How finding the right singing routine can unlock your singing potential
Whether you’re working on pitch correction, pronunciation or performance techniques, singing practice most certainly does make for singing perfection.
Let’s get one tough truth out of the way first: just as with any pursuit you chase in life, becoming good at singing takes time, effort, and practice. Even if you’re a naturally gifted vocalist, you will notice a marked improvement in your vocal abilities with a regular practice regime.
There is, however, a lot to be said for shorter, more productive and singing practices, rather than putting yourself through the ringer for several strenuous hours every day. For one thing, you’ll give yourself more free time, and for another, you won’t wear out your voice from overuse!
Read on to discover why, where, what and how you should practice to unlock your singing potential without losing precious hours from your week:
Why do I need to practice singing?
The simple answer is: if you practice properly, you’ll become a much more competent and confident vocalist in your own right. You’ll be fully prepared and in tip-top singing condition before you step into the recording booth or onto the stage, secure in the knowledge that you feel great – and will sound great too.
If you’re part of a choir with a big performance coming up, a member of the chorus of a musical that’s about to begin its run, or a singer in band with a gig just around the corner, it’s likely that you and your musical partners will want to spend your precious practice time running through your set list of songs. While this is important for you all, as a true ensemble is only as good as the sum of its parts, simply showing up to rehearsal each week isn’t the same as creating and sticking to your own personal singing routine – and isn’t anywhere near as beneficial.
Personal practice is quality ‘you time’ for you to get to know your voice – both its strengths and its weaknesses. That’s the key difference between a practice and a rehearsal – use your singing practice to hone your vocal talents and memorize each song, so that when you turn up at your rehearsal, you’re ready to run through the set, with the kinks pre-ironed out.
Where should I practice singing?
Picking the right location is just as important as picking the right vocal exercises. The good news is: you don’t necessarily have to pay for a practice space, especially if you’re just practicing alone. All you need is a private, dedicated place where you have room to move around and can focus on your voice without interruption.
Some vocalists would recommend singing in such spaces as your stairwell or bathroom, because both of these types of spaces tend to have better acoustics than, for example, a living room – so they’re great for when you’re practicing your projection. However, you may prefer to turn your study, spare room or bedroom into a permanent practice space, so you can leave everything just the way you like it and jump straight back into practice mode without having to set all your stuff up every time (plus you’ll be less likely to get walked in on!).
Do I need to bring anything else to my singing practice?
Aside from a winning attitude and a clean bill of health, there are a few useful items you’ll need in your singing practice toolkit:
- Audio player – to play the songs you are learning so you can study them
- Recording device – to record your performances so you can review it
- Lyric sheet – to read from before you have those words committed to memory, and to check you’ve memorized them all correctly
- Pen and paper – to make any notes about the songs you’re learning, and to remind yourself of any areas for vocal improvement
- Instrument – to check your pitch and to accompany yourself
- Metronome – to make sure you’re keeping time, and to test your speed and vocal agility
- Water – to keep yourself hydrated and your throat lubricated
- Phone or portable device – to provide you with all of the above in one handy portable package!
What should I do in my singing practice?
Before you leap right into it, remember these words: a planned practice is a productive practice! 5 minutes of planned practice is of far more use to you than 50 minutes of unfocussed practice – you’ll achieve more, and you’ll also spare yourself more time afterwards.
It can be difficult to know where to start with your singing practice, so it’s important that you put a plan together and stick to it – this way, you won’t waste any precious time wondering what you should be doing. There will be times when you need to adjust your plan so you can focus on certain songs or particular techniques, but there are a few core staples that form the basis of any productive vocal practice:
Just as if you were about to run around the block a couple of times in the months leading up to your half marathon, the first thing you should do at your singing practice is warm up. There are many useful vocal warm-ups that will prepare all the parts of your body that you use while singing, many of which can be done in the car on the drive to practice (or bus or train, if you’re particularly confident around strangers!).
Read our article to learn more about our top vocal warm-ups to whip your singing voice into shape.
