Practice Smarter (Five Tips, Part 1)

Most choral directors work with individual students at some point: a student working on a piece for a festival, a child with a vocal problem, or a private voice student.

You can help students practice effectively on their own by:

  • helping them decide what they want to accomplish in each practice session
  • breaking music into components
  • creating productive routines to help work towards and achieve their goals
    1.  Warm up the Whole Body, as well as the Voice
  •  Make sure all technical aspects of singing are working.
  • Have students stretch muscles and learn the feel of the flow of the breath.
  •  Awareness of correct movement and breathing technique can help when students work on their own.
  • The warm-up routine becomes fixed in the student’s mind, so habit consistently controls technique.Muscles have memory. Once a correct position or response is learned, it becomes easier to duplicate a good sound.
    2.  Practice with a Purpose
  • Set a goal for each practice session. One day, a student can work on breath control, another day, on articulation or language. Everything doesn’t have to be perfected at once. Some things can wait until the next practice session so students don’t feel pressured.
  •  Have students use a practice log to keep track of how well they accomplish goals each day they work on a skill. Student and teacher can review this together and plan appropriate activities or strategies for achieving each individual goal.
    3.  Save Time and Practice Smarter
  • Start with the most difficult section of the piece first, where the demands are greatest.
  • Have the student learn the passages backwards, starting with the last note of the phrase and singing it several times with a good, full tone.
  • Then, ask the student to sing the last two notes several times, then the last three notes, and so on.
  • After reaching the first note of the passage, the student will find that the phrase becomes easier as he or she progresses through it, since the later notes have had more practice and are more familiar.
  • Often the difficult phrase is memorized by the end of this drill.(Adapted from “Five Tips for Better Vocal Practice”, Pamela B. Gaston, Professor of Voice at University of Memphis, Tennessee; from Teaching Music, December 2003

— Sue Rarus,  March 24, 2010 –  © National Association for Music Education