How to Tackle New Literature

What follows is a seven-step process to tackle literature. This process is a systematic approach, so although it may seem like it will be slower, in the end it’s actually faster, more accurate, and is very secure:

  1. Text alone. It’s very important to get the text away from the notes, so either write it out for yourself or use a libretto. Translate the text, IPA it if necessary, monologue it by memory in the original language and in your own language. This is your chance to figure out exactly what your subtext is, what you are trying to convey and how you want to communicate that.
  2. Notes alone. Without rhythm. Just learn the notes in order on a random vowel, find the shape of the line, figure out where the toughest passages are and use them as a vocalize to work out any problems in advance.
  3. Rhythm alone. Be sure to look for the little things that often get missed, pick-up notes that are sometimes eighths, sometimes quarters, where the stressed beats are in the phrase, whether the dotted notes are actually double dotted, especially in long passages of coloratura that aren’t equal rhythms. Pay attention to extra markings the composer uses, tenuto dashes, staccato markings, accents.
  4. Text in rhythm. Try to suit your monologue to the rhythm that you worked out — if it’s from a good composer, it should fit together easily. Remember those extra markings and figure out what that has to do with the text.
  5. Notes in rhythm. Again, pay attention to the markings, tenuti, staccati, accents. Since you’ve worked out the vocalism of it already, now you just need to fit that into the time constraints of the rhythm and make music out of it.
  6. Text and music with no rhythm. This is really your chance to slow it all down, figure out how the vowels fit into the vocal line. Take this step slowly, so that you are sure that you’ve worked everything out before:
  7. Everything together, words, rhythm and music. If you’ve done all of the steps, you will have the piece memorized by the time you’ve learned it, and have worked out most of the technical issues before they ever came up.