YOUNG MUSICIAN’S CHECKLIST
Young artists always come to me, even after having seen my website and say, “What do you think is the most important thing you’ve done to get you where you are? What would your advice be to ME?” READ MY ENTIRE WEBSITE FOR YOUNG ARTISTS, SILLY! WHY DO YOU THINK I PUT ALL THIS UP HERE? So, for the lazy, here is a checklist of stuff I came up for a high school age master class of the highlights of recommendations from my site.
I have lots of ideas, advice, and stories of the road that might interest you or give you an idea of what one singers’ life is like before you embark on this difficult career on my website –
I will tell you right now that I thought I was the exception to the rule, but that I have brutally found out that it is very difficult to have what most people consider a “normal” life – be married, have kids, etc… and have this career. It may not be weighing on your brain right now, but it will in about 10 years! Think about it!
– I find it so annoying that in music classes with your teacher, students don’t usually take notes! Singing is not some fluffy thing – it is a true skill you will need to learn in order to make art happen. Treat it with the seriousness and respect it deserves. Start filling your bag of tricks now, with whatever information you have learned – store it away, even if it seems useless now. It may come in handy at a later date! Write down the things that interest you and people you meet during the day, and go over your notes again right before going to bed. You’ll be amazed at the difference it makes. You can also focus yourself by writing yourself a list of things to do – at least half of them need to be things you will be able to check off the next night as done, so the list is not just huge and un-do-able. Some items can be general ideas to keep you focused on what your global goals are. Your teens and college years are the time to set up the patterns you would like to keep for life. Start now by defining who (not what) you want to be and how you want to accomplish that goal.
LEARN HOW TO SPEED-READ AND USE YOUR BRAIN – You will get through your books so much quicker, and be able to truly STUDY if you can read fast and retain information. Lingering over a book does not mean that you know it any better than someone who speedreads his way through it.check out http://www.speedreading.com/
Speed Reading- by Tony Buzan
Use Your Perfect Memory – by Tony Buzan
The Mind Map Book: How to Use Radiant Thinking to Maximize Your Brain’s Untapped Potential – by Tony Buzan
You need to learn how to study, and the above books are amazing. They tell you how to program your mind to remember things, so you don’t waste your time cramming. Now is the time to set up the patterns you would like to keep for life. I forgot so many important things in my studies that I would love to remember now because I crammed for a test, and didn’t refresh the information later. Timing is everything in recording things to your long-term memory. Otherwise, you ace that test on Friday and have forgotten all that information by the end of the semester. The more you know, the more information you can attach to it. So there is no limit to what your brain can absorb; it’s just about learning how to FILE that information so it’s at your fingertips. PLEASE READ ONE OF THESE BOOKS! It will help you immensely to understand how to use your brain and your memory. Especially interesting are his ideas about how to take notes that involve ALL your senses, so you are much more likely to remember things. These are great tools to have for the beginning of your college career and for life.
CHOOSE THE SCHOOL/CONSERVATORY RIGHT FOR YOU
– Choose it according to a Teacher, first and foremost! You have to learn technique before anything and this is the time to do it. Do not just go to a school because of its “program” but for your teacher!!! Find schools that have successful musicians coming out them – look at the lists of young artists who are getting into the young artist programs around the country – HGO’s studio program, the Merola Program and Adler Fellowship at San Francisco Opera, the Met Lindermann Program, the Chicago Lyric studio artists… or – with instrumentalists – who is getting into the best grad schools and organizations like New World Symphony? Who did they study with? Is that teacher still teaching? (By the time a lot of singers ‘make it,’ their teachers may have retired or died!) Does that musician STILL study with said teacher? Read biographies of your favorite musicians – see with whom they studied. See if they STILL study with that person! Some teacher at a small university may be excellent, even if they’re not “known.” yet.
Have a lesson with the teacher you think you want to study with when you are there auditioning. Would you actually get to study with this teacher if you decide to go there, or will they just be top choice on your list but it’s not guaranteed? You need to make it clear that you are going to that school to STUDY WITH THAT TEACHER. If the teacher/school does not guarantee that you will be in their studio, study elsewhere. Go to your local Symphony and Opera and LISTEN!
