As a beginning vocalist, it’s important to understand what a good practice routine looks like, how much time you should be committing to practice, and what you can expect to see for results. This article describes common practice methods, elements that make practicing as a singer unique from other disciplines, and includes a link to a free tool that will help you structure your practice sessions.
Expectations and timelines
Every singer is unique and learns concepts differently, so no two vocalists’ trajectories will be the same. However, as a general guideline, in order to see results and cover most of the foundations of proper singing, I usually recommend about 6 months of weekly vocal lessons accompanied by 3-4 weekly practice sessions at home of approximately 30 minutes in length (shorter for children). This timeframe will provide an introduction, not mastery, of most key vocal concepts, for a focused student. This timeframe may stretch to 12-18 months for a less focused student who is taking lessons for recreational purposes. Mastery of vocal techniques usually takes several years plus the mental/emotional maturity that naturally goes along with aging and sticking with a discipline for a long period. I don’t believe that a voice student is ever truly “done” learning; most voice teachers and seasoned performers I know are still developing themselves, trying new things, and attending workshops and classes throughout their careers.
A solid practice routine helps build self-discipline, especially in younger singers. I have worked with students as young as five years old, and although I am upfront with their parents that minimal vocal pedagogy will be retained until they are about 10-15 years old (depending on the child and their maturity level), I am always in favor of a younger student getting into the environment of singing and starting a disciplined practice routine at a very young age. It doesn’t matter as much what songs or techniques they are practicing, so long as they are forming a habit.
A regular practice routine will help build range, agility, flexibility, and precision of the articulators (lip, teeth, jaw and tongue movements used for precise pronunciation). These are some of the “manual” elements to singing that can be influenced in a linear learning model, meaning that if you simply put in the time, you are bound to see results. In this way, vocal practice is much like a sport, as it is a part of your body that needs to be used frequently to stay in shape. For example, if you spend a few months practicing exclusively jazz music, you may find that the lower half of your range feels more flexible and strong, since you are using it more frequently. If you'd like tools related to vocal conditioning, pick up a copy of our Vocal Exercises eBook.
How to structure your practice time
A well-rounded practice session should be a shorter and self-guided version of what you normally experience in a voice lesson with an instructor. During a 30 minute practice session, I recommend about 2 minutes of a physical warm up, about 5-7 minutes of vocal warm up and technique exercises, and the remaining time period to be spent on going over repetoire and improving elements that your instructor asked you to work on, such as breath marks or diction, for example. If you'd like to receive a FREE set of vocal warm up exercises to use for yourself or with students, sign up for email updates.
Practice does not necessarily make perfect
Regular practice definitely helps keep your instrument conditioned and fit, but many vocal concepts are not learned in a linear fashion. Skills such as register changes, passagio flexibility, ear training, vibrato, larger range extension and resonating spaces are abstract concepts that are more likely to be learned in unexpected “a-ha moments” rather than simply putting in the time. Singers may find this frustrating and tend to over-practice because the change they are seeking isn’t happening in the timeframe they expected. For example, a singer who hopes to build a strong belt voice but has a habit of defaulting to a breathy, thin production in their middle range may find that after months of working on this concept they still don’t sound the way they’d hoped. These types of improvements can’t be made manually and won’t change just by drilling exercises. In these cases the singer likely needs to experience a mental shift: perhaps they believe they “can’t” sound big and belty, or they are self-conscious and afraid to sound different than what they’re familiar with, or they are trying too hard and using muscular force somewhere in their instrument that is preventing their voice from working properly and naturally. To achieve results, open minded experimentation, patience, and a great vocal coach will be required.
More is not more
As with anything, you can overdo it with vocal practice and the voice will tire if it is pushed too hard or too long. The voice is a particularly delicate instrument and will start to sound and feel scratchy, hoarse, breathy and diluted when overused. Therefore, it’s best to practice singing in shorter time periods almost every day rather than to to go for long marathon sessions twice a week. Shorter sessions are also helpful when memorizing your music, and is discussed in detail in another post.
Practice will make perfect over time, over the course of months and years of absorbing the nuances of vocal technique by being around instructors, listening to great performers, singing in the company of other skilled singers, and eventually understanding your own instrument inside and out. For more vocal study resources, find our music technique category on the blog page.