Acting Your Song: How to Break it Down.

These are steps I've developed inspired by a book by Joanna Merlin (Auditioning: An Actor-Friendly Guide). This is a book I highly recommend!

I've tweaked it as I've used it more and more in the classroom and I will more than likely continue to do so. I encourage you to tweak it for yourself, as you develop and perfect your own way. Give it a try "as is" to see how it works out for you and I encourage you to leave feedback!



Intuitive Response. 
Go to a quiet place with no distractions.
Using a high quality, PROFESSIONAL (no high school productions!) recording, CLOSE YOUR EYES and LISTEN to your song with your imagination. Get lost in the world of the song.
What are the general images, feelings and ideas the song arouses in you? Also notice what happens physically when you listen. Maybe you feel your heart expanding, maybe a tightening in your chest.  There is no right or wrong. Simply notice and name the Feelings, Ideas, Images and Sensations you have while listening. Take notes.


SILENTLY (not out loud) READ the text. Resist the temptation to act it out yet or read it with feeling. Read it silently; be an investigator first to find clues to what the song is about. 


LISTEN to the song and find clues in the MUSIC to support what you’ve discovered in the text. Maybe you’ll find clues as to what the character is feeling. How does the music support or not support what he or she is saying? 

You may choose to sing songs as yourself, not as the character for whom the song was written, but it should be a conscious decision. If this is the case, still answer the questions as yourself.

-The World of the Song-
What is the year and day (exact date) and day of week?

What is the season? (summer, spring, winter, fall)

What is the weather like outside?  

What is the place? (city, state, & exact location: ie home, grocery store, park etc)  

How does the weather affect the character’s internal state right now?

What is the social class of the character?


Think about how time, place and social class affects this character. Play around with how it would influence the way this character walks, talks, interacts with others, physicality, how the character would hold herself/himself. Practice your song as a monologue with this in mind. Play around with how you hold your body, your speech, nervous habits you might have, etc. 

What is the song about?
Think of the song as a one act play. Describe the story simply, eliminating the details. Simply state what happens at the beginning, what happens in the middle, and what happens at the end of the song?


Then, narrow it down to one word or phrase to characterize each section.





Does the song end differently than it began?  (YES!) Singing a song is a journey. The character has changed in some way. Look for the contrast between the beginning and the end (even if it doesn’t seem like there is one…there is!!!) and name it.


-Who is the character-
How old is the character?

What is the character’s occupation?

What are the similarities and differences between you and this character (at least 2-3 aspects)?




What are the polarities (qualities OPPOSITE from the character’s principle qualities) in the character? Name at least one. (ie: tough gangsters might be sentimental, caring mothers can be fierce, and heroes can have weaknesses.) 



What is the character’s objective? Using a verb, Why is THE CHARACTER singing this song? What does the character want to do?  (Verbs define objectives. Find a verb that is active and can perhaps raise the stakes. ie ‘dazzle’ instead of ‘impress’, ‘seize’ instead of ‘take’.) 


What is the obstacle to achieving the objective? What’s in the character’s way of getting what he/she wants?



Who are you singing to? Describe this person in detail. 


What is your relationship to the person you are singing to or about? 


How is this person reacting to what you are saying?


Find around three significant moments. 
Moments are different than defining sections. They happen on specific words or on a short phrase. One might be the climax, or something humorous, or a hidden meaning etc. Give the exact word or phrase it happens on and what the moment means to the character specifically. 
FOR EXAMPLE: The climax in the song ‘If I Loved you happens towards the end and is the highest note in the song, and lands on the words If I Loved You. The character might be really saying, I do love you!

1st Moment:


2nd Moment:


3rd Moment:


What is the pre-beat?
Briefly, state what happens in the scene just before the character sings.


Narrow it down to a word or phrase. Use perhaps an objective, inner gesture (ie a clenched stomach), obstacle, atmosphere, relationship, or image. It will be a word or phrase that your character could be thinking right before the song starts. Be inventive. Write it down here:



FINALLY: Write helpful reminders in your music. (prebeat, moments, objective, sections, etc) Practice incorporating your discoveries into your performance by first speaking through the text as a monologue. Speak through it until it feels integrated. Now sing.