Study Break: Non-Music Classes that Singers Should Take

Being a singer requires a lot of studying. Whether you’re doing research on an opera’s source material or brushing up on your diction, there is always something for the classical singer to learn. While your undergraduate courses or vocal studies may have included lessons in language, acting, music theory, and movement, there are many other fields of study that can be helpful to a singer. If you’re currently in school, check out these departments for classes to take. If you’re out of school, similar courses may be available at your local community center, library, or online.



A large part of learning a song involves text analysis, and text analysis is what English classes are all about. Taking a poetry class or a literary analysis class can help you learn how to break down archaic or abstract texts into ideas that make sense to you. Applying those skills to a role or art song that you’re working on will give you a better sense of what you are saying and make it easier to get yourself into character. You may even discover a favorite poet who leads you to new repertoire.


Additionally, many operas and art songs are based in classic literature. Taking English classes that expose you to classic texts can help give you more context for what inspired the music. Even just taking a Shakespeare course sets you up to understand a wealth of classical repertoire. Check your community library to see if there are any classic book clubs you can get involved in, and start reading and talking about these famous texts.



Graphic Design

For a performing singer, costs can accumulate quickly. Not only do you have to book venues and pianists for performances, but you also need to publicize yourself. Learning basic design skills can help you cut down on your publicity costs and prevent the need to hire someone to help you make posters or flyers. Many community centers are beginning to offer basic design courses, where you can dip your toes into graphic design and start doing your own publicity work.


Design is also a huge part of your online presence as a performer. If you have some knowledge of design, you will be able to create promotional materials and set up your social media pages so that they are appealing, visually consistent, and look professional. A background in media design wouldn't hurt either – rather than paying someone to make and maintain your website, you’ll be able to do it yourself.



Modern Languages

Many singers had to take Italian, German, or French during their undergraduate years, but there are a lot of other languages that are important in classical repertoire and often fall by the wayside. Many modern works are being written in languages outside the typical canon, joining the vast number of established works.


Russian is a popular, though less common language. Russian music include the works of composers such as Tchikovsky, Stravinsky, and Rachmaninoff. While these operas are not quite as frequently done as Puccini or Mozart, works like Tchikovsky’s Eugene Onegin and Stravinsky’s The Rake's Progress are well known works that a modern singer might run into. Many beautiful orchestral pieces, such as Prokofiev’s Alexander Nevsky and Rachmaninoff’s All-Night Vigil include beautiful solos and choir parts entirely in Russian.


Spanish is a Romantic cousin to French and Italian and also quite useful to the modern singer. While it is not a popular language for opera, there are many beautiful art songs in Spanish written by composers such as Gabriel Rodríguez and Manuel de Falla. If you are planning to work in one of the many opera houses in South America or Spain, it is helpful to have a background in the language.


In Western music, Chinese is a rare language to come across. However, China has a rich history of opera and a repertoire that is not often accessed by western singers. Getting a background in Chinese opens up an entirely new world of song and can add much-needed variety to any recital program.


Language classes are also often available at community centers or universities. If language learning from home is more your style, there are free apps such as Duolingo that can get you started with basics, and more intense paid courses such as Rosetta Stone that can help boost your skills from your laptop.



Every piece of art has a historical context, and the same goes for every piece of music. While music history is obviously important for understanding how musical styles have developed throughout the years, it is also important to have a general understanding of worldwide politics and developments. Both large and small historical events have affected and inspired music, and learning about these events gives a singer a clearer lens through which to view a song or role.


Historical knowledge also helps inform character choices while performing a period piece. It is important to know about the world you are portraying as a performer, whether that’s ancient Rome or Paris in the 1800s. Learning about the world your character lives in will help you understand your character better.


History courses at universities are great options for study, but if you don’t have access to those, a library is a great place to start. Try doing some research of your own about your given time period.



As a singer, you are essentially marketing yourself as a product. Therefore, learning marketing skills can only help you as you navigate the world of music. Career centers, libraries, and community centers are often offering classes in marketing for small businesses, and these classes can be extremely useful. How do you create an online presence? What are effective ways to market a performance to people who might not typically see an opera or a recital? Learning how to make your talents more desirable to the paying public will help you succeed as a working performer.


Entrepreneurship classes are also extremely useful for the independent musician, because independent musicians are essentially entrepreneurs. Even basic financial management courses are a huge help, since working perfomers will often be hired by more than one employer in a given year or season. Learning how to keep track of finances makes your job significantly easier, so that you can focus on making connections and making music.


No matter where you are in your career, it is never too late to learn something new. Maybe that new skill will help you land your next role, sell out your recital, or enrich your performance experience. 

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