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Friday, February 3, 2017

Memorization, Part 3: All the comments!


I got some really fantastic feedback on memorization. Here's all of the comments, as they appeared in facebook.



Original posts:



Chris McCafferty


Write. It. Out. (text)

When I asked for more details, he provided a bunch!

Here are the best hints I ever received on learning music:
Rick Asher, Edmonds Community College -
- Search for the patterns, circle them. Repeat them.
- Search for the changes in the patterns, circle them, focus on them.

Once you have the patterns down, especially for repetitive or florid works, most of your time just needs to be spent on the changes.

Rick used to live using 2 color pencils. Red for areas you personally need to fix. Blue for general notes.

Me: I write out the text on a full size notepad. I leave three spaces between each line, with room to write out the IPA above, and literal translation below. Helps me learn the whole piece.
Other than some common/general things, those are my keys!

Ryan Bede


I do a lot of writing out of texts. Once I've fully translated the work, I start breaking it down into sections and make time goals for memorizing each one. I always build in a bit of time in case I can't spend ALL the energy I want to on learning/memorizing it.

Ruth C Schauble


I second this. I write the text repeatedly to memorize it.

Mike Heitmann


Whiskey and Incense. Or possibly setting small goals to get it done by the deadline. It's a toss up really.

Michael also sent me this message:
You can add this to it - Cue to cue tracks that you put on your phone so you can listen to it anywhere, playing difficult passages perfectly on the piano (so you can hear it and have a tactile response) then singing along on vowels, eventually adding the actual text, and after you're fairly sure you're memorized doing something mundane while singing it in an effort to see if the non-singing actions block your thinking. Basically mind games.

And of course conducting it like you are the conductor to help get the rhythm in your body, including cues and cutoffs.

Laura Loge


Thirding the Write it Out method... and tell the story, even when you are practicing. Also, run the texts in your head while you are doing other mundane tasks, like going for a walk. It will highlight the parts you're less secure about so you know where to go and write it out even more.


No worries! We all know about your multiple personalities ;) (This was in reference to my using the "Singerreise" page to reply instead of my own.) Writing it always works.... even in "new" languages. It helps with remembering the words, their meaning and how they related to the context and syntax around them. Of course, it follows a thorough word for word translation. Simply copying someone else's translation inhibits the learning process, imo. Translating it yourself (ideally with an actual book dictionary but ok to reference other translations) helps internalize the meaning of every word and as a whole which aids in the memorization and helps you tell the story.


Note for nursing moms, though - I don't recommend memorizing with nursing as it can cause let down when practicing or performing later. It is not comfortable (and very distracting) for that to happen while performing. And, yes, I am speaking from experience. Do not memorize while nursing your baby!!! Guys - you don't have to worry about this

Julie Benzinger


If the opera is in a language I am not familiar with, I translate the scenes first. I then sing through everything, making note of the tricky passages or labyrinth-like recits. The difficult passages and recits are the first to be worked on and memorized by repeating a combination of playing the rhythms and notes and then writing the text out. Once the text is wed to the rhythms and pitches, I try and step away from the music and drill it section by section, in chronological order and out of chronological order.

Stephen Leigh Jones


I learn the music and stay on music a long time. I refer constantly so that most all singing of the role is pretty much always correct. Then separate from rehearsing is writing out text of the words. I take them in scene sections and write them out 7 times. It always works.

Yes, second Laura's comment about running text in your head while doing other tasks. (Cooking, Cleaning, Walking to the Bus, Never while driving the car, etc.)

Erin Guinup


Writing it down (next to the translation) is definitely my strongest strategy but other tactics that I have used or recommended to students include ideas drawn from Howard Gardner's theory of intelligences: Drawing pictures, visualizing a movie of the plot unfolding, kinesthetic movement of phrases (dance and feel), speaking the text dramatically alone or to a partner with the partner reading back the translation, listening to recordings of their rehearsal.

I asked for more detail about Howard Gardner as an author:
Howard Gardner's theory of multiple intelligences has been very influential on education. This article might be a good starting place: http://www.institute4learning.com/multiple_intelligences.php

Basically, I try to help students figure out which approach(es) will work best for them. Some love to move or act out and others hate it. Since school often focuses on linguistic, many of us memorize well with writing text but alternative approaches are beneficial for some, especially those who don't thrive in traditional classrooms. Using multiple approaches often strengthens both the memorization and the interpretation.

Weston Hurt

Weston made his comments quoting from W. Steven Smith's book: The Naked Voice: A Wholistic Approach to Singing



I should say this is from my former teacher, Steve Smith's teachings...
1. Translate word for word AND phrase by phrase
2. Speak the text aloud as though you're reading a dramatic poem
3. Speak text aloud with projection, line and in rhythm
4. Play the pitches on the piano of your part, and if you can play the accompaniment.
5. Sing the piece
Sometimes before starting this process I'll listen to 4 or 5 different recordings to hear how it goes, and/for traditions of conductors I like or singers I like... but through this process you never have to even think of memorizing. It just happens.

