Monthly Archives: January 2015

Getting Started with Languages

Image by lusi at freeimages.com

Image by lusi at freeimages.com

Learning your first song in a language other than your native tongue can be a daunting task. But, fear not! Here are some simple ideas to help you get started singing in foreign languages.

Listen and Repeat

When you’re working on a song in a foreign language, it is a really good idea to listen to it being sung. If you can find a native speaker singing it, so much the better. YouTube and Spotify are both great sources for finding a range of recordings. As you listen, make sure you have the words in front of you so you can follow them. Read and listen to the song a few times, and on the last time through, grab a pencil and make a note of any pronunciations that jump out at you as particularly noticeable. For example, in German, a “w” is pronounced as a “v”.

 

Understand Pronunciation

Pronunciation is a tricky beast. It can be very difficult to find a clear guide to how to pronounce any foreign language without learning how to use the International Phonetic Alphabet. However, you can use different tools to help you. Try using an online text-to-speech generator to get a general sense of the words. Enter the song line by line to hear it read out. It’s imperfect, but should give you a good sense of the basic sound and shape.

I have also found that language learning software can be a great support for good pronunciation. If you have a smartphone or tablet, I cannot recommend Duolingo highly enough. This fabulous app has listening, speaking, reading and writing activities which help you learn all the key singing languages. This will also help you to begin to understand the structure and nature of the language you are singing in which will mean you will be able to communicate the meaning more clearly.

If you are keen to learn more about Pronunciation, A Handbook of Diction for Singers by David Adams is a comprehensive resource for Italian, French and German. This book uses IPA to explain the rules of pronunciation in all three languages.

 

The ‘Allo ‘Allo Rule

The best tip I was ever given by a singing teacher for learning a song in a foreign language was “sing it like you’re in ‘Allo ‘Allo”. For those of you not familiar with this reference, ‘Allo ‘Allo is an old British comedy show set in Nazi-occupied France. It was known for the particularly theatrical accents which often bordered on mockery.

Of course, my teacher was not advising me to mock the language I was singing in. Instead, by aiming for the over-the-top accent when singing, I would end up hitting a quite convincing sound. Thus, if you’re struggling, try to over-exaggerate the linguistic features. Make the German extra guttural and harsh, make the French really pouty, or the Italian very rounded.

 

Find the Meaning

Once you have a grasp on how to make the sounds, it is also important to begin to understand the song in translation. There are some excellent sites around which have translations of art song texts such as Rec Music. Choose one or two you like, and read them over a few times to begin to understand the words. Consider how the meaning of the lyrics fits with the music.

You might also want to try putting the lyrics through Google Translate. This won’t give you a poetic translation, but it will be quite literal. This can help you to identify key words in the text. I often write the translation of a few of the most important words, and the words at key points in the music, so I can see the meaning as I practice the song.

 

I hope these tips will help you to begin to tackle your first foreign language songs and help you have the confidence to explore the whole world of music.

Do you have any favourite methods for learning foreign language songs? Leave them in the comments below.

Why You Need HARD Goals

I’ve written before about SMART goals, but last year, I came across the idea of HARD goals, and it was a bit of a revelation.

What are HARD goals?

HARD goals are big goals. They’re not manageable, or realistic; instead, they’re:

  • Heartfelt – something that you really want to achieve. It’s a goal which you feel strongly about in a way that motivates you.
  • Animated – something that you can imagine achieving. You can really see the day that you’re going to get there.
  • Required – something you feel you have to do. It’s something you need to rather than have to do.
  • Difficult – something that’s beyond your abilities right now, but you are going to go for it anyway.

Think about the great songs from the musicals – none of the big dream songs are realistic, or time-bound. They’re not measurable or specific. They’re big, expansive, imaginary dreams that drive our protagonists forward. Think about Elphaba at the start of Wicked. In the song, The Wizard and I, she describes her heartfelt desire to meet the Wizard. It’s fully of animation with her imaginary conversation. It’s clearly something she feels is required for her future happiness, and it’s definitely difficult! This HARD goal is what drives her through the whole first half of the show (and if you want to know what happens in the second half, you should definitely try to see it!).

HARD goals are what we really find motivating. Why else would humans have climbed Everest, circumnavigated the globe or travelled into space?

