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Go practice!

Pick a Time!

I woke up yesterday to find the air had changed – the fresh, damp air of autumn had appeared. Summer is definitely on the way out, especially now it’s September.

Of course, September also brings with it that return to routine. Schools here have been back two weeks, and the English schools are about to kick in.

What, ask you, has this to do with music? Well, I’m sure you, dear reader, have practised diligently every day throughout your holidays, but I’ll be honest. I haven’t!

It’s so easy to make excuses as to why you can’t practice. I have a seven month old baby. My husband works long hours. My students have ever increasing homework piled upon them. Then, before you know it, it’s been months and you’ve not done anything.

So what’s the solution?

The only solution I know is this: Pick a time. Stick to it. Even when it sucks.

First thing in the morning can be a good time. A key part of lots of self-care advice is to have a morning routine that includes some ‘quiet time’. You want to start your day doing something that focuses your mind, and helps you prepare for the day. A few minutes at your instrument can be just that. Even for singers, it might not seem much fun to begin with, but adding a few vocal exercises to your morning routine can help to limber your voice up for the day. This probably isn’t the time for working hard on your pieces, but don’t discount singing some scales in the shower on principle!

My personal favourite used to be the “when I get home” slot. Come in, don’t sit down, go straight to your practice space, via the kettle if need be! By avoiding distractions, and going right to your music, it’s more likely to get done, and you won’t find the guilt eating into your free time. You might find you’re a bit vocally tired, but gentle warm-ups should help to ease your voice into things.

Some people prefer the evening. This can be risky if you have light sleepers in your house, or don’t want to bother the neighbours. However, I find it can be quite a relaxing time to practice – I’ve done all the housework and now I can do something for me. It’s much easier to focus on working through that tricky pattern, or memorise the words.

Image by monica liu on flickr

My challenge this week is to put my vocal practice back on the agenda now my daughter is settling into a bit more of a routine. I need to sing, so my pick is vocal exercises in the morning when my daughter is calm and happy, and then to do a little bit of work on my current project pieces in the evening a few nights a week.

To give myself a little motivation, I’ve set myself up with a star-chart and the reward that I can buy a new vocal selections if I can keep up some practice five days a week for the whole of September.



What about you? When do you like to practice? What are your tips for avoiding distractions and getting on with the music? What motivates you?

Need some ideas on what to do during your practice time? Try the macro-micro-macro method.


Practice can be daunting. Simply finding time and motivation is hard enough, but the biggest challenge is often the question of what to do when you finally start. Where should you start? And what should you do next?

Rinse and Repeat

Image by Jennifer Brandel on flickr

All musicians fall into the trap of the “rinse-and-repeat” method of practicing at one time or another. It can be far too easy to just run a song or piece a few times and count that as practice. We fudge over the difficult bits and focus on what we can do. In the run up to a performance, this can be a good way to practice keeping going, but otherwise, it’s fairly hit and miss as to how effective it is. You will get better simply by singing a song over and over and over – how many songs have you learned just from singing along to the radio? But, you won’t ever be able to really perfect the song without looking more closely. How many times have you discovered that you learnt some of the lyrics to a song wrong because you never stopped to look them up or think about what they were? To really get something perfect, we need a better method.

Go Macro

Rinse and repeat does one thing really well – looking at the big picture. We always need to look at the big picture of what we’re doing. So the first run through at the “macro” level is really valuable.  The problem with “rinse and repeat” is that we just repeat. Instead of using the first run through to identify problems and areas to work on, we ignore the problems and focus on the bits that are working. Unfortunately, the bits that are ok aren’t the bits that need our attention.

When you come to practice, grab a pencil before you sing. Then, as you go through, scribble a star or draw a line or circle at the parts where you’re not sure what’s going on. It’s a really simple, physical and practical way to make sure you know where to go next.

Make it Micro

What “rinse and repeat” misses out on is focus. Repeating over and over doesn’t give us a chance to look at the problems. Instead, we need to zoom in on the issues, and look at the “micro” level to fix the issues.

