I’ve had to learn about 40 songs recently for a cover band I just joined. But most of them are still not anywhere near done. There’s learning how a song goes, and then there’s owning a song. You’re a much better performer when you get to the point of owning your songs.
The Six Stages of Learning a Song
1) Learning lyrics, melody, phrasing, and structure.
This means just knowing “when to sing” and “what to sing” to get through the song start to finish successfully, even if you have to think about it.
2) Internalizing lyrics, melody, phrasing, and structure.
Know how it all goes without even thinking about it.
3) Fine-tuning: pitch, when to take a breath, enunciation, etc
Most songs offer some kind of new challenge. Even when you know how it goes, depending on where you are as a singer you may still need to fine-tune pitch entrances, runs, fast passages, enunciation, or where to take a breath.
Dynamics. Attitude. Vocal texture. Emotional expression. What are you going to do to make this song interesting and expressive?
Does the song merit movement? Interaction with band members? Emphasis of hits or breaks? Is there a solo where you’ll step back as lead singer and let the focus be elsewhere?
After you’ve performed a song live for a certain amount of time, it finally “gels.” You figure out how to sing all of it in your style, you get inside of it, you relax into it, it becomes “yours.” That takes time, but also requires the previous steps.
(c) 2011 Adrienne Osborn