It’s not overly uncommon for students or any growing vocalist for that matter to come up and ask me my opinions on how much they should practice. But to me, how much you practice isn’t near as important as what you’re doing while you practice.
Don’t get me wrong, practicing on a regular basis is a very important part of developing as a singer. If you want to get better, you’ve got to practice. But not all practice is created equal, so I figured I’d write this article to give you some pointers as to how much to practice, what to focus on, and what you can do to make yourself that much more effective. So enjoy!
The Process – What To Do While Practicing?
In the way of structure, one of the most effective ways to organize your practice is as follows. First, start off by balancing your voice with a warm up. Then, take the time to break the song down into smaller pieces so that you can focus on these sections in more detail. After you’ve done that, put the song together piece by piece, making sure you’re continuing to execute what you were working on in the smaller groups perfectly until you’re singing the whole song.
Now, let me go into a little bit more detail about that.
The Warm Up
When practicing, I’d always start with a warm up. The purpose of a warm up is to build the proper coordination and balance for singing… it’s just like stretching for an athlete. Warm up properly and you’ll be poised and ready for singing. Skip the warm up and you’ll likely feel more clunky and experience less vocal freedom. I’d suggest taking at least 10-15 minutes to warm up (I regularly go as long as 30 mins).
Breaking the Song Down
The most effective way to practice anything is breaking it down to it’s simplest element. This is why we typically use a single vowel and consonant sound during warm ups, because the more simple something is, the more likely we’ll experience success with it. Then, once we’ve experienced that success, we’re ready to move onto more complex combinations.
But don’t worry, this whole article isn’t about warming up. When you start practicing your song, you want to break it down into smaller sections. You may do a verse/chorus at a time, or maybe even want to break things down more and practice one line at a time. While you’re working on these smaller sections, you can focus on perfecting every element… the inflection you use while saying the words, the stylistic elements you add, the tone you use to best reflect the emotion, and more. Once you perfect your first smaller section, move onto the next one, then the next… this is how one truly perfects a song.
As a side note, I believe waaaaay too many singers make the mistake of repeatedly singing through the whole song over and over while practicing. This is bad because once you’re a few lines in, you go on auto pilot and rarely change anything.
You can’t build a house in a day… first you need to lay the concrete, then put up the framework, then wire the electrical, then add the walls, the roof, windows, etc. It can’t all be done at once, and you can’t focus on all of the various different elements you want vocally in a song while singing the whole thing over and over.
So don’t be afraid to take the time to break things down and really perfect the song piece by piece. Once you do this, you’re ready to start putting it all together.
Putting It All Together. . .
With all your smaller sections perfected, start putting them together back to back, adding one more each time. Adding one smaller section at a time will give you the ability to focus on these newer sections while singing through the previous sections over and over helps to establish the habit of doing it the way you want. You can break the song down into a few bigger sections while doing this (verse/chorus marks are usually a good place for this).
Then all you have to do is put your bigger sections together, and your song should be sounding pretty incredible. This method of piecing together the song has been extremely effective for me as a teacher, and for my students. Give it a try and see if it’s as effective for you as it has been for me.
Vocal Coach Ken Taylor
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