Image by m kashara on flickr

Image by m kashara on flickr

Look back at your piece – the areas which you marked are the best place to begin to look at the micro level. For example, if you’re having trouble pitching a note, you might have marked the note or the phrase. To try and zoom in on it, try singing through the line or phrase with the note in the middle. Can you identify what’s the problem? Are you flat or sharp? Are you missing your cue? Is it that you’re actually getting the note before it wrong too? Zoom in some more. Try just the word either side. You can even zoom right into the intervals before and/or after.

You need to zoom in until you can get it right three times in a row, or until you are confident of it.

Macro Again

Once you can get it right, zoom out again to the next level. Don’t go right up to the full song! Just add another layer on. So try your previously duff note in the phrase, rather than the whole verse. If it goes wrong again, try to work out what it is that changed to cause your problems. You can always zoom out from 200% to 180% and then back to 200%. Try to zoom out in stages – bar, line/phrase, half the verse, whole verse, whole song.

Once you get back out to a level where a new problem appears, you can zoom in on that one.

Using Macro-Micro-Macro

You can use this process in lots of ways. Micro can mean without the accompaniment, or it can mean a short section with the accompaniment. Macro can mean a single verse, or all three of the songs for the exam one after the other. Micro might mean timing a movement along with the song. Macro might mean trying everything in costume with all the blocking.

You can try and fix everything at once, but if you don’t have time, you can just fix one or two things each day. It might be you have to re-fix a problem each day for three days. Your teacher might highlight some ideas of things to fix, but the goal is to be able to identify problems yourself without someone else pointing them out.

Can’t Fix It?

If you’re really stuck on something, take it back to your teacher. Believe me; your teacher will be delighted! If you’re asking for help, it means you’re practicing at home, and you’re really engaging with the music.

So, there you have it: the Macro-Micro-Macro method. It might not work for you, but if you’re struggling to know what to do, why not give it a try?

How do you face the music and get practicing? What methods do you use to perfect mistakes?


Why I’d Rather Clean the Toilet Than Practice (Some Thoughts on Priorities)

After my cold-of-doom which inspired the post a few weeks ago, I have been slowly building back to my normal routine. Or, possibly, a new and improved normal routine. When you get a cold that results in taking steroids for your asthma, it makes you reconsider what is important in your schedule and how you can prevent yourself from having to repeat the experience. I’m try to focus more on the important things, and worry less about the urgent, but not important things – the things I can let go.

One of the things which is important to me is music (duh!). I want to make more time for practice, but it always seems to drift down to the bottom of my list, somewhere below cleaning the toilet and taking out the bins. The question is, why is that? Why don’t I value my practice time more highly, so it’s at the top of my list?

As I began to think about this, I had a startling revelation: what if I don’t practice regularly because it’s too much like having fun.

Image by poison-yvi at freeimages.com

Image by poison-yvi at freeimages.com

See, my to do list is usually arranged so that the “horrible, but necessary” tasks are higher up the list than the “fun, frivolous” tasks. Doing the washing up comes higher than watching the latest episode of my favourite TV show. Calling the utility company comes higher up than calling my mum.

If practicing is so onerous, and so much something I don’t want to do, why doesn’t it come higher up the list? If it’s so hard to practice, and so boring, why will I take out food waste before I’ll sit down at the piano? Perhaps it’s because I actually like practicing!

Maybe sometimes I’m not practicing for the same reason I don’t eat chocolate every day – I don’t think I should be allowed. But, here’s the secret. Practicing isn’t like chocolate. It’s much more like eating a rich, ripe peach – sweet and juicy and it shouldn’t be good for you, but it is! Eating a whole punnet of strawberries seems luxurious, but I bet most doctors would rather we did that every day than eat so much ice cream, or even pasta.

We can get so busy doing other things – the things which feel urgent, or which seem pressing. It can be easy to say that music practice doesn’t matter because it’s fun – it’s a thing we do for pleasure. But can we really say that because something is pleasurable, it’s not important? Music boosts intelligence and memory, it calms our minds, it releases hormones that make us feel happy. Aren’t these things worth something?

