Six Days of the Week, You’re Your Own Teacher

Justin SwainMusicologie Lewis CenterLeave a Comment

About the Author

Justin Swain

Justin is a teacher and performer with a Master of Music in Vocal Performance and a Master of Arts in Vocal Pedagogy. He is the Community Manager of Musicologie Lewis Center and Director of Musicologie U.

The Importance of Effective Practice Habits from a Voice Teacher’s Perspective, Part One

One of the most common questions I find new students asking is, “What should I practice?” or “How should I practice?” The simplest response is, “The songs we’re working on, of course.” But what of practicing where to breathe, or developing consistency in the performance of the music? What if the student isn’t well-versed in reading sheet music and just has access to lyrics? There are a variety of methods one can take, as well as resources to make use of outside of the voice studio. In this article, I’ll list just a few of my own go-to self-monitoring practice tools.

The question of what to practice is usually the easiest to address first. The primary responsibility I hold as a teacher is to choose repertoire/songs for my students based on developmental/pedagogical factors. When selecting a song for my students, I lovingly refer to developmental pieces as “spinach songs.” While they may not “taste” the greatest, they’ll help develop vocal technique. The work to be done is embedded within the song(s) themselves.

The question of how to practice warrants a bit longer of a response…

Whether in-studio or online, there are many things I’m constantly focusing on with each of my voice students: posture, tone quality, breath control, effort, and interpretation/artistry.

When practicing at home, we often forget all the things our teacher keeps track of for us while we’re singing in a lesson, which means each day practicing alone is a chance to let something slip by the wayside.

We can easily keep track of our posture through the usage of a body mirror (Target has single-panel mirrors for under $10, and they can be fixed to the wall usually with just command strips).

For tone quality, breath control, effort, and interpretation/artistry, recording oneself with a cell phone or tablet yields immediate feedback on the quality of singing. If you aren’t singing a phrase in tune or taking a gaping breath in an unplanned or awkward place, it becomes apparent if you review a recording of yourself. Sure, it may be cringe worthy to listen to yourself sing, but if you can get over listening to yourself and pay close attention to the finer details, you’ll likely notice things you may not have in real-time when singing previously.

One of the most important things we strive for as singers is consistency, whether that be consistency in tone or performance quality, there is so much to consider when practicing.

The vocal apparatus is a complex system of muscles, cartilage, and ligaments all working in tandem to create sound. When we factor in our pulmonary system, as well as muscles necessary for controlling posture, expression, and more, the task of regulating every aspect of singing at once becomes a nearly impossible endeavor. Thus, we must devise a way to practice each aspect as consistently as possible.

Enter Stage Left: Taking Notes on Sheet Music / Chord & Lyric Sheets

When rehearsing songs, if pauses for taking a breath aren’t present, I instruct students to write one in, and in doing so it gives a visual reminder for what to do, how to do it, and when to do it, whether using sheet music or simply lyrics double-spaced on a piece of paper.

Having trouble with a complicated rhythm? Write out the beats whether through adding in counting (1 + 2 +, etc) or drawing vertical lines over the big beats in sheet music. Having trouble remembering what a certain word means in a foreign language? Write in the translation! Do you know you tend to begin slouching halfway through a song? Write in a cue to remember to check your posture.

Whether reading from sheet music or a chord chart with lyrics, it’s important to take notes and physically create reminders for oneself. The goal is to practice consistent behaviors so that each aspect of singing becomes automatic.

Of course, this short article isn’t an exhaustive list of things or ways to practice. Instead, think of this as the tip of the information iceberg to come.

I challenge you to pay attention to how you practice for one week and record your findings. Feel free to share them with me if you feel so inclined as well by visiting the Lewis Center studio page of the website and emailing them in!

Happy music-making and healthy singing!

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