How do I practice?

Practicing 101 is usually not a class that is offered in any undergraduate class. This is very strange when you consider the fact that practice is an expectation of anyone in a degree-granting institution. To use an analogy, it is very similar to people who go to the gym without a workout plan. They meander around from machine to machine and rarely make any physical progress. People who come to the gym with a workout will tend to be more successful in their fitness goals.

The lack of practice guidance is a grave oversight and I don’t know why there aren’t any classes in how to optimize, schedule, and develop practicing skills. The expectation of practice coupled with a lack of understanding of HOW to accomplish it leads to frustration and in some cases a retrogressing vocal technique.

One of the best resources I’ve found for practicing is Klickstein’s book “The Musician’s Way“.  He breaks practice down into 5 distinct zones:

1. New Material

2. Developing Material

3. Performance Material

4. Technique

5. Musicianship

New music that is just being explored goes into the New Material zone. The music should be broken down, segmented, and then practiced at a moderate tempo. This is the time to explore the piece (its history, the character, etc). All new music goes into this zone of practice.

Once the music is singable at a moderate tempo, it moves into the Developing Material zone. The goals of this zone is to deepen interpretation, memorization, and increasing the tempo as required.

As the song becomes mastered it enters the Performance Zone.  This is where repertoire is maintained in a state of performance readiness. Interpretative and technical particulars should be solved by this point.

Klickstein also recommends two additional zones. In the Technique Zone, this is where all the technical work on your voice is done: scales, arpeggios, trills, register balance. The Musicianship Zone is the skill building portion of the practice session. For this zone, I recommend sight reading, and even the use of music apps like Perfect Ear 2, in which ear training can be done in a fun and easy manner. I enjoy ‘gamifying’ this process with apps and online tools.

Singers should be focusing on each one of these zones in a practice session. The singer can decide in advance how much time they want to devote to each zone in a given session.

Leaving out any of these zones consistently causes issues. For example, if you’re working a difficult song, but haven’t put in the time in the Technique Zone, you won’t have the vocal ability needed.

The time spent should be noted in a journal or online program until the student gets the hang of working in this way.

I heartily advise the reader to explore Klickstein’s invaluable book to assist the young and developing singers out there that would like to hone their skills in practice.