How a singer practices when alone in the practice room can greatly affect later success. I have known extremely talented singers who simply had no idea how to practice or incorporate the technical changes being introduced by their teachers. Because of this, they stayed stuck where they were technically, never reaching anywhere near their true potential. On the other hand, I have known less naturally-gifted singers who were intelligent about their practice techniques and extremely persistent in their quest to become the best. These were the singers who ended up developing their voices much more extensively and experienced more success as a result.
Making technical changes takes time and attention. Voice lessons usually occur just once a week. The other six days are the singer’s responsibility. S/he has to ensure that technical concepts are being reinforced as much as possible every time s/he is singing! That means during rehearsals and coachings, as well as individual practice sessions. Sometimes singers take a series of lessons in a roaw and are then on their own for an extended period. This is much harder for the singer and requires taking even more responsibility. Below are some ways to help insure you are reinforcing the right new habits when practicing.
Understand the process
One of the biggest mistakes many singers make is to go into the practice room and start singing through repertoire. Singing through pieces is at the end of the learning process, not at the beginning. You have to understand and respect the process of learning and practicing music.
Vocaleses teach and reinforce healthy vocal habits. They are by far the most important part of your practice session, when you are incorporating new technical concepts. Vocaleses need to be done at the beginning of every practice session! If you have a limited amount of time to practice, it is more important to do vocaleses than repertoire. If you need to learn rep, learn how to do it without vocalizing by looking at the music and hearing the notes inside your head. This is a skill that gets easier with practice, but it enables you to learn music without the vocal repetition that encourages bad habits.
After you have done your vocaleses, you can sing your rep, but not a whole piece from beginning to end. When done correctly, the vocaleses will help your technique, which you then want to transfer into the rep. Pick a section and apply a technical aspect or two to that music. There are a number of ways of applying technique to music, including those mentioned in my previous article, Bridging the Gap – Applying Technical Exercises to Repertoire. Experiment and figure out which approach works best for you. Once you have made effective technical changes, you can begin to sing more of the music through, stoping to make additional technical corrections along the way as needed. Only after all of the music has the new technical habits engrained in should you sing a piece from beginning to end.
Quality not quantity
Since muscle memory is such an important part of learning a new singing technique, it is correspondingly important that the quality of your singing in your practice session is very high. Here is a radical statement – it is more important to sing a few vocaleses or phrases very, very well than a number of vocaleses or phrases in a mediocre way. Every time you sing, you reinforce habits. If you singing without thinking, you will reinforce the habits you currently have when singing. In order to make technical changes, it is imperative that you reinforce new habits and that takes a great deal of time and concentration. Don’t feel like you are not accomplishing enough if you spend ten minutes on a vocaleses. By stopping and working to improve your consistency, you will be training in exactly the new habits that will transform your technique for the better.
Work one concept at a time
It is extremely difficult to master more than one concept at a time, so don’t attempt it at first. Work on each concept individually and give yourself a chance to truly understand it and incorporate it into your technique. Once you have a grasp on two separate concepts, you have a chance of being able to combine them, but only then. Trying to add a brand-new concept to another concept could leave you feeling discouraged. Don’t set yourself up for failure.
Take your time
Quality practicing is not rushed. We aren’t machines that react in nanoseconds. It takes a moment or two for our thinking to reach the muscles under our conscious control and it takes even longer when we want to encourage a new type of coordination. Take a more leisurely pace when practicing and make sure to give yourself enough time to “talk” to your muscles before singing a phrase. This approach can make a huge difference for some singers and is also related to the “quality not quantity” idea.
Have a goal
Developing a healthy, working technique is not the work of a moment. It takes a tremendous investment of time and effort, along with a laser-like focus. You won’t be able to address everything all at once, so walk into the practice room with a short-term plan for the practice session. The plan can always change along the way. Incorporating one technical aspect into your singing in one piece of music is often a good plan. That means taking the piece phrase by phrase and working to consistently keep that technical aspect going. Repetition of the phrases is key with this approach, because it probably won’t happen for you the first time. Have the patience to go back and repeat the same phrase until you get more consistency before moving on to the next phrase.
Use both your intelligence and instincts
You are the only one who can experience what it is like to sing with your instrument. Be aware of what your voice feels like as much as possible, in order to pick up on important clues. If a certain phrase is easier for you and automatically maintains a desired technical concept, you can use that as a benchmark for other phrases. If you keep trying to make a technical change and it isn’t working, don’t bang your head against the wall. Move on to something else instead. Either it will work another day or you need to get reinforcement from your teacher. But take control of your progress and use your intelligence and instincts to guide you. As you become a more proficient technician, they will become extremely important to the refinement of your technique.
For more articles and information, visit my website, http://www.thebricelandstudio.com