Acting for Singers: Day 1, Topic 2
In my experience, young singers go about learning music completely backward. Really! Read the following steps, and you will not only get the correct learning process, but also see how musicians should spend their time in the practice room. An incorrect process leads to mistakes, vocal technique issues, inefficient practicing, unengaged acting, and in general, not-so-great performances. The following method may seem more time-consuming and tedious at the start, but in the long run, it will save you time and yield a much better final product. Give it a try!
Here is How!
1. Translate the language. Mark in breathing cues. Identify natural accents in the text.
2. Gather dramatic information that is in the printed music (musical form, expressive markings, dynamics, context indicators in language, action and mood music, and other primary sources that give insight into the piece).
3. Decide on the context for your piece (the who, what, where, when, why). Not all pieces have a given context. If the context is not dictated, then you get to choose one that you think fits the text, music, and you as an artist. Note: make a decision, but do it knowing that you can change any part of it later on if you come up with something better. The more vivid, imaginative, and emotionally charged, the easier it will be.
4. Storyboard your piece. Start with the big structural moments (beginning, end, new musical sections, climax, etc.), and then work down to individual phrases. Memorize the pattern of actions (“I go here, then I do this, then I see that, and I show this feeling on my face, etc.”). Be specific and talk in the first person when you are thinking about this character. Example: “At m. 25 beat 3, I see a candle in the distance and that gives me hope. I take a step towards the candle to try to see it better at the end of the next phrase, etc.”
6. Learn the diction correctly the first time by speaking it through until you can speak it like you MEAN it. It should feel fluid and natural on your tongue. GET HELP! IPA is great but a good coach or native speaker is even better.
7. Add in natural accents, dynamics, and phrasing required by the music while speaking.
8. Learn correct rhythms the first time. Take time to count it out with a metronome. Do it alone, then add in previous steps.
9. Learn correct notes on a vowel, or on all the vowels if you feel ambitious. Then add previous steps.
10. By this time you should have it pretty much memorized, so singing it over and over to learn it isn’t needed. You should sing through it while deliberately choosing one or two things you need to fix. Video yourself, review, and then choose new issues to focus on and adjust.
11. Listen to recordings of other artists performing it. By this point, you have already made all of your decisions. You are now listening not to learn the song, but to understand what other artists have done with it and learn from what they do well and what they don’t do well.
“Is this the only right way to learn a song?”
Nope. It is a great starting place though. Find the way that works best for you, but be deliberate about it. Work smarter AND harder. My suggestion would be to follow this method step by step for at least a few songs, and then when you’ve got it down, start to alter it to best suit you.
Links to other articles in Acting 101 for Singers Day 1
Topic 3: How to learn a role
Topic 5: Where am I? Who am I?
Topic 7: Lines – It’s about stress!
Topic 10: Where does imagination come from?