It is easy to become a professional singer – but it takes ten, twenty or even a hundred years of consistent practice – and that’s not because people don’t learn much. The secret is in the practice. It’s about knowing what to sing and how to sing well, and the skills in harmony and technique you gain from it. This is the way to get good.
The second kind of training – the practice that makes you good – is in the “how to be” in a given situation. We learn to sit on a bus by looking at photos of passengers or people who are sitting across the room. You don’t need to know how to do this – it’s in your genes if you want to be an astronaut. But being a good passenger or a good teacher takes years of practice because it doesn’t just come out of thin air – it’s a lifelong process that you have to develop, by going to classes and doing research and reading studies.
I would say that the second way (practice) is more important in our field than in other fields; and it also requires the practice of the other fields to make things come full circle.
In other fields the method of training comes from the outside – we look to the masters, or to those who have passed the test – to get the best result. But in the music business practice comes from inside, from the people who just don’t know how and who have to learn a little and come to it from scratch.
The other type of practice involves the “how to think better”, the way we try to find ideas that will improve the production of a concerto or opera so that the actors and musicians get the greatest performance the audiences are going to get. This is all in addition to the more subtle, but still important, aspect – and that is to do exactly what’s supposed to be done. When you can think in terms of doing what’s supposed to be done, then you can make choices that will create an effect that will be effective at the time you choose to do it.
I was talking with Mr. James H. Totten earlier this year (from the Chicago symphonic symphony) and asked how many works in his repertoire he was interested in learning how to do for the next generation. He said: “I’d like to learn how to play, if possible.” When I said: “Yes, you will,” he agreed and said that he doesn’t know when he’ll learn and can’t imagine that when
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