This is the number one question from singers who have trained hard and now want to “show their wares” in a club or cabaret setting. “What do I do with my hands?!”
“Leave ’em attached to your arms,” I say.
Amateur singers use their hands for emphasis. As if pitch, poetry and dynamics just aren’t enough in the presentation of a song, newbie singers often find themselves waving their hands all over the place to make it look like something good is going on.
Which doesn’t look that way at all… It looks awkward and performative (read that as “insincere.”)
So, put your hands down. Both of ’em. Leave ’em down. If you absolutely have to move your hands, then move one hand at a time, but keep that ramblin’ hand below your waist.
And now that your hands are tied, let’s get back to what your real focus needs to be in order to nail a song. It’s not going to be the beauty of your voice or the dimple in your cheek that engages your audience. It’s the thought that counts.
Every song begins with a thought. That thought starts on the downbeat of the intro – not when the lyric begins. The arrival of a thought and the arrival of music are simultaneous. An intro is a musical thought percolating in the mind of the singer. The intro plays, the thought develops, pressure builds and finally that singer bursts into song. In a musical, that thought might have been spoken out loud in the prior scene or perhaps the character is now putting all the thoughts together in real time. To drive the energy of a pop song – one with not as much context – we definitely need to create some powerful arguments in our head in order to have a dialogue or “back and forth” with our audience. That’s how we keep them engaged, not by throwing our hands or walking around the stage, but by having an open, direct conversation with the crowd. Share your thoughts with the audience and they’ll pay attention. Pose, prance, gesticulate… they’ll check out until someone else comes along who can keep them engaged.