This is a great warm-up exercise, which works on many levels at once to prepare an actor for improvisation .

Choose a song which you enjoy singing, and know well. It doesn’t matter what style of song it is.

Sing it in three versions:


The first time through, sing it just to check that you know all of the words and the pitches.

You are doing this to get rid of any anxiety you have about knowing the song. If you find that there are a few spots where you’re not sure of the words or the tune, make something up.


Face an imaginary audience, preferably a large, appreciative one in a terrific venue. Sing the song directly to the audience, with the intention of conveying everything about the song to the audience: the words, the story, the emotion, the notes and rhythms, etc.

The traditional paradigm for performance which most of us are trained in is that the Goal of Performance is to Communicate the Material to the Audience. The purpose of Version Two is as much to exorcise as to exercise: it is a way of using the traditional paradigm for performance mainly so we can get it out of our system and move on to Version 3.


Do not think of an audience. Imagine that your only purpose in singing is to experience and feel everything about the song, as fully as possible. Your aim is, within yourself, to feel the emotion, the words, the story, the notes and rhythms and the physicality of singing. You sing the song in order to personally experience all of this as fully as possible.

Version Three can be done either with eyes closed or open. It is often helpful to do it with eyes closed, because that reinforces the feeling that your purpose in singing is to create an experience for yourself. However, certain songs are addressed all the way through to another person, and so it may be that the best way to experience these songs as fully as possible is to have your eyes open, so that you can feel that you are addressing the song to another person.

The purpose of Version 3 is to practice the actual performance mode which you will need in an improvisation. The song is no longer thought of as an idea or as material, but it is explicitly thought of as An Experience, something for you to feel. The act of singing now becomes a way to maximize your experience. The relationship to the audience is no longer that you are trying to “tell” or “show” them the material. Instead, it is assumed that if you use your singing to experience the song in a fully physical way, the audience will be able to hear and see the song in a fully realized way as well.

It is interesting to note that it is almost always the case that a person’s Version 3 is by far their best rendition of the song, and it is also the clearest version, even though the supposed focus of Version 2 is to “try to present the song clearly to the audience.”

Sometimes, because the goal of Version 3 is to maximize feeling, it comes out in a way which would seem way too emotional for a traditional cabaret or song performance, but this usually doesn’t mean that Version 3 was fakey or badly done, it just means that it is outside the conventions of cabaret performance. By the same token, certain songs, in Version 3, will make the actor so emotional that she can’t really sing very clearly. All of this is perfectly OK because the purpose of the exercise, as a warm-up, is to open up the connection to the actor’s feeling center as much as possible, not to practice conventional song performance.