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Literature For Teaching
Transcript of Literature For Teaching
A guide to choosing repertoire for your students
The purpose of this presentation is to give you the tools to evaluate potential repertoire for all of your students.
As teachers, we must remember that each student is different than the next, and that what may work well for Sally might not work well for Jimmy.
Choosing voice literature for your students can seem like a daunting task.
In a pinch, we tend to go back to the songs we know or the songs we were first given as beginning voice students.
So, why NOT just assign all of the 24 Italian Songs, Schubert’s An die Musik and Nacht und Träume, Fauré’s Chanson d’amour and Automne, a few Hoiby and Hundley songs and then move on to the arias?
Many of these examples are simply inappropriate for beginning singers.
They can be "rangey", the vocal lines can be difficult to maneuver, their subject matter can be daunting or too mature, and, overall, they do not set students up for success.
Rule of Thumb:
The best policy is
“First do no harm.”
Why is this piece appropriate?
What about this piece will help my student achieve his/her goals?
How will this piece get my student to the next level in his/her vocal development?
Questions to ask when choosing repertoire:
What are we looking for in a song?
Phrase Length/Breath Pacing
Accompaniment and Harmony
Language and Diction
How large is the range?
For young/less experienced students, you want to look for pieces with smaller ranges (a sixth to an octave).
For the average young singer, look for pieces that stay mostly within these ranges: Women: G4-D5, Men: F3-C4
Where does most of the piece sit in terms of pitch?
A tessitura that sits either very high or very low in the singer’s range, or one that sits around the passaggio, will be difficult for young/inexperienced singers to negotiate. It will also encourage vocal fatigue.
Is the piece in major, minor, or both?
Is it in a bright key or a dark key? How can the key affect the tone?
Is the piece in a diatonic key or in a mode?
Does the piece stay in one key or change keys?
Does the student read sharps or flats better?
Does one affect their intonation more than another?
How difficult are the rhythms/meters?
How difficult do they look on the page?
Is there a variety of rhythms?
Does the piece employ simple or compound meter?
Are there metric shifts?
How fast or slow is the piece?
How will that affect the rhythms?
How long is the average phrase?
Are there places where the singer can take adequate breaths?
Could you break up long phrases by inserting breaths?
For younger/more inexperienced singers, more time to breathe/release between phrases is key.
Phrase length and
What is the melodic movement like? Is it mostly stepwise? Are there many large intervallic leaps (more than a third)?
Is the melody more lyric or more speech-like/syllabic?
Are there melismas?
Is the melody primarily diatonic or are is there chromatic movement?
For which voice type is the piece written?
Does the melody approach the passaggi or skip over them?
In general, start in the middle of the singer’s range and work in a limited pitch range, then expand the range outward.
How simple is the accompaniment?
Does it double the singer? If not, does it support the singer harmonically?
What is the harmony like? Does it distract or make it difficult for the singer?
How quickly does the harmony change?
How thick is the harmonic texture? (i.e. will the singer have to ‘sing over’ the piano or is the piano so sparse as to be difficult?)
If you can’t hire an accompanist for your lessons, could you play (or fake) this piece?
In which language is the text?
Does the song have a significant amount of text?
Would the diction be a challenge for the singer?
Would the language help to achieve any pedagogical goals?
Text and Poetry
Are there any difficult expressive markings in the piece, such as accents?
Are extreme dynamics required of the singer?
In what part of the range are they required? (i.e. very soft high notes)
Do the dynamics support the registration of the voice?
Is the piece gender-specific, judging by the text?
Is the speaker of the poem younger or more mature (and how much life experience are they supposed to have)?
Does the poem have one narrator or multiple characters?
Is the text difficult to understand?
Is the poetry particularly flowery or antiquated?
Is the text appropriate for the singer?
Does the text engage the singer?
Text and Poetry
What is the genre of the piece?
How might this affect the way it is sung?
This is a nice umbrella for many of the other elements, such as key, emotion, tempo, registration, etc.
Where can you find it? Is it available in many keys?
Is the edition you chose easy to read (Will the student be intimidated by what the music looks like on the page)?
What can this piece teach your student?
(We’ll get to this later…)
Let's look at some examples...
Sample Rubric #1
Notes:This would be a good piece for working through the passaggi in the tenor voice. The French is not extremely difficult, but requires some prior knowledge of the language for ease of articulation.
Note: This piece is tricky and is better suited to more advanced students. Even so, one can find more than 20 YouTube clips of young people singing this aria...
Including this gem:
What do you want to achieve with this piece?
