Structured and challenging practice is vital for singers. iSingmag’s editor LINE HILTON explains how practice can help you get the most out of your voice.
“Practice does not make perfect. Only perfect practice makes perfect.” Vince Lombardi
I have seen evidence of this over and over again in my vocal studio. It used to baffle me when I’d encounter a singer who was focused, dedicated and hard-working but never really improved or achieved their goals.
Eventually I decided to do some research on talent and practice methods. As I got deeper into these topics, I began to understand why some of the singers I was helping were not developing in proportion to the work they were putting in. These singers had talent and motivation; what they didn’t have was the understanding of “how” to practise.
In order to become a highly skilled expert you need to engage in a specific type of practice. One of the leaders in studies on expertise and practice is K. Anders Ericsson (author of Peak). He and his colleagues have identified the common components found in those who reach expert levels in their field, whether it be sport, music, writing, painting, or other technical areas. The people he studied all displayed similar approaches to their skill and knowledge development, they did this through what he labelled “deliberate practice”.
Ten top tips for practice that will make a difference:
1. Identify your motivation
It’s vital to identify what motivates you. Without motivation you will not be able to maintain the self-regulatory focus needed to continue doing the hard work required to improve.
Some people are motivated by the need to drive towards something, others, to move away. Finding your motivation will require some self-questioning, note taking, discussion and exploration. But you need to find your purpose, your why.
Motivations can be explained in terms of results. For example: “By singing better I will be able to feel happy/achieve my performance goals/make my mum happy/help others/prove I am worthwhile/earn a living/express myself.”
Simply ask yourself what you want to achieve in the long term and why.
Things to consider:
- What makes you happy?
- What makes you jump out of bed in the morning?
- What do you spend a lot of time doing/thinking about?
- What do you spend your money on?
- What topics do you talk a lot about and feel passionate about?
- What make you feel complete, whole or satisfied?
2. Set specific goals for improvement
This can be for a practice session, a rehearsal, a gig spanning an hour, a day, the week, the month or the year.
Design specific activities that target the areas that require development. Write these down and review periodically so you can see how you’ve progressed.
Use SMART goals to help you maintain a focus and identify measurable indicators to help you plot your progress.
S – specific
M – measurable
A – attainable
R – realistic
T – time-based
3. Set challenging practice tasks
There is no use practising the easy exercises. Pushing the boundaries will ensure you progress with each practice session. By the same token don’t make the tasks so difficult that you can never hope to achieve them, this will de-motivate you.
4. Slowing it down and chunking it up
Take time with your practice activities and break the exercises down into smaller segments. Slow the exercise to the point where you are in total control of every moment. This will really help your brain to establish the right neural pathways.
In my studio I will make singers sing a melody on a suitable sound and without any rhythmic elements, i.e. only using crotchet beats (1/4 notes) around 60bpm. This gives the brain and voice time to prepare for the notes ahead, and to feel each note placement.
Once you feel where the voice should be you can re-introduce the rhythms and then eventually the lyrics, and finally move the tempo back to normal. Work in segments, expanding them gradually, a bar or phrase at a time.
4. Maintain conscious control and limit practice time lengths
Concentrated practice is tiring and therefore cannot be done for extended periods of time. Here are a few things to remember:
- Short, regular practice sessions are far more effective than infrequent long ones.
- Keep your mind focused on the job when practising i.e. don’t go on automatic pilot as you go through your exercises.
- Make sure you schedule breaks.
- Experiment to find the ideal time of the day for you to practice.
5. Repeat, repeat, repeat!
Repetition is vital in ensuring the brain’s neural pathways and the relevant muscles are being trained, toned and strengthened. Think back to when you learnt to write, you had to do it regularly to become fluent and now you don’t think too much about the process.
Singing is, in part, a motor skill. Regular practice builds coordination, tone and strength in the vocal muscles, joints and nerves.
6. Get feedback
This can come from yourself (by recording/videoing the practice sessions), or it can come from another person, such as your teacher or coach, or even a fellow singer or band mate.
It’s important to develop an objective evaluation habit. You need to be constructive. Saying “I’m rubbish”, is not useful. Rather ask yourself “why wasn’t it up to par?”, “what can I do about it?”, “what tools have I got to improve this next time?”, “who can help me improve?”
Sleep is vital for a variety of reasons. It gives the brain and body rest and recovery time. Sleeping can also improve memory, creativity and our thought processes.
Practising motor skills on tired muscles, including the vocal muscles, may lead to an increased risk of vocal injury or developing incorrect technique.
What’s more, healthy sleeping habits can lead to a longer, healthier life!
8. Mental practice
The brain does not know the difference between real and mental practice. Studies have shown that the neural pathways can be developed just as strongly from both mental and real practice. This is very useful if you are ill or unable to find a suitable place to practice.
When practising this way you need to imagine every aspect of how it feels, what moves and when, how it sounds, what it looks like as well as the desired result.
9. Make an emotional connection
Passion drives us to do what we need to do to get where we want to go. Write down your long-term goals and dreams. Add as many details about how it will be and feel when you achieve these goals and live the dream.
Studies show that people with definite long-term goals are more likely to succeed in fulfilling their dreams.
If you start to feel despondent or discouraged remind yourself why it’s worthwhile to get back on track.
10. Find an accountability buddy or form a group
You need to surround yourself with a support group of people who get you and your mission, or are on a similar path. Often you will feel up when they’re down and vice versa so you can help each other out through the tough times.
You need to be honest with yourself. If nothing motivates you – not even the dream – then maybe you are heading in the wrong direction. Time to re-evaluate and discover your true passion.
Want to learn more about effective practice? Sign up for iSingmag’s next webinar on Tuesday 30 April at 7pm. Hosted by Line Hilton it will cover the what, why, how and when of practising effectively. REGISTER HERE