If you were composing this piece, what lyrics would you emphasize? Would you speak any of the lyrics? Then, listen to the recording, noting how the artist interpreted this piece.  Compare and contrast your interpretation with the artist’s interpretation.

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