How to Learn a New Art Song or Operatic Aria

How to Learn a New Art Song or Operatic Aria

Many magnificent composers remained famous throughout centuries thanks to the outstanding musical pieces they had created. Classical era was especially fruitful, giving birth to many musicians who were later entitled as geniuses, or have been widely recognized as the best composers of all times. Moreover, the talent of each of them was so brilliant that they wrote a wide range of musical forms, such as concertos, symphonies, operas, ballets, etc. They not only composed for different musical instruments, but also for vocal performance, demonstrating a variety of their skills and mastery.

I had always been fascinated with the beauty and harmony of classical music. The influence of the music composed during Classical era should not be underestimated. It brings joy to its listeners and evokes a deep emotional response in them. I would like to be able not only to perform, but also to convey emotionality, passion and the right mood of each vocal piece to the audience by learning how to sing with real expression and to touch people’s hearts like the professional opera/operetta singers do.

Thus, one of my ultimate goals is to move from the category of listeners/performers to the category of professional classical singers. I believe that it will be possible first of all through my future in-depth vocal studies of classical pieces at SCHOOL NAME. It will not only advance the level of my musical awareness and appreciation, but also will allow making a career in the field of classical singing, adding to my personal progress. I know that a big portion of famous vocal classical pieces cannot be performed by average vocalists, only by real professionals. I also understand that training for classical singing would be a long process of studies and practicing. I believe that by becoming a student of SCHOOL NAME I will be able to improve my vocal skills as a classical singer.

I realize that as a beginner classical singer I should know how to learn a new art song or operatic aria. It can be done by following a few specific steps.

Getting Acquainted with the Piece

The vocal piece that is being learned could be a part of a much bigger musical form, such as an opera, oratorio, song cycle, cantata, etc. In most classical forms, it would most likely follow certain scenario and plot. Therefore, it is important to read the text of the entire musical work (e.g. libretto for opera or operetta) to be able to understand where this particular scene or piece fits in the drama. I understand that I should take my time to study the narrative to learn more about the singing character I am going to represent while performing the piece – whether it is a positive or negative personage, someone in love, happy, or broken-hearted. Such brief acquaintance with the whole work is required for me to be able to perform the song/aria with the right emotional expression and convey the appropriate mood.

Next, I have to learn more about the piece itself. It needs to be quickly scanned from the beginning to the end. I should first of all define the piece’s tempo (presto, allegro or andante), time (3/4, 4/4 or maybe 6/8), key (major or minor), and tonality (e.g. whether the piece is intended for soprano or alto). If the different vocal parts are not separated but given all together, I would have to decide which part of the vocal harmony I am going to perform according to my vocal abilities. Most important, I should notice any changes of key, tempo, dynamics (e.g. from forte to piano or from pianissimo to fortissimo), and mood.


Work with the Text

While reading the text aloud, I need to make sure that I fully understand its meaning. If there are any words with unclear meaning, I should look up their definitions in the dictionary. In case the piece is in a foreign language, it would take more efforts to learn and understand it, but in my opinion a professional singer should be able to perform in a foreign language to appreciate the piece of music as it was originally written. Therefore, at some point I need to familiarize myself with the language of the piece.

After translating the foreign text word-for-word, I should write it down in IRA transcription. I believe that to ensure the right transcription, it would be helpful to ask someone who speaks the required language to read the text for me, so I would know how the words are pronounced correctly. If struggle with the right pronunciation, I might call for professional help of a foreign language tutor. Then I have to say the written words out loud until I learn how to say them right. This principle is applicable to both English and other languages – the text needs to be learned in any case. Saying the text in different tempo and volume with many repetitions would be good for improving my diction no matter of the language.

Rhythm and Melody

Now it is time to move to the next stage – learning the piece’s rhythm and melody. Once I tap the rhythm of the piece – it can be even, syncopated, up-beat or off-beat – I should try to speak the words in rhythm. To learn it faster, I can do it in a different tempo, slowly or quickly, say it quietly, then loudly – whichever way seems more effective to me.

Studying the melody would be the next step. After dividing it in accordance with the phrases, I should get to know the melody of each phrase by listening to it or playing on the piano for a few times. Then I should sing each phrase with no words to get fully acquainted with the music – this would be the best way to learn my part. I understand that it is extremely important for classical vocalists to be able to sing long phrases. Once I sing it phrase by phrase, I should perform the piece as a whole, with the right rhythm and music but still with no words. At this stage I would need to practice the piece on each of the pure vowels, for instance:

ɑː- ɑː- ɑː- ɑː- ɑː,

ɔː- ɔː- ɔː- ɔː- ɔː,

iː- iː- iː- iː- iː, etc.

Besides the fact that this exercise would develop my vocal abilities, articulation, alignment, and breathing, by singing it on pure vowels I would be able to memorize the rhythm and melody quicker. Such practicing is especially needed for singing opera, because to be able to sing long vocal passages and perform loud enough to be heard in spacious halls I should train my mouth and throat to be wide open. At this stage I should focus at how to get the basics right, which will be helpful in future, especially when I perform during the long works (operas or operettas) that may last for 2-3 hours.

Proper Performance

As soon as I have learned the rhythm and melody by practicing them separately and together, now it is time to move on and start to practice singing each phrase with the words. At this stage I should translate and apply all the composer’s marks and indications to ensure I would perform the piece in accordance with the original requirements.

I have to practice singing each phrase applying proper dynamics, tempo changes, colors of voice, and mood. Only after all the above stages, I can make an attempt to put the phrases together and perform the piece as a whole. If the piece that I am working at is well-known, I think listening to the recordings to hear and learn how the greatest singers did it would also be very helpful – not to imitate them, but to develop my own style and techniques. Watching the singers is important too, especially for learning certain singing techniques or achieving the right voice color and mood. Also, I fully realize that at some point classical singing might require certain acting abilities.

In conclusion, I am convinced that by studying at SCHOOL NAME I will be able to receive the best musical education. Similarly to the greatest singers of the Classical era learning from each other and sharing their experience, I will also learn from the best talented vocalists and musicians who work at this school, and they will open the door to the world of professional singing to me. I believe that besides qualified staff, SCHOOL NAME has all the required facilities, so its students are able to learn everything they need to develop their musical gifts and grow professionally. As a prospective student of [Classical Singing] (YOUR FUTURE MAJOR) I have the relevant educational background and ready to work hard by going through long hours of vocal practicing to achieve my goals – begin as a vocal student and become a qualified classical singer.


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