Singing in Speech: Who's Counting?

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Speech and debate competitors are multitalented. Not only are they skilled orators, but they are organized, they can work well with others, they study hard to make sure they meet the team’s GPA requirement, and they are generally just fantastic people with an array of fascinating abilities – including, in some cases, the gift of song.

So, it’s no surprise that if you happen to be walking the halls of a high school when a speech tournament is taking place, you hear singing.

Lots of singing.

Though this particular type of vocal interpretation is not an event in speech, students will often find ways to work it into their performances and show off their talents. Some will purposely seek pieces that involve such oral flair, including scenes that incorporate TV show theme songs or acts from Broadway musicals. When the movie Chicago came out, for example, you couldn’t go to a speech tournament without hearing “Cell Block Tango” or “All that Jazz.”

On most ballots, rules state that singing should be limited to no more than 30 seconds in speech events. Others require that singing be limited to “one or two lines.” But does anyone actually pay attention to these regulations anymore? I’ve heard people sing much more than a line of a song in competition.

More importantly, why are these rules in effect? What’s wrong with singing? And why the emphasis on the time limit? It would seem silly to require judges to pull out their stopwatches every time a student began singing, or for a contestant to be disqualified for singing for 31 seconds.

But the point of this rule is not to keep talented singers from dominating the rounds with their angelic voices, nor is it to stop competitors from singing in the cases when they – let’s face it – really shouldn’t be singing.

Instead, this rule, like others (no props, no costumes) is intended to keep the focus on the acting itself.

Speech should never rely only on a talent for singing, an accent, a funny noise you can make or any other gimmick. Competitors must always allow their focus to remain on the preparation, interpretation, characterization and willingness to challenge themselves as performers. Singing a sad song can be a nice touch to a dramatic piece, and a parody of a popular song can be hilarious in an H.I. introduction.

Just use your talents well, and don’t let them overshadow your acting abilities.

Gotta say, I think I have only seen one or two performances that used song. From what I remember the song was a poignant moment. Actually, one performer from my team did an Original Comedy spoofing the then new American Idol, and he used song beautifully to get the laughs. So in some cases song can be completely warranted and effective.


I have to agree with you. I love that there are rules in place to keep people in a speaking/acting event, well, speaking. It's called speech for a reason. We are judged by our interpretation and SPEAKING skills. Could you imagine someone in debate singing their platform? haha, no.

If you want to sing for competition they have state contests your school choir most likely participates in. Or there is always the musical.

Personally, I would think it's cheap to rely on your good singing voice to earn brownie points to win a competition. Should you utilize your skills? Absolutely! However, don't let your singing voice be the backbone of the piece. Use it sparingly, only if applicable, and for a critical moment (or good gag).

A couple of the speeches on my team this last season used song. We had a poetry piece that used lines from Superman by Five for Fighting because music is, of course, poetry. At one of the speech meets, the speech that did this got bashed for singing in her speech because "This is speech, not choir." Well, other teams' coaches did not agree with this decision to downgrade her for having the song in there. It wasn't us that fought it, it was other coaches. I think it just depends on the judge as to if song should be allowed.

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