Learning Music

What’s your preferred method for learning new music? Or is your sight-reading so good that you don’t need to look at music ahead of a performance?

There must be many different ways for singers to learn music – either on your own, or in a group setting. Me, I always prefer to look at new pieces in a group rehearsal, because I can then hear how my line fits in context with the other voices. But rehearsal time in some choirs can often be tight, and there can also be an understandable reluctance from some directors to note-bash individual lines.

So unless you’re blessed with a wealth of rehearsal time (and a very patient choir trainer), it’s inevitable that you’re going to be required to learn some music on your own. And I’m guessing different people prefer different methods.

I will often listen to recordings of the piece and sing along to learn the notes. However, there are distinct disadvantages in doing this; namely that you might end up learning someone else’s interpretation of the piece; and also that you may subconsciously rely on the voices in the recording to help set your pitch and timing, and end up not being able to sing your line unaided later on.

Other people may prefer to play the music to themselves on the piano or another instrument – but that implies a degree of proficiency in instrumental playing that not all singer have. And so a few singers use one-to-one lessons with singing teachers to help learn their part – but again, this can be seen by some as a waste of the teacher’s time and experience, which would be much better employed polishing the finished performance, rather than teaching notes. And finally, some people have the ability to hear music inside of their head just by looking at the notes on the page, and as such, can learn music in silence.

As I’m sure all choir trainers will tell you, in an ideal world all member of the choir would turn up for rehearsals knowing the music, allowing them the time to check the ensemble, and add the final details to the performance. But we all know that the world isn’t perfect, and many singers (even – shock horror – some professional soloists) turn up to rehearsals having not learnt the music beforehand.

It is, of course, highly regrettable to turn up having not learnt your part properly – particularly if you end up being the weakest link in the choir. But I’m sure we’ve all done it at different times in our musical careers. I know I have. Lack of time (and sometimes a touch of laziness) has periodically stopped me turning up fully prepared. And sometimes when this happens, I’m lucky enough to blag my way through. And other times, I have been known to go wrong during a concert or service. But at least my lack of preparation has never caused a piece of music to collapse during the performance – something I’ve seen other singers do.

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