Practice is a reality for a singer– for any musician in fact- if they want to maintain what they already have and to also continue to develop further- (and the ultimate goal); to achieve complete mastery over their instrument.
However, many individuals shy away from practicing, sometimes out of laziness and sometimes because they know what hard work it takes (and commitment) to practice with intention and focus.
It is too easy to practice and waffle away the time without any clear structure and find that a few hours have passed by and you haven’t really achieved anything; you’ve simply moved from one song to the next, maybe skipping the hard parts and then at the end of it all you wonder what you’ve really accomplished and where the time went. Does this sound familiar? Yes? Well on the odd occasion I’ve been guilty of this and its a problem- AND a waste of your time- because the reality is is that if you continue in this habit you won’t really ‘improve’, not in the way that most people want to.
If you want to achieve mastery over your instrument its important to create a structure to your practice sessions. I want to give my own suggestions that will help you to give your individual sessions focus. A practice routine should consist of;
1. A body warm up (see post on waking the body up). This is just as important as a vocal warm up.
2. A vocal warm up (ng is always a good one; start from the bottom of your range and work up over your passagio/ break up into the upper part of your range. Make sure you are negotiating the passagio smoothly).
3. 10-15 minutes of working on maintaining what you can already do (I know this seems weird but trust me if you neglect to do this- you’ll find that you have made headway with a technique, think its sorted, then forget about it, only to come back to it at a later stage and feel like you’re right back at the start again).
4. 30 minutes of working on a technique that you find incredibly difficult. This is so important. Its too easy to practice the things that we can do well- because they don’t demand alot of us but if you want to really improve, you MUST practice those things that you are currently unable to do or find incredibly difficult.
5. Learn the complete melody of the song/s you are working on.
6. Learn the lyrics of the song.
7. Sing through the song with the correct lyrics and melody.
8. Sing through the song with the correct vocal quality (this is where you might need to go back to step 4 and work on some exercises to get you singing in the right vocal quality).
9. If you have the time record yourself and listen to yourself singing the song. I have found this to be incredibly effective. Once I started to do this it gave me increased perspective on what I was doing vocally and what I needed to pay attention to and work on. Usually I thought I was doing one thing and the recording revealed something different. (Note that its very easy to get distracted by the physical effort it takes to produce certain sounds/qualities so this can be distracting and I find there is a little bit of discrepancy between what the singer hears and what the listener hears.
10. Make sure to do a vocal cool down that is a length of at least 5 minutes.
Some other points to take note of are; If you feel at any point that your mind is starting to wander and you’re losing focus within a practice session its best to take a break. Although its important to practice regularly in some ways its more about the ‘quality’ of your practice sessions than the ‘quantity’. 2 hours a week of focused, constructive practice is better than 20 hours of scattered practice and ‘faffing’ about.
Create a practice space that is free of distractions; turn off your phone, move your computer if you feel that you will be tempted to answer emails and make sure your space is conducive to practise. If you can’t concentrate with clutter- clean and organise your practise space. Make it an environment which inspires you to practice and stay focused.
When you practice in this way you will find huge improvements in your voice after several weeks and chances are you will feel quite physically and mentally tired after each session because of the focus and concentration it requires but you’ll also feel a huge sense of satisfaction as you find yourself being able to master things that you previously were unable to.