Scales and arpeggios
Once your lips, your teeth and the tip of your tongue are all primed for singing, it’s time to make things more musical, and run through some scales and arpeggios. The melodies of most popular songs are, when you break them down, just different arrangements of a few core patterns, so if you practice your scales and arpeggios until you can sing them in your sleep, you’ll find most melodies are firmly within your grasp.
Read our article to find out how scales and arpeggios will improve your singing.
Study your songs
Now you’ve warmed up your singing voice and have familiarized yourself with the building blocks of music, it’s time to get more specific. There’s a lot more to a song than just a melody, and there’s a lot of value in getting to know the material you’re practicing inside and out. Here’s how:
Listen to your song
This might seem obvious, but even if you’re lucky enough to be able to pick up a tune after the first listen, the devil, as they say, is in the details. Well-crafted pop songs and show tunes have multiple levels of music and meaning, so you may well hear something you didn’t notice upon further listens.
Read your song’s lyrics
By read, we really mean re-read, and several times over. Most song lyrics are readily available online (although some sources are more reliable than others!), but once you have them, pour over every line until you can recite them at a moment’s notice. For a full list of lyric learning tips, read our article.
Pick out and break down difficult phrases
If there’s a particularly fast-paced or awkward phrase you find yourself tripping over, start off by breaking it up into shorter phrases.
Take the infamous tongue twister ‘Peter picked a peck of pickled peppers’. Unless you’ve been practicing, we’re pretty sure your tongue too will become tied when you try it out!
Now try breaking the phrase up. In this example, we can divide the full ten-syllable phrase into five two-syllable groups; start by repeated just the first two syllables, then add the next two once your mouth has them mastered:
|1 syllable||Peter, Peter|
|2 syllables||Peter-picked-a, Peter-picked-a|
|3 syllables||Peter-picked-a-peck-of, Peter-picked-a-peck-of|
|4 syllables||Peter-picked-a-peck-of-pickled, Peter-picked-a-peck-of-pickled|
|5 syllables||Peter-picked-a-peck-of-pickled-peppers, Peter-picked-a-peck-of-pickled-peppers|
Research your song
The internet is a fantastic resource for information about the songs you’re practicing, and learning about the background of their writing, the lives of the songwriters who wrote them and the meaning behind their message is all key to delivering a rendition of the song that is true to its spirit. Find out as much as you can about your songs, and your performance of them will improve no end.
What else do I need to practice?
To fully realize your potential as a vocalist, you must master every aspect of your voice. Most vocal tutors agree that the five chief components of the human singing voice are: breath, pitch, rhythm, diction, and voice. For a more in-depth exploration of these five components of singing, read our article.
There could be a few reasons why you’re finding a certain portion of the song you’re learning to be trickier than the rest of it, so we recommend you identify what those reasons are, and place a particular focus on those for a few singing practices. Here is how each of the main components of your voice could be the source of your struggles, and how you can tailor your vocal practices to overcome them:
It could be that you’re struggling over a particularly long passage which would require more breath and greater control over it. Your airflow is basically what gives your singing voice its power, so practicing proper breathing techniques and breath control exercises will help you sing passages that would otherwise be uncomfortably long. Read our article for breathing exercises that work for singers.
It can be tough at first to make your voice go straight to the right note – so if you have a real-life instrument like a piano or a guitar lying around, you can use this to help you work on perfecting your pitch and recognising different intervals between notes. Even if you don’t own or even play an instrument, there are plenty of useful apps for smartphones and other portable devices which can help you with this too – read more about how to improve pitch and sing in tune in our article.
Especially when you’re singing along to a band or backing track, timing is everything. Many of us naturally speed up because we’re excited or nervous, or slow down because we’re being overly careful. Fortunately, there are a few ways you can practice your timing and master more complex rhythms – read more about timing, rhythm and tempo in our article.
Proper pronunciation and enunciation is not only good practice, but will also make your lyrics easier for your audience to decipher. Even if you have a lovely speaking voice, this might not translate immediately to your singing voice – so it’s always worth practicing the way you sing certain words and letters. For more about changing the way you pronounce certain vowels and consonants to make them easier to sing and more about diction for singers, read our article.
