It's that time of year again! Between work, school, clubs, sports, and other extra-curricular activities (not to mention the ever diminishing amount of sunlight that comes with the end of summer), our "free" time seems to get shorter and shorter with each passing day. For a lot of beginning students (and even more advanced ones), finding time to practice can be a challenge. Even if we can manage to carve out 20-30 minutes a day, the task can seem insurmountable. What do I work on? Where do I start? How can I continue to improve? Below is your guide to short, effective practicing that even the most busy individuals can commit to.
1. Don't Skimp on Warming Up!
When we are pressed for time, this will be the most tempting thing to do. However, if we skip our warmups, we are not properly preparing ourselves for improving in our song/piece. Warm ups are amazing tools meant to increase our range, build stamina, breath control, etc. Devote at least ten minutes to warming up, but gear your warmups to the piece you are working on. If your piece is fast, do agility warm ups. If your piece has long phrases, focus on long, sustained breathing exercises. Are you tripping up on the words in your song? Try patter or tongue-twister warmups!
2. Don't Run Through The Entire Piece
Sing/play through the whole song and call it a day! Sound familiar? This may be acceptable if you goal is to see if you know it or to "check in" before an audition/performance; however, if you are looking to actually improve, we need to focus on details! Start with the tricky spots. Where do you get tripped up, run out of breath, lose momentum, etc? Work in those places first and if you have extra time, work on the sections leading into the tricky spots. This will be much more effective than starting from the beginning and hoping for the best.
3. Focus On One Aspect At A Time
This ties in closely with #2. If you are running short on practice time, devote that precious time to one thing! Here is a short list of things to focus on:
- breathing (low, relaxed breaths! Map them out so they are always in the same place)
- diction (strong initial/final consonants when necessary)
- character (who is this person? How can I show this character in my voice?)
- vowel placement (clear, concise vowels with modification when necessary)
For a lot of students, it can be extremely helpful to work on just one aspect of technique at a time. We are constantly working on building muscle memory, and it can be difficult to build that muscle memory if we aren't consciously working to improve in one, specific area.
4. Record Yourself
Last but certainly not least, record yourself! Seriously, record yourself. You don't even have to have a fancy recorder to do this. Most phones already have a basic recording app (or you can download a free one) that is good enough for you to use to practice. We cannot hope to improve nearly as much, nor as fast, if we cannot hear for ourselves the places in our technique in which to improve upon. Listen to yourself practicing and take note on what you did well, what could be better, and if you have time, try singing/playing the same spot again to compare. If you can get over the initial trepidation of listening to yourself play/sing (shudder), you will be able to listen objectively, improve your own standard, and know where your weak points are.
I hope these tips help you to make good use of the limited time you have to devote to practicing music!