Practice Smarter (Five Tips, Part 2)

Every vocal teacher works with individuals at some point: a student contestant 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


3. Save Time and Practice Smarter Mark entrances in the score before practicing solo sections of a larger work. Singers will be able to quickly flip through the score and practice all the music they are responsible for.

4. Be Organized Have students file music when done in appropriate files/sections. Have students keep a folder or small case for their books, pencils, etc. so no time is lost digging in purses or bags. A small metronome is a valuable tool, and fits easily into a supply case. A pocket-sized dictionary of music terms and foreign language pronunciation is also useful.

5. Create Good Habits by Doing Things in Order When students know what to expect, things go more smoothly and take less time. Have students practice a set amount of time each week no matter what. Encourage them to resist the urge to skip practice (“just this once”), as one day turns into two days and then an entire week of missed practices. Suggest to students they don’t have to feel inspired to work on music – they just need to do it anyway. Let students know they are craftspeople who need to put in a certain amount of work whether they feel like it or not.

The best musicians not only have the gift, but they apply themselves to their art regularly and form good habits that serve them for a lifetime. The discipline it takes for productive practice is good training for other tasks in life and will pay off in many ways in the future.

(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 31, 2010 © National Association for Music Education