What is your foremost priority as a singer? I’m gonna bet that, unless you are already literally the best performer in the world, your goal is something along the lines of “be a better singer.”
The problem is, that’s a pretty gosh-darn vague goal. Just “singing better” doesn’t mean very much. Your first step is to sit and think for a bit. What do you really mean when you say you want to be a better singer? You need a starting point. You need goals.
Do you want to sing opera? Okay, now you have a starting point. Keep going, though. Within the realm of opera, which skill do you want to enhance? Let’s go with tone production. From there, you decide to focus on shaping your vocal tract to produce better tone. Then just focus on keeping the back of the tongue relaxed. The point is, you need to have GOALS here. I recommend having three specific goals that you’re working on at a time, each relating to a different part of your performance.
For example, I’m working on that tongue issue I just described. I’m also focusing on keeping my posture straight, and I’m trying to add more connection to text. I have covered three different aspects of the performance – tone production, physical stance, and mental connection. They’re good categories to consider. Switch out one or two of your goals every so often – it wouldn’t do to focus on relaxing one thing only to have another tense up, now would it?
So you now have goals. Good job! How are you going to accomplish these goals? Good question!
Practicing is something that everyone has different ideas on. If you go by conventional wisdom, practicing has to be done in big chunks of throat-killing time every day. Now, I’m not going to argue with the “every day” part – if practice isn’t regular, then it’s going to be much less effective. However, I’m a big proponent of short practice sessions several times a day. I’m talking like 20 or 30 minutes long, three or four times a day. Think about it: when was the last time you sat down to practice and stayed well-focused and productive for an entire two or more hours? I’m going to go out on a limb and say absolutely never ever. Ever. I distracted myself five times in the process of writing the past two paragraphs, for example.
This is because the human attention span is about 20 minutes. It’s a matter of what you can focus on, and for how long. If a task interests you, you can focus on it better, but it’s still unlikely to completely hold your attention after 20 minutes. So short practice sessions are better. I like to use my app Forest, because it does triple duty: it’s a timer allowing me to know how long I’ve been practicing, it cuts off my media use while it’s working (media use is also shown to cut attention spans), AND it gives me a virtual tree or plant when I’ve successfully stayed off my phone for the amount of time I set. Win-win-win.
This set-up – a trio of goals and three sets of 20-30 minutes of practice a day – lines up conveniently. You should obviously try to keep all your goals in mind as you practice, but if you’re working on improving a specific technical aspect, it can be useful to spend one practice session focusing on each aspect, working through different pieces and chunks as you go.
Practice isn’t something that you’re SUPPOSED to love and enjoy and always want to do. However, it should be something that you enjoy having done, as well as something that you don’t actively detest. Playing better, being a better musician, performing well, they all come from solid practice. Fix your practice, improve your technique, and you’re going to see results and become a better singer.