Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Is singing like speaking, and vice versa? The eloquent Eno

Do you think speaking in public is like singing in public? Musician Brian Eno does, after incorporating spoken-word poems into a musical composition. From this interview on the Big Think blog, Eno says:
We are all singing. We call it speech, but we’re singing to each other, and I thought, as soon as you put spoken word onto music, you start to hear it like singing anyway. You start to develop musical value and musical weight, and you start to notice how this word falls on that beat, and so on and so on. So in a way I think I was trying to draw more attention to the fact that everybody is a singer—everybody who uses their voice is kind of singing. And that was a big liberation for me, to realize that.
I know readers of this blog who sing and speak (and some who coach both speakers and singers), and I've helped my speaking trainees think about pacing and tempo and vocal quality in the same way they might if they were singing--although that works best if the trainee is already a musician, in my experience. Back when I was looking for famous speeches by women in the movies, and coming up short, a good friend of mine said her thought was that most speeches by women in film were in the form of songs in musicals--otherwise, they did little in the way of giving public speeches.

What do you think? Have you ever thought of singing as speaking--or speaking as something akin to singing? Which is easier for you? How does singing help your speaking, or vice versa? Let us know if you're a singer or musician in your reactions and comments.

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Cherisa said...

I'm both a musician and a public speaker (and PT college professor) and, to me, performing musical arrangements is nothing like public speaking or lecturing. Unless you're in an improv Jazz group, musical pieces are arranged and practiced with a very specific performance in mind. If the audience doesn't seem moved by the piece or engaged in what you're performing, you have few options for modification.

In public speaking, your speech/ lecture/ talk should have some room for modification. You should be able to shorten or lengthen your speech, add or remove information as needed and be willing and able to engage with the audience based on their continual feedback.

I'm almost never nervous when speaking because I know I can change course at any moment, apologize for mispronouncing a word, or ask the audience for help and feedback if needed (and if it's appropriate). When performing musical pieces, I'm much more likely to sweat a bit before I take the stage because you're locked into your performance once you start.

Heather Stubbs said...

I was a professional singer/actress and am now a public speaker and presentation skills trainer. I agree with Mr Eno that there are many similarities between singing and speaking. A monotonous speaking tone is akin to singing a whole song on one pitch, whereas vibrant speaking has lots of variation in pitch.

I usually think of it the other way around - singing is like extended speech. Because of that, though, it's harder to understand the words in singing. I'm thankful for the years of singing training that have drilled in clear diction, because it's easy to transpose that to speaking. It's hard to get people to understand how much energy it requires in the lip, tongue and jaw muscles to get clear consonants and distinct syllables.

Singing is always about emotion of some kind, about being expressive. It's a challenge for people without singing or dramatic training to allow themselves to be expressive in their speaking, so singing training could be valuable for speakers.

Claire Duffy said...

I am a (classically trained) singer and performer, as well as a speaking coach, and I think they're very closely related. Singing and speaking both use the same physical apparatus. For both you need good voice production, projection, and articulation. But both also require performance skills - the ability to control a space, command an audience's attention and transform them in some way. Any good performer does this. The key difference - and in my opinion where many speakers fall down, is they believe it's all about the content. It just is not.