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I remember when I was first told to practice in between my singing lessons. I was surprised, but the question remained: how should I practice? It can be tricky for people who start voice lessons to know how to practice, so here is my little guide:
Singing is a MOTOR SKILL, so it’s impossible to pick up everything a teacher says immediately. Even if your mind understands what you must do, your body needs repetition and guidance to learn. With recordings, you simply press play and sing along each day between lessons, and the learning sinks into your body. You can also learn more from revisiting older lessons. Some nuggets of wisdom, you rediscover. Other pieces, you can only hear when you are ready to hear them.
A word of warning: this form of practice won’t get you all of the way. Anytime technology is involved, especially screens, your focus is not entirely in the present. Long term, you need to be where you are, listening and looking and sensing as you sing. You need to make your own connections based on what you learn, what you know, and what you discover. That leads me to…
I cannot say enough about how essential play is to a) growth in the voice, and b) to just experiencing joyful feelings in life. Here’s the thing: everyone learns best through play (and does their best as a human when they are in a state of play). Not only will it help you to enjoy singing, but you will discover parts of your voice, which surprise you. You will also discover the reason for making that sound-you-didn’t-know-you-could-make.
How to play as a singer?
Truly, you can find any focus for play and exploration: you can improvise around vowels and consonants, you can sing a favourite song as several different barnyard animals, you can take an emotion and compose a mantra to repeat in several different ways, you can systematically change the shape of your mouth on every note in your range.
Whatever the focus of your play, try to practice your willingness and spontanaeity. Notice rather than fix what you hear and feel. Go toward what you find interesting. Repeat things that will change with repetition. Allow time and space for new discoveries. If you are surprised at any moment by what comes, you have definitely played!
I believe a good teacher can offer you ways of playing with your voice, provide new areas to explore, and show you how to focus your attention as you practice. However, when you go to practice on your own – without a recording – listen deeply to your own impulses as you sing. If something feels right, it’s probably right, and if something feels wrong, it’s probably wrong for you. If your impulses become aligned with your singing, you may begin to feel elated, and then your voice will do wonderful things.
© 2020 Joanna Chapman-Smith
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