I’m all about the maximum conservation of energy, and I never have enough time to teach new music. Here’s the quick and dirty method I use for musical theatre.
- Speak through all the lyrics, making sure you are pronouncing all the words.
- If this is truly for musical theatre, monologue the song. Do it at least 3 different ways. (For more information about this, see the process below.) Speaking the words is important; you are teaching your tongue, teeth, and lips what to do.
- Speak the lyrics in rhythm.
- If you have a recording of the song, speak the lyrics with the recording.
- Learn the melody on “da,” “doo,” “la,” “ti,” or some such syllable. Pure vowels are best. (If you’re having trouble finding where you’re supposed to be singing, stop and do some vocal warm-up types of exercises to find it. Try scale patterns.)
- Put it all together. Even if you don’t read music expertly, use the music. The staff is nothing more than a graph used to follow notes up and down, and the faster a note goes, the more ink you see on it. Slower notes use more space. Rests look completely different than notes.
Other things to do in the process or in cleaning up:
- Get your meaning right. If you can’t monologue the song, you can’t communicate the song. For help in monologuing, I recommend using the Five Elements and the Ten Basics compiled by J. Scott Fugate.
- Get your vowels right. We will work this in depth in rehearsal. Always look back to ah, eh, ee, oh, and oo. Not all English words fit into the pure vowels, but the pure vowels help cover a multitude of sins.
- Get your consonants right and pronounce them clearly. As my friend Brent Maddox taught me, vowels communicate emotion and consonants communicate intelligence. A song should communicate both.
- Use your notes right. Notation is not a secret code; it is meant to look like it sounds and to be easily understood. For more help, use the links above or try the lessons on musictheory.net.
- Use your musician friends. They love this stuff.
Resources for music literacy: