[From my Sept/Oct 1999 newsletter – thought I was done with all of these! I have tweaked this one quite a bit to incorporate some of the newer ideas I have on vocal technique.]

I’ve asked a lot of people how much time they put in on practicing each day. These are some of the answers I’ve received:

  1. Oh, I sing in choir every day so I don’t need to practice.
  2. I can’t remember what I’m supposed to practice.
  3. I’m too embarrassed to practice where people can hear me/my neighbors complain when I practice/I don’t have anywhere to practice.
  4. I get so busy I forget.
  5. I practice for hours, till I lose my voice.
  6. Never.
Okay, folks. Let’s address each of these in turn.
  1. Your choir director is preparing you for the art of choral singing. He/she is teaching you to blend as part of an ensemble. I am teaching you to develop your voice as a soloist. These are very different goals. You need to practice the exercises that you have been given in lessons in addition  to the vocalises that you do in choir.
  2. A lot of vocalises are done every week. A lot of them are done on the spot to correct your individual vocal concerns(s). During your lessons, I ask you how things feel while you’re doing them … this is so that you will do them with care and thought of what is going on in your body. Mindful of their function, rather than just throwing them off. If you really can’t remember your exercises, I invite you to take time during your lesson to write them down OR to bring a flash drive to insert into my piano and record the exercises. You can also do this on your iPod or iPhone (there’s an app for that!) Also, all of you were given my BRAAP sheets at your second lesson, which is an overview of a variety of exercises and their function (Breath, Resonance, Alignment, Articulation & Phonation).
  3. Oh come on.*
  4. Oh come on.**
  5. I’m so glad you’re so enthusiastic, but don’t practice more than an hour at a time. Your vocal folds are delicate folds of tissue and overuse can be damaging. Practice intelligently and efficiently.
  6. So why are you taking lessons? (See final paragraph of this blog.)
You should set up a regular time to practice. This is exercise, just like running or Zumba is exercise. You need to practice your vocal exercises (including, but not limited to, your repertoire) at least 30 minutes per day in order to make improvement. An hour  would be better. If you need to break this up into 10 minute increments, hey, whatever works for you.
So, how to structure your practice time:
  • Physically warm up. This means get into the appropriate physical place for singing. Rotate your shoulders, lift your arms up over your head and back down, gentle neck rolls, rag doll down and back. Stretch. 2 minutes.
  • Do some breathwork. Pant like a puppy, inhale on a K, exhale on a slow “sss.” 1 minute
  • Warm up the voice/isolate registers. Slides and sirens in your head voice on [u], lip trills, tongue trills, tongue between the teeth on “th.” Go to your chest voice and do simple short exercises on “no” or “ho” (Santa!) or “nyah.” 2 minutes.
  • Scales and vocalises/mix. Refer to the exercise sheets or your notes or recordings. 10 minutes.
  • Repertoire (The Music). Don’t just run through it. Take your time and do it right. “Practice doesn’t make perfect, it makes permanent.” (Marianna Busching, although I suspect others have said it as well.) If something is new, work through it on different syllables before you put in the words. Take it apart and work on it in sections. 20-30 minutes.
So there you have it.  30+ minutes worth of practice time, structured for your convenience. If you need to break this up or condense it, do it however and wherever you need to. You can do lip trills and sirens anywhere… people will look at you funny, but you can do them anywhere. (I know, I have!)
I can hear you now —
“But I was sick last week. I couldn’t sing a note. It hurt.”
– OR –
“We had houseguests over the weekend and they were in the room I usually practice in.”
Okay, but you can still do some preparation. You can:
  • Go through the rhythms. Clap them out, write in the beats if you are having any problems.
  • Go through the text. Make it mean something to you. Write it out for yourself. Take a sheet of paper and write out three columns:
    • The original text to be sung
    • The literal translation (if foreign).
    • Your “inner monologue.” What this text means to you. Create a character if you can’t find a meaning for yourself.
  • Go through the diction. Say it slowly. If you need to write in pronunciation cues for yourself, whether through IPA (international phonetic alphabet) or your own personal shorthand, do so.
  • Do some research. Find out about the poet. Where did the poem come from? What’s the historical significance? What was going on when this song was written? What was the composer’s story? Use the Internet – that’s why Al Gore created it. 🙂
  • Listen to recordings, not to imitate it but to hear how everything fits together: the text and melody, the harmonies, the instrumentation/orchestration, the texture. But really listen: don’t just use it as background music.
If you don’t practice, you aren’t going to improve. That’s all there is to it. If you want to sing better, you need to practice. If you can’t or won’t, you won’t get better and you’re wasting your money and both of our time. I don’t want to take your money just to hear someone who is the same week after week; I want you to improve and find your voice. Then we can have real fun!

Published by Mezzoid Voice Studio

Christine Thomas-O'Meally, a mezzo soprano and voice teacher currently based in the Baltimore-DC area, has performed everything from the motets of J.S. Bach to the melodies of Irving Berlin to the minimalism of Philip Glass. As an opera singer and actress, she has appeared with companies such as Charm City Players, Spotlighters Theatre, Chicago Opera Theater, Opera Theater of Northern Virginia, Opera North, the Washington Savoyards, In Tandem Theatre, Windfall Theater, The Young Victorian Theater of Baltimore, and Skylight Opera Theatre. She created the role of The Woman in Red in Dominick Argento’s Dream of Valentino in its world premiere with the Washington Opera and Mary Pickersgill in O'er the Ramparts at its world premiere during the Bicentennial of Battle of Baltimore at the Community College of Baltimore County. Other roles include Mrs. Paroo in Music Man, Mother Abbess in Sound of Music, Dorabella in Cosi Fan Tutte, Marcellina in Le Nozze di Figaro, both Hansel and the Witch in Hansel & Gretel, and many roles in Gilbert & Sullivan operettas. Her performance as the Housekeeper in Man of La Mancha was honored with a WATCH award nomination. Ms. Thomas-O'Meally received an M.M. in vocal performance from the Peabody Conservatory in Baltimore. She regularly attends master classes and workshops in both performance and vocal pedagogy, and is certified in all three Levels of Somatic Voicework™ The LoVetri Method. Her students have performed on national and international tours of Broadway productions, at prestigious conservatories, and in regional theater throughout the country.


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