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Wednesday, March 5, 2014

March Madness #4: 13 Steps for Learning Music

A Quickie, but oft-requested:
Hansen's 13 Step Method for Learning Music

1) Translate Text
Word for Word
Paraphrased into your own words

2) IPA the Text (even if it's in your native tongue!)

3) Practice speaking the text
Repeat until the text sits easily in your mind and mouth
Speak the text in sentences
Speak the text with intention

4) Learn the Rhythms ONE or TWO pages at a time
Without Text
With Text
Repeat until it is Correct, then move on

5) Speak the Text with the Correct Rhythms
Is it memorized yet? It should be... If not, Repeat a few times more

6) Sit at a piano and play the notes as melody - out of rhythm
Work ONE or TWO pages only, or a small section
Repeat as often as possible until the melody seems organic and natural

7) Hum or Sing the notes on nonsense vowels - out of rhythm
First play along, then sing with less help from the piano
Repeat until pitches are more than familiar

8) Focus on All Musical Markings
Highlight or Underline all dynamic, tempo, articulation markings
Translate any markings or words you do not understand

9) Sing the Pitches in their correct rhythms - out of tempo
Work ONE or TWO pages only until learned

10) Add Text to Pitch - out of tempo
Gradually increase tempo until you get into the ballpark

11) Repeat Step #10
Working in small sections
Surely... it is memorized?!
If not, repeat and work in smaller sections

12) Sing the Section just worked on with Intention, making sure to sing sentences

Focus on any aspects that might be challenging
Focus on aspects that are NOT challenging

So – This might seem a bit tedious, or a bit of overkill.

It’s NOT!

After speaking with many, many seasoned opera singers a few patterns emerge. One is their attention to the meaning of the text, attention to details in the score, and a practice pattern of working in SMALL sections.

Too often, young singers start learning a new role or a new aria or a new song by opening the score and singing through it. This isn't all that helpful, IMHO.

They do this, for god-knows-what-reason, to see if it “fits” or if it “suits” their voice. While doing so, one risks learning, or singing in, bad habits, missed notes, fudged rhythms, etc.

The above method might seem like it would take FOREVER to learn anything. Ironically, by working so methodically – and in short sections – you will discover that instead of simply repeating ad nauseum the same mistakes, you will be able to be learned AND memorized in a fraction of the time!

I proved this method works years ago when I had students try out this method on a section of Wozzeck. I divided my students into two groups and gave them the exact same two pages of super-hard music. One group I let leave the room to work on their own for 30 minutes; the other I kept back and ran them through the 13 steps in about 20 minutes.

Guess which group learned the piece 100% accurately?

The other group came back defeated and confused.

A few still use this method.

I must say that it is a spectacular method for learning difficult music – things like Dallapiccola or Berg or Britten. 

Try it and see. I dare you!

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