Practise makes perfect

How to practice singing

What is singing practice? For those new to singing, it can be confusing about how to practice well.
Let’s start with what it is NOT!
It is NOT just singing your song through!  That’s a bit like having your pudding first! All this does is re instate all the inaccurate muscular habits, wrong notes, and incorrect breathing points that are already there. What we are aiming to do is to iron these things out and embed better muscle memory, controlled and free breathing, good vowel production and more!

What practice IS:
It is an aware act! It is also the best therapy you can give yourself, as you are listening to what you are actually doing – not to what you THINK you are doing! How often do you really check in with that? Recording yourself and listening back, with this key point in mind, is a really valuable tool. In practice, you are working the tools and techniques that aid the song to flow. Time spent on warming-up with scales and sliding between difficult note changes to get them smooth, will make big changes. Awareness of breathing patterns and allowing the breath to expand in the phrasing, all help the song interpretation to work.
At the end of the day, it is all about the song! If you are struggling to reach a note or control your breath the song is compromised.

  • Have an aim in mind of what you want to achieve in the specific exercise i.e. Have a clear intent
  • Complete the exercise whilst listening AND feeling the sound production. Here you are checking placing, posture and especially any throat/neck tension
  • Did you achieve what you wanted to do? If not, what did you observe? What could you change/release in order to get the desired sound?

If you are new to singing practice, start with 15 mins at a time so that you keep the concentration and gradually build it up. Listening and awareness is key!
 Ideally the weight needs to be 55:45 towards the balls of your feet, with knees soft. Stand tall with a wide ribcage, so that your breathing isn’t compromised.
Here are some basic things to be aware of:
How are you standing?

  • Where is the weight in your feet? Do you rock backwards when you get to the end of a phrase? (what happens to your breathing when your weight is back on your heels?) Check at the end of the phrase! Keeping your weight more forward enables you to keep breathing in your diaphragm.
  • Is your neck free? Can you relax your jaw? Are your knees soft?

Have a clear idea of what you are aiming to achieve. Practice ONE aim at a time and then put them together.

Breath control – breathing in the correct places needs practice! Relax as you extend the breath through and resist tightening. In a choir a breath in the wrong place can be heard and ruin the flow of the line. Don’t let it be you!

Vowels and articulation– especially important in choral singing. Record and listen back to the sounds you make. If you are in a choir the vowel you sing is really important! Can you hear and feel the difference between an A (as in cat) and an AH (as in heart) or does yours sound like an UH (as in hurt)? Is your oo (you) more an ew or o (hot). Listening to yourself will tell you. Your director can tell you but when you hear yourself, you start to learn.

Placement  – allowing the voice to be flexible and free. Singing through your part on one vowel will highlight any wobbly bits of tension! Are you letting your voice tighten anywhere? Can yu sing that section and relax your throat?

Learning words: Read the story of your song – understand where the song is going and how it fuels the emotion and drive of the narrative. Who is speaking? How does your part aid the interpretation?

Where you breathe, how you sound and how you stand, all help the audience understand the song and the story and therefore get the impact. The audience hear the song for one time only. The work you do privately, helps an audience enormously. The points that you work on may feel like small nuances, but they are dynamite in performance!
I’ve found that if you can practice for 4 consecutive days you will really feel a change and an improvement in your singing.
Let me know how you get on!

First published 2015 – updated 2020

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Sandra Smith is the director of The Lost Sound Dartmoor Folk Choir, visit their dedicated website to find out more.

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