How to Act While Singing

Three Methods:Acting in a MusicalActing in a BandActing as a Solo Performer

Singing while acting is one of the toughest things a performer can do, as both of them require your full mental attention and practice. Whether you're on stage in a musical or leading a band through your set, how you act and behave while singing is mostly a factor of practice, planning, and a well-rehearsed song.

Method 1
Acting in a Musical

  1. 1
    Master the song on it's own, first. Trying to do two things at once usually results in both things done poorly. Before you throw acting into the mix, make sure you can sing the song perfectly on it's own. Having the words and melody down cold will make it much, much easier to nail the acting.
  2. 2
    Consider how you would act out the words if you weren't singing. Your first and most important goal is to convey the emotion in the song directly to the audience. As an exercise, try reading the song like a script, acting out the lyrics in your normal voice. If the song were a monologue, where is the emotion?
    • The "illusion" of musicals is that the songs come spontaneously from the characters, like a normal conversation. Preserving this immediacy is a big part of your acting.[1]
  3. 3
    Use the song and lyrics themselves to your advantage. When singing and acting, your most important tool is to use your singing voice to convey emotion. At what points can you sing the notes differently to give them a little emotional flavor? Maybe your voice cracks or falters during a sad lyric, or you slowly rise in volume as the song gets angry. Places to take note of include:
    • Climactic or dramatic notes. These are almost always matched up to big acting moments.
    • Quiet, introspective passages. Where is the singing more subdued?
    • Realizations and plot turns. You need to make sure these lyrics are clearly and powerfully sung to keep the musical's story moving.[2]
  4. 4
    Use your body language to match the mood of the song and your character. This is the easiest and most effective way to "act" while you sing. Figure out the general mood you want to portray and use posture, walking style, and pacing to show it. You should keep good singing posture above all else, but you still have some room to play. Some ideas include:
    • Sad characters move slowly, usually with very deliberate movements. While you don't want to slouch while you sing, looking slightly down can give the same effect.
    • Happy or loving characters use big, expressive, and open gestures, as if trying to spread their wonderful emotions with the whole world.
    • Angry characters add weight, literally, to their movements, flying around the stage, stomping, and moving with short, rapid movements.
    • Pensive or thoughtful characters tend to repeat movements, like pacing, often with quick bursts of inspired movements ("Eureka!") when the light bulb above their head brightens.
  5. 5
    Use the song's "plot" to figure out your acting arc. Your arc is simply how your character changes. For example, a common musical number is when the new person arrives in a town, community, etc. At the beginning of the song, they are usually nervous and shy, but they grow in confidence as the song continues, coming out of their shell for a triumphant ending. As a singer-actor, noting this transition will help you act your way through it.
    • Always ask yourself -- what is my character's mood right before the song, and what is their mood right afterwards? How can I bridge these two feelings realistically?[3]
  6. 6
    Focus on the song's key moments and transitions as an actor. In a good musical, the songs are vehicles for the characters to grow and change. It is your job to figure out during which lines and verses that happens and to show it to the audience. So if there is a moment halfway through the song when a female co-lead joins the hero, your face should show the happy surprise of a falling in love. If you're the villain and you suddenly hatch a scheme, jump into maniacally glee as the plan crosses your mind.[4]
  7. 7
    Make your acting decisions in advance instead of relying on improvisation. If you have a good director or choreographer, this will likely happen for you. But even smaller or "useless" movements can be planned in advance to make them easier on the fly, and sticking to your artistic decision is crucial to pulling it off.
    • Use early rehearsals to try new things and get a feel for the character. However, as the show approaches you should pick a style and practice it daily, drilling it down so that it is automatic on stage.
  8. 8
    React to the lines from the other actors as if they were spoken. Acting in a musical is not only about the moments you are singing. It's about inhabiting the world of the play. Make sure you continue to listen to others' lines when they're singing, reacting appropriately even when you're not on the microphone.
    • Listen to the words as they're sung instead of just waiting for your cue.
    • Just like when you are singing, ask yourself how you would respond if someone said the lyrics normally, in conversation.
  9. 9
    Face the audience, unless otherwise noted by the director. All of the acting in the world won't matter if the audience can't see it. Remember to keep yourself facing the audience as you act and sing, letting them into your character's world. That said, temporarily turning away from the audience, or looking to the sides, is a good way to act out shame, fear, or passivity. Alternatively, turning your whole body to face the audience can drive home a big, powerful emotion or moment.
  10. 10
    Keep the acting simple to be effective. At the end of the day, your singing voice should be doing the majority of the artistic "heavy lifting." Once you've settled on facial expressions and blocking, focus on singing as well as possible. Don't try to add lots of little tics and movements, overly-complicating the song and detracting from the actual music. Keep it simple, act naturally, and stay close to the lyrics and mood of the song -- do these three things and you'll be great.
    • Once you make a decision as an actor, be confident and stick to it. If it feels right to you it will feel right to the audience.
  11. 11
    Practice until the acting and singing feels automatic. Your primary goal is to sing the song as powerfully and effectively as possible, meaning you want the majority of your energy going into your voice. The easiest way to do this is make the acting so routine you could do it in your sleep.
    • Practice blocking and movement until you can do it with your eyes closed, then do one more practice run.
    • It may seem like excess, but practicing just singing, just acting, and practicing the two together is the best way to completely nail the part.[5]

