A Singing Practice

As musicians — and make no mistake, singers ARE musicians (and athletes!), we need to practice. But what does practicing look like for a singer exactly?

A common element of vocal practice is vocal exercises, sometimes called vocalise. Vocalise often consist of scales and making funny sounds (not to mention faces).

The reasons singers learn and practice all these “weird” exercises is to build technique. Technique gives us speed, range, flexibility and, most important, control. (Good news, we use these skills to sing songs. *smile*)

So … should I just sing songs?

We can certainly learn technical skills from songs. Songs are great for teaching us how to use a variety of techniques and how to move from one technique to another. And obviously, we need to practice songs to learn things about tempo, groove and lyric memorization.

I would argue that singing a song over and over, however, is NOT practicing (fun, but not practicing *smile*.) UNLESS … with each repetition of the song you are consciously working to improve or correct some element of your singing.

Whenever we sing (including when we sing a song over and over again), we are training the muscles of our larynges. We don’t want to train our larynges to do something the “wrong” way. If we just sing a song to say we practiced it without improving our technique, the song at best never sounds much better and, at worst, can lead to vocal problems or vocal damage.

What should I practice?

A typical practice session for me includes three or four elements.

I begin my practice sessions by warming up. If I know I am going to do a lot of technique work, I will spend more time on my warmup. Once my voice feels awake and flexible, I move onto some more advanced vocal exercises. I choose exercises to help me build skills I want to strengthen (i.e. breath control, belting, resonance, agility, etc.)

Next I include a good chunk of time on song work or improvisation. Song work can range from working on diction in a foreign language to learning or memorizing new songs to expand my song library. To practice improvising, I might solo over a backing track, make up a melody for a written text or create a story song using a photo.

Finally, I try to make time to work on my piano skills and to write or transcribe a song or chart at least once a week.

As important as working on your voice is, working on your overall musicianship – reading music, learning different musical genres and understanding music theory – is equally important. All of these practices will increase your knowledge and skill regarding your voice and your singing.

For more ideas on what to include in your practice sessions, read this post.

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