What are your goals as a musician?
How often do you practice?
Are your practice sessions effective?
How can you be sure you are using your time efficiently?
The answer is to always have an intent!! Focus your practice!
Very often we can go to our practice rooms and not know where to start, or we try to fit a little bit of everything in, or just end up singing or playing our favourite songs. How does that help you get better?
If you have any bad habits or areas in need of improvement – practicing like this will only reinforce them.
Set your goals clearly.
What do you want to improve specifically?
Think about this carefully. If you are a singer do you want to extend your range, improve your belt voice, work on blending your registers, get confident at improvisation and ad libbing, etc?
If you are an instrumentalist do you want to improve technique, become a more flexible player, improve your improvisation, improve sight reading abilities etc?
Whatever it is you need to work on – tackle it head on!!! !!!
Don’t let yourself say things like “I’m not good at improvising”, “I have poor technique”, “I can’t belt” etc – you can do whatever you like with the right exercises and guidance. These things won’t magically get better unless you work on them! Everyday.
What are your weaknesses?
Do your weaknesses get you down? We all have them. Know what they are and work on them! Chances are, something you think is difficult is just unfamiliar! If you have no experience with something it doesn’t mean you can’t do it. If you have training from a good teacher then everything can be improved. I do not for one second believe in the innate ability argument! Of course some people are lucky to be born with more natural ability than others – but that doesn’t mean that with hard work and dedication you can’t get to the exact same or higher level. If you love something then commit yourself to it! Obviously it depends on the situation and it is great to be self aware so that you don’t end up in situations that will expose those weaknesses – but that is another article.
I am a huge believer in keeping a practice journal – especially if you are serious about getting results.
Treat it like a diary. Every time you sing/play, write down what you did, the kinds of warm ups you did, the exercises you did, songs you worked on, listened to – anything relating to music (lots of things count as practice – not just the time you spend in a room practicing your instrument). Write down how you found the practice session – did you sound good, were there certain notes that you found difficult, what do you need to work on? Did you have different results yesterday? Ask yourself why? If you are a singer – did you go to bed later than normal? Have you been drinking enough water? Did you warm up? Were you singing intensely the day before? Did you warm down? Did you eat late the night before? Could you have reflux?
Keeping this diary will help you track and monitor your progress and it will also show you your habits and tendencies, it will help you understand and know your own voice and also show you what areas need more work – so that you can focus your next practice sessions and work specifically on what you need to work on.
Show this to your teacher every week and they will be able to guide you – if you say something like “I need to work more on my support” the teacher can ask – “what do you mean when you say support”? Many times you might be working on something in an inefficient or ill-informed way.
This diary will really help you take control of your own development.
You see your teacher once a week usually – you need to take responsibility for your own practice.
Below is a sample practice plan. It doesn’t matter whether you have 10 minutes or an hour – you can still get work done. Often we think “I have ten minutes, I’ll get nothing done in that short time, I’ll wait until I have an hour”. No – every minute helps – once you have a focus for that practice and an intention!!
Practice Plan (for singers – you can take the ideas and transfer them to whatever instrument you play)
ALWAYS HAVE AN INTENTION FOR PRACTICE – HAVE A FOCUS
15 minute sample practice plan
Gentle buzzing sounds
Pick something specific to work on for example:
at the end of this practice session I’m going to be able to sing these 2 bars perfectly
I’m going to be able to sing this section without the music
I’m going to practice speaking the entire text of my song to make sure I know the story and the lyrics
I’m going to try to rap the lyrics of my song to this backing track
I’m going to really watch my balance and alignment
I’m going to practice the blues scale and different combinations of it
I’m going to video a performance of my song
I’m going to work on the chromatic scale/wholetone scale…..
30 minute sample practice plan
There are so many warm ups and exercises that you can do – these are just some examples:
Some scale patterns starting low in your range and working up
Mini sirens – control exercises
Range extension exercises (or whatever you want to work out)
Scale work – try practicing scales using different rhythms, try them backwards, leaving out different numbers – practice them in as many ways as you can think of – this will help you internalize and really understand what you are singing. This way will also work the notes into your voice or fingers so the muscle coordination gets really strong – and you are less likely to forget the scale!
Maybe spend longer on one thing or do a little bit of a few things – but have a focus!!!
1 hour sample practice plan
Similar warm ups to those above but target specific areas you want to work on – more belt exercises, more blending exercises etc. Make sure you know what every exercise you have is actually for!!!
Scales –spend time either perfecting one particular scale or technical requirement that you are a little unsure of.
If you think you are comfortable with your scales/technical exercises the sing through all of them, record yourself and listen back to make sure they are perfect….are they smooth, is the tuning centered, is your placement correct, can you sing it with numbers, backwards, with different rhythms etc? Can you sing/play them at different speeds with different vowels and articulations?