CHOOSE YOUR TEACHER WELL
This person will be your teacher for 4 years. It is difficult emotionally and politically to change teachers at any university or conservatory once you get there, so do not go in thinking that you will ‘just change’ if you don’t have a strong feeling about your teacher.
In choosing a voice teacher –
Do they guarantee you great things? (Beware of this!)
Does what they say make sense?
Does what they say get the results you think you might need?
Do they get the results they say they are getting (listen to your recording of the lesson to see if what they said sounded so great really does sound so great to you!)
Does it hurt/make you hoarse? (not good!)
Do you LIKE them?
Do you trust them?
Do they have the idea that no other teacher knows what they’re talking about and theirs is the only ’true technique’? (Bad news – watch out for these guru types!)
Do they hear well? (This is for the really old teachers! Ask around if their hearing is still acute! Very important!! Some great old teachers are reluctant to admit they can no longer hear well enough to teach. If you suspect hearing loss, have a lesson with them, and ask them something very quietly when you have your back turned to them. If they say “WHAT?” then repeat it softly while you look for a piece of music on the floor or something… so they can’t read your lips or figure out the question by body language.) They HAVE to be able to hear you, because you can not trust your ears – you need them to be your ears for the next 4 years, while you learn to FEEL your voice
For Vocal Students: what do they say about breathing?
What do they say about what you know are your vocal issues?
SCHOLARSHIP IN COLLEGE –
– My thought has always been that you should have a merit scholarship of some sort, wherever you go. Otherwise, you can be the smallest fish in that pond. The school you attend needs to believe in you enough to pay you something to come there, even if it’s a pittance. Your school needs to believe that you will be one of its outstanding students – enough to back it up with money. You not only need to find a good school, but be competitive within that school. If you’re in way above your head already in an undergraduate program, how can you ever expect to find your footing? You need to find someplace that’s the right level and the right size to allow you the opportunity to shine at least a bit. A merit scholarship is one way for a school to signify to you that you are valuable to them. Of course there are some schools that don’t give out many scholarships and there may be other factors involved with you getting passed over (race, financial situation, etc..), so do your research. Be a geek and research on the internet to find out how many merit scholarships they give out a year. What is that percentage to the whole of the new class? If you are a racial minority, please USE IT in your college admission!! This is at least one time in your life that it is a PLUS to be a minority! There are many different minority scholarships to be had, so do some research and find yourself one! We need more minorities involved in classical music!
Search for financial aid, talk to the university’s financial aid office, contact the United Negro College Fund and fill out a scholarship form if that is applicable (uncf.org) or a Federal funding grant – www.fafsa.ed.gov .
A better chance scholarships
Do some research of your own! Here’s a great link: School Scholarship pages
There are many scholarships out there – find them!
PERFORMING AT SCHOOL!
– questions to ask yourself: Will it only be the graduate students who get to sing roles in the operas/play in the “good” orchestra/band?
What sort of opportunities will you have as an undergrad? recitals? concerts? chamber music?
Are there a ton of graduate students and only a few opportunities within the school for performance? Voice students: an undergrad you may always be put in the chorus: that’s not my idea of a well-spent 4 years.
Voice students: what are choir requirements??
Will you get lost in the rough and tumble atmosphere of one of the BIG schools (Juilliard, Cincinnati, Michigan, Indiana, Manhattan, Cleveland Institute, etc…) or do you need the nurturing you can get at a medium-to-small school at this age to get your feet under you first?
Ask the right questions – identify what your goal is, then set up steps to do it. Ask questions of experts who can advise you on the best steps to take, and sometimes – how to take them. Do your research in advance, so you’re not asking experts something you could find out on your own. See where you stand vis-a-vis others of your age group. Are you ready to be the low man on the totem pole at one of the big university/conservatories? Or are you on the same level as those students? You need to be taking part in local competitions and see how far you get. This is one of the only ways as a high school student to know how you stand. For high school singers, I recommend N.A.T.S. competitions (National Association of Teachers of Singing) very highly simply because it is the only time I got to hear others of my age group and see where I stood. U.I.L, if it exists still, is also a good organization. Your current teacher or orchestra/band director needs to enter you in these types of competitions. You will get outside feedback this way from teachers that don’t know you at all (the judges), telling you what they think your strengths and faults are. It is a good way to get to know what you need to work on! Read your comment sheets with much attention!
