Rhythm - What's in your pocket?
Everything starts with rhythm - your heartbeat, your breath. Did you ever notice how off you feel when you're rushing - anxious, rushed, time moving too fast, your nervous system jacked. Equally, how off you feel when you're under the weather, moving slower than a usual, sluggish, time seemingly lagging on endlessly. It all starts with rhythm and rhythm is more than just keeping time.
Find the pocket (the groove). Clap your hands to the beat you're feeling. Does it make you feel rushed? Do you have "time" to say all your lyrics or "time" to play with the phrasing? Now don't sing - just dance to the song. How do you move to the music? Now it's unlikely you'll dance the same way for 3:33 minutes, So find different rhythms to move to - more subdivisions, fewer sub divisions. (Dance like you’re in a mosh pit, then like a lyrical ballet dancer). There are many pockets to a song. In order to play with a melody or phrasing you need to feel the pocket. Feel the structure within which you can play. You've got to know where the beat is in order to push the beat or be behind the beat. Your melody sits and locks in when you are in sync with the music, when you are in sync with your own breath and heartbeat.
Now find the pocket for each section of the song. Is it different in the verse and chorus?! Find a different pocket for each section and notice how that influences your emotional connection to the song, your phrasing… Chose the pocket that allows you to feel comfortable in the song (not rushed, having “time” to breathe and then choose the pocket for each section that matches the emotional delivery you feel in each section. The faster the song the fewer subdivisions you want to feel, the slower the song the more subdivisions (find the hip hop groove in the ballad) so it doesn’t lag and feel sleepy.
If you're playing piano or guitar it can be trickier. Your hands need to keep consistent time while you sing around it. Try the vocal rhythm exercises without playing the instrument. Then practice the rhythm exercises with just the instrument. Then put them together.
When learning a new song try following the notes without paying attention to the groove. Now ignore the notes and simply sing the melody while you focus on the groove. Notice a difference? You probably had an easier time picking up the melody and even having freedom when you focused on the rhythm.
Everything begins and ends with rhythm - the heartbeat, the breath.