Songs for Improving Registration
Things to look for:
Limited range - melodies that work between the passaggi for females and below for males
Melodies that skip over the passaggi
Pieces where the singer has the chance to reset the breath regularly
Descending stepwise lines
To encourage bringing head resonance down
Be mindful of which vowels are most common in the piece and where they fall in the singer’s range.(For example, [u] is primarily a head-dominant vowel, whereas [a] is primarily a chest-dominant vowel)
Dotted rhythms and staccati encourage lightening of the voice
A piece that requires a more speech-like approach in the lower range could be helpful for allowing the chest voice to help the middle range
Songs for Improving Breathing and Support
Things to look for:
Phrases where it is easy to add breaths and then take them out gradually, as the singer is ready
Structure where the phrase lengths build (such as two, 2-bar phrases followed by a 4-bar phrase)
Pieces with enough time for the singer to reset the breath in between phrases
Triplet rhythms help move the breath
Songs for Improving Phonation and Resonance
Things to look for:
Good vowel sequencing
Opportunities for the singer to work on balanced onsets
Note: Each language is unique, in terms of where it resonates. (i.e. Speaking Italian feels very different from speaking German) Consider using language as a tool to encourage the resonance you are trying to cultivate.
Songs for Improving Articulation
This could be a piece that challenges the student with lots of text
A piece that allows the student to enjoy/explore the way the language works
Consider how certain consonants help the voice.
For example, [k] raises the soft palate and [g] lowers the larynx.
Songs for Encouraging Expression
Things to look for:
Songs that are narrative or texts that have clear narrators
Songs that are funny or outwardly emotional in some way
Songs that connect to the student (See ‘Hook Songs’, next slide)
It is quite important that the student gets to sing material he/she likes (This does not have to be true for all of the material you assign students, but it helps…)
A ‘hook’ song is any song that will get the student interested in what you are trying to teach them.
This could also be a song that sounds harder than it actually is (allowing the student to feel that they are working on challenging repertoire)
There are many elements that could ‘hook’ a student. For example:
The 'Hook' Song
An interesting or funny text
A familiar or enticing melody
A modern-sounding aesthetic (How many classical art songs have a pop ‘flair’ to them?)
Song: El tra la la y el punteado - Granados
Hook: Flirty text, Spanish flair
Song: In My Life - Lennon & Mcartney
Hook: It’s a Beatles song…
Song: Parting - Thomas Pasatieri
Hook: It’s modern and it sounds profound
Song: Let’s Call the Whole Thing Off - Gershwin
Hook: Witty text, part of a movie with Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire
Song: Happy Working Song from the film Enchanted
Hook: It’s from a popular, modern movie
Consider choosing two or three songs at once that build toward your goal. Assign the first piece, then assign the next piece when the student has mastered the first one.
This will allow the student to build skill sets as he/she goes along and will foster confidence (which is integral to learning).
The songs could be related by:
Common melodic, rhythmic, or metrical patterns
Encouraging Success: Sequencing Songs
Alto to Soprano:
Baritone to Tenor
Re-balance the middle range/passaggi
Bring the head voice down
Dispel fear of high notes (Don’t choose pieces with sustained high notes…)
Encourage a lighter tone (Melismas and some rhythms could help this…)
Address confidence issues
Re-balance the middle range/passaggi
Lighten the tone
Transition to a brighter color
Dispel fear of high notes
Address confidence issues
The Young Bass Voice
A true bass is a rare thing.
Basses have a different color than baritones, different from bass-baritones.
There is a tendency for bass voices to be less flexible than higher voices due to the thickness of the vocal folds.
There is also a tendency for young basses to want to make their sound darker than necessary
This can lead to register violations and trouble balancing the middle to upper range
Finding repertoire for a “baby bass” can be difficult and often requires transposition.
What to look for:
Vowels [o], [u], [i] (or mixed vowels) around the passaggio to allow the voice to ‘turn over’
Masculine text- yet appropriate
A good range for pieces would be A2-A3
Music Theater Considerations
The Older Singer
Many of the same considerations one would use for a young singer apply here.
Look for pieces with a limited range
Look for pieces the student can connect to
Look for pieces the student can succeed at - ones they feel good about singing
20th and 21st Century Repertoire
Not all modern repertoire is inaccessible!
Much of this repertoire is unexplored. Introduce new repertoire to your colleagues. They will thank you for it!
Composers to take a look at:
Ben Moore - generally conservative, accessible writing
Ricky Ian Gordon - pop/musical theater influenced
William Finn - pop/musical theater cross over
Maury Yeston - musical theater cross over
Jake Heggie - jazz influenced
Richard Hundley - has written some really beautiful, accessible songs
Lori Laitman - generally for more advanced students
Libby Larsen - generally for more advanced students
Lee Hoiby - generally for more advanced students
Parting Words of wisdom
Find a ‘Hook’for your students.
