Classical Singing: How Long Does it Take to Learn?
Classical singing is one of the hardest forms of singing. It tests the limits of each vocal range, and seems impossible without hard work and dedication. The question is, how long does this hard work and dedication last before you are a fully-trained classical singer? Well here's there general run-down.
Classical singing will typically take 4 years to learn with a college degree, or 3-4 years through an individual grading system. Vocalists can speed up this process by working with a classical tutor, but they still have to cover all techniques and music theory required to be a classical singer.
I will explain why each of these pathways take various time-frames below. I have also included the fundamental training required to become a classical singer.
How Much Time Does it Take to Learn Classical Singing?
There are a number of pathways you can take to learn classical singing. Each of these pathways, which I have outlined below, can take a varied amount of time to complete.
Regardless of how you are trained, all classical singers must learn fundamental classical techniques and music theory to complete their training. I will talk about this more further down.
College Degree in Voice Performance
The most formal pathway for training to become a classical singer is to complete a college degree. One such degree is a Bachelor of Music Performance (Voice), which typically takes four years, or eight semesters, to complete.
Most colleges and universities will offer a bachelor of music, although some people may prefer to attend a college that specialises in musical education. Some examples of colleges that specialise in musical education include the following.
- The Juilliard School
- New England Conservatory of Music
- Manhattan School of Music
- Cleveland Institute of Music
Each school has their own unique syllabus for classical training, but some of the more specialised colleges and universities may offer more in-depth knowledge. For example, Juilliard offers dedicated subjects on learning the Italian language and acting on stage. Standard colleges tend to stick to the fundamentals of musical theory and offer more elective subjects.
In saying that, all students, regardless of which college they attend, are considered to be formally trained in classical singing once they have graduated.
Individual Grading Systems
Another method of learning classical singing is through an individual grading system. This method requires singers to study independently and then undergo examinations to be graded.
The individual grading systems are nowhere near as comprehensive as a bachelor's degree in music, but they still take 3-4 years to complete. The benefit of a grading system is that you can complete it in your own time. You could work full-time while studying and practicing for your grading exam on the side.
This method is common for students at school who receive regular voice lessons. They will work on their performance pieces during weekly singing lessons, while studying music theory at home.
The examinations for these grading systems are usually held 2-3 times per year. Most systems will have eight grades to progress through before your training is complete. However, some may have more grades.
With this in mind, even if you worked hard and were graded at every scheduled examination, this would still take 3-4 years to complete, depending on how many grades are included. Those that do not practice regularly may be graded once each year, which would take 8-10 years of training.
There is the possibility of skipping grades, but this is not recommended as you may miss out on vital information for your training. Because this method is dependent on your own dedication, the time taken to complete your training varies much more than in a college degree.
Below are some common grading systems. The ABRSM and RCM are the most recognised internationally, although the others are still reputable systems. They all teach the same basic theory, but will vary slightly in their delivery.
- The ABRSM (Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music)
- The Royal Conservatory of Music
- Trinity College of London
- The London College of Music
- AMEB (Australian Music Examination Board)
You can find the repertoire books for each of these grading systems below.
Speeding up the Process of Learning Classical Singing
Sometimes a singer's passion comes with a drive to speed through their training. There are no shortcuts to learning everything you need to know as a classical singer, but there are ways of speeding up the process with hard work.
To speed up the process, you can find a tutor who has trained in classical singing. This can be any singing teacher who has a classical background, however, you should make sure you have discussed how often you want to train and what you would like to cover in the lessons.
For help finding a singing teacher, have a look at this article.
If you are really dedicated to your training, hoping to learn as much as possible in a short amount of time, you could consider daily lessons. However, it's still good to give yourself a break each week. I would recommend having daily lessons during the week (Monday to Friday) and giving yourself the weekend off. This depends on your singing teacher's availability.
This is very difficult to maintain if you are working full time, so you should take the time to consider what works best for you. Perhaps you could have singing lessons on the weekend and give yourself two days off during the week to break up the working week. Keep in mind that most singing teachers have limited availability after hours.
If you schedule regular singing lessons and work hard at memorising musical theory and practising in your own time, you could progress much quicker than the traditional methods of learning. Just make sure you aren't putting too much strain on your voice. This is one thing that can lead to a sore throat, and even long-term damage to the vocal cords.
You may even be able to skip grades. For example, if you learn much more than is required between grading exams, you could take the exam for a higher grade. Your singing teacher should be able to guide you with this.
Keep in mind that skipping grades and rushing through your training is not recommended. Although it is possible, this makes it very easy to gloss over important content. Ultimately, taking the time to learn the concepts of classical singing well will make you a better singer in the long-term.
What is Involved in Learning Classical Singing?
As I mentioned earlier, each pathway to learning classical singing offers different content. Individual grading systems offer the bare minimum you need to know to be a classical singer, whereas colleges and universities offer more in-depth training.
Most syllabuses will include some form of the following training:
- Performance accompanied and unaccompanied
- Singing various classical styles of music (such as opera, musical theatre, etc.)
- Sight-singing (singing songs you have not heard before, directly from sheet music)
- Aural musicianship (ear training - recognising different chords, scales, styles, etc.)
- Theory (scales, harmonies, notation, etc.)
In addition to this, colleges may go more in-depth by teaching relevant languages used in music (Italian, Latin, etc.), ensemble performance (performing in a group or choir), musical literature, history, song-writing, and much more.