Hands Play the Piano - an image from Robert Couse-Baker on flickr

Image from Robert Couse-Baker on flickr

Surely, the things at the top of our to do lists should be the things that make us alive. At the top of our lists should be the things that make life worth living. Yes, we need to clean so we don’t die of food poisoning, but that isn’t why we let all the pleasurable things slip down the list. We let them slip because we worry that we aren’t good enough – our house isn’t clean enough, our inbox is too full, work is left undone. We worry we’re letting others down, and we’re trained not to put ourselves first.

And yet. Will we really call our lives a life worth lived if we hit “Inbox Zero” every day, but at the cost of the things we enjoy?

Perhaps it’s time to reconsider how you manage your to do list (be it real or imaginary). Perhaps it’s time to say it’s ok to do the things that give us pleasure. Perhaps, it’s time to let music practice come before the washing up from time to time. I know which one I’d rather be doing!

Oh No! I Have a Cold!

Image by Cieleke at freeimages.com

Image by Cieleke at freeimages

I’ve had a cold this last week. It always feels ironic to say I’ve had a cold in May, but there you are.

Times can be tough for singers when viruses run rampant through our respiratory system, making it hard to breath and sing. Here are some tips to help you make it out the other end without damaging your voice or missing too much practice.

Managing your practice

It can be frustrating to have a cold when you need or want to pratice! The good news is that so long as it doesn’t hurt to sing, you can keep on practicing. If it hurts to sing or makes you cough incessantly, then stop.

Of course, just because you can practice, doesn’t mean you want to practice. When you have a cold or are suffering badly with allergies, it can be hard to be motivated to do anything, let alone the “work” of practicing. Somethings that might help make it easier:

  • Plan a couple of very short practices rather than one long one
  • Pick songs you know well, rather than working on anything new and challenging
  • Avoid songs which require long phrases without breathing or which push your upper range
  • As soon as you start feeling better, try to up your singing practice little by little back to your normal level to help build up your strength.

If you do need to take a few days off singing, why not use that time to listen to some classical music or podcasts. Try the BBC Radio 3 Composer of the Week as a starting point. If you can’t sing, but are up to doing written work, why not have a go at some theory exercises, or try some online flash games that might help you with your musicianship.

Coping with performance

If you have a performance coming up, sometimes you have to suck it up and get through it. Unless you have lost your voice, it hurts to sing, or singing makes you cough, you should be ok to push yourself. If you can, try to take vocal rest in the days leading up to the performance rather than doing a lot of practice (a good reason to make sure you are ready long before the date for any performance). Make sure you keep hydrated. You can dose upon over-the-counter medication and traditional cures if you need to, and rest your voice afterwards.

Traditional cures

The best kind of cold cures for singers are the traditional cures of steam, hot drinks and citrus. Steam helps clear your sinuses and will soothe the headache that comes with a cold. Keep hydrated – honey and lemon is great for a sore throat, and citrus-based fruit teas are great too as they don’t contain caffeine. Citrus, ginger and honey all have properties which are good at helping your body fight off colds.

The other important thing is rest – take time off and let your body do what it does naturally. Your body is perfectly capable of fighting off a cold, so give it a chance! One day off work to let your body heal faster is going to be far better than struggling through and not giving yourself a chance to recover.

Over-The-Counter Medication

It’s perfectly fine to use over-the-counter medication to help with a cold, but beware that they only treat the symptoms, not the virus which is causing them. Your symptoms are largely your body’s response to the virus – trying to kill it off before it can do any real damage. Fever, coughs, sneezes, and snot are all part of your body’s natural defences, and by stopping the symptoms, you are reducing your ability to fight them off.

The only medication which comes with a word of caution is anything that has a painkilling element, especially if you are using something that numbs your throat. If you are ill enough that you need to take strepsills or paracetamol, take care when singing because it won’t be so easy to know if something hurts and you should stop. I would generally only recommend singing after taking throat lozenges in dire situations (e.g. a performance you can’t get out of) as you could do more damage than good.

