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Robot Singing

I have a student who deserves a large part in our upcoming musical, but as he says it, he sings like a "robot."  He does sing on pitch, just lacks energy or inflection in tone.  I have never had this issue with a student and am looking for advice on if this is fixable and if so, how?
Thank you,
Replies (6): Threaded | Chronological
on January 20, 2016 10:11am
Have you ever looked into the work of Tom Carter? He coaches choirs re: expressive singing.
on January 21, 2016 6:20am
The Dalcroze "rules" of nuance, phrasing, and accentuation, appropriately used, are exactly what a singer like this needs. They can be found in Expressive Singing: Dalcroze Eurhythmics for Voice, by J. Timothy Caldwell (Prentice Hall)
on January 21, 2016 9:54am
I might have him speak the lyrics:
- In his normal way of speaking
- Like a robot
- Overly expressive (possibly with swooping arm movements, etc.)
Then once he is aware of the possibilities in speech, have him apply them in singing.
I second the recommendation for Dalcroze Eurhythmics--it's great stuff!
Applauded by an audience of 1
on January 29, 2016 3:15am
Perhaps help him with robotic instructions.    Give him specifics:   de-tune for the end of this note.   Come in late here.     Over-emphasize this accent.     Increase your vibrato here. 
From your briefest of descriptions, which importantly includes the student's self-assessment, it sounds like a personality issue that can be helped with detailed advice. 
Dissenting about Dalcroze -- those exercises are good for a singer who is bad at getting rhythm, but not so useful imo in the situation you have described.
Applauded by an audience of 2
on January 31, 2016 8:05pm
This is great advice. This student sounds like he does not know how to sing expressively (perhaps emotional expression in general isn't his strong suit) or does not want to. If there's an autism specialist at your school, ask them for their thoughts. I don't know if this student is on the spectrum, and I'm not suggesting that he is. However, part of what autism specialists do is teach people how to recognize and use little nuances that seem obvious to the rest of us. They may have some strategies that you can adapt to your situation. Expressiveness can be taught.
Another point to consider. Does this student consider his robot singing to be a positive part of his identity. He may be afraid that if he sings expressively, he will lose his pitch accuracy and/or be made fun of for singing with expression. It sounds strange, but I've known kidswho have intentionally done badly on tests because they don't want other kids to know they're smart. It may be worth addressing.
on January 30, 2016 2:23pm
Hi Emily,
      Regarding each of his singing movements - spend time with him suggesting many expressive elements that are inherent in each piece he performs: dynamics, phrasing, articulation, linear direction, rubato - make interpretive suggestions as excitedly as possible and let him know just how exciting it is to sing a solo enthusiastically, with outgoing passion, verve, and physical animation.
Jim Marvin
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