NEW YORK STATE SCHOOL MUSIC ASSOCIATION
These are SOLO VOCAL tips but can apply to all NYSSMA testing, as well as College Auditions.
What is NYSSMA? According to their website:
“NYSSMA sponsors approximately 145 solo & small ensemble and major ensemble festivals in New York State each spring. At solo and small ensemble festivals, students are given a performance evaluation that involves playing a graded solo from the NYSSMA Manual and sight reading. If a student is playing an instrument, scales are involved.
The sooner you can start, the better. 6 months in advance is ideal, but most school teachers do it 3 months or so in advance. Here in West Islip, testing is usually in April, and I start discussing it with students in November. Students are usually given their sign up sheets in the end of January or the beginning of February.
1. Select your solo piece as soon as possible. I highly recommend finding a vocal coach to help you with this. Pick a song that is challenging to you, as the whole point to NYSSMA is to improve your skills. Many students go for something they know, or something they thing is easy. This is fine, but if you are investing time and money, why not get the most you can out of it? Picking a song that is challenging will improve your skills and bring you to a higher level of skill, which is really the whole point of NYSSMA in the first place. Pick a song that suits your voice. Try to find recorded versions of the song, professionally recorded if possible. Look for different versions on the internet. You Tube is an incredible resource for this, as you can even find other students performing the songs. Listen to the song over and over and OVER until you know it cold. You know the song when you actually go through the whole song in your head without having to play it. Ingraining the song will insure your success.
2. Purchase the sheet music immediately, and if possible with a demo (demonstration)vocal and accompaniment tracks. You can often buy one copy of the music with the backing tracks, then a second, less expensive one that is only the sheet music. There are down-loadable versions of the music on-line. Also, make sure it is the correct version, from the correct book. Your teacher or vocal coach will let you know what publisher is preferred listed in the NYSSMA manual. You need to have 2 purchased copies of the music. One is for you, and the other is for the adjudicator.(judge) If you purchase sheet music downloads, print your receipt. I highly recommend taking your two copies, making copies of the sheet music and importing the music onto your computer, and them burning the accompaniment on CDs and putting those in the envelope as well. Additionally, create MP3 versions of the backing track that can be exported to your phone or tablet. You want at least two or three copies to work with. One for you, one for your coach, and one for an accompanist if you choose to use one. Take the purchased copies and put them in a business envelope with the receipts and your sign up sheet. Also, if you have a song book with several songs in it, TAG or PUT Bookmark to the page of your music, for both pieces of music before you put it in the envelope. This ensures that you will both be able to go right to the page on performance day. Put this in a safe place, and leave it there until the night before your presentation, and put it where your won’t forget it the next day. Putting in the car you are going to the festival in the night before, is a great option.
3. Secure your accompanist as soon as possible if you want to, or make sure you have a way to play your backing track. There are advantages and disadvantages to both. An accompanist can adjust to you if you make a mistake, and it makes for a nice presentation. However, I have also seen accompanists play the song at the wrong tempo. Make sure you practice to the appropriate tempo. If you choose to use a backing track, make sure it is a simple piano backing track. A backing track you would use for a vocal solo is different than one you might use for a talent show or singing competition. Practice with whatever sound source you are going to use, either a docking station or a portable CD radio. Try to bring a battery powered music system if possible. Make sure you have fresh batteries and bring extra batteries, and if there is an addtional power cord, bring that too.
4. Sight read the solo music. Practice sight reading every day for at least 15-20 minutes. Sight read your solo piece as you listen and practice to it. Purchase a sight reading book, I recommend Sight Singing the complete Method for Singers, as it can be used from level one through college. Also, bear in mind the sight reading tempo in the NYSSMA manual is listed at 72 BPM(Beats per minute) With the exception of Level 6, where dotted notes are at 60 BPM. Practice with a metronome set to this tempo. I use this one online, http://a.bestmetronome.com/. There are also many apps available for phones and tablets.