Setting HARD Goals

Let’s face it, you probably have a HARD goal or two already. Perhaps it’s a life-sized HARD goal, like wanting to become a professional singer. Or maybe something a little smaller, but no less challenging, like singing in public. One of my HARD goals is to learn to accompany my students on the piano (I’m a first study singer, and only started piano lessons a few years ago).

The first part of setting a HARD goal is to work out what HARD goals you already have. What do you dream of? It might feel stupid, or impossible. It might seem ridiculous. That’s ok. Remember this is supposed to be a difficult goal.

If you don’t already have a HARD goal that comes to mind, try thinking about what you’d like your life to be like in five, ten or twenty years. Where does music fit in? What place does it have? Is it your career? A valued hobby? A way you are volunteering your skills? What kind of music can you play? What qualifications do you have? Are you in a choir? It should provide some inspiration!

Using Your HARD Goals

HARD goals are all about inspiration. They’re the things that drive us forward. Why not write them down? Keep them in your music notebook or on the wall in your room. Keep them in your mind so that when you are struggling to practice, or wondering why you bother, you can remember the goals that make you feel alive.

Our HARD goals can help us to make SMART goals too, and this is what I’m going to talk about next time.

Help! I’ve Lost My Voice!

Image by Cieleke at freeimages.com

Image by Cieleke at freeimages.com

As a singing teacher, the last way I wanted to kick off 2015 was with a bout of Laryngitis, but alas, I am finally recovering after nine days without being able to speak, let alone sing. So what should you do if you end up hoarse, or loose your voice entirely?

Stop Talking! (And Singing)

This was my number one mistake. I had a friend staying overnight when my voice began to go, and instead of sadly sending her away, I carried on talking… I’m pretty sure this is why it’s taken over a week to recover.

In order to recover quickly, it’s important to get as close to 100% vocal rest as possible. If you have a vocal problem, then it’s really important to stop immediately. If you can, take time off work. Even if your work doesn’t involve talking professionally, you’ll find it hard to rest 100% if you are in the presence of your colleagues. Same goes for school.

You should also stop singing. Singing is usually harder than talking, and trying to sing when you’re hoarse can make it worse and delay your recovery. Even if it doesn’t hurt, you should still take a few days off. If you’re still wanting to keep up with your music, why not use the time to work on some theoretical exercises, listen to some new music, or even watch a whole opera, oratorio or concert (you can usually catch them on Sky Arts, or there are plenty available on YouTube).

Keep Hydrated

It’s really important to drink plenty to help your larynx recover. Try to avoid caffeine, and sugary drinks. Warm herbal teas may be especially soothing. Alcohol is especially bad because it is so dehydrating (that’s part of what causes hangovers).

The other thing that can be really helpful is steam. I absolutely love it! Breathing in hot steam can be soothing, and will keep your larynx lubricated which will help reduce irritation. Fill a bowl with a kettle full of boiling water, and then cover your head and the bowl with a towel. Breathe until the water stops steaming (usually about 15 to 20 minutes).

Take Care with Medication

Most “sore throat” remedies like Strepsils will not reach your larynx, so are unlikely to help with your problems. Taking anything that acts as a painkiller can dull sensations and this means you are more likely to think you can speak and then injure your voice. Over-the-counter medications will only relieve some of the symptoms by masking them.

Laryngitis is usually caused by a virus, so antibiotics are unlikely to be effective. However, if it goes on for a week or more, it is usually advisable to see your GP to make sure that it is not a bacterial or fungal infection.

Ensure Good Vocal Health

If you are aiming for good vocal health, smoking should be off the table anyway. However, if you are a smoker, this can make laryngitis worse and delay recovery. It may be helpful to use a nicotine replacement therapy to help you avoid smoking.

Recovery!

Hopefully, if you follow the rules of complete vocal rest, your voice will recover. Once your talking voice returns completely to normal, you can start to go back to singing. It is very important not to try to sing until you are sure that your voice has completely recovered.

It’s vital that you take it really slowly. Start with gentle humming over a very small range close to your speaking range. If there is any catch in your voice, stop and try again in the next day.

Once you can hum over a good range, try sirening on a hum, or an ‘ng’ sound to see where there are catches. It may help to start with a small siren over an octave or so, and then increase it a little each time until your whole range is back.

You can then begin to introduce other exercises gradually. It may take three or four weeks to fully recover, but you will be glad you took the time.

 

So if you’re feeling a bit hoarse this winter, don’t be afraid to take the time out that you need to really ensure you are fully recovered.

For more information, check out NHS Choices for a comprehensive guide.