When to See Your Doctor

The NHS recommends that you should only see a doctor if you still have a cold after three weeks unless you have another condition which might be aggravated by the cold (e.g. a chest condition). It is unlikely a doctor will be able to do anything for you anyway, as colds are caused by viruses and there is not really any medication that we have that can kill the virus. Antibiotics will be completely useless as they only treat bacterial infections.

Having said that, if your cold is so bad it is seriously affecting your singing for a week or more, it may be advisable to see a doctor just to confirm that you do have a virus and nothing more serious. Always tell your doctor that you sing, and make it clear if you have any upcoming performances.

As for allergies, you should work with your doctor to find a good antihistamine. These won’t affect your singing, but will make it much easier to practice!

So there you have it. If you’re a singer suffering with a cold, take time out to rest, try to sing if you can, but make good use of your time if you can’t.

What tips do you have for singers suffering with a cold or seasonal allergies?

Five Tips to Make Your Practice More Effective

Struggling to get back into the swing of practice after the Easter break? Here’s five ways to make your practice more effective.

1. Make a date

Decide when you’re going to practice. Some people are routine practicers, but some of us need to plan it day by day. If you’re a routine person, pick that time and stick to it. If you’re day-to-day, decide on the next practice time at the end of the last one. I set myself a reminder at the end of my previous session for the time I can fit in my practice the next day.

2. Make a plan

Practice is always more effective if you have a plan. Do you sit down and flip through your books aimlessly? Do you only ever play the easy things? Or play everything once from start to finish? Make a plan that’s specific. My plans for my next practice are things like “run the first page until it’s fluent”, or “focus on the last eight bars working backwards from the last bar”. I write these down in a notebook and have that open and ready for my next session.

3. Small chunks

It’s easier to eat a steak if you cut it up, right? Practice is just the same. Break down each peice into sections. Usually phrases are better than bars, even for instrumentalists, as you want to develop a sense of continuity. Sometimes, of course, you have to break it down even smaller – that Bach run is much easier if you take three notes at a time! You’ll improve much faster if you can focus on one small thing at a time.

4 Take a break

Is it all getting too much? Are you feeling stuck? Take a break. Breaks can be different lengths. Sometimes, we just need ten minutes to regroup. Sometimes we need ten days to refocus. Breaks are good – your brain keeps on learning long after you stop practicing, so there’s no need to feel guilty. Of course, if you’re taking more break than you’re doing practice, you might want to think again.

5. Have big goals in mind

Where are you going? Why are you learning music at all? Big goals are really important. Are you aiming for music school? Or an audition for a local choir? Where you’re going affects how you’re going to get there. If you’re feeling unmotivated, why not spend your practice time answering the question “where do I want to be in five years’ time?” When you know where you’re going, write it down and remind yourself of it whenever you feel like you don’t want to practice.

What do you do when you’re struggling to practice effectively?

Three Key Practice Principles

New_Years_Resolutions.JPGIn the theme of New Years resolutions, we’re taking a look at what makes practice good practice. Many musicians resolve to practice more, but that often falls by the wayside because they don’t have good practice habits. This post will give you three key principles for practicing that will make it easier to stick to your goals!

1. Quality over quantity

It can be very easy to get bogged down in ideas of how long we should practice for. Should someone at grade 1 practice for ten minutes or thirty? Shouldn’t someone at grade 8 do three hours? It can make even the best of us feel inadequate when we start to measure the quantity of practice rather than the quality of practice.

Doing three hours of practice is useless if you stop focusing after thirty minutes. For singers, long practice sessions are impossible as our voices get tired. Instead, aim to make the most of the time you have, whether it’s ten minutes or ten hours. Make sure you know what you want to achieve in a practice session – having a routine can really work wonders for this. I usually start with scales and exercises, move on to studies, then classical work, and finish up with the musical theatre repertoire. If I have time, I might pick an old favourite to run over at the end. You might find a different order works better. If you’re short on time, why not choose to work on song A on Mondays, song B on Tuesdays and song C on Wednesdays? If you already know what needs to be done, you can get right on and do it.

