The following is written by Anne, one of our top voice teachers.
How to Prepare a Song for an Audition or Performance
With the audition season for school musicals, community theater musicals, OCSA, SOSCA, college auditions, or recitals and performance opportunities around the corner, let’s talk a bit about song preparation. For the sake of this blog post, we are assuming that you have already chosen your song (and if you haven’t, then be sure to check out Molly’s great blog posts about that, or ask your teacher for help!). Whether you need one song or five arias, let’s break down the steps to figuring out how to learn a song. As an added bonus, you can use some of these steps to learn a monologue as well! And remember, your teacher is more than happy to help you with any of these steps, but don’t forget that working at home is important as well.
1. Listen to the Song
First thing is first. You have to know what a song sounds like in order to sing it. Once you find your song, find the sheet music or the lyrics (if you read music, sheet music is definitely the way to go!) This next step is important even if you sort of know the song. Listen to it. Find a good clean recording that you like, and listen to the song while following along with the music. At this step of the game, don’t try to sing. Just follow along, and mouth the words as you go along.
2. Sing the Song
Second thing is second. Now you have to try to sing it. This step is best done first with your teacher to catch anything that you might have missed, or been confused about when you were listening, or even heard people do different ways. I do want to make a note that if you’ve been listening to the song (which I know you have because this is step two, and therefore you’ve already done step one), don’t try to sing it exactly like the singer you heard. If they speak lines that have notes, sing the notes. Just sing the notes and words that are on the page. We’ll go back later and get those extra things that help our performances pop.
If you are learning an aria in a foreign language, or even English, there are a lot more steps involved in one and two. They include speaking the language out loud and then in rhythm. Sometimes you want to take the words out and only sing the melody on a syllable. Your teacher will definitely be able to guide you on this.
3. Understand the Song
Okay, so. We have now learned our song. We have the pitches down, the rhythm down, and we know where the words should go. We’ve sung it through a few times with accompaniment (either live or a back track). So we are done, right? The song is prepared. Nope. Is this because we need to memorize it? Also no.
The third step is to understand what you are singing. No one writes a song because they just want people to sing random sounds, even if they seem random. If your song is from a musical or an opera, figure out where it comes in the story. Who is the character? What has happened to them before to make them sing this song? What is the song about? If the piece is commercial, you still aren’t off the hook. Look up when the artist wrote the song. What were they going through at the time they wrote this? Get some emotion behind what you are singing.
Foreign language singers, this is the time to translate those words, if you haven’t done so already.
4. Incorporate Movement
The final step is to decide if you are going to add any physical movements. Do you want to move your hand here for emphasis? Step forward? Move your head away? Turn (but make sure not while you are singing!)? These are all decisions that you can make to help to enhance your performance. Remember that you can talk these out with your teacher in your lessons as well. They might have ideas on what would be effective as well.
5. That’s All, Folks!
But wait! you say. Hold up. Nothing in there talked about memorizing the song. The thing is, if you have gone through all of these steps, and “lived” with the song, you might not need to memorize the song at all. By the time you are ready to give it some good run throughs at your next lesson, you probably already know it. However, if you have gone through all of these steps and still haven’t memorized it (and I know this has happened to me), then memorization is your absolute final step. Before performing, of course.