During this COVID-19 pandemic, as we are confined to our homes indefinitely, many of us are turning to creative pursuits to get us through. My regular singers enjoy the online lessons I now offer, and those curious about singing are taking the opportunity to try virtual singing tuition.
One thing that is constant whether you have in-person or online singing classes, is the need for regular practice. With more time spent at home, now is an ideal opportunity to incorporate a singing practice routine into your week to develop your vocal skills further.
Here are my tips to help you create – and stick to – regular singing practice.
Why prioritise singing practice?
It helps you identify where your problems are, so you can work on them in lessons with your singing teacher and your own practice.
When you first start to learn singing, it’s especially important to establish good practice habits. And the number one habit for successful singers of all levels is:
YOU SHOW UP.
I can’t emphasise this enough: persistence pays off. Think of your singing practice being as valuable as your paid singing lesson; that can help you make time for it.
When and where to practice?
Regularity is crucial, so experiment at first to find a time that suits you: lunch time, after work, before work. Mark it in your calendar so it’s fixed in your schedule.
Location is important because you need to be free from distractions (turn off your phone and TV too!). You need to feel relaxed, to focus and be free to move around a little.
Home: If housemates or neighbours might be impacted, try soundproofing with rugs near the door, a thick blanket hung over the door, or the back of your piano. Use the soft pedal on your keyboard.
Hired venues: Once the pandemic is over, consider hiring a room in a church or council venue, or a private studio for practice.
How long should you practice?
This depends on your level of experience:
- 15-20 minutes is enough for beginners
- 30-60 minutes is best when you have challenging exercises, repertoire to work on and need time to reflect on your progress.
Little, focussed practices build your skills and create sparks of understanding.
HOW TO STRUCTURE YOUR SINGING PRACTICE SESSION
Your singing practice will usually look like this:
- Warm ups – physical and vocal
- Exercises – to deepen and extend skills
- Songs and vocalise you are working on
- Reflecting on and noting your progress
Slow practice helps build skills that give you a chance to recognise plateaus, blossoms, misfires and awesomeness in your singing. You develop mastery and build confidence, and your learning looks more like a geometric pattern rather than a straight line of skills.
Always warm up with some lip buzzes, tongue trill or gentle sigh/glides, on an ‘ng’ sound (as in ‘song’), a hum or even a ‘Z’ (zed). Try other fricative sounds, such as ‘V’, ‘Ch’ or ‘Th’, simply gliding up and down your range. Extend into your upper and lower voice.
Focusing on one new skill will develop that particular goal. It could be breathing technique or smoothing your register transition. Try to keep your brain on the one target skill, rather than shifting your attention. Repetition is key.
By taking ‘target practice’ at developing new habits and thinking, or strengthening your voice skills, you begin to change. Your neural pathways become uninhibited – better pathways strengthen and less helpful ones grow weaker.
Your aim here is to make new skills permanent and ready for action.
Push past your comfort zone
While most vocal exercises need to be at your skill level, choosing one or two above your expertise enhances your practice. It stretches you, helping you build new skills, and soon it will become easier.
By the end of your singing practice session, you may need to just sing and revel in the randomness. There’s learning here too, so do it!
Feeling tired after practice is good, as singing is physical, but soreness around your throat and neck may mean you are overdoing it and using your voice incorrectly. Slow down and relax your practice.
Finish your practice with a warm down. Gentle sighs and glides bring your voice back to its speaking place and signal the practice is over. Take some deep breaths, just as you did at the start and stretch a little.
Reflect on your work
Keep a journal or record your session and listen at least once before your next lesson. Write down changes you’ve noticed from your auditory and bodily feedback, and how you feel about your singing.
- How are your physical actions changing?
- Can you sense the space in your throat or the rise in your soft palette?
- Does the tongue action feel right, or could you experiment with particular consonant combinations for more feedback?
Here’s a suggested weekly singing practice routine for a beginner
- Monday: Breathing exercises. Inhalation and exhalation, separately from singing and including some physical stretches. Apply this to two to three voice exercises, as well as a vocalise or song you are working on.
- Tuesday: Same as Monday, but add vowels and consonants. Choose three to five consonants that need specific work and check how your tongue moves – notice any tightness especially. Add in some vowels, and apply to your vocalise or song.
- Wednesday, Thursday: Review how your breathing is going. Can you feel that release and openness in your back? Add another breathing exercise. Review your work on vowels and consonants and add some more vowel/consonant combinations, using vocalise or parts of your song repertoire, across different musical patterns.
- Friday and Saturday: Review the work you have done. Include listening to some singers performing your songs. Make a new checklist of your goals for the coming week.
- Sunday: Rest. Always have one day off singing. If you want, see if your favourite musicians are staging online performances on Facebook or other social media platforms. The Sydney Opera House has a digital program that includes music. And of course, there are many music performances on YouTube.