#16   Practice Wisdom

Create a routine for practicing that covers a range of objectives. 

For younger students, who may not know what or how much to practice, this column is intended to help them make the best of their time and physical resources to practice efficiently.  

Here are some skills to cultivate in your daily singing practice: 

The ability to warm up and focus on technical improvements.

Learn new music.

Develop your interpretive abilities.

Memorize music for performance.



Not all singers require the same exercises, nor the same amount of warm up, yet knowing what your voice needs and providing it is important. Singers may spend anywhere from 15 to 30 minutes to warm up, depending on flexibility.    

Start with being well hydrated as this facilitates the rippling movement of the vocal folds, and helps them to vibrate together more easily.

Begin with stretching the whole body including the facial muscles, and make sure that the body is in good alignment. 

Decide what your technical goals might be.

See #3, #5, #8 and #10 for ideas.


Learn new music:

Read the text for meaning and look up any words that are unfamiliar. 

Speak the text in rhythm, then sing the text in rhythm on  a single pitch. 

Notice any consonant clusters that are hard to articulate and circle or underline them.  Invent simple exercises to repeat challenging combinations until they are fluid. 

Choose a neutral vowel to learn the melody line.  To engage your support, experiment with the melody line on lip trills, voiced consonants or singing through a straw.  

When the melody and rhythm are easily combined, link these with the text.

Where there may be a challenging spot,  spend extra time with it by returning to all the initial steps of learning, but just work on that portion of the piece.    


Interpretive skills:

Answer these questions:

In musical theater or opera, what just happened before you sing?

Where is your character?

Who is the character singing to? 

What does the  character want?

Write in your sub-text or what the words mean personally to you  in the margins of the music. 

Use a mirror to notice if your face is expressing the emotions you wish to convey.

If you’re singing an Art Song, substitute “poet” for “character”.


Memorization skills:

Know the piece well enough to sing it accurately through with your music in front of you before you to begin your memorization. 

Try reading the words out loud without any of the pauses which appear in the musical phrasing. This will help you to learn the long view of the text, and help you connect your text in places where you might possibly have a memory lapse, such as during an instrumental interlude. 

Practice speaking the text fluidly with no pauses until you can do this very quickly all the way through from memory. 

With having done this, notice how much more connected you are to singing the piece expressively. 


Cool down:

When you’re done practicing try the resting exercise from #13


Ideally vocalizing daily helps to maintain coordination and muscular development.  Following the athletic model for strength, flexibility and recovery,  vary your practice routine from day to day.  Try to pace your practice so that days of more singing are followed by days of less singing.

Our practicing is best divided into smaller portions than an instrumentalist.  Garcia, the great master of the Bel Canto said  “… singing three or four hours a day will ruin the most robust organ

Since concentration is best in approximately 20 to 30 minute segments,   shift your practice activities regularly.

For example; a 20 minute warm up may be followed by 20 minute segments of applying technique, music learning, acting or interpretive work, translating and writing in subtext or memorization. 

Schedule a practice week so that big rehearsal days are not big at home practice days, yet do your 20 minute warm up daily. 

Plan interesting and varied routines that will keep your singing fresh.


Try This:

Write out a practice plan this week.  A sample week might look like this:

Monday: Warm up, new song;  text in rhythm and melody on neutral vowel

Tuesday: Warm up, new song continued; combine text and melody. Look at music for Wednesday night’s rehearsal.

Wednesday: Warm up, go to rehearsal

Thursday: Warm up, text and melody and begin memorizing. Look over music from the preceding evening’s rehearsal.

Friday; Warm up, text and melody, finish memorizing new song.

Saturday: Warm up, work with a mirror.

Sunday: Warm up,  sing in church, or consider taking a day of rest with your voice. 


So practice wisely when you practice this week,

And have a very fine one!






Copyright © 2010 by Sarah Oppenheim-Beggs