– YOU WILL NOT MAKE IT IN MUSIC IF YOU DON’T REALLLLY WANT IT, AND IF YOU DON’T DIRECT YOUR OWN STUDIES AND CAREER. DEVELOP GOALS!
Do not expect someone else to figure out what is best for you and what you need. College is the time to set up the patterns you would like to keep for life. You have to come up with your own game plans, your own goals, and maybe even your own projects to reach those goals. Figure out where you want to be in 20, 10, 5, 2, 1 years. See how your big goals can be broken up into realistic steps and goals on the way. Envision what you want your life to be and your priorities. Ask your parents or counselors or coaches to help you develop these things. Develop the skills to know HOW to direct yourself and how to figure out what you need. Don’t rely on people to feed it to you. AS A RULE, ALWAYS do more than is required. The minimum will not be enough to be a great singer. Ask respected persons who know your singing what they honestly think you need to work on. Find ways to work on those things. Do your research, and find the best people you can to teach you these things, not the cheapest, most convenient, most comfortable, or just someone who’s been ‘nice’ to you. Be honest – don’t go fishing for compliments, and get honest feedback from people that you trust and admire; see where criticism dovetails. Sometimes you will get seemingly diverse feedback, but if you look for the common denominators, you will see where your problems lie. People may have diverging ideas about the cause or the remedy to what they see as a problem, but usually most of them will jump on the same problem. Find out what it is.
TECHNIQUE Your technique is going to be YOUR technique. You need to fill your bag of tricks with all kinds of advice, ideas, tips of the trade, exercises, information, etc… and learn to make your own decisions eventually. You will form your own technique from what you have gotten from your teachers, and what you learn on your own. I actually like the idea of taking lessons with more than one teacher to get as much feedback and ideas of how to think of the voice/instrument as possible. Summer can be an interesting time to try lessons with different people, and to make contacts. (Why waste your summers hanging out at home if you can try out for all kinds of summer programs and camps?) Be analytical about your technique – try to be as objective as possible about how things sound on your recording. Voice students – you can NOT hear what you sound like in your own head. If a teacher is doing something radically different from what you were doing before, try it, but be extra-careful about listening on your recording to see what it really sounds like and listen to your body to see how you feel after singing like that. Singers, you should not be hoarse. Instrumentalists, you should not hurt, unless it’s callouses you need to build up! Analyze your singing/playing. Listen to your own voice as if it’s someone else singing and see if you like that voice. Listen to great recordings (1950’s and up, I think!) and see what those voices sound like. Don’t try and copy them, just get an idea of the timbre of ideal voices, and flow of breath through them. AND, since we work continually with piano in college instead of orchestra, realize that your voice is going to have to carry over at least 30 instruments in the pit, and sing as if you are trying to reach the last row. This does not mean singing loud or forced – it means singing more concentrated. What sounds just fine in a practice room or studio is probably too fine-grained and mellow to cut over an orchestra. Listen to the tuning of singers and instrumental soloists over an orchestra; their tuning is on the high side of the vibrato, giving it the edge to carry. When you sing with piano all the time, you get used to tuning yourself in the flat middle of the pitch. Try doing some things with friends of yours who study violin or cello – you will feel the difference in how you need to sing with them!
Take written notes in your lessons!!
AND record them. And go over your lesson recording and notes immediately when you get home – otherwise you’ll never listen to it! OR set aside a time to listen to it. (In the car, if your parents can stand it!) It is so important to listen to your lesson recording and hear for yourself what you are doing. WRITE THINGS DOWN.
PRACTICE EVERY DAY.
This is a no-brainer. Now is the time to set up the patterns you would like to keep for life. You need to be building the muscles in your body and teaching muscles to respond. For singers – even if it means just doing breathing exercises as you lie in bed after you’ve hit the snooze button once, or humming and concentrating on your breath in the shower. Breath exercises are the most important thing you can do. It is the use and the compression of the air you use that is the most important component in singing. Practice at least 30 minutes to an hour a day. When you look at the endless hours instrumentalists spend on their instruments daily, you will see why they usually think singers are such fluff-heads.
