Monday, May 06, 2019

What to do with your hands while singing – 5 ideas for singers in choirs

If you’re not holding sheet music, what should you do with your hands while singing?

photo by mr. throk

This can be problematic in a choir. Here are some ideas.

feelings will leak out in the body

Some of us give no thought to what our hands are doing when we’re singing.

If you’re singing solo, it doesn’t really matter as long as it doesn’t distract too much from the song. Many soul and gospel solo singers have very expressive hand movements which can add to the emotion of the song.

But if you’re one of many in a choir and you’re doing something different from everybody else, it can stand out. Not in a good way.

For many music-makers, emotions leak out in the body in surprising places.

Lots of guitarists (especially when playing rock solos) use their mouths a lot. It’s as if their fingers are not enough for all that they’re trying to express.

For singers, feeling (and meaning) often leaks out through body swaying and hands.
This is fine until you have to stay still. The feeling still wants to leak out, but you need to supress it.

can you be neutral?

There is an argument that if you don’t engage your body at all (I.e. stand neutrally), any and all feeling and meaning must be expressed through the voice. There is nowhere else for it to leak out.

This can make some singers feel uncomfortable if they’re used to using their bodies while singing. It can cause eyebrows and foreheads to take on the movement. Or worse still, result in tension in the jaw and shoulders.

5 ideas to help

In some ways it’s irrelevant what you do with your hands when singing in a choir, as long as everyone’s doing the same thing. Here are 5 ideas that you might find helpful:
  1. loosely by your side: To create a neutral stance, many choir leaders will ask you to have your arms and hands hanging loosely at your side. That might cause tension though if you’re used to expressing yourself through your body and it now has nowhere to go.
  2. clasped lightly in front: Any physical expression can then be hidden in the clasp. But this can cause tension in your shoulders which will affect your voice. Another option is to clasp your hands behind your back. This can place even more strain on the shoulders though.

    If your choir sits to sing, placing hands loosely on your lap is probably the best. Since they’re not clasped, it will avoid possible tension in other parts of the body.
  3. hand choreography: Some choirs use ‘choralography’ which means that they will have set moves to each part of a song. This can be effective if not over-used, and gives your hands something to do.
  4. freestyle: Singers use their hands (and bodies) to express themselves freely while singing. As long as everyone in the choir is comfortable with this, it can be engaging. Many gospel choirs choose this option.
  5. busy hands: Of course, you can avoid the problem entirely by getting singers to hold something like lyrics or sheet music. Even if they don’t need it, it will give their hands something to do and create uniformity. Same applies to smaller ensembles where everyone has a hand-held microphone.
It may be that you make a different choice for each song in your performance. It can look odd when singing an upbeat or fun song to have everybody’s hands clasped formally in front of them. Choose hand positions to suit the song.

Whatever you do with your hands, make sure it’s connected with your singing. The best way to attract attention to yourself in performance is to scratch your nose or pulling your trousers up!

Also, make sure that you practice what you’ve chosen to do with your hands in rehearsal. It may take some time for instance, to learn to stand in a neutral pose.

I’d love to know what you do with your hands. Or if you have any other ideas. Do drop by and leave a comment.

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Chris Rowbury




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