What Singers Should Do With Their Hands

Published: 02nd May 2012
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When you've taken a few singing lessons and you have enough confidence to perform in public, you might start wondering what you're going to do with your hands when you're on stage. Do you wave them around like a conductor? Do you stick them in your pockets? Or what do you do?

When you sing in public, you do need to give the audience something to look at. If you're in a choir or the like, then you don't have too much of a problem. If gestures or actions are needed, then your choir leader or conductor will probably choreograph you so you become a team that moves and sings in unison - or harmony, as the case may be. But if you sing in any group with fewer than six people, you're going to have to think about how you look. Which means that you're going to have to work out what you do with your hands while you're singing.

If you play an instrument as well as singing, your problem is solved straight away. A piano, a guitar or even a drumkit keeps your hands occupied perfectly - but you can probably forget about the flute, the trumpet or even the harmonica, as these take up your mouth as well. If you are singing the right type of music (i.e. not opera or something slow and lyrical) then you can try using a tambourine, as long as you've got rhythm. Stick to a simple beat until you know how to do something more complicated. And don't compete with the drummer or clash with him/her or you will get in trouble.

Microphones also help keep the hands busy, if you are in a situation where you need to hold one. You can hold it in both hands at once or in either of your hands and swap between them. A small health warning should be inserted here. If you want to sing and play the tambourine, and you're using a hand-held microphone, then use a lightweight tambourine or consider using a headset microphone or even a microphone in a stand. Otherwise, the only thing you've got to hit the tambourine against to produce a sharp note is your leg. Repeated hitting in the same spot - which is what you will probably have to do - causes bruising, and it can really spoil things if you're trying to sing a cheerful song and you wince as the tambourine whacks that sore spot yet again (been there, done that, bruises took a few days to fade).

But most singers won't have anything in their hands. And you have to think what you are going to do with them or you look like a bit of an idiot. At one extreme, you can try do nothing with your hands, just letting them dangle at your sides, putting them in your pockets (please don't!) or putting them behind your back. At the other end of the spectrum, you have those over-the-top opera style singers with hands all over the place like they're trying to send semaphore messages. The all-over-the-place style of things can work if you're doing it for laughs, taking the mickey out of some very serious operatic aria or some other tongue-in-cheek piece, so it pays to practice this sort of thing along with the other techniques learned in your singing lessons so you can do it when occasion calls.

Using gesture appropriately can help you interpret a song and add to the mood. The key word here is "appropriately". If you're being serious about a song, then you don't want to overdo the gesturing to the point of gesticulation. Here's a few don'ts to watch out for:

Don't put your hands in your pockets. Not only does this make you look nervous but it also makes you hunch over, which won't do your singing technique any good at all.

Don't stick your hands behind your back. Again, this makes you look nervous.

Don't "penguin". Penguining is where you have both arms bending at the elbow and you've got your palms up, and you do this on every main word or in time with the beat. Using this gesture once or twice can be appropriate - it works well with more sombre lyrics that plead or beg. But if you do it too much, you look like you're about to take off. Bad actors do this on stage and should also avoid it.

Don't adjust your clothing, scratch or fidget. Exceptions to the rule about adjusting the clothing exist. You can roll up your sleeves (if you have them) in a song about working hard or an angry song that challenges the listener. You can try taking off a non-essential item of clothing (e.g. a jacket) during a sexy song, or expose a little shoulder, but just keep it to that rather than having a Janet Jackson wardrobe malfunction. The idea is to captivate the audience with your song, not by doing a striptease.

Don't clasp your hands at chest height making a sort of yin-yang symbol like the Von Trapp children at the Vienna Music Festival in the movie "The Sound Of Music". This looks really prissy and twee. Even children shouldn't do it. If you're singing a song for laughs and its on the cutesy side, you can do this and ham up the tweeness - don't forget to add a goody-two-shoes expression and a very prim costume. Guys should never attempt this one unless in drag.

So what can you do with your hands while you're singing without looking like a twit? It really will depend on the sort of song you want to sing. Think of the lyrics and pick something appropriate to do with your singing. Shake fists during angry songs. Clasp your hands in a way that comes naturally during a sad, pleading song. Raise both arms, hands spread out, during a happy, triumphant song. Don't feel as though you have to keep moving the whole time: keep your hands in a neutral position by your sides and use gesture as punctuation.


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