A few months ago a new student of mine was feeling frustrated with the effectiveness of their learning style. I decided to sketch out my own process in order to assist my student in having a template from which to work. Being systematic in our learning styles builds confidence and craft, and enables us to arrive more quickly to joy of expressing the music.
1. LISTEN AND ASSESS
Take a listen to the piece to get an overall feel for it. Is it for me?
Does the artist who sings the role/ song have a common voice quality to me? Is this important in this instance? Make note of the poetry/ storyline/ character.
2. LOOK AND ASSESS
Look at the score, this can obviously be done simultaneously with the step above. Note the tessitura, note the range, note the orchestration if applicable.
Make a decision if it is a good piece for you in consultation with your teacher and/or coach.It may be a great piece for you one day but developmentally not right now.
4. MAP READING
Prepare the score. Read it like a map, marking in all of the beats,highlighting the important tempo, meter , key changes etc.
Read the poem/story like a piece of literature. Write in the translation being sure that you have it word for word as well as
Read your lines aloud numerous times to feel the language in your mouth and in your ears. Now read it in rhythm.
Learn the melody by playing it on the piano AND NOT SINGING while playing as much of the accompaniment that you can. Even just a bass line is good. Teach it to your ear first.
8. DO RE MI
Stand up from the piano, give yourself the first note of a phrase and try to sing it on solfege or la. Check to see how close you were, repeat as necessary. Do small increments, one page at a time. It may seem slow at first but you will learn it deeply.
9. HANDS TOGETHER
When you feel that you have the spoken rhythm and melody parts accurately learned try it ‘hands together’. Repeat as necessary. Be patient with yourself. Do small chunks, you will begin to see what is possible in a 30 min window, a 60 min window or, believe it or not…a 10 minute window!
10. CHARTING PROGRESS
To aid in all of this create a chart in the front of your score ( if you are learning a whole role) listing each scene or part of a scene.Leave room to the right to make a check mark every time that you look at this part so you see what is being worked on. You can also do this for your recital program in the front of your binder.
Make a mini chart of the bits that scare you, the bits you should sing everyday. Things may move on and off this particular chart as time goes on. For example, the scary high C in the duet needs to be ‘yelled’ out a couple of times a day until it doesn’t scare you anymore.
Fear and nerves are abated because you are immaculately prepared. Once you really have your version of the piece in hand you can listen again to a variety of recordings to compare and contrast.