Deal with health problems while you are young, so you will have the stamina to do well later. The older you get, the more entrenched problems will get. Face them and conquer them now! Start to get to know your body – study it, get massages/body work, learn about your muscles, your posture, the interconnection of muscles, etc… Take classes in Alexander technique, in movement, etc… Now is the time to set up the patterns you would like to keep for life. Your body is your instrument as well and you need to A) know it and B) take good care of it.
Singers, get in the habit of drinking tons of water – you are 75% water, and even just breathing every day makes you lose body water! Imagine when you’re not just breathing, but singing for hours a day – you lose a lot of moisture! Your voice needs to be lubricated at all times, or, like an engine, it will have problems.
Your entire body is your instrument, and you need to learn to play it. For singers – avoid caffeinated products – soft drinks, coffee, real tea, green tea. They dry you out. And if you must take prescription drugs, ask your SINGER-SPECIALIST THROAT DOCTOR if those drugs have repercussions on your singing voice. Your regular doctor or gynecologist or whatever will not know and will tell you they don’t affect your voice because they just don’t know.
Do not smoke. Do not drink too much alcohol. Alcohol dehydrates you, and is a depressive. If you’re feeling low, the last thing you need to do is to drink alcohol. Do not take drugs. This is a crucial time in your body’s development, and you are WIRING your brain for the rest of your life. Don’t screw up that wiring with artificial means. Besides being illegal, getting you into trouble with addiction and doing stupid things when you’re high, you could be stunting your growth and messing up your emotional well-being for the rest of your life. The worst thing for your brain and body to learn at this point is to rely on drugs or alcohol to dull the pains of growing up. It does not help you; it stunts your growth as a human being and makes you avoid dealing with emotional problems in a constructive manner. I should know – I am a recovering alcoholic, and I started drinking when I was in high school. If you would like to talk to me about that, please send me an email – email@example.com – I’d be glad to talk more about it with you.
I thought that would get your attention! Please, all of you, if you absolutely must have sex, at the very least, use condoms plus some other kind of birth control. The only 100% birth control, though, is keeping your pants on. Even if you’re on the pill, use a condom. Not only is there AIDS to worry about still, but a host of other nasties, such as Genital Warts, Chlamidia, Gonorrhea, Syphilis (yes, still!!) and Herpes, the latter of which never goes away! It is thought that 1/3 of the population has one kind of venereal disease stated here (many of whom don’t even know it). Don’t be fooled with the “I’m totally clean” story. Things can look perfectly healthy but hide a big old venereal WART or infection inside! Yuck. Remember, even oral sex is sex – don’t put anything in your mouth if you don’t know where it’s been! Singers – your throat is your instrument, remember? You CAN catch gross things by having oral sex. Girls, if a guy doesn’t want to use a condom with you, that means that he hasn’t used it with others, as well. Ditto, guys, with a partner who lets you go without one. Sorry to be graphic and gross, but ICK! Now is the time to set up the patterns you would like to keep for life. Don’t end up with a nasty reminder of those wild days for the rest of your life, or worse yet, bring an unintentional life into this world just because you were acting stupidly.
Girls – being “sexy” is not all it’s cracked up to be – do you really want to be an object? If you really want to have a relationship with a boy, quit sticking sex into the equation and then getting mad when that’s all he’ll think about! Cover up the booty and the boobs, and talk to him like a human being. Maybe he’ll treat you like one! It sounds really staid, but it’s true – getting horizontal too soon in a relationship clouds EVERYONE’S judgement. It is one thing to “dress like you want” and another to try and elicit sexual responses from others.
Build up your self-esteem in stronger ways than just sex – sex can make you feel exhilarated and loved in the short term, but in the long run will just make you feel used and abused instead of empowered if you are being casual with such a wonderful gift. Have a baby when you are good and ready – – not now – – and the baby will be a welcome addition to a stable, committed and loving relationship, not an excuse holding you back from doing great things with your life. Being mature not only means making decisions for yourself, but trusting the good advice of those who have lived longer than you and have perhaps been through some of these experiences before you.