Study work – take things apart in small sections and isolate any difficult passages. Try playing/singing 2 bars at a time – using different rhythms again, if you are happy the passage is secure then do a 4 bar section, then an 8 bar section…..16 bar section….entire study etc etc.
Do not keep playing the song or study through from start to finish!! This will only reinforce any mistakes you might be making and won’t make tricky passages any better.
Sing/play your song without the track – sing it slowly – make sure you know exactly what notes you are singing – not an approximation.
When you are happy, video or audio record it. Ask yourself some questions like:
How is the tuning?
How are the runs? Are they as clear and polished as they should be?
How is my sound? Is it clear, breathy?
What do I want it to be?
How am I starting these notes?
Do I know what I am singing about?
What is the story? Am I bringing that across?
If there was an audience here would I keep their interest?
Would they believe me?
What are my eyes doing?
How does this look visually?
Have I recorded myself doing this and analysed the performance?
What is good about my performance of this song?
Can I make it even better? How?
Other things that count as practice that you should also be doing:
Listening, listening, listening – this is vital.
Listen to different recordings of your song (if there are different recordings) Think about the differences between the recordings, differences in live performances – does the artist change something in live performances?
For example – is a certain lick the same as the recording or do they change it up?
Can you copy all of the licks? With the exact notes and exact detail?
Now do your own version of that lick – only once you can actually do what they have done – this is a good exercise for your musicianship and stylistic awareness – being able to create a similar lick in that style is where you want to get to.
Analyze different voice qualities used by different singers and even within one song – how are they starting the note – is it breathy (aspirated) or pure tone? Do you like this? Was it used for an emotional effect?
What do you need to work on for your upcoming exam?
Are you preparing for a Rockschool graded exam, Academy of Popular Music exam, London College of Music, Associated Board exam, or Trinity College London? Whatever music lessons you are attending or music exams or performances you are working towards, focus your practice.
Are there scales that you find difficult? Feedback from teachers has shown that students who are getting music lessons can find scales and sight reading difficult or don’t like practicing them. This can be across the board – students receiving guitar lessons, bass lessons, singing lessons, piano lessons… all have reported the same issues!
What way are you practicing? Do you understand why scales are important? Can you find new ways to practice them? Speak to your teacher about this – try to make them fun!
(One of our forth coming articles will look at sight reading and developing your abilities here!)
So these ideas should help get you started on a new, focused path to practice with faster results!
We will have more articles like this coming every week so keep an eye on the page and happy practicing!!
Golden rules for all vocalists:
Clear tone is so important for your vocal health and can be frequently overlooked. You should always aim to speak with clear tone – tone without breathiness. A husky voice is one of the first signs that something is wrong. As well as drying out your voice, it causes inefficient voice production and places a lot of strain on the voice.
If you are sick or tired, you will not be using your voice efficiently; stop immediately if your voice feels strained.
Drink plenty of water to keep your vocal folds hydrated. A well hydrated larynx is essential for healthy, sustainable voice use. Aim to drink 1.5 L of water a day – don’t drink it all at once – just sip it regularly! Remember – it takes up to 4 hours for water to seep into your bloodstream and get to your larynx don’t leave it until you are about to sing!
Steaming is immediate hydration for your vocal folds – fill a dish with very hot water and place your head over the bowl – cover with a towel and breathe in for a few minutes.
Always be aware of how you use your voice!
Make sure you get enough sleep! As a singer your body is your instrument – you can’t pack it away into a case when you are finished singing.
It is very difficult to sing to your full potential if you are feeling tired or under the weather so look after yourself!
Warm ups are so so important – and physical warm ups at that! You can’t expect to warm up your voice if your body isn’t warmed up first!
Staying physically fit is important as a singer – can you run and sing at the same time?
Below is a picture of the vocal folds
Here are a few interesting ideas from Alexander Technique specialist Veronique Druesne – Check out her website http://alexandertechniquestudio.weebly.com
We have a strange idea of what good posture is. We usually try and DO IT by putting ourselves in a position and fixing ourselves, fixing ourselves means tensing ourselves into not moving, this is how we start getting into trouble. As we tense our muscles over long period of time, they start hurting, giving us pain as a signal of something wrong. Unfortunately most of the time we cannot maintain this “good posture” and we invariably go back into a slump, we tire. Holding ourselves all day long and over long periods of time can cause a lot of the modern ailments, neck & back pain, discomfort, aches and pains we are all too familiar with.
We try to sort these problems out in numerous different ways, going to the gym or doing exercise is perceived as a great way to improve your posture but sometimes, if we are already tense we can further damage ourselves in those activities. Learning how to release tension first and noticing the harmful ways in which we move can be more beneficial and enhance your sporting activities.
Try it now for yourself, stand in front of a mirror and do your best standing up straight and what you consider being good posture. Now let’s see, place a hand on your neck muscles and see if you can notice anything. Now release your good posture and just stand, place your hand on your neck muscles, you can try front and back of the neck, do you notice any difference?