Tom Forde


After the translation with the Nico, which I generally write out word for word on a note pad, I know my strength is learning things aurally.

So, I generally plunk out the notes and learn it.

Then if it's a recit show, I make a binder of all the recits I'm in. I will begin by making a recording of me singing all the lines (everyone else in a funny voice and then my voice for real).

This way I learn and memorize off myself without stealing someone else's ideas.

For the ensembles, I'll listen to recordings, and import them to ITunes. I will slow the tempi down manually and then with another audio file record myself plunking the piano part of what sing. On a third audio track, I then sing my part. Then I learn from the tracks, eventually deleting my "helper" tracks.

For solos/arias/songs, I work with a coach to record them and listen to our final version over and over.

Once I have a great feeling about what I am going to do, I'll listen to recordings (not many) to get the feel of a live performance of the piece, but I generally learn off my audio tracks.

This is a lot of grunt work initially, but it cuts my learning time down (because my mind doesn't move fast enough looking at the page), but my ears are far more useful.

Oh and by doing the recit recordings, you memorize everyone else in the process and learn their intention, too. I started this process in grad school, and it just worked for me.

Melyssa Rice


I use a similar process: I first learn the notes only, by playing my part and as much accompaniment as I can on the piano. No singing, just listening. I'm not the greatest pianist, so learning how to play my line with accompaniment is full of re-dos, which helps me memorize. I take note of difficult passages, places where the accompaniment supports/fights the vocal line. Once I have this figured out, I record it.

At this point, using the recording, I sing each section on the most appropriate vowel for that section. For me, high sections are best on certain vowels, low sections on other vowels. I do this until I've got the melody memorized.

Then, I do the IPA and translation on full-sized paper. IPA above words, translation below. Using that IPA/lyrics/translation and not the sheet music (looking at high notes can make me tense up), I sing through the melody many times on vowels only, using the recording. ("I see you" would be "a - i - u".) I may refer to the sheet music for tricky parts. When I've got the vowels lined up, I add the full words, singing from the translation/IPA sheet to my piano recording.

Lastly - and this is an important step for me - I pay for a rehearsal with a professional collaborative pianist and record it. I may still be using the IPA, but sometimes it's memorized by then. I then play that recording ad nauseum, while driving (not singing along), while cleaning, walking, etc., and also use it for practicing.

When I last performed with orchestra, I used my collaborative pianist recordings until I could make recordings at rehearsal.

Carissa Marsh


Knowing the word for word translation is essential for me. Then it is just getting in the characters head and feeling what they are feeling which makes it easy to remember what you are supposed to be saying. Then, of course, repetition. I speak my text a lot out of rhythm , I make sure I speak as accurately as possible inflected as it would be in the spoken word. If my head knows what I am saying, and my emotion is in the moment, I don't fear forgetting anything.

Patrick O'Halloran


ALWAYS before bed! Stays in your brain when you wake up

Karl Reyes


I "stage" myself so the imprint of the emotional intent is clear....a little hard to do with repetitive strophe lyrics, then I use progressive modeling or vocal color progression.

Ben Bongers


Unfortunately for me, every composer/librettist takes a different technique to really sink in. If it's Mozart or similar repetition, I memorize the words first as a poetic text, then add the music. I feel the lyricism in the words as poetry first.

If it's more through composed, I Lear the words like I learn an actors text. I take it by scenes. Then try to speak and memorize the rhythm. From that, I get an idea of the emotion that is being portrayed.
I like getting into the text and use THAT as the driver, instead of the music. The music many times overshadows the language. But for ALL of the intent to come through, the language many times needs to be vocally as present, and "acted" as the musical line.


From Cindy Sadler's The Business of Singing Forum

Also see her site: The Business of Singing

Cindy Sadler

I start from the back of the score and work forward, painstakingly, measure by measure. As soon as I have one measure down, I add the next, until I have sections, and then I start again with another section, making sure to cover the transitions between sections. This is how I learn new scores and if you do it like this, by the time you get to the beginning, it's memorized!

Suzanne Vinnik-Richards

I try to learn the text first and then the music. I have millions of journals that I write the words in OVER AND OVER AND OVER. I'll sometimes record the other roles and then recite my role. It helps me learn everyone's music without really trying too hard. Sometimes I draw pictures or make funny inside jokes for myself on difficult wordy music.

Susan Eichhorn Young

See also: Susan Eichorn Young Voice Studio
You may also be interested to join her "Artists for Artists" newsletter!

I work language away from music first. All language is done as a monologue/script first. All music is worked into breath and interval and rhythm. Then language is worked into the musical rhythm while still speaking. The inhale of a phrase is something that really helps to put things into the memory - if there's a hesitation, it's never gonna be there. Slowly I start melding together - and then work from the end to the beginning, middle to the end, middle to beginning, which allows for all areas to have my clearest attention. Memorized and clear to specifics!



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