Technology for Learning Vocal Music

My typical method for learning new music is something like this:

  1. Get the music and look over it for general patterns in the music like repeats, etc.
  2. Find a recording if possible and familiarize myself with the music
  3. Learn the music by singing/playing through it with a keyboard
  4. Make clips of the music and listen/run it a lot to work memorization
  5. Repeat 3&4 as much as I can

If I’m singing in another language, I usually try to get the IPA and translations when I get the music to plug that info in as early as possible into the process. It helps memorization and learning the music to have an idea of what you’re saying. Plus learning the wrong pronunciation is never a good thing.

This post is about #4 above. I use a couple of technical tricks and tools to make it work. Here they are:

Audacity – Installing this and getting MP3 support is a bit harder than it should be, but the directions are decent on the site. I use Audacity to cut out parts in music where I’m not singing for a while. I typically cut it until about 4-5 seconds before my part comes in and then right after I stop singing. That way, I reduce the time I have to spend clicking around in my audio player figuring out when I come in. I’ll often turn one track into several files or combine a couple tracks into one. I name these files something like p320-327 (for page 320 to 327 in the score I’m using). This makes it easy not to waste time matching audio files to the score and vice-versa.

VLC – VLC is a pretty simple audio player (it does other things too, but that’s what I use it for here). In the Mac and Linux versions of it you can go to the menu and click  “View”->”Advanced Controls” to enable a button which allows you to do A -> B repeats. This lets you set start and stop markers and then repeat between the two. I do this a lot to help memorization. I can memorizing a phrase at a time then combine the two and just keep it on repeat until I get it really solid.

Dropbox – This is a great way to share files with other singers. If I’m learning a chorus part, I’ll sometimes share the clips that I make with audacity with other members of the chorus. Or put scans of the IPA or translations in there and share it. (Watch out for copyright issues here).

Phone app for piano – Sometimes I’m not by a keyboard and need one. If you have a smart phone, there are a bunch of free apps with keyboards that will work in a pinch.

I’ll try to keep this post updated as I come up with other stuff as it comes up.