Vocal coach extraordinaire Mary King wants all young singers to know this: lyrics matter. Yes, drum roll please, the words that come out of your mouth when you sing are really, really crucial.
It sounds like she’s stating the obvious (and she kinda is), but in King’s experience – and she’s been a top vocal coach for years and really knows her stuff, so who are we to argue – young singers often overlook the importance of lyrics. In their enthusiasm to belt like Beyonce or showcase a Prince-like falsetto, they often fail to stop and think about the lyrics they’re singing and the story they’re trying to tell. This is a key element of performance, and integral to connecting with your audience. Ignore it at your peril.
Here’s King’s take on it: “I asked a group of singer-songwriters the other day: ‘If you were songwriting, would you ever write down in a lyric a word you didn’t understand?’. They looked at me as if I had gone to Mars and stood there and said: ‘Of course not’. I said: ‘Do you know people sing words they don’t understand all the time when they’re singing other people’s music. Isn’t that weird?’. I hope they got the message.
“I don’t know what it is but when I teach I seem to come up more and more against a complete lack of curiosity. Students are often singing words without giving any thought about what they mean. And you can tell. They’ll be singing a song and I’ll ask them: ‘What does that mean? What is the allusion there?’. I do it all the time. It’s alarming how often they don’t know what the words mean. They can’t paraphrase. If you’re a singer and you’re not interested in text, you are going to be in trouble. This is your communicating vehicle.
“When you’re singing, Don’t change your hair for me, not if you care in My Funny Valentine, it’s not really about having a bob one week and crew cut the next. It’s about more than that, much more. Ask yourself what the meaning is behind it.
“A singing teacher I know told me that a student once stomped out of a class of his at the Guildhall saying, ‘I didn’t come on this course to do a literature degree’. My friend pointed out that, in a way, they had, as singing is the marriage of music and text. The composer had the text to start with. In order to deal with a composer, you’ve got to deal with the text.”
For more wise words from Mary King CLICK HERE to read our extended interview with this formidable vocal coach.