Effective Practice

It is important that when you practice you do so consciously. This means taking the time to think about what and why you are practising. If you don’t take the time to evaluate what you are doing and how you are doing it then you may not be making as much progress as you could be.

The main difference (in my mind the only difference) between an ok, good and amazing singer is the number of hours or conscious practice that they keep. The questions below are simply food for thought. You may not have taken the time to think about why you are practising or how you are practising (if you have the time answer the questions and write your answers down by hand then do so. Some of your answers may be a simple yes or no but some will require more thought.

1. Why do you need to practice?

2. What do you want to get out of practice?

3. Do you prepare what you will practice?

4. Do you have a routine?

5. Could you vary your practice to get more out of it?

6. How?

7. Do you spend a lot of time talking about what you want from your voice but not very time practising and listening to yourself?

8. Do you practise the same things over and over?

9. If yes, why?

10. Do you ever evaluate your practice?

11. Do you have goals that your practice relates to?

12. If yes what are they (I will take more about goals later)?

How do you feel about practice? Practice should not be a chore. You must shake off the feeling that practice is something you have no choice about. Some of us have vivid memories of being forced to practice an musical instrument as a child and how unpleasant that was. However, you are now choosing to sing and you want to get better. Decide now to change your attitude towards practice. It is a choice and you are choosing to do it because you want to become a better singer.

Practising is performing which presumably is something that you love? Start telling yourself that practising is just as fulfilling as performing. You cannot have one without the other. Put as much energy into getting that perfect performance when you practice otherwise how can you hope to re-create a fabulous performance when you really need it?

"One very important rule of practice is don’t practice half-heartedly. Practice as if you have an audience in front of you"

But people might hear me!! This is a problem that I cannot resolve. It is true if you sing at home someone may hear you. The reality is 30 minutes of practice at a reasonable hour will not cause anyone any harm. More than likely a neighbour will hear you and then carry on about their business just as you would if the roles were reversed. They will not put a glass to the wall and then critique your performance. You have no idea what is going through a listeners mind so it's best not to imagine! How will you ever perform in front of an audience if you can't perform behind closed doors? Make mistakes and learn from them. We only get better when we make mistakes and learn.

You must start to employ Active Listening. What do I mean by active listening? One running theme I have noticed when teaching singing is that many people come to me for a lesson and really want to become a better singer but they have never actually heard their own voice. How can that be? Well, they have never sung a song from start to finish and had a good old listen is the simple answer. Some have listened a little and not liked what they have heard and then switched off. Some still don't want to listen when they are paying for a lesson. If you want to get better you have to firstly find out what you sound like. Only then can you decide what you need to do.

Only by listening can you answer the questions - what parts of my voice do I like? What don't I like? What would I like to change? How do I sound? If you now decide to actively listen try not to allow yourself to only come up with negative answers. For every negative comment you must also find a positive answer – I don’t like my tone it sounds shrill – but I think I can just about hit all the notes etc

Active listening is taking the time to really hear your voice. Pick a simple song you know really well. One that doesn't go too high and doesn't go too low. Try your best and sing the whole song. It may be a couple of attempts before you allow yourself to really listen but it’s the first step to understanding what you want and need to achieve.

When I practise a new piece I sing it over and over and over...tweaking, listening and amending tiny and big aspects until I am happy. Then I perform it in front of people. I don't sing a song once and say well I don't think that sounds good so let's move on.

You must engage in Conscious Practice. Conscious practice is the art of thinking about what you are doing whilst you are doing it. If you practice with the same practice CD over and over the same way you will stay the same. You must evaluate what you are doing. Put simply you must think.

Singers have a tendency to expect to be able to sing due to natural ability. If a pianist was to tell their teacher this they would be laughed at. The voice is an instrument and you need to understand it. You need to train it. Develop it and master it.

Try to engage in your own Negative Evaluations. Negative thoughts, words and feelings will not help you become a better singer. The longer you continue being negative the harder it will be to become a better singer. Instead of 'I don't like the sound of my voice' why not say 'I would like a softer tone to my voice' be constructive give yourself a chance.

Visualisation is key to developing your voice. Adding 5 minutes of visualisation to any practice time can be beneficial. Sit for five minutes and daydream about that perfect performance. Imagine how you would like to look and sound. Imagine the audience looking back at you and how you would like to feel. Taking the time to do this means that when you get up to do a performance you feel that you have prepared more than just the correct rhythms and notes.

How long to practice? Personally I believe that forcing yourself to do hours of practice is pointless if you haven’t organised why or what you are doing. 30mins of structured practice with goals in mind is much more effective than an hour of singing through exercises in a dreamlike state and then singing songs without focus. However, if you have the time practice longer then do so. The length and frequency of your practice should be directly linked to your vocal commitments and goals. If you simple want to add a couple of notes to your range you could sing for 30mins five times a week using specific exercises and make a real difference. If you have a lead in a musical and need to act, sing and learn your lines you are going to have to work harder for longer. To manage your time effectively you will need to create a practice schedule.

I should mention that I consider all singing practice as long as you make sure you are singing consciously and always trying to sing your best! Choir practice each week can be intensive practice. Listening to other singers is practice. Reading books about singing is practice. Watching video's is also practice as it builds your knowledge and ideas about the singer you want to be.

I am an advocate of Goal Setting. It is important to establish why you are practising. Without goals it is too easy to simply wander along but never really get anywhere. If that’s what you want then good luck but if you want to become a better singer you must decide what you want to achieve. Here are some examples:1. Build my Range2. Take an exam. Join a choir.