Method 2
Acting in a Band

  1. 1
    Smile, laugh, and have some fun. If you're having an uncontrollably good time, your audience will too. You must keep the mood up, and both the band and the crowd will follow your lead. If you're smiling and having fun, they will be too. Even for tough shows, or when you're not feeling 100%, a "fake it until you make it" approach will help everyone have more fun.
    • Even serious acts and hardcore bands are having fun on stage while they play, so don't be afraid to let loose.
  2. 2
    Keep moving, especially if you're not playing an instrument. Watch some of the classic lead singers, like Mick Jagger of the Rolling Stones, and note how he almost never stands still. For beginners, a good way to think about this is to try to sing individually to every person in the room at least once. So you might walk to the left and spend some time singing to them, then move right and sing a few bars to someone on the other side of the room.
    • If you have background singers, join them on the microphone for a few bars to show a sense of community.
    • If you're using a corded microphone, test out its length during mic checks to avoid accidentally pulling out of the amp.
  3. 3
    Service the mood of the song, emulating it's tone and emotion. If you're playing a sadder ballad, you might not move at all. In fact, you might consider pulling up a stool or chair for the song, keeping you in place and providing a much more dramatic feel. Alternatively, don't just sit in the center of the stage for a barn-burning rock tune -- move, jump, dance, and sing your heart out as if possessed.
    • How can you change your facial expressions to match the songs? At what point are the lyrics suitably emotional? For a good lesson, watch Geoff Tate sing.
    • For a truly captivating performance, you can blend the two effects. For example, in a song that gains power slowly, like "You Can't Always Get What Your Want," you may start sitting before you burst out of your seat with uncontrolled energy.
  4. 4
    Rope the audience in with shared singing or clapping moments. As the front person of the band, you want to be big and in charge, pulling the audience into the moment and getting them engaged in the music. How easy this is will depend on the crowd and their enthusiasm, but you have a few tricks up your sleeve:
    • Clapping or keeping time is easy and works with any crowd. To do so, have the band keep playing for an extra 2-4 bars for a section, clapping high above your head to signal the audience to do the same.
    • Teaching an easy sing-along right before the song starts. For example, your chorus could have a section that counts "1, 2, 3, 4, 5." Before the song starts, tell the audience this and ask "if they'd be willing to join the band for a song."
    • Using a well-placed cover song. Playing a song everyone knows allows them to sing along, even if you're not a big time band yet. Once they start singing, they're much more likely to stay engaged throughout the show.
  5. 5
    Introduce the rest of the band during a quieter moment. This is a good way to fill time while tuning up, or to fill some time before or after taking the stage. Remember that, while you are the face of the band, you are not the only member in it. Take the time to introduce the people behind you to make everyone happier.
    • "On guitar, we have the incredible...."
    • "Holding down the rhythm is our very own..."
    • Don't be afraid to customize these introductions. You could say where they are from, an interesting fact, or pay your bandmates a complement on their skills.
    • Some lead singers introduce the band individually. So you might introduce the guitarist after a song-ending solo, the drummer after a big climactic drum beat, etc.
  6. 6
    Use a little light improvisation to get the crowd going while you play. One of the best examples is the classic reggae and ska line "pick it up, pick it up, pick it up!" which is used to help stir the band and dancers into a frenzy out on the floor. Countless lead singers, caught in the moment of music, have used "yeah," "let's go," and "come on" to keep the energy of the song going.
    • Don't be afraid to get swept up in the music -- it's the best way to get the audience swept up as well.[6]
  7. 7
    Stand back and let the band shine during solos and instrumental sections. You should not be holding the spotlight on yourself the entire time. Whenever your bandmates take over a section of the song, drop back and let the audience focus on them for a moment. At the most, you can very quickly introduce or set them up before they play:
    • "Take it away, ________" is a great way to pass the baton to your guitarist right before he starts shredding a solo.[7]
  8. 8
    Play a simple percussion instrument if you'd like something specific to do. This can even change depending on the song, as it's a little strange during slower songs to be bouncing around with full energy. The classic option is a tambourine, as you can beat it against your hip in time with the song. Some singers will even pull out wood blocks, cowbells, and triangles as the song requires.
    • Ask your bandmates if their are any songs that you can easily learn on an acoustic guitar, playing it occasionally mix up your performance. In some cases you don't have to turn this guitar up loudly, just using it as a quiet prop, which helps hide any mistakes.
    • While it seems obvious, don't play an instrument on stage if you struggle to keep time while singing. Your voice is the first priority.
  9. 9
    Consider pre-planning or reusing popular bits, stories, and actions. If you've ever seen the same band twice during the same tour, you'll see how popular this is. When you tell a story about your day that gets a huge laugh in between songs, try the story again the next show and see if goes over just as well. Furthermore, you can even start designing movements and acting ideas that bring your band and audience together.
    • Is there any back and forth joke or dialogue between you and other bandmates that people enjoy?
    • If you like to dance, are their moves or routines that you keep coming back to?
    • For hard-rocking bands, are their any big, climactic moments where you might stick a stage dive or dramatic dance move?[8]