Do you really need to burn your hand in order to learn that sticking it in the fire hurts? Trust us “old people” who have lived through your same experiences and give you advice – we’re not just doing it to hear our heads rattle – we really don’t want you to have to go through the same pain we have. So trust us without having to make those mistakes yourself!!
Talking about health, hormones have a direct effect on our voices. This means the pill, for you girls who are feeling liberated – – ask a throat doctor about the pill, and watch for its effects on your voice. If you feel anything amiss, STOP taking the pill at once. It can have huge repercussions, and actually change the structure of your throat! Permanently! See my health section in the Young Artist Corner for more information. If you are having weight problems and what feels like hormonal problems, get your thyroid checked out. I know many singers who have corrected problems they thought were vocal with thyroid or hormonal therapy.
If you have weight to lose, lose it now, and start an exercise regimen. NOW! This is a question of your health! With the amount of travel we have to do, you are risking your health by being overweight. Take the stairs instead of the elevator. Walk instead of driving when you can. Do not gain the “freshmen ten” at the all-you-can-eat cafeteria. Now is the time to set up the patterns you would like to keep for life. They are your choices.
Go to a school counselor and find out why you have excess weight – usually it has psychological issues behind it and you need to deal with these things now. Every well-lived life needs to be examined, and there is no better time to start than now. I could probably safely say that the majority of my thoughtful friends, as well as myself, have been through some form of therapy or another. There’s no shame in dealing with psychological problems – it is a health issue you can remedy.
Talk with a nutritionist to learn about an appropriate diet and how to best fuel your body. Remember that eating’s first purpose is to fuel your cells, not just to give you pleasure and taste good – that’s a by-product! Remember WHY you’re eating and be good to your body with fresh and nutritional foods, not pre-packaged, processed, artificial foods. Refined sugars and fizzy drinks are not good for you.
All of the “big is beautiful” Political Correctness does not change the fact that obesity is second only to smoking for causing cancer! (see article)
People are beautiful at all sizes and shapes, but if your fat ratio is more than 25% for men or over 33% for women, it is obesity and that is a health problem that you can probably change.
Exercise and good diet (less intake if you’re overweight until you get to your ideal weight) is the best policy for anyone. If you are thinking of taking drastic measures such as gastric bypass surgery, I would highly recommend against it. It can lead to major gastric problems, including continual reflux – something that will ruin your voice in no time. Instead, treat the root of the problem – a inadequate diet, lack of exercise, bad eating habits and maybe even hormonal/thyroid problems. Talk to your doctor. Being over your “ideal weight” is fine – there is a RANGE of ideal weight and not everyone fits in these strict models, but can look fantastic nonetheless and be in great shape. However, obesity is a health condition! I urge you in your formative years to figure it out and get healthy!
The longer you hold on to excess weight, the harder it is to get rid of later. If you are going to make a career in music, you will be on the road most of the time or have irregular schedules. Figure out these health issues NOW, while you are in one place and have the luxury of time.
VOICE STUDENTS – Learn about vocal physiology
Buy some books on the physiology of the human voice and study them IMMEDIATELY. Most conservatories only make you take one semester of vocal pedagogy at the end of your senior year, and yet in voice lessons before that, you never truly learn the mechanics of singing. You are working on hands-on technique and repertoire with your teacher, but most of the time have no idea what is going on in your throat. Find out! What other instrument has the audacity to study it without knowing how it works?
Read books such as Dudley Ralph Appelman’s “The science of vocal pedagogy: theory and application” (Bloomington, Indiana University Press, 1967) or William Vennard’s “Singing: The Mechanism and the Technic” (New York, C. Fischer, 1967). The latter is what my class used for our vocal pedagogy class. Or any of Richard Miller’s books! Check out the books page on my webpage. It will help you immensely to know the PHYSICAL things that happen when you sing, and to understand things from a physiological point of view when your teacher is correcting problems. You will be well-informed, instead of just talking in euphemisms (‘bite the apple’ instead of ‘lift your palate and drop your jaw’). You can ask specific and informed questions to your teacher. This knowledge will be one more piece of the puzzle in your bag of tricks.
