Updated: Feb 11, 2019
Finding precious practice time is challenging for singers of all ages.
For young children and parents, fitting practice between school drop offs, pick-up, homework and other activities can be very tricky. My own children are committed to singing, but also soccer, choir, clarinet lessons, the school band, coding. Like many parents, these activities form an evergreen list that goes on and on!
For adults, practicing around full-time work or study and fitting it in amongst social commitments and responsibilities can be equally as hard. Add stress, the pressure to eat healthy, exercise, and that looming singing lesson where your teacher expects a level of improvement...and the thought of practicing - instead of being an enjoyable task - becomes one dusted with pressure.
Yet practice is crucial to development. The obvious reason is that practice leads to plenty of singing, repetition, memorisation and musical engagement. The not-so-obvious reason however, and one we think is mighty important, is that practicing leads to plenty of self-reflection: a skill that singers must learn in order to sing well independently and in order to communicate how their singing voice feels.
Practice = Reflection = Progress + Exploration According to Diane Hughes, a leading researcher and authority on the contemporary singing voice, reflection through practice allows singers to set goals and to explore the voice. It leads to deeper, "strengthened" learning and understanding as it "assists students to focus on their individuality, aspirations and abilities" (1). In addition, practicing and reflecting back on practice encourages singers to "explore possibilities" (2). While practicing might imply singing scales and repeating what your teacher has told you, the best kind of practice is where you get to reflect, look back and explore what your singing voice can do (2). Diane Hughes adds that "there are many vocal and musical choices you can make to develop your unique vocal sound" (3) which means that singing practice is also an opportunity to explore the many sounds you can make.
It's also a way of getting to know your own unique vocal capabilities and limitations. From the perspective of vocal health, this is important. Check out what Diane Hughes says about "understanding your own voice" in an article written for Voice Council Magazine:
If singers become kinaesthetically aware of healthy voice use through their training, they can then choose to implement or not to implement nuances in an informed way. Bearing in mind that each voice is unique and has its own idiosyncrasies, levels of vocal resilience vary between singers. Learning about and understanding your own voice and sound is therefore imperative.
How might you know your own idiosyncrasies? Working with a teacher is great but more importantly, spending quality time with your own voice. Let's see how we can make fitting practice time easier for you or for your young singer:
Practice can be sweetened!
The good news is that practice can be made a little sweeter! It's time to ditch practice as an old-school, "must-do". Instead, why not view practice as a little "me-time"? There are a few things you can do for yourself or your young singer to help inspire effective and reflective singing practice.
Here are 5 of my favourites:
1. Find a designated, comfortable and relaxed "singing space".
It's a little hard to reflect on anything when there are distractions around so where possible, find a space at home just for music and singing. Ideally, this space should be away from other distractions (no TV, etc.). If you have a room such as a study, call this your singing space or your own studio, instead of a study. If the space is small, call it your singing spot. Naming it adds a sense of purpose.
2. Set-up and decorate this space (yes...decorate!) + keep your singing materials in sight
Young children might enjoy calling a corner of their bedroom their singing spot and adding things like music-related posters, drawings, or craft on walls.
For adults (and children too!), try and make your singing space as relaxing and home-like as possible. You already love music, so perhaps consider creating a space at home for music-related books, a piano or guitar (if you're keen to play or learn), a comfy couch. If you feel fancy, start a record collection and find a new record player! Do what feels right for you.
Have your singing materials in sight and avoid having it all hidden in your computer/phone. Print your lyrics and have your music readily available. Set this up at the start and your future practice sessions will likely come easy.
If funds allow, purchase a music stand, a designated music player, such as a sound system (instead of using your phone and laptop to avoid social media!) and keep singing materials out and ready. If it's in sight, it's in mind and most likely to prompt effective practice. If it's in sight, it's in mind.
3. Sing to relax and explore your voice
Singing is relaxing and is a really nice way to get to know your own voice. Viewing your "practice" as a form of "relaxation" and exploration makes it nicer to do + less authoritarian!
One of my favourite ways of practicing is to dim the lights, light a candle, stand bare-feet, place the phone out of view and just be alone with my music and my singing. This can be done at night or even early in the morning. Sometimes I can only afford to do this for a few minutes before something requires my attention. Other times, this can completely take over an entire evening. If you have children, this is also doubles as a great way to spend time with them.
4. Sing to challenge yourself
Singers - even young ones - usually love a reasonable challenge! This is part of the fun of learning how to sing! Treat singing a challenging part of a song or a new scale as a personal goal. The feeling of satisfaction and achievement awaits!
5. Keep it simple. Don't count, don't measure...but do reflect
Aim to practice something simple for around 60 seconds...but don't count or measure. Think vocal slides/trills and an easy scale. If you feel like it, and are vocally warm, sing a verse today, then a chorus tomorrow.
Then spend some time reflecting. You may want to write down some notes or simply think about your voice and how you went.
The punch-line? One minute will almost always turn into two, then three. Before you know it, you've become lost in the fun of singing and time flies. In addition, reflecting on your singing will prompt you to become aware of areas than need extra love, care and attention. I hope these tips help to enhance your or your child's singing practice and in doing so, hear/feel the progress and development that comes from effective practice.
Recommended Further Reading:
(1) & (2) Art' to artistry: A contemporary approach to vocal pedagogy by Diane Hughes. The Routledge Research Companion to Popular Music Education (2017) | (1 - p.184; 2 - p.182)
(3) 4 Ways To Develop Your Unique Sound by Diane Hughes. Voice Council Magazine (2017). Click Here to view this article.
Have you seen our practice charts + prizes?
P.S. Many of our parents may have noticed our new PRACTICE CHARTS + PRACTICE POT this week! We are currently encouraging fun practice in our young students by asking them to track their singing practice. A complete PRACTICE CHART = a small, useful PRACTICE PRIZE of their choice! Head over to our Instagram page to check out our cute little practice prizes!
Our teachers agree that this fun activity specifically rewards and highlights the process of practicing and engaging with music. Our aim is to encourage students to steer their attention towards the process rather than the outcome.
And yes...it is also to help our time-poor parents incentivise practice time (of course!). If your child has not received a practice chart, please make sure to pick one up at their next lesson!