7-Steps to Learn Music/Language Learning Tips

I didn’t come up with these rules myself—I’ve been hearing them said in different ways since my college days, and I know that it works from my own experience and many colleagues. It may seem like it will be slower, but in the end it’s actually faster, more accurate, and is very secure.

Step 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, especially if you are coaching in a country where you don’t get to speak your own language! If you are Korean translating a German text into English for the coach, it won’t have the immediacy that translating it into your own language would. 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.

Step 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 vocalise to work out any problems in advance.

Step 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.

Step 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. You’d be shocked to know how often all I do for an hour is show people exactly what’s written on the page. Save yourself time and money by looking at that yourself!

Step 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.

Step 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:

Step 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.

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Language Learning Tips:

--For beginners, try to find a balance of reading it on the page, hearing people pronouncing it, speaking it yourself, being able to spell in the foreign language and understanding the grammar of your own native language.

--Learn the orthography at the beginning. Understanding how a language is spelled will save a lot of time later in understanding how to pronounce it. The [ʧ] sound in Ciao in Italian is spelled differently than Tschüss in German or Chihuahua in Spanish, and it's important to figure those differences out early, so that when you learn new vocabulary you can make your best guess at pronouncing it.

--Flashcards--I always recommend making your own, although there are pre-fabricated flashcards available, as well as flashcard apps. If you make your own you get the benefits of:

  • writing it down (for those of us tactile learners!)
  • being able to format them any way you want (I always leave room for the plural form of the word, any irregular verb forms or stems and phrases that the word is often used it)
  • being able to write in your phonetics, including stressed syllables, open and closed vowels, voiced consonants or any exceptional pronunciation

--Flashcards II--When studying flashcards, try not to just attach the foreign word with its equivalent in your native language. Instead, try to associate it with an image or idea. For example, if you have "das Fenster" in German, say the word a few times and look at your window. Create sentences for idea words so that you're always using the words to form phrases, this will create more connections in the foreign language.

-The best verb drills ever--in French III, every time we encountered a new verb, my teacher made us go through the entire conjugation in every possible form:

  • Statement--Je suis, tu es, il est, etc
  • Question (in 2 forms!)-Suis-je? Est-ce que je suis? etc
  • Negative Statement-Je ne suis pas, etc
  • Negative Question-Ne suis-je pas, Est-ce que je ne suis pas? etc
  • then include every different tense of the verb that you've learned so far! Don't forget to study the imperative forms and that some tenses will need "que" in front of them (and then you can add in "I hope that" forms to make this even more complicated!).

It gets very complicated very quickly with all the auxiliary verbs in some verb tenses and once you hit reflexive verbs even more so! But it creates neural pathways so that your brain will start to come up with these configurations automatically and it will start to sound right to you.

Listening exercises--the most important thing is to always listen ACTIVELY. Having it on in the background doesn't really help study, much as we all wish we could learn by osmosis! Try transcribing what you hear when you are doing listening exercises, it will help distinguish words and solidify the spelling rules, which in turn helps diction. Some free ways to get in some foreign language listening:

  • Switch the language on your favorite DVDs. Most DVDs come with several language tracks on them, try switching the language and see how much you understand. The also often have subtitles, which you can follow along (although they don't necessarily match the exact words of the dubbed speech, so don't get frustrated!). If your favorite DVD has subtitles but not a language track for the language you're studying, try turning off the sound and following the subtitles, to see how much you can understand.
  • Podcasts. I'm addicted to podcasts. I have podcasts on my iPod in everything from Russian to Greek rock music to French exercises to Vegan health to Jillian Michaels to Inside Out Weight Loss... and you don't need an iPod. iTunes is a free download, and you can listen right on your computer. Most language podcasts include a website where you can download the transcriptions of the episodes or the answer keys to their exercises.

Children's books are a great way to read in a foreign language, because they are generally closer to our level! I usually start with the 6-8-yearold age range and move up through the teens from there. Look up the words you don't know and try reading the book aloud every night before you go to sleep. If you have kids, make it a game you play with them--I used to read fairy tales in French to a friend's kids at bedtime, and after every sentence I would translate it into English for them.

Get a library card! I'm always surprised that more people don't take advantage of the free resources available to us all--the city library is always the first place I go when I move somewhere new. I take out CDs and scores, as well as children's books in foreign languages, language learning CD-roms and books, audiobooks in several languages, plus, of course, American/British crime fiction.