While you’re learning repertoire
Learn things backwards and forwards, literally. Don’t always start at the beginning of your piece or the beginning of a phrase. If something is giving you trouble, start with the end of the phrase, so you can sing it well with enough breath support, and add on bits from the back end, starting further and further back in the phrase as you get more comfortable going all the way to the end. That trains your muscle memory to have enough air compression at the end of the phrase right off the bat!
Your approach to music
Yellow in your part. Yellow in the numbers in scores. It will help when a conductor says ‘let’s take it from big number 13!’ Yellow in the DYNAMIC MARKINGS, TEMPO CHANGES and COMMENTS like ‘adagio,’ ‘colla voce,’ crescendo or decrescendo, staccato or marcato or whatever… See if there’s something in the piano/orchestral part that’s not written in yours (dynamics more than anything). You don’t necessarily need to copy their effect if it’s making them quieter, but you will have to cope with them being louder, if that’s the case! There is more to the music than just your singing part!! Everything is in collaboration with your pianist or other instrumentalists. They are making music too, so don’t forget to treat them with the respect warranted. Treat your music for what it is – a collaboration of all the sounds put together, not just your melody.
BE HISTORICALLY AWARE.
If you are studying a piece written prior to the mid-19th century, for example, be aware that the edition you have is probably doctored up by a 20 or 21 st century editor. Phrase markings and dynamic markings were not a norm until almost the 1800’s or so. So take the phrasing stuff with a grain of salt. And decide on what YOU want to be your dynamics. The editor may be really good to try and give you an idea of the style, but it could be really bad, as well. Decide if you like it. If you don’t, OFF WITH ITS HEAD! Be skeptical of editorial markings, and check out the appendix or the foreward of the book to see how ‘doctored’ the version you have is – editors love to put their stamp on music. Once you find out what is original to the piece, you can underline in your singing what the composer wrote! Usually dynamics written in modern editions of earlier music are suggestions by the editor, not the original markings! Read the forward by the editor for once and find out if something in brackets means it’s editorial or what.
Find out WHAT the piece comes from originally. Usually what we treat as ‘songs’ by baroque composers are actually arias from operas, so they have an entire setting and emotional urgency that songs don’t necessarily convey. If you can’t find out the plot of the opera it comes from, make up your own scenario in your head, so you can try and make it as alive as possible to you. CONTEXT IS EVERYTHING. You obviously need to know the translation of the song or aria you’re doing. Research stuff – find out all you can about your songs/arias. Who was it written for? What else did that person sing? Is it based on a historical character – if so, what was the real story of that person? What was the historical/cultural/economic/educational context of that person in his/her society? It will eventually make a difference in your portrayal of roles onstage and right now, in your performance in a class or concert of these pieces out of their operatic context. You can research this online – the Aria Database has the first step – www.aria-database.com/cgibin/aria-search.pl – what happens in the aria, who sings it. You can do a google search for “synopsis” and the name of the opera, and find some site’s synopsis of the entire opera.
You can go to Amazon.com and find the complete recording of the opera to find out where the aria comes in the opera, and what your character sings before and after it. You might even be able to listen to mp3’s of the aria online on amazon.com. If you buy the cd, READ THE LINER NOTES! They usually were some musicologists’ dream job – to write about all those background things you want to know! There will most likely be a good translation (not a singing translation) in there, too. A singing translation is one that’s meant to be sung – it usually takes great poetic license with the original text, so don’t expect it to correspond to the exact meaning of the foreign language words. Do some homework. Find a real literal translation of the song, or make your own.
Style – up until later Verdi and into the 20th century, composers relied on and expected the creativity of their singers, and expected that some musical things didn’t even need to be written down (such as trills, cadenzas, ornamentation if you repeat something, etc.)
In the baroque period, composers knew that their singers/musicians knew the style. So they didn’t write many things down – their singers just KNEW to do it because of their formative training. This wasn’t the case in the 20th century – what you got on the page was what the composer wanted. So you need to remember this fact in earlier music: what is written on the page must be informed by historical practice of the time. It is not necessarily sung exactly as written.
