At many music colleges, the running joke is that there are musicians – and singers. Often, singers are the butt of jokes regarding our music theory abilities, and we have a reputation for needing to be hand-fed our notes.
However, this doesn’t need to be you. If you can learn new music quickly, competently, and efficiently, you’ll be able to take jump-in jobs and impress conductors. Whether you’re learning new pieces for an audition, singing lessons, or a performance, this guide can help you prepare it effectively.
First, listen to multiple recordings, especially if the piece requires ornamentation. If you only listen to one singer, you may start trying to emulate their sound. Also, even famous singers make mistakes.
Listen to the aria while following the vocal score, and if possible, the full score. If the piece is complicated, consider doing a quick theory analysis or identifying non-tonal notes.
Before learning the notes, you need to translate your piece. If it’s from an opera, study the synopsis as well. Use the meaning of the words to understand the music.
Finally, you’re ready to do some singing. Hum or lip trill through the piece to learn your notes. If you can, play an outline of the accompaniment while you’re humming to help you fully understand the harmony.
With tricky coloratura passages, breakdown the coloratura into groups of 4. Start by singing the first note of each group, slowly adding in the rest of the notes. Don’t try to start at tempo either. Be patient with yourself as you allow the notes to get into your body.
For earlier works, this step might not be necessary. However, for complicated newer pieces, like Britten operas, or pieces with a lot of text, try separating the rhythm from the notes. Speak the words with a metronome.
Finally, you’re ready to actually sing. Don’t sacrifice your vocal technique to get the notes. Work with your teacher to ensure you have a legato line, you’re using your breath correctly, and you’re supporting. Try practicing in small chunks instead of singing the aria or song all the way through.
If you’re struggling with phrases or stacking your breath, take time in between phrases to check your inhale is correct and you’re using your support system.
Before you go to a pianist, try to sing your whole aria without accompaniment. Especially with 20th century music, this well help ensure you really know the notes.
Once you get with a pianist, you can ask them to help you with particularly difficult sections. Music by composers like Strauss, Stravinsky, and Mahler, can all be challenging to put together with the accompaniment. Before your first meeting, try to have an idea of what the accompaniment sounds like and how it changes the way your line feels musically.
These steps should help you learn music more effectively. Of course, the more time we have to learn pieces, the better they will sound. However, in our competitive industry, the ability to learn music quickly and competently is a definite advantage.
Practice makes perfect. Try setting yourself challenges. Pick a new song or aria and learn it in two weeks. The next time, try to learn it in one week. The more you practice quick learning, the easier it will become. Plus, you’ll learn a lot of new, fantastic repertoire!
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