Another key to getting quality time is to have everything in one place. Keep your music on the piano, or the music stand, and keep your notes from your teacher with them.

Finally, it’s better to go deeper into a short section of your piece than to sing the whole song over and over fluffing bits of it. Sing through, and then work on the bits that you’re messing up. It’s always better to work in small chunks. Which leads on to my next key principle…


2. Little and Often

Not only is it important to aim for quality over quantity, but that quality time should be a daily occurrence. For singers especially, it’s far better to get through scales in the shower every day and nothing else, than to just do one mega three hour session on the day before your lesson.

Muscles develop best when theyare stretched and used a little bit at a time, but frequently – this is just as true for the tiny muscles in your larynx as it is for the big muscles in your leg. Marathon runners do shorter runs every other day and build up, rather than running a half marathon every weekend and nothing else. Treat your singing practice like that. Sing daily, but do a short focused burst rather than a long gruelling slog. It’ll feel far less arduous! Plus, by singing for a short time every day, it becomes habit and you’ll find it easier to make space for it in your life.


3. The Principle of 80:20

80:20 is an amazingly accurate ratio for many things in human life, but for musicians, I like to think of it as 80% work, 20% fun. In your practice time, you want to aim for 80% effort on the stuff you need to be doing. That 80% includes scales, exercises and the pieces for your teacher. However, 20% of your time should always be for playing and singing the music that you love.

Music is a tough hobby to have as it requires hard work and commitment (if you want an easy ride, following a soap opera might be a better choice!). However, we all took music up for a reason. Whatever you enjoy most about music should be your 20% treat time. You might be studying for a classical piano exam, but you can still enjoy 20% of your time playing jazz improvisation. You might be working for a musical theatre concert, but really love singing a bit of Handel too. Make space for your guilty pleasures – it’ll help to keep you sane when things get tough and you feel worn out and hopeless.

That 20% might even be a cheeky day off practicing, but try not to skive off more than one day in five, or you’ll break your habit!


Practising regularly is hard work, and sometimes we just don’t want to, but if you can get these three key principles working for you, your practice times will feel like less of a chore and more of a pleasure!


Have you got any key principles you use to help you practice regularly and effectively? Let me know in the comments!


5 New Years Resolutions Singers Should Make

January is that time when we all look at our post-Christmas selves and consider the improvements we could make to our lives. Us musicians are no different. We’re all making resolutions to practice for two hours a day and watch more operas. If you’re one of us, here are five resolutions you should make that you might even have a chance of keeping!

1. I will sing every day

There is nothing more important than singing every single day. Sing in the shower. Sing in the kitchen. Find a secluded section of your walk to work and sing there. Your voice is powered by muscles and muscles need exercise to strengthen them. When you sing, make sure you are singing properly. Think about how you’re breathing. Make sure you’re sending the sound out of your mouth not your nose. Watch for a good clean start to each phrase (“glottal attack”). It doesn’t matter if it’s opera or pop you’re singing – all singing is singing and you can’t go wrong if you’re focusing on technique as you do it.

2. I will join a choir that uses sheet music

Joining a choir is another easy, and vital thing for singing students to take up. Singing in a choir teaches loads of aural skills (like part singing), and technical skills (like blending). It’s really good for combatting singer’s ego as you’re part of a team in a choir and you have to work together to make a good unified sound. If you pick a choir that uses sheet music, you’ll also be improving your sight-reading and music theory skills without having to work at it! Plus, being in a choir is a great way to meet other musical people and make new friends.

3. I will take care of my body

Considering loosing some weight, taking up exercise, giving up smoking or cutting down on your drinking? These are great resolutions for singers. Being overweight can be a serious problem for singers as it puts extra stress on your lungs and respiratory system. Exercise improves lung function, mood and cognitive performance. Smoking is also bad for singers because of the impact on lung function and mouth health. Alcohol causes dehydration, and can result in bad vocal decision making like excessive shouting!

