Unlike most other musical instrument, your voice is something that you carry with you everywhere! This is perhaps why many beginners are less likely to consider how their practice space should be set up, and why they have more trouble with performances. Practicing singing is just like any other kind of practice, whether for music, the arts, or a sport. You have to establish a space where you can focus on what you’re doing with the least number of distractions.
Knowing how to practice will take you much further when you realize that singing in your car or in the shower might not necessarily be adequate practice. To really be effective, you need to set aside time just for singing, listening to your voice, and focusing on your body.
Dedicating Time to Practicing and Focusing
We live in a world full of multitasking. But when it comes to practicing, you’ll need to dedicate at least 20 minutes of time to it without distraction – make sure it’s just you and your music. If you absolutely need to bring your cell phone into your practice room, put it on vibrate or turn it off. If there is a TV in the room, make sure it is turned off and that you are as isolated from background noise as possible.
Singing is similar to yoga or meditation. You need to focus on your breathing and your posture, and how your singing affects each. You have to become very aware of your body – after all, it’s your instrument! Just as yoga and meditation help you become more aware of your muscles, when you practice singing you should notice how your diaphragm and throat move for different notes. You should try different postures (sitting and standing) and different volumes to notice where in your body the sound comes from. For example, if you sing while sitting using a low volume in a higher register, then stand and sing one of your favorite songs loudly, you will notice that your body reacts very differently. Learning how to practice effectively means learning to be self-aware.
Selecting Your Practice Area
Learning how to practice means learning how to listen to your own voice, so this step is important. Good acoustics are required for performances, but odds are you are not going to have that kind of space available every time you practice. However, there are ways to make a regular room more music-friendly. Ideally, practicing should be done in a room that has carpeting and that is fully-furnished. If you have the space for a dedicated room, consider adding padding to the walls to reduce the echo.
If you cannot dedicate an entire room, it’s ok to have a corner of a study or office set aside. Ultimately, the space should be one where there is less foot traffic and more space. You should not use a place like the kitchen or living room. The acoustics in a kitchen are likely the worst in the house, and the living rooms tend to have too many distractions and too much traffic to be functional.
Setting Up the Your Practice Room
There are several things every singer should have in their practice room.
There should be a CD player or another device for playing music. If you’re using your phone for this, consider switching it to Airplane Mode so that you will not be distracted by texts, emails, or phone calls.
A clock or timer should be available to make sure that you do your warm up and cool down for the appropriate periods.
A mirror should be installed if it isn’t already in the room. A full-length mirror is best; at the very least, you should be able to see your torso. This helps you see how small changes in posture affect your sound.
Sheet music should be available for every song or warm up you do. A music stand is also helpful for keeping your body free when practicing, and it should be set to the side of the mirror so that it does not block your view of your body as you practice.
It’s also a great idea to get a notebook, where you can track how long you practiced, what you worked on, and your goals for the week or month.
If you take in-home lessons, you might want to consider investing in a piano or keyboard. You’ll maximize what you learn if your teacher can accompany you on your exercises, and it can help for pitch-matching exercises, as well. This teaches you not only how to practice, but how to sing with a live instrument.
Maximizing Practice Time
Apart from removing distractions, you might want to try dividing your practice sessions into sections. For example, during your warm up, you should be focusing on your body and posture in the mirror. Then, work on scales, focusing on techniques, learning the song, and finally the cool-down section. To start, these can be divided into time intervals to make sure enough time is dedicated to each.
Dedicating quiet, isolated practice time will help you understand how slight shifts in posture and breathing can affect your sound, and you’ll definitely notice improvements over time. Of course, one of the best things about choosing your voice as your instrument is that you can practice anytime and anywhere! Even if you’re not in your dedicated space when the urge arises, sing loud and proud!
Photo by John Liu