It could be that this particular portion requires you to sing in a more extreme register, whether it’s higher or lower. Both extremes will require different vocal techniques in order for you to sing them comfortably and well, so if you find that your voice cuts out when you approach those extremes, you’re going to need to add a few extra exercises to your singing practice – for more tips on how to improve your vocal range, read our article here.
How often should I practice singing?
“Little and often, little and often,” – that’s the vocalist’s mantra. Health and other factors permitting, we recommend that you aim to set aside 20-30 minutes every day for some vocal practice – even if it’s just to warm up and run through some scales, just to keep all the parts of your singing machine well-oiled.
If you’re unlucky enough to catch a cold or get a sore throat, take it from us: don’t force yourself to sing. Take a day off and let your body recover – if you strain yourself while you’re ill, you might prolong your illness, and in very extreme cases even cause yourself lasting damage.
A quick tip: always take your water bottle with you so you can stay hydrated. For more tips on how to keep your singing voice in pro condition, read this article.
How long should I practice singing each day?
The length and frequency of your singing practices does depend on your experience, your health, what you want to achieve in that time slot, and how soon your next performance will be. A singing practice session that will actually help you learn your songs and improve your vocal technique can be as short as 5 minutes or as long as 30 minutes, providing you spend those minutes wisely.
It’s important to always bear in mind that your singing apparatus is a group of interconnected muscles and, like with any other muscles that you put under more strain than you would in your day-to-day life, it’s a good idea to start with small, manageable slices before you try to take on the bigger chunks. As the old saying goes: don’t try to run before you can walk!
With this in mind, it is generally agreed by most singing tutors that beginners shouldn’t spend longer than 30 minutes on their singing practice – sing any longer than this in a single sitting, and you may find yourself red in the face, short of breath and with a very sore throat. However, as the weeks go by, and you find each practice easier and easier, then do feel free to start pushing yourself a little further.
You may be surprised how much you can pack into a 30 minute practice with a proper plan! See what works best for you, but for starters, we suggest the following plan:
|Listening and lyric reading||5 minutes|
|Vocal warm ups||5 minutes|
|Breathing exercises||3 minutes|
|Vocal techniques and scales||5 minutes|
|Song practice||10 minutes|
|Vocal cool down||2 minutes|
How do I know my singing practices are working?
It’s all very well sticking to your strict singing practice regime, but when – and how – are you going to start seeing results? The proof will, of course, be in the performance – and, aside for asking your bandmates, castmates or singing tutor for some honest feedback, here are a couple of other things we recommend trying:
Record every practice
At first, you might find it somewhat discouraging to set up your phone or other recording device, give a vocal performance that isn’t your best, then put yourself through the uncomfortable experience of listening back to the whole thing. If you’re anything like us, then you’ll be wincing a good 10 seconds before you hear that mistake you know you made!
To make this bitter pill a little easier to swallow, here’s two pieces of good news about listening back to practice recordings:
- It gets easier the more you do it
- It’s the quickest way to identify the parts of a song you’re struggling with, which is in turn the quickest way to get better at them
And the best thing about listening back to your recordings – providing that you’ve stuck to your singing practice regime, of course! – is that, over time, you will be able to hear just how much further you’ve come on your vocalist journey.
Perform the songs live
There’s no test like a road test – and there’s no road test for singers like an open mic night. Do some research into local open mic nights, and get in touch about securing yourself a slot.
Typically, you’ll need to fill a slot about 15 minutes in length, which often equates to about 3 songs – so make sure you have enough in your repertoire. Open mics tend to draw friendly crowds, but to find out how to really get the most out of the experience, our article explains everything you need to know.
Sing harder songs
The next logical step, once you believe you’ve practiced your current set of songs to within an inch of its life, is to test your new and improved vocal abilities on a song you wouldn’t have dreamed of tackling before. Whether it’s a faster tempo, a more extreme register or a tricky key change you’re faced with this time around, you now have the means to take on harder songs than ever before.
Have a great practice!