Even if these aren’t resolutions you need to make, resolving to take better care of yourself by eating better, exercising regularly and sleeping sensibly will help keep your instrument in tip top condition ready for exams and performances throughout the year.

Music with CDs and headphones4. I will listen to more music, and more kinds of music

Listening to music is vital for all musicians, and if you don’t do it much, why not resolve to do it more? If you already listen to music, add in another genre or two. BBC Radio 3 might seem snooty and scary, but you’ll hear music there you’d never hear anywhere else. If that’s too big a leap, why not put Classic FM on as you wind down at night? If you already listen to classical music, venture out into BBC Six Music, home of some of the cutting edge of contemporary music. For musical lovers, there’s also Elaine Paige on Radio 2 on Sundays form 1-3pm. Whatever you do, listen often and listen widely.

5. I will focus efforts on learning my words, not just the notes

I don’t know any singer who doesn’t find learning words a chore, and so we’re all bad for leaving it to the last minute. If you’re one of us, why not resolve to learn the words first this year? Make the effort to write out the words over and over by hand. Listen to a recording while reading them to yourself. Record yourself reading the words aloud. Make words a priority this year. It’s our privilege as singers to use words and music together to express stories and emotions, so let’s give both parts equal respect!

What are your New Years Resolutions this year? Do you have any other ideas for good resolutions for singers? Leave a comment below!



5 New Year Resolutions for Singers
sing every day
join a choir
take care of my body
listen to more music
focus on memorising words

Planning Your Practice – Some Ideas

Practicing is the most challenging part of every musician’s life. Whether we’ve been playing six months or sixty years, we all face days when we just don’t want to sit down and work, or if we do, we don’t want to do what we should be doing. We face many competing demands on our lives too, so even when we want to practice, it’s important to make the best use of the time. As the mantra goes – quality is more important than quantity when it comes to practice.

So if you’re trying to get the most out of your practice time, it can really help to make a plan for what you’re going to do. Here are some of the ideas I’ve seen and tried for planning practice.

Have a routine for when you practice

Clock borderThis is pretty obvious, but if you put practice time into your schedule, you’re more likely to do it. I find after work is a good time – I go right to the piano before I turn on the TV. Other people find first thing in the morning works, or after dinner. Stick to the same slot every day, or at least the same routine of slots every week.

Advantage: You’re much less likely to put off practicing when it’s planned as part of your day.
Disadvantage: Another disruption to your routine can mean practice gets skipped out on.

Have a routine for what you do in your practice session

One of the things which can work wonders is to always go through the same routine when you practice. For singers, this should be a warm-up, vocalised exercises, and then full songs. I usually do my classical repertoire first, and then musical theatre work.  For instrumentalists, it might be that you play your scales first, or that you look at a piece and then play a scale before moving to the next one.

Routine is especially important if you need to practice skills like scales – whether you use a tick chart, a box with slips of paper in or an online random number generator, making some kind of rule about how you practice scales is the only way to make sure you cover all of the relevant materials. This might include studies or vocalised exercises for singers too.

Advantage: You know exactly where to start, so no lost time at the beginning.
Disadvantage: Can get dull and repetitive.

Circle the Date

Plan your practice for the week after your lesson

If you’re quite an organised person, it might work best for you to sit down after your lesson, look at what you need to do for next week and divide it up over the days you have available to practice. For example, you might look at Study A on Monday, Wednesday and Friday, and Study B on Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday. Perhaps you’ll focus on the A section from Wednesday to Saturday, and the B section from Sunday to Tuesday. Or maybe it’s Bb major on Monday, Eb major on Tuesday, Ab major on Wednesday and so on.

Try these two free printables for planning your practice over a week:

  • Horizontal Weekly Planner with goals – [purchase_link id=”1313″ style=”button” color=”inherit” text=”Purchase”]
  • Horizontal Weekly Planner without goals – [purchase_link id=”1312″ style=”button” color=”inherit” text=”Purchase”]


Advantage: Know you can get through everything you’ve been set and nothing will be forgotten.
Disadvantage: It might take more or less time to do things than you’ve allowed for.

