I’m sure most of you have heard the common adage, “practice makes perfect”. Seems to make sense, but how exactly do you practice? As practicing is an extremely important ingredient in learning how to sing, I thought I would focus this month’s article on how to practice most effectively.
Lets start with the location. Where should you practice? It is important to find a practice space in which you feel uninhibited. On the path to making beautiful sounds, you will most definitely make sounds that aren’t so beautiful. If your practice space is one where you are self-conscious about people listening to/judging you, your practice won’t be as effective. It is helpful, though not necessary if you have a piano or other live instrument in the space also so you can pluck out notes on your instrument. It is also great if you have a full-length mirror in your space so that you can check out your alignment, and see any unnecessary tension you may be holding. It is also a good practice to have some water on hand, so you can hydrate!
How long should you practice? Well, the answer to this question varies a bit based on your level and how long you have been singing. I usually advise my students that 30-45 minutes is a good length for a practice session. However, this is just a guideline – you can certainly practice more or less than this. You should aim to practice five to six days a week for ideal results. As we are training muscles with singing, consistency is key in order to get these muscles used to doing something different than they are currently doing. Try to schedule this time in your calendar so that it is sure to happen. Keep in mind that as vocalists, we are training our muscles, unlike other instrumentalists. As our voice is our instrument, we have to make sure we treat it with the utmost care. Your voice can only do so much before it needs a break. If you start feeling hoarse or your voice is feeling airy after a practice session, you have practiced a little too hard: time for a break. You don’t want to practice to the point that your voice is tired like that. Listen to your body.
Take your practice time seriously. Once you have set aside some time and found a comfortable place to practice, make sure you are in the right mindset to have a great practice session. You should have some goals that you are looking to accomplish during the session and you should stay focused on these. Quality trumps quantity. You should rid your practice space of distractions (computers, tv, phone, etc.), or at least turn them off. You should not be multi-tasking during this time you have devoted to practice. Also, it is best if you are standing when you are practicing your singing, so your instrument can be at its optimal level. You should honor your practice time as a time to let go of other problems in your life and just focus on the music. It can almost be quite meditative to try to not let other anxieties enter your mind during your practice. Stay focused and your practice time will be exponentially more valuable.
Make sure you start all of your practice sessions with a warm up. Just like you start a work out at the gym with some gentle stretching and light cardio, you should do the same with your practice session to prevent injury. I find the most foolproof way to practice is to record your voice lessons. Then, you can just sing along with the recording of your lesson. That way, you will know exactly what keys to sing in and you will be able to put all your attention on your technique. I find it helpful if you understand why you are doing each exercise. If you are just mindlessly doing exercises without knowing what they are meant for, they won’t be as effective. If you aren’t sure why your teacher is giving you a certain exercise, don’t be afraid to ask. After you finish singing along with the exercises on your recording, you can start your song work. Make sure you are singing your song in the right key to prevent injury!
Lastly, I urge you to try to maintain a positive attitude. Learning how to sing is not easy, and takes time and hard work. You may feel vulnerable, but the rewards far outweigh the struggles you might be having. Vocal changes do not happen overnight, and they take consistent practice. There are a lot of talented singers out there, but persistence is the most important ingredient in learning how to sing. Keep up the practicing!