Is all practicing created equal?
Singers, are you plateauing in your practice time or feeling like you’re not making the vocal progress you know is possible? Check out these tips for making the most of your practice time and start seeing more results!
Schedule Your Practicing
This may sound unnecessary and like it’s easy to skip over, but don’t overlook this! Many of us lead very busy lives with our schedules filled to bursting. If you are not actively scheduling your practice time, you will probably end up skipping it or only getting in a few minutes here or there.
Clear some time on your calendar and actually schedule in your practice time. Then you will have a plan – you’ll know when you can practice and will be ready to when the time comes.
It’s okay if your practice sessions are on the short side; it’s actually beneficial to have several shorter practice sessions throughout the day rather than one very long session. Think two 30-minute sessions instead of one 60-minute session.
Warm Up Your Body
Singers, you may or may not realize this, but your body is your instrument. Just like a pianist makes sure their piano is tuned and in good shape, a singer needs to have a body that is warmed up and ready to sing. Singing is very physical.
Start with some easy stretches and movements, especially targeting the neck, shoulders, torso, and abdomen. Some leg and quad stretches wouldn’t hurt either. If you have time to go for a 20-minute walk before you sing or do a short exercise routine earlier in the day, that’s ideal to get your body warm and ready to sing.
Start With Gentle Warm Ups
Start your practice session slow with some gentle warm-ups like lip trills, semi-occluded vocal tract exercises (SOVTs), or slides/glides. I like to start with some short scales on lip trills or trumpets followed by slides of a 5th or octave.
It’s best not to start your practice time going to the extremes of range or volume. The first sound out of your mouth shouldn’t be a fully belted rendition of “Lost In the Brass.” Give your voice the time it needs to warm up in order to prevent injury.
Do Targeted Exercises
The next step is to practice targeted vocal exercises that work on specific skills. You will need a voice teacher to help guide you through this process and show you what to do. Every voice is different, so each person will need to be focusing on a different set of technical skills in order to develop the voice. Some people may be working on register development or balance, while others might be focusing on breath, onsets, legato… The list goes on!
Work on Your Repertoire
The next step is to (finally!) work on your repertoire! Spend most of your time focusing on the most difficult sections of the piece instead of just running the whole thing over and over. Then, once you feel like you’ve made some progress on those tricky passages, try singing through the piece from start to finish. Incorporate what you’re learning in your technical exercises into the work you do on your repertoire. For example, if your teacher has been asking you to open your mouth more on a particular vowel in your exercises, make sure you apply that concept to the song you are working on.
Pro tip: Listen back to your lesson recordings and take notes on what your teacher’s comments were. It’s so easy to miss something important when you’re in the lesson or to simply forget what your teacher said. Going over the lesson recording will help you target your practice time because you’ll hear what the teacher heard, be reminded of their directions to improve, and then hear the improvement when you did what they asked!
What If I Can’t Sing Right Now?
What do you do if you’re sick and can’t sing, or if you’re in a place where you can’t make noise but you still want to make some progress? Luckily there is SO much practicing that you can do without making a peep! Here is a short list: work on memorization, nail down your rhythms and count the timing, research the context and history of the piece, work on diction, choose new repertoire, work on the acting/dramatic interpretation of the piece… There is always so much that can and needs to be done beyond simply singing through a song.
Remember, your practice time is where you’re going to make the most growth. You actually integrate more new skills in your practice time than you do in a voice lesson because you have the time to think, experiment, and process your teacher’s feedback. If you’re serious about making vocal progress you’ll prioritize your practice time!