Have you picked out a bevy of new pieces of music to learn for your upcoming recital? Maybe some chamber music? A set of new music that fits in with your theme? Goooooood. Staring at that stack of new notes to learn is quite intimidating. That stack begins to look like a Sisyphean obstacle. You leave the room to make some coffee or tea. You suddenly decide that you must clean the bottom shelf of the refrigerator. Walking past the practice room, you realize that the stack of music is still there – ever looming. You have already set the date on your calendar for your recital. How can you make sure that you can achieve your goals in your timeline? Apply some deliberate practice time to that music. By efficiently using your practice time you will complete our Day 9 challenge to rehearse your program.
Perhaps you’re already a practice room rock star. However, just like the gym, you may need to shake up your routine to get the maximum results.
“Deliberate practice is the application of intentional strategies during a practice session with the goal of improving musical elements, whether note and rhythm accuracy, increased tempo, phrasing, tone quality, or other. (Similar terms in the literature implying application of such strategies are structured or organized practice.) Studies have shown a correlation between the application of deliberate practice strategies and improvement.” – Ruth Rainero
Can you remember all the way back to day one when we discussed implementation intentions? Practicing is a strategy that helps us achieve our goal of diva power. What strategies will develop if you affix practice time to the goal axis? Nary one of you has gone a lesson without giving your students these instructions. Feel free to follow your own advice and make the most of your basic learning time in practice. From there you are free to explore choices and take your musicianship to another level.
First, learn text separate from the music. Learning the text separately will help avoid any errant accenting issues – especially when working from IPA rather than fluency. Physically write out your text and speak it out loud. Remind yourself of Edgar Dale‘s “Cone of Experience” and the popular adage that has sprung from its use: “we remember 10% of what we read, 20% of what we hear, 30% of what we see, 50% of what we see and hear, 70% of what we discuss with others, 80% of what we personally experience, 90% of what we teach others.” See if you can adapt your learning of the text to fit these different styles and your text memorization may improve dramatically. Would your understanding of an entire opera libretto be different if you approached it in this manner?
Rhythm is the next extremely important element. Singers are often ridiculed for their inability to count. Don’t be one of those singers! Do not allow yourself to be lazy with the rhythm of your pieces. Onsets and offsets of the voice are the main bugaboos that contribute to our bad reputation. The voice must speak at the very beginning of the phrase without being hindered by first consonants. That is why many directors will instruct singers to perform the consonant before the beat. On the flip side, the note must end at some point and just because it is a long or high note is not necessarily reason to hold it longer than the composer demands. I’m lookin’ at you sopranos… A good technique for singers to use when learning the rhythm of new piece is to keep a steady beat on your body and then count the rhythm out loud. It satisfies many learning languages at once. Plus, the physical chanting of the counts will translate well to singing the phrase. Then, the logical next step is saying the text out loud in rhythm.
Sing on the vowels. Add consonants slowly. Go back to this even when you know the text inside and out. Singers make phrases out of the vowels – the consonants just let the listener know which language we’re singing. Be especially careful in French that the nasals do not hold the vowel/tone hostage. Practicing seamless, legato production on the vowel throughout the range of the piece will help us reach our Bel Canto ideals. Plus, the vowel is what carries in a large house. If you have ever been held speechless by a diva’s beautiful pianissimo, you can bet she practiced balancing the timbre on the vowel.
Finally, start in different sections of the pieces. Start at the end. Start with the B section. You know the drill. Now, follow your own advice and start making your practice time exponentially more efficient and effective. After you have learned the technical aspects of the piece, follow Mr. Dale’s advice and learn through seeing and hearing by listening to recordings and include both by finding a good example on YouTube. Expand your understanding of the piece by reading up on its context, discussing it with friends (or even on NFCS), or you could even mock-teach it to Fido as an exercise.
What are your favorite practice techniques when you have a mountain of music staring you down? Do you already follow this advice? Spill the beans, divas, and then get out of here and into your favorite practice room!