One of the biggest challenges I face with my students is getting them to practice regularly. Consistent, focused practice is a necessary part of developing good vocal (or any other instrument) technique. Students with good practice habits progress much more rapidly than those who only practice occasionally or not at all.
The goal is not to practice for hours every day, but instead to practice carefully and deliberately, reinforcing what was learned in your lesson and practicing those skills so that they become comfortable. Pay close attention to what you are doing, how you are singing, and how it feels. Focus your attention on practicing difficult sections and trouble spots. Don’t just sing through the same song over and over and expect the problems to fix themselves.
For more on how to practice effectively, see this excellent post on Bulletproof Musician: How Many Hours a Day Should You Practice?
Finding time to practice regularly is something I struggle with myself as well. Besides teaching, I work an office job, and I don’t have a lot of free time. I also live in an apartment building with thin walls, so I try to be considerate of my neighbors by not practicing too early or too late. I’ve been trying different methods of scheduling my practice sessions, and have yet to find the perfect solution. I usually do some basic warm-ups and vocalizes during my 20-minute morning commute, but it’s pretty much impossible to accomplish any productive practice while driving.
One thing that has helped for me is finding small chunks of time for practice, and setting a timer so I am not distracted by the clock or all the other things on my To-Do list. Fifteen minutes is a good place to start when it seems like there is no time for practice. Even with a crazy schedule, you can always find 15 minutes for singing, and you might be surprised how much you can accomplish in that short amount of time. If I have a little more time, I’ll sing scales and exercises for 15 minutes, then work on a song for 15 more. I am often more productive during these short practice sessions than I am when I have more time.
As a coloratura soprano, a lot of the repertoire I sing is very vocally demanding. Repeatedly singing through some of these arias is tiring, and not the most effective way to practice. This is where mental practice comes in– a technique I first learned about at the OperaWorks summer intensive program. Especially with difficult coloratura passages, being able to hear the notes in your head (sung in your voice, the way you want it to sound) is crucial. While mental practice is not the same as physical practice, really visualizing yourself singing (or playing) the way that you want to sound can be very helpful. For more on mental practice, see this post, also from Bulletproof Musician: Does Mental Practice Work?
For many musicians, keeping a practice journal also helps. I’ve found that writing down goals (repertoire to learn, technical concepts to focus on, etc) can really help me focus my practice time. Also, keeping a record of what was accomplished can help me track my progress toward those goals.
What do you think? I’d love to hear from you in the comments. Thanks for reading, and happy practicing!