Establish some goals for next lesson

Goal settingIf your teacher hasn’t set you a goal for next week, and you’re not keen on planning your week entirely, why not write three goals to achieve by the next lesson, and put them on your music stand? Then you know exactly what you need to work on when you come to practice.

Advantage: Keeps you focussed on what you’re doing.
Disadvantage: Your goals might not be what your teacher expects them to be!

Make a list of objective tasks to check off this week

Chances are your notes from your teacher are a bit random, vague and possibly even scruffy. When you get home, why not turn your teacher’s notes into a neat list. You could even try my free printable ([purchase_link id=”1314″ style=”button” color=”inherit” text=”Purchase”]) which gives you space to plan three tasks for each piece, and then a second side to note down which ones you’ve achieved.

Advantage: Having a list gives you small tasks, and a sense of achievement for doing them.
Disadvantage: It’s not always easy to create small, objective tasks for instructions like “play with more character”.

Write down some goals/tasks at the start of your practice session

Zemanta Related Posts Thumbnail

Keep a notebook by your music stand and use it to write down three things to accomplish each day before you start practicing to help you focus. You could also do this at the end of each session – writing three goals for tomorrow.

Advantage: Flexible to take account of what you achieve each day in your practice.
Disadvantage: Doesn’t necessarily take into account any set homework for the week, and uses up a few minutes of practice time each day.

Keep a record of what you’ve done and when

There’s nothing like record keeping to help you realise what’s really going on with your practice. Keeping a practice journal can be really helpful, as it allows you to make notes on what was hard today, or any questions you might have for your teacher. It’s also helpful to keep a note of the times you’re practicing from time to time, and note how effective your practice is. You can grab my practice audit printable here, and try it yourself: [purchase_link id=”1302″ style=”button” color=”inherit” text=”Purchase”]

Advantage: Gives you a really good picture of what you’re doing
Disadvantage: Doesn’t directly improve the quality of your practice at all!

So, those are my tips for planning your practice. Do you have any planning methods that work for you? If you’ve tried any of these, how did they work for you?

Wake Up! Warm Up!

SunOne of the most important things you need to do when practicing singing is to warm up properly. Warming up is not quite the same as vocal exercises, although a good warm up routine will go from physical warm-ups to vocal exercises without feeling like the warm-up stops and the vocal exercises start.

Different people find different things helpful. For example, some people like to practice yoga, or use dance-based warm-ups before singing. However, if you have no idea where to start, here is a simple physical and vocal warm-up to use.

  1. Jogging on the spot helps to get the blood flowing – this is especially important if you are sat down for most of the day. Do this for about 30 seconds.
  2. Make big sweeping circles with one arm and then the other. Be sure to go in both directions – backwards and forwards. Take deep breaths as you do this, letting your belly move rather than your shoulders.
  3. Stretch right up, and then relax down, one joint at a time until you’re hanging right over. Breathe out slowly as you go down. Rest there for a few gentle breaths and then roll back up to standing one vertebrae at a time, breathing out as you go up.
  4. Roll your shoulders backwards and then forwards a few times. Shrug up your shoulders to your ears and then relax them.
  5. Rub your cheeks, jaw muscles and neck with your hands to get the blood flowing.
  6. Stretch up and over to your right with one arm, and then repeat in the other direction.
  7. Give your body a gentle shake out to loosen off all your muscles.
  8. Finish by adjusting your posture to make sure you are standing up tall and balanced with your weight evenly on both feet.
  9. Take a few more deep and slow breaths – you might want to go through a few rounds of square breathing, or other breathing exercises.

Once you’ve warmed up your body, you can start getting your voice going:

  1. Gently, start to siren over a small range of notes. Each time, let the range get bigger until you’re swooping up and down through your whole voice.
  2. Using a hum, or a lip trill, sing up and down some simple patterns in the middle of your voice
  3. Sing some tongue twisters on comfortable notes in the middle of your range.

