I get this question from several of my students every year, and even have a few brave souls that walk into their lessons, and, having forgotten their music, proceed to tell me that “it’s okay, I’m memorized.”

We all know that you should study for a test so hard that you know everything there is to know about a subject, but if your teacher offered you the opportunity to use your textbook on the day of the test, you would use it… right?

So in response to the first question…NO, you should never sing your music memorized while practicing or in the audition room. First, there is no requirement to memorize your music. Second, I think every instructor that might say this to you doesn’t mean that you should sing memorized, but only that you should know your music so well that you COULD sing it from memory. Third, we encourage active practicing, and mindlessly singing without important instruction in front of you or a clear goal in mind may actually ingrain poor habits.

Absolutely, you should know the music so well that there are no surprises and so you can focus on musicality. You should know it so well that if the stand fell over, you could keep going. Knowing your music this well could help you anticipate page turns and assist your individual musical plan. BUT you will never be able to remember all the nuance, all the phrasing, all the language and diction that you have studied so hard over these past months.

Why use your music when practicing and in your audition?

  • Decreases the amount of pitch and rhythm mistakes (write counting and solfege in your score!).
  • Creates good habits with taking breaths in the same place EVERY TIME
  • Helps you to practice smart (stopping and starting) rather than running through with no music.

Is it ever helpful to be memorized?

After you have successfully made the choir and have a conductor it is helpful to be memorized so you can look up to watch her or him. When you make the All-State choir the auditioned pieces will almost always be performed memorized for the concert, but you will have the conductor to help you with all the other details which were previously in your score. Watching him or her is like watching your music for those notes in your audition. After you memorize music for a concert, you should still have the music nearby so you can refer back if you forget something.

Occasionally, in lessons I will ask a student to do ONE phrase while doing a specific action, such as a gesture or posture. Imagine your teacher asking you to look in the mirror at your mouth or tongue to correct a technical detail. This would be difficult to do without some degree of memorization! After students complete the phrase I will ask students go back to their music and record the correction.

One more note: if you write copious notes in your music, you may, at the point when you feel almost memorized, find it distracting to see old information, such as counts or solfege. This is why we recommend beginning by making copies of your music from the start while it is clean. When a student re-prints clean copies, or moves over to the originals (often about 3 weeks before the audition), they learn what notes then actually need to make in a score, such as intervals that are still troublesome, or new ideas about phrasing, instead of piling and piling on, making it difficult for the eyes to decipher what is important or relevant. You can also accomplish this by judiciously erasing extraneous information, or using colored pens or pencils to write so that the important things pop out.

To sum up, always use your music when you practice unless requested by your voice teacher for a vocalise OR after you have made the choir and the piece needs to be memorized for a concert.