Discover their interests and get creative!
Consider sequencing pieces to foster confidence in your students.
Expand your repertoire knowledge! Encourage your students to do so as well.
Consider this: When you are not there with the student, the repertoire is the teacher.
Use repertoire to teach your students how to practice
Sample Rubric #2
Sample Rubric #3
Sample Rubric #4
Speech based production can work wonders for tone and overall production
For many students- instant engagement (Hook)
Wide variety of subject areas
Modern sounding music
Use 1970 as a guide
Examine emotional text
Examine recordings of great performers
When Legit vs. Mix vs. Belt is appropriate
Mix versus Belt
How to find Belt
Take classical training
• Reduce space
• More speech driven
• Use less vibrato (end of phrase)
• Tip focus a little bit toward the nose
• Pitch speech-Say it, then find it on the piano
Belter high C is C5 NOT C6 (Range middle c to C5)
Music theater legit -Tessitura is lower, almost by a whole step
Let's use a well-known example:
Ex. 1 : downward motion helps
develop blend in the middle register
Ex. 4: Look for phrases that naturally build (here:1m, 1m, 2m). Add breaths, then take them out gradually as breath support develops.
Ex. 3: The vowel sequencing naturally helps the registration here.
Ex. 2: The rising sequence gives time for the singer to reset the breath before ascending.
Tip: To build confidence in your students, take patterns out of the songs you assign and use them as vocalises.
Ex.5: Long notes help teach vowel purity. Vowel sequencing influences resonance; here it would bring focus to the sound.
Ex. 7: Look at how many syllables are in this line, and the legato that is required.
Why might this song be pedagogically helpful for a young singer?
Let's see what you've learned...
Ex. 6: For the voice that displays hypophonation, you can use songs with specific combinations of vowels and consonants to remedy the particular issue your singer is facing. For example, a singer who displays an aspirated onset would be greatly assisted by the [n] and [v] preceding consonants in this phrase, as well as the gentle melodic ascent.
Some More Practice:
What is unhelpful about this piece?
Il mio bel foco
In My Own Little Corner
Folk songs, Earlier Musical Theater songs, Ballads, and even well-known popular songs from the 1950's and 1960's would be wonderful teaching tools for the Older Singer.
Descending melodies help facilitate the mixing of head voice and chest voice.
Dotted rhythms remedy hyperphonation.
The melody is doubled in the accompaniment.
Notes that approach the passaggio are sung on closed vowels, which would be helpful for male registration.
The range of this piece does not extend past one octave.
How might this piece have a negative pedagogical impact?
The piece has intervallic leaps of more than a major third.
The accompaniment does not double the melody and is sparse, at times.
Climactic phrases within the song approach or lie within the passaggio.
Observe phrase structure as well as the accompaniment.
The accompaniment does not double the voice and could be difficult for the young singer to follow, musically.
The melody ascends and the dynamic increases into the passaggio.
The song could be difficult rhythmically for the young singer.
The melody contains chromatic passages.
There are intervallic leaps of greater than a perfect fifth.
Musical Theater songs use a more speech-driven quality that can help the young singer learn to mix more chest voice into her middle range.
The range of this song is within an octave.
The tessitura lies between E4 and A4, which is particularly helpful for mixing chest voice and head voice (and is not too high).
There is an intervallic leap of a perfect fourth (A4 to D5) which may require special instruction.
How might this song teach female registration?
Are there any other positive or negative aspects of this song?
Songs that are Melodically/Harmonically Accessible
Things to look for:
Simple accompaniments (not sparse, though!)
Intervallic leaps of a M3 or less
Remember: Simple melodies allow you to turn your and your student's focus to more technical aspects.
Ex. 8: Observe the simplicity of the melody. It is a widely-known tune and even allows the teacher to address registration and/or phonation through dotted rhythms and a natural 6/8 "lilt." In addition, the melody does not include any large intervallic leaps.
For those of you with limited piano background, this arrangement represents a piece that is relatively simple.
Are Musical Theater songs sometimes preferable to traditional repertoire?
Observe the similarities/dissimilarities between this song and the previous.
The song demonstrates a limited range.
The singer is afforded many opportunities to breathe.
Brief passages of coloratura could help the singer develop agility and/or a lighter mechanism.
The accompaniment often doubles the melody.
The tessitura may be difficult to sustain.
There multiple instances where the singer is requested to sing a louder dynamic level while entering the zona di passaggio
The melody ascends more often than it descends (this may or may not be helpful).