From this point, you can then move on to start working on the exercises set by your teacher for your practice which will probably include things like singing arpeggios and scales. You should also now sing through your full range properly, as this will help to extend and strengthen the highest and lowest notes.

If you need a reminder to put up in your practice space, or want to share this warm-up routine with your students, you can grab a free printable copy of this blogpost by clicking here: [purchase_link id=”1317″ style=”button” color=”inherit” text=”Purchase”]


What’s the Point of My Practice Book?

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For every musician, practice is a problem. No matter how we write about it, talk about it or think about it, the only solution to the problem is to do it. However, there are lots of useful things that can help you get over that barrier that tries to prevent us from starting in the first place.

Today, I want to talk about practice books. Every teacher I’ve had has used some system to make notes on what to practice for me. Sometimes, it’s been books. Sometimes it’s been bits of paper. I know some teachers who print their own forms to put into binders, and others who just write in pencil on the music. My system is to use a copy book. I write the notes in the lesson and give the top copy to my student to put in the front of their binder, then I type up the notes from the copy into Music Teacher’s Helper and email them a copy as well.

However, the question remains. What’s the point of this?

For me, some of the point is to help me remember what I’ve taught my students. I only teach part time just now, so my other job can zap all the details of lessons out of my brain. Full time teachers will have lots of their students confusing their brains. A practice record helps us to build from one lesson to the next in an organised fashion.

What about for you, though? What’s the point of the practice book for you? Ultimately, your practice book contains what you need to focus on this week and usually some way of recording what you did.

Practice books help you focus on what you need to work on right now.

Practice books need to be seen to be used. They are useless if they’re left in your music folder/rucksack/pocket/teacher’s house over the week. Instead, when you get home from your lesson, why not put your practice book on your music stand open on the last lesson? Putting your book in a visible place that you’ll see when you come to practice means you’re immediately working on the key things you covered in your last lesson. It means you’ll know you’re supposed to be doing Bb major not B minor, so when your teacher asks you to play it next lesson, you’ll be able to.  I’m always forgetting the studies my piano teacher sets me, so leaving my practice book open reminds me to play a couple each day.

Practice books help break down long pieces into smaller chunks.

Remember that bar you stumbled on in the lesson? Or maybe not? Your practice book will probably say things like “focus on high notes at the end of the verse” or “smooth out register changes in chorus”. These give you smaller chunks to focus on that will mean you learn your songs faster and more accurately.

It can be really tempting to just start at the beginning of a song, sing it to the end and never really focus on the parts which are causing you problems. This is even more of a temptation for singers compared to instrumentalists as we are masters of “keeping going”. We usually work with a piano accompaniment which means we can’t stop, so we fudge over the weak parts and make it work. This often means we learn to sing things wrong, which is much harder to sort out than fixing mistakes when they first happen.

Breaking down songs into smaller chunks and working on specific passages or skills means harder work in the short term, but much greater reward in the long term.

Practice books help you see what you’ve achieved

Sheet music curled edges

Have you ever flipped back through your practice book? Simply looking back through the notes can help you realise just how far you’ve come. If you fill in the check boxes in some of the printed ones, you can see a visual record of how much practice you’ve done too. All of us hit plateau points in our art, and sometimes we need to realise that we’ve come a very long way and achieved an awful lot. Practice books are one of the most obvious records of what we’ve done. Why not pick up a song you were learning three, six or twelve months ago and sing it again? It will almost certainly come back to you and be better than it ever was before.

Your practice book is a record of all the repertoire you’ve learned and worked on too. I tried to make a list once of all the songs I could call “repertoire” (I could polish them for a performance in less than two weeks). It’s a pretty long list these days.

Don’t have a practice book? Ask your teacher for one, or just buy a cheap notebook from the supermarket and bring it to lessons. If your teacher doesn’t write in it, use it to make notes on what you’re supposed to be practicing during the lesson.

And, don’t forget to put it out where you can see it when you get home!