5. Practice your solo piece at least 5 times a day, Monday through Friday. It will get better each time. Just go through it front to back. By the time you do your solo, you will be completely comfortable with the piece. Also, read the sheet music the first three rounds, and don’t look at it last two times. This is a great way to monitor you progress. By the time you are in the room on festival day, you shouldn’t really need the music at all. Finally, make sure you understand what your piece is about. What is the story the song is telling? Then, put that emotion into the song. The difference between a mediocre performance and a great one, is the amount of emotion put behind the piece. EMOTE!
6. Practice vocal scales. There are many available online, and on Itunes. I like these particular ones: On Amazon. If you can do Solfege, that’s even better.
7. Record your self, on video and audio. Make it a performance. Be expressive. I have had several students actually receive applause based on this advice. Practicing in front of a camera is very revealing. YES I know….it’s uncomfortable, but that’s how you really look when you perform. I also recommend recording yourself, and walking away for a few minutes and coming back and watching. OR record yourself at the end of your practice session, wait until the next day before you practice session to view and make corrections.
8. Get an audience. Perform for your friends, your parents, your pets. Ask for constructive feedback. Feedback is one of the best ways to get better.
9. DRESS NICE! Dress as you would for a school concert. White shirt and black or dark pants is the best option. Young ladies, if you choose to wear a skirt, make sure it is above the knee. One of my students had points deducted because the judge said her skirt was to short and not appropriate for concert performance. Keep away from lace and sparkles too. Simple black shoes for both young men and ladies. Avoid sneakers. New stockings for ladies, matching socks for everybody. Have your hair neat and off your face.
10. BE PREPARED! The day of the NYSSMA Festival. show up an HOUR early. Really, yes, AN HOUR. It will take some time to find a space, get your stuff, get in the building, sign in, find your classroom, then warm up. In that order too. Make sure you know exactly where you have to go for your presentation. Be at your room at least 5 minutes early. Keep you NYSSMA permit nice and neat. Don’t bend it, keep it nice and shiny. Put it in the envelope once you know where you are going. If everything is together in the envelope it will make things run smoothly. Have all the stuff out of the envelope in your hand. On top-Your permit, second, the adjudicator’s music, marked, Your music marked. Using a paper clip on the first page and a tag is very helpful. Make sure your music is cued and ready to go. All you have to do is press play.
NOW YOU ARE IN THE ROOM ready to go!
TAKE A GIANT BREATH BEFORE YOU WALK IN! I’m not even kidding, take a big breath and center yourself. It’s a huge help.
Look the Adjunctator in the eye and smile. Say-HELLO! How are you today?
Hand them the permit and your music.
Set the music stand at a level that you can make eye contact. Don’t cover your face or hide behind the stand. Don’t set the stand up too high.
You can choose to do sight reading first or performance first. Personally, I would choose the sight reading first to get it out of the way.
Remember, you have a FULL MINUTE to review your line of sight reading before you perform it. Take your time. Go though it in your head.
When you do your piece, make sure your music is cued. If you have an accompanist, wait for the accompanist. I know it might feel like a million years in there and time is going slow, but take your time. When you perform, go for it. Pretend you are on American Idol. If course, if you have a slower or more minor piece you should interpret appropriately. Expect the judge to be writing things down, even after your piece is over. The person you are performing for will be seeing many performances that day, and he or she will be doing a better job if they are writing while your are performing. They are recording one of many impressions of many students that day. If they are writing something down, it is probably neither bad nor good, its just notes. Don’t worry about it.
Finally, HAVE FUN and RELAX. So many of my students worry about their score. FOCUS on just doing it the best you can at the best of the ability. Focus on putting on a performance that the Adjudicator will enjoy. Seriously, if you go into that room with the goal of having that Judge enjoy your performance as much as possible. I can say from experience, when I focus on doing the best I can do, and giving it my best effort, all the other good things go along with it.
In your NYSSMA bag:
1. Water-room temperature, not cold. Cold drinks tighten your vocal chords.
2. Your envelop with both sheet musics-marked with paper clips and or tags.
3. Backing tracks-downloaded to phone or on CD. Don’t depend on Wifi for music access. TEST the CD and the phone tracks in advance.
4. Amplification Source-either phone dock or Radio/CD Player
5. Extra Batteries for number 4.
7. Hair Brush
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