Method 3
Acting as a Solo Performer

  1. 1
    Emote the lyrics as you sing them. Singer-songwriters, solo concert vocalists, and other performers who sing by themselves are usually intimate, personal artists. Your goal as a singer is to make the audience feel like they're alone in a room with you, getting to see a deeply personal and affected side of yourself.
    • Where can you growl a line angrily, or falter sadly over a heartbroken line? How can you sing the lyrics in a unique, personal way.
    • A good strategy is to think about each song as if it is the first time you've ever sung it. If you were speaking the lyrics to a close friend, how would they make your behave?
    • While he has a band behind him, check out Eric Clapton's performance on "Unplugged," especially the song "Tears in Heaven," for well-emoted singing.
  2. 2
    Use your arms and posture to lend gravitas to your performance. Luciano Pavarotti has one of the most expressive and well-acted performances around, using big gestures and emotional facial expressions to truly embody his songs. This is especially important for his songs, which are in a variety of languages that the audience may need cues to understand, but any singer can learn from his facial expressions and powerful yet personalized posture.
    • Even if you're playing an instrument, you can use your arms to spur on the audience or add drama, using bigger movements than necessary and putting a little theatricality into your play.
  3. 3
    Tailor your performance to your current mood or emotions. When you're playing alone you have much more room for improvisation and personality. The most obvious example is the tempo, which you get to set by yourself without worrying if a band will follow. If you're feeling high energy, push the speed a bit. If the song requires something more thoughtful and contemplative, slow things down a bit. Similarly, your singing and playing volume can be adjusted to add nuance to your singing performance -- louder for expressive, big emotions and quieter for contemplative sections.
    • This is just as important within songs, as you can modulate tempo and volume to create tension and suspense while you play. Doing so is called "dynamics."[9]
  4. 4
    Engage your audience in between songs with stories or jokes. What you say is up to you, but a good rule of thumb is to keep it short and sweet. Don't be afraid to cycle the same stories and comments in, especially if they go well with one audience. Some ideas of things to say include:
    • Stories about the song's inspiration or writing process
    • Comments on the location, venue, or event.
    • A personal anecdote from your day or week.
    • Questions or comments on people in the audience.
    • Thanks and gratitude for coming and enjoying your music.
  5. 5
    Connect with every corner of the room. Make a point to face, sing to, and look at every section of the room. A good way to do this is to just create a simple pattern, such as turning back and forth, but as you get better you'll find more natural ways to pull it off. Use your eyes to bring as many audience members into your world as possible, and don't be afraid to look right at people.
    • The easiest way to scan the audience is to look right over the top of the heads of people in the middle seats, turning right and left from there.[10]
  6. 6
    Let your music carry you away. The best way to act naturally on stage is to just keep doing it. The more you get in front of people and start playing, the more second-nature the entire thing becomes, allowing you to express more and more of your personality while you play. Instead of putting on airs or playing a character you're not comfortable as, just focus on playing the very best song that you can. More times than not your expression and body language will naturally follow suit.[11]
  7. 7
    Tape yourself playing and watch it later to get ideas on improvement. Watching and listening to your old performances is the best way to get the audience's perspective, and to see where certain sections could use improvement. When watching yourself, try not to be too critical, as it is easy to beat yourself up for small mistakes. Instead, pay attention to the audience. What gets the biggest claps, where do people seem a little bored, and how long does it take them to get into the mood of each song?


  • No matter what your stage, commit to the role. Having second thoughts about your performance will translate to the audience, so be confident and go for it.


  • Always listen to your director first and foremost. If you don't agree or understand something he/she is telling you to do, make sure you talk to them about it.

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Categories: Acting