How to Practice Singing
Step 1: Always Warm Up!
Loosen up your body with some stretches, shoulder rolls, and deep breaths
Start singing gently, with some of the warm up exercises you’ve learned in your lessons
It’s usually best to start each exercise in the middle of your range, and then move by half steps up or down to stretch your range. Don’t push your voice to extreme high or low notes, instead you should stay within the range that is comfortable for you.
Once your voice has had a chance to warm up with simple exercises, it’s a good idea to spend a few minutes singing some of the more challenging scales that we have worked on in your lessons. This is the most effective way to build technique and strengthen your voice.
Step 2: Practicing Songs
When learning a new song, it’s best to practice the words and the melody separately at first:
- Speak the words as if they were lines in a play, so that you can feel connected to the meaning of the song.
- Speak the words in rhythm. Do this slowly at first to make sure your rhythms are accurate.
- Learn the melody without the words, on a neutral syllable like “ah” or “oo”
- When you are ready, put the words and melody together.
Try not to rely on listening to recordings to learn new songs. It’s important to come up with your own interpretation, rather than imitating another singer’s performance.
Rather than singing through the whole song over and over, try focusing on the sections that are most difficult first. You can try singing these passages on an open vowel “ah” or “oh,” or on a lip trill to help relax the tone. Pay attention to which sounds are most comfortable, and use those to help relax your voice when you have trouble.
Step 3: Learning to Read Music
I encourage all of my students to develop their music reading skills and learn the basics of music theory. This will improve your overall performance, improve pitch and tuning, and make learning new songs much easier. I use several sets of exercises that focus on developing basic music reading skills using Solfege (or Solfeggio) Syllables: Do, Re, Mi, Fa, Sol, La, Ti, Do. I will try to work through at least one of these exercises during each lesson, but it is very beneficial to practice them regularly at home.
When learning a song, try to get as much information as you can from the printed music, rather than learning by ear. Which direction are the notes moving? Are the pitches close together or far apart? How many beats does each note get? Are they loud or soft? Asking yourself these types of questions about the music will help you become more skilled at interpreting the symbols of music notation.
Step 4: Follow Up
I recommend keeping track of your practice sessions, and writing down any questions or concerns that come up so that they can be addressed in your next lesson. I’d like to hear about improvements you notice as well as difficulties you might have during the week. If something is not working for you, we can try another approach.
If you are not sure what to practice, please ask! Remember that the goal of practice is to reinforce the new skills introduced in your lesson, so that is usually a good place to start. Also remember that consistent practice at home will help you learn songs faster, which allows us to focus on more advanced (and more fun!) concepts in lessons, instead of spending our time learning the notes and rhythms. Also keep in mind that taking time to learn new music carefully and accurately will save the time you’d spend re-learning music learned incorrectly or undoing bad habits.
I’d recommend using some kind of system to keep track of your progress. You could try keeping a singing journal, where you write thoughts and reactions to lessons, practice sessions, and performances. A journal is also a great way to keep track of goals and your progress toward them. Or you can track of your practice time in a calendar or planner. I use my Google Calendar to schedule practice time, because it helps me make sure I stay on track and practice as often as I’d like to.
Set a timer while you’re practicing so that you can stay focused. I’m much less distracted if I know I need to keep going until the timer goes off, rather than constantly checking the clock.
Even if you’re busy and it seems like you have no time to practice, 15 minutes of practice is better than nothing. It’s better to practice a little every day than for an hour at a time only once or twice a week.
If you are struggling with something and can’t seem to make progress, take a break and work on something else for a while. Doing the same thing over and over unsuccessfully is not productive and will only make you frustrated.
Practicing in front of a mirror can help in two ways: first, it will let you keep track of your facial expressions and help develop your acting skills. Secondly, it lets you see when you are doing something that will get in the way of your singing, like tightening your jaw or lifting your shoulders.
When you do listen to recordings of other singers, try to analyze what they are doing and find things that you specifically like or don’t like about their performance. For example, is the tone breathy or bright? Is the singer using head voice, chest voice, or a mix of both? Where does the singer change the tone, and why do you think he/she does that? Asking these questions will improve your listening skills and make you a more analytical singer.