Saturday, June 27, 2009

Are you really LEARNING your music?

Saturday musings...

Topic triggered by a wonderful Toronto singer I work with there...and reinforced by comments and examples I have seen all week...

How do you learn your music? Do you actually LEARN your music?

This applies to singers in EVERY I have seen the lack of learning everywhere.  Sadly, music theatre singers have the reputation (and well earned at times!) for trying to fly by the seat of their pants.  Part of it is music theatre culture - the 16 bars and learn the sides for tomorrow mentality - but when you are preparing for PERFORMANCE there is no excuse.

And there is no excuse in ANY OTHER genre either.  If you don't create a discipline for your music learning you will not learn it.  So my question is, why are you wanting to be a singer, if you are not prepared to DO THE WORK?

What does learning your music mean? It means, sitting with the actual SCORE or sheet music or song and discovering what is on the page!!!!  You have to SEE it; What did the composer actually write?!?!?!

In this day and age, there is no excuse - so often you can buy and download online and print it off in the comfort of your own home!  Or buy the score/music book online and have it delivered to your door!  "I couldn't find the music" is the LAMEST excuse and it certainly gives us an indication that you are not serious about your craft.  How could you be? Learning your music is PART of your craft, thus, no craft.

My question is this: did you not learn how to learn your music at school? or are you just lazy? If music the vehicle for your craft to find truth, there are no excuses. NONE. If you don't know HOW to learn your music ASK.  You should have a team around you that can teach you that. They may believe you already know. YOU NEED TO ASK. A director or music director during a rehearsal isn't going to ask you "why didn't your voice teacher/your voice coach teach you how to learn your music properly?"  They will simply say "why isn't your music learned?"  You are responsible.

Let's break it down - simply. Easily.

LOOK AT THE SCORE. LEARN FROM THE SCORE.  Learn one layer at a time - tune and rhythms WITHOUT text; Musical phrasing; Text as language to discover textural rhythm; Text as written into the musical language -in other words, speak it IN the composer's rhythm: find the similarities, find the differences. Note them.  Only when the tune and rhythms are learned AND the text is learned in rhythm can you layer them together.  The musical phrasing and the textural phrasing need to be acknowledged - where it lines up/where it doesn't.  Explore why. Make an informed decision as to where you will phrase - with the music or with the text? Make a true decision  - don't fly by the seat of your pants! Decide and it shall inform your performance and the reality of that performance.  

You are not learning your music by listening to youtube, or a recording only.  You can always listen to other interpretations (and often, mistakes!!!) once you have learned the music for yourself.  I can always tell when students come in saying a piece is "learned" and I know PRECISELY who they have listened to in order to "learn" it.  That is called mimicking!  Usually all the mistakes/inflections etc are all there too!!!

DO NOT walk into a rehearsal unprepared - no matter WHAT you think of that rehearsal.  Your music needs to be learned, your voice needs to be warm and prepared - you need to show your commitment to YOUR CRAFT.  You show your commitment and your reality by how you show up.  This follows you.  Don't assume it doesn't.  You don't wait for an "important gig" to be prepared!  If you never prepare properly, you will never get to that important gig, because your reputation will proceed you, trust me.  Our business is small and word gets around very quickly as to your work fact, often, your work ethic is spoken of more than your talent...yes, it's true.  

So, if you are truly on this path to CREATE A PLACE for yourself...start simply, start truly:
BE PREPARED. BE READY. LEARN YOUR MUSIC.  FULLY.  Nobody can ask you to make subtle nuance changes if you do not have the music learned!

You cannot create if the basics are not prepared.  And you are responsible for that! DO IT!


  1. Doug MacNaughtonJune 27, 2009 at 4:22 PM

    I just want to say one thing in support of your excellent article. How well you prepare is an aspect of your performance that is within your control - if you don't take control over it, we assume that you are doing your best. If your best is sloppy and haphazard, you are not going to get hired.

    If, on the other hand, you show up knowing the thing cold, inside out, and backwards, you will impress people. Simple as that.

    I'm really enjoying your blog, Susan.

    Best wishes,
    Doug MacNaughton

  2. Thanks Doug! You hit the nail firmly on the head!!!

    So glad you are enjoying the blog. Means lots!

  3. Very encouraging article Susan! I am inclined with your idea that singers should learn music. Learning music will give you extra grip to the path that you chose.

  4. Brava, Susan. Every word is true. Working on your reputation is crucial from the 1st lesson, audition, gig, whatever you do. Everybody knows somebody, & people talk.

    Would you believe that, @ a conductor-soloist rehearsal, the bass soloist was changing the words in a Handel oratorio just because he felt like it? Needless to say, the conductor didn't buy it. Big waste of time. And I don't think the conductor hired the soloist again, even though he was: (a) a wonderful singer; & (b) very well-known.