How to Tackle a New Song in Steps

Many singers try to conquer all the details of a brand-new song in one session. But picking up an unfamiliar song and getting the words, rhythms, and melody right at the same time may take more than one session. The process goes much quicker if you take some time to scan the song, break it down into manageable pieces, and then conquer it one piece at a time.

By scanning, you should check these musical details:

  • Direction of the melody: A melody can move up or down in stepwise motion, meaning that the notes are right next to each other or just one step away from each other, or in leaps, called intervals. The more you look at your music, the more you get used to seeing the notes on the page and knowing what the distance between those two notes sounds like.

  • How the rhythm and the words work together: The melody may have one note for every word or syllable, or you may have to sing two or three notes for every syllable.

  • Repeating sections: Sometimes music is written with no repeats; other times, certain sections repeat. Look at the music for signs to indicate what you’re supposed to repeat.

  • Speed: Tempo, or speed, markings usually appear at the beginning of the piece. Sometimes the words describing the tempo are in Italian. Look up the word so you know the speed the composer intended.

  • Volume variations: In music, volume (degree of loudness and softness) is called dynamics. Dynamic levels are also often written in Italian.

If you give yourself time to absorb these details one at a time, you can master the song much more quickly than if you try to cram it all into your head. Read on to find out how to create steps in your discovery process.

To sing a song as the composer intended, you need to understand these notations. See Music Theory For Dummies, by Michael Pilhofer and Holly Day (Wiley), for more help with reading musical notation.

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