In an attempt to share more great information on a regular basis, I’ve decided to share practice tips with my readers in a weekly post I’m calling (rather simply) the Friday Practice Tip.
Every Friday, I’ll be posting some help for those of you looking to invigorate your voice and music practicing. If there’s one thing I’ve learned in all my years of music making and teaching, it’s that effective and stimulating PRACTICE is not taught in higher education. When I was an undergraduate, I was given an expectation of the TIME I should practice (2 hours every day at minimum), but no real information on how to effectively SPEND that time.
I joke with my high school singers that they should ALWAYS check out the practice rooms of potential colleges, since that is where they will be spending the majority of their time for the next four years! If the practice rooms are dirty and unkempt, they’re probably not going to be all that motivated to work in those spaces.
So, on to the practice tip of the week:
The first thing is to consider what the word PRACTICE evokes in you: Does it bring to mind images of forced practice when you were a child? A sense of obligation or duty before you could do something more fun? A parent yelling at you or perhaps threatening to ground you if you DIDN’T practice? These negative associations can affect your psychology when approaching music practice.
To help myself, I’ve turned to other usages of the word ‘practice’ that are more friendly, holistic, and self-loving: yoga and meditation. Both of these activities are called ‘practice’ and yet they’re predicated on being friendly and gentle to oneself. In yoga, practice is about taking your body and spirit from where you are and accepting your limitations with love and grace.
If you’re restarting a music ‘practice’ it’s important to go easy on yourself. Maybe 10 minutes is enough? Most of the Old School teachers of singing didn’t advocate extensive practice sessions – brief practice time well-spent beats the long drudgery of slogging through, and will leave you refreshed and invigorated.
In order to build successful practice habits, it’s vital that the singer have the materials they need. I’m always surprised by students that don’t bring something as simple as a PENCIL to lessons! What’s up with THAT?
So, to begin, here are some things that you should consider adding to your practice space:
- A well-tuned piano. Interestingly, MANY voice teachers of the Old Tradition made this priority #1. It is vital that the piano the student is working on be properly and regularly tuned. For some, a digital piano fits the bill and doesn’t require regular tunings. If a digital piano is purchased, please spend the extra money to make sure that you have 88 keys. While a smaller keyboard is less expensive, a quality instrument that will last and has the correct number of keys is vital. On the road, singers can use smartphone Piano apps to find keys and notes quickly.
- A suitable chair. I can’t stress how important this is for good posture. Recently I visited a piano store and found these ergonomic benches. If you’re looking for a wonderful solution to sitting at the piano, you can’t do any better than this wonderful bench. If you’re looking for another option, you can search for ergonomic chairs. They are more costly but worth the investment for serious musicians.
- A music stand. Singers should practice in seated and standing postures, always aware of their posture in both positions. Hamilton Music Stands are really sturdy, and the company has a variety of add-on products that are useful for tech-savvy singers.
- Notebooks and pencils. Every singer needs a good supply of pencils and notebooks for practice work. I prefer automatic pencils because of their fine point, but the choice is the singer’s. As far as notebooks go, one of my favorites is the Musician’s Practice Planner. This journal is thorough and exacting and has a lot of room for lesson notes and practice logs.
- Metronome. Checking a tempo is easier than ever now that metronomes can easily be acquired on smartphones. A search of the iTunes or Google Play stores will reveal many options to the singer.
- Mirror. A full length mirror is ideal for the singer to self-monitor the posture of the head, neck, torso and legs. This can be easily purchased at Target, Ikea, or some other store at a reasonable price. The mirror should be placed in a way that the singer can observe themselves in seated and standing positions.
- Recording Device. This can be as simple as a smartphone app, or as extensive as a Zoom personal recorder. Recording one’s lessons and practice sessions is a terrific way to develop aural skills and discernment of ease and freedom in singing.
- Lighting. The practice space should have sufficient lighting, whether through windows or lamps. Who wants to work in total darkness, and struggle to read music in low lighting?
- Water Bottle. Water should be at the ready for all singers throughout practice sessions. Just be cautious not to put it on the piano!
Now that we have all the materials we’ll need, next week we’ll look at structuring practice time in an effective and efficient way. This will make the best use of time and focus the singer’s attention.
See you next Friday!