Recitatives before 1830’s were meant to sound like speech patterns. They were not meant to be taken strictly in time, with all those rests treated as sacrosanct. They just needed to fit the notes into a time signature (always 4/4 if you notice!), and give ideas of the language’s phrasing with the rests. That doesn’t mean you need to pause at every rest or breathe there, or to count it out exactly in time. They knew that recitative rhythms were just an idea and that Italian singers would ignore the rests and recreate the flow of the spoken language. Try to make sense of the rhythms speaking the text, and feel free to carry over through some rests to get to the important words. Another example of performance practice of the time, many complicated rhythms (double dotted) rhythms were not written that way until much later, although the implication was to double dot something that was just dotted once.
If you’ll notice, in Rigoletto recitative – says ‘without the CUSTOMARY appoggiaturas,’ proving that as late as that 1851, singers were expected to fill in appoggiaturas in recitative.
Tempo markings are not necessarily metronomical.
Look up what they mean in Italian or German or French…. It is more their SPIRIT which is important than what the actual metronome reading is. Metronomes weren’t created until 1812 or so. ‘Andante’ means ‘walking’ or ‘going’ – that means a nice walking beat, but something that does move. ‘Allegro’ actually means ‘happy!’ so it should be vivacious in spirit, not just fast. ‘Adagio’ comes from ‘ad agio’ – “at your ease”, so it is not lethargically slow! ‘Lento,’ however, actually means ‘slow.’ Look up the real meaning of the words to get a good feeling for the spirit of the tempo, not just the rapidity… If you keep the spirit of the tempo marking, your actual tempo can vary from the slowest to the fastest range of that marking. See what tempo feels right with your vibrato – to allow your voice to vibrate full cycles on each note.
IMPORTANT NOTE – Pay attention to rhythm
Study it, conduct it, and learn rhythms really well. The voice is not a rhythmic instrument, and it is harder for us to create rhythm with our instrument, since there are mainly involuntary muscles involved. A cello or oboist has a different physical gesture to make on each change of note. We do not, so rhythm is not as obvious for singers. (Plus, we have words to worry about, as well, so you can’t be counting in your head while you’re concentrating on saying words!) So do your homework. There is nothing more refreshing than a very rhythmic singer! Learn rhythm well when you’re in freshman ear training, etc… Pay special attention in CONDUCTING CLASS! I thought it was a total blow-off and wish I had paid more attention! You will understand your rhythm so much better if you are able to conduct your part for yourself. And you will know what to expect from your conductor, as well. If you can take a class in Eurythmics (no, not the group, but the practice), please do it!
What to study in school –
languages, history, music theory, music history, and piano! These are all the things in a good music program for singers. And ACTING! This is not necessarily a requirement by the standards of most schools, but you desperately need it. You will never be ‘an opera star’ if you don’t know how to move and convey true feelings onstage. The reason someone touches you with their voice is not just because it’s beautiful, but because it’s communicating something. Learn stage technique so it becomes second nature and you don’t have to think about it any more. Then you can relax and emote onstage!
You will need excellent vocal technique, excellent language skills, excellent musicianship, excellent acting skills as simply GIVENS in this career, and then from there you can be freed up to decide HOW and WHAT you want to convey. Until then, you’re just a singer, not an artist.
It is very difficult to get into this career, and this career is very difficult even once you’re in it. Make sure the reality of the lifestyle is really what you can put up with before you embark on trying to make it happen. If you can do anything else with your life and be satisfied, I would urge you to do that instead. There are too many singers out there struggling. But if you are convinced, then go out there and DO it with all your heart! Read the rest of my Advice pages.
GOOD LUCK TO YOU ALL!
USE YOUR EDUCATION FOR ITS PURPORTED GOALS: TO TRAIN YOU, TO PREPARE YOU TO BE AN ARTIST, AND INTRODUCE YOU TO THE WORLD OF MUSIC. Lots of other young musicians would give their eye teeth to be in a magnet school or young artist program, so don’t waste your spot!! Take advantage of the advantages you have in a program. You are in control of your destiny. No matter what kind of pressures you have going on at home, it is up to you to prepare yourself as well as you can for the years ahead, and to go for it. Don’t expect anyone else to do it for you, and don’t be discouraged by nay-sayers if you really want to do something. Where there is a will, there is a way!