How did practice go this week? I pose this question to each of my students before their lesson and the answers surprise me sometimes. Sometimes students tell me they didn’t have time to practice. Or they tell me practice went well and their idea of practice going well includes singing without warming up, singing random songs on the radio, or singing in the car on the way to their lesson. *Pulls out hair extensions*
There seems to be some confusion among students, especially beginners, about what a productive practice session looks like. In this post I am going to tell you the benefits of practicing, and how to have an effective practice session.
DISCLAIMER: Now, I will be the first to tell you that even though I’m a vocal coach and performer, I have definitely slacked on my practice game. However, when I do practice using these steps I am able to deliver the best and most confident performance possible.
BENEFITS OF PRACTICE: Why should you practice?
Perfect Practice Makes Perfect.
Did you read that right? Perfect is in there twice. My first vocal coach taught me this phrase and it’s so true! What you do on stage is what you do in your practice session, so it’s important that when you are practicing you are taking your time and being mindful of the notes you got during your voice lesson. This is why “winging it” or just singing random songs in the car doesn’t cut it for practice. This is the time to put in a focused effort. Are you going to sing everything perfectly? No, but the goal is to try to implement the concepts you’ve been learning in your voice lessons.
Peace of Mind.
Whenever I have a gig coming up and I practice multiple times for it ahead of time, I am less nervous about how my performance will go because I know I have sung the song already very many times to my satisfaction. On the contrary, when I do not practice, I am less confident and it shows in my performance. Practicing gives you the confidence in your ability to deliver, especially when nerves start to kick in!
When you are learning a new skill you are building new neural pathways in your brain, and these pathways get reinforced every time you practice. Your brain sends messages to your muscles, and the more you do it the easier it will become because you will have built the muscle memory. So get to singing!
Now that we’ve talked about a few benefits of practicing, here are some tips for having a productive practice session!
TIP #1: Establish a schedule
Make a standing appointment with yourself to practice singing on a regular basis. Carve out 20-30 minutes multiple times a week. Having repeat exposure for shorter periods of time will be more effective (and much easier on your voice) than practicing for a 2 hour session one day a week. (Remember, we talked about the muscle memory?)
TIP # 2: Choose an ideal time of day
Practicing first thing in the morning may not be the best thing to do for your voice. You’ll want to have done some talking or humming already. You should also choose a time when you are comfortable making loud noises.
TIP # 3: Turn off your phone
Put your phone on airplane mode so you don’t get any incoming calls or notifications and can completely focus on singing your heart out.
TIP # 4: Set a goal for this session
Aside from a vocal workout, what is the goal of this particular practice session? Decide what the focus is going to be and stick to it. Your teacher probably gave you some things to work on during your last voice lesson. Did you write them down? If you’re not currently taking lessons, here are a few goals for your next few practice sessions:
· Learning song lyrics or a melody
· Memorizing a song
· Vocal Maintenance – just keeping in shape between gigs
· Opening your mouth on a particular part of your song
· Open space when singing
· Tension free singing
· Sustaining notes
· Ear training
· Singing in tune
· Stage presence
· Transitions throughout your range
TIP # 5: Warm up before songwork!
Would Steph Curry start practice without warming up first? Of course not – he could potentially pull a muscle! I know this article is about singing, but bare with me. Steph Curry is an athlete. He uses his body for his sport. In order to prevent injury, he must gradually get his blood flowing and raise his body temperature through stretching and warming up his body. Additionally, in order to perform at his most optimal level during game season he must condition during off season, and maintain his body during the regular season.
In the same regard, singers are vocal athletes. We use our body to produce sound and we should warm up our vocal apparatus to get the muscles involved for singing relaxed and ready for optimal performance. This will help reduce chances of vocal injury when singing and warming up regularly will keep us in the best vocal shape.
I would advise beginning each practice session with a 10-15 minute warm up. I give my students a recording of every lesson so they have access to their own vocal warm ups that are specifically designed for their voice, but if you don’t know how to warm up your voice, download my free guide here for a general warm up.
TIP # 6: Watch yourself in the mirror
One of the main benefits of having a session with a vocal coach is they are able to observe your body and bring to your attention anything you’re doing to produce unnecessary tension or anything that is getting in the way of efficient sound production. Since your practice sessions will likely not include a vocal coach, practice in front of the mirror! Keep in mind some of the directives you’ve gotten when working with your teacher.
Here are 3 to think about:
· Posture: Stand or sit tall. Your feet should be shoulder width apart and not locked, shoulders should be back and relaxed, rib cage open, and your head should feel as though it is being suspended on a string like a puppet.
· Mouth position: Are you dropping your jaw enough –especially when reaching for higher notes? Your jaw should feel comfortable and according to Jenevora Williams, author of “Teaching Singing To Children and Young Adults” , “not overly relaxed”. Play around with different mouth positions noticing how having a closed mouth versus an open mouth affects the sound.
· Tongue position: You’d be surprised how much it seems your tongue has a mind of its own. Now that you’ve become conscious of opening your mouth, take a look inside to see what your tongue is doing. Is it raised too high in the back? You’ll know your tongue is too high if you sound like Kermit The Frog when you sing. Play around with raising and lowering and sticking out your tongue and seeing how it changes the sound.
TIP # 7: Print out your song lyrics and take notes on them
A lot of times students will say that they don’t know where to breathe in a song. In this case it’s a good idea to print out your lyrics and put breath marks in ideal places to breathe and eventually commit this to memory. You can also bring these lyrics to your lessons to jot down any notes that your teacher has given you and reference these notes during your practice sessions.
TIP # 8: Record yourself singing
Use your voice memo app on our phone to record yourself singing a song and listen back to it and take note of what sounded good and what didn’t and how you can improve it. If you feel like you can’t make the changes you’re looking for in the practice session, write notes and work on them with your teacher in your next lesson! Your teacher will be SO impressed!
TIP # 9: Record video of yourself singing
Recording video of yourself singing a song you’re working on is a great way to understand how you come across on stage, without judging yourself the way you would in front of a mirror. Imagine that you’re performing in front of an audience and look back taking note of what you like and what you think can be improved.
TIP # 10: Be patient with yourself!
Rome wasn’t built in a day, and your voice isn’t going to magically sound like Adele, Ariana Grande or John Mayer after one practice session. It takes time, so don’t be hard on yourself if your practice session doesn’t produce the finished sound you’re looking for. Enjoy the journey and acknowledge the small wins. For example, if you were able to get through a phrase without taking a breath in the middle, or if you finally were able to sing with your tongue in a neutral position, those are great accomplishments for a practice session.
I hope these tips were helpful in helping you have a productive practice session. Be sure to check back weekly for singing tips and in the meantime, Happy Practicing!