Singing is simple in one way – our voices are free and always with us, but that doesn’t make it easy to practice singing. Here’s a run down of the key things I use to help me get the most out of my singing practice time:
Piano/Keyboard – Having a piano or keyboard isn’t vital for learning to sing, but something that can give you accurate pitch, and you can pick out the melody of your songs on is important. Smart phone and tablet piano apps can be effective for starting notes, but aren’t always easy to play with accurate rhythm, so it’s worth investing in a cheap keyboard if you’re planning on taking singing lessons long term. You can access a virtual piano here.
Music Stand – A decent quality music stand is really useful for singers because it frees up your hands and body. Holding a book can be tiring and affects posture. By setting the stand at about “boob height” and resting the book on it, you can start to move more freely even when you’ve not memorised the words. I also find that at the stage when I’m weaning myself off the book, a stand means I can check back, but don’t have to focus on the book in the way I feel I have to when I’m holding it in my hands.
Camera with HQ Video function – It took me a long time to come round to the concept of recording myself, but now I’ve tried it (embarrassing though it is) it’s really useful. For all singers, the ability to video your posture and breathing is really useful as it gives you feedback you can’t get otherwise. A decent camera is also useful for musical theatre singers as it gives you an idea of how your physical movement looks. If you don’t have a bookshelf at a suitable height, you may wish to invest in a cheap tripod, or make use of the music stand listed above. A phone video camera should be sufficient, but the better the recording quality, the more useful the videoing process is.
Good quality audio recorder – many laptops and tablets have a voice recorder built in, but you will need to test your existing equipment. Smart phones usually don’t have microphones powerful enough, so you’ll get a tinny recording. Investing in a decent microphone will be worth the money as you’ll get a better idea of how you sound. You don’t need to sing into it, just set it up in the room and go.
Audio Recording Software – if you’re recording onto a laptop or desktop, you’ll need some software to record into. I can highly recommend the free and open source programme Audacity, which will allow you to record into it. You can even record yourself over a backing track if you use headphones. Very snazzy, very useful.
Music Notation Software – If you can’t play the piano, notation software is vital. By entering the music in, you can get the software to play it back to you. It’s really useful for getting tricky rhythms right. The really dedicated can also enter in the accompaniment and export it as an mp3 to create a backing track. Only for the insane and/or desperate, though. Musescore is highly recommended and free to download for all platforms. Noteflight is web-based programme.
Audio Playing Software – almost everything electrical can do this now, but you want to find something that’ll allow you to create playlists. I keep a playlist of all the backing tracks for songs I’m working on right now.
MP3 Player/iPod – This is a great way to maximise your time if you’re a busy person. I regularly load on recordings of songs I’m learning and listen to them when I’m out and about. Right before an exam, I will sometimes put them on as I’m falling asleep too. This really helps with the memorisation process, but it’s important not to mimic the person singing.
Notebook, loose leaf lined paper, manuscript paper and a pen – I keep a notebook where I practice, and I try to jot down what I do in it so I keep track. You might like to use an app, or design your own printable record sheets. You can also buy preprinted practice books from music shops. Experiment and find out what works for you, but do find a way of keeping track of issues so you can go back to your teacher at your next lesson and ask for help with the problems. I use loose leaf paper for writing out lyrics by hand to memorise them, and sometimes I do the same with melodies on the manuscript paper.
2B pencil – a pencil is vital for making notes and annotations on music, and a 2B pencil is soft enough to rub out easily when you no longer need the notes.
Timer – if you’re pushed for time, or struggling to be motivated, setting the timer and just doing 10 or 15 minutes can make it much easier. Having the ability to set an alarm or timer can also stop you getting overly involved in your music and wondering where the time has gone (yes, it does happen…!)
Metronome – not often of use to a singer, but something that’ll give you a regular click at a speed you set can be useful for practicing passages with the right rhythm but at a slower speed. You can get metronome apps, or use this one for free online.
Do you use any of these things? Or do you have any things you use that aren’t on this list? Leave your suggestions in the comments below!