Do you love singing practice? With a teacher? Sure. But practicing at home, relying on yourself? Not many would answer “yes, wholeheartedly”.
That’s a problem, because us getting better at singing depends on us practicing...
You might think: Well, tough luck. Just plough through and suffer. But what if there was a way to make practice singing less of a chore and more of a fun, productive experience?
You guessed it: I wouldn’t be writing this article if I didn’t have a way. I will give you an overview of of how to practice singing without feeling overwhelmed. A clear system is key to motivation. Knowing what to do in what order. Let's dive straight in!
1. How often should you practice singing at home?
More is not always better in the case of voice practice. Our vocal cords are like other muscles in some ways, meaning they need training over time. But they are not like other muscles in the sense that they are much more limited in their endurance, for most of us, then other muscles.
There is only so much you should sing in a day. If you practiced piano or violin your teacher would maybe tell you you need up to 8 hours of practice per day. Holy crap, if we did this to our vocal cords... I don’t want to think about it.
Having said that, different students at different levels can use different plans for their practice. I have heard the recommendation from teachers that 1 hour of singing per day is the way to go. I beg to differ. It MIGHT be the way to go for some. But not for all.
The question of how often, though, is a lot simpler in my opinion:
Practice should be regular, because we are dealing with muscle memory. We want to replace bad habits with good ones. But what does that entail exactly? Should you practice every single day?
Some would say yes. I say: at least 1 day off a week. Most athletes also follow that rule. You need to give your muscles at least a day off to restore. Every other day is also very good, your muscles will still remember and be able to take things to the next level.
Anything between 4 and 6 times a week I would consider regular.
Provided that you are having a good period with no drastic mental issues which require taking things slow: the closer the frequency is to 6 times a week - the better progress you will have.
2. How long should a singing practice session be?
And now, for what I consider the more critical question: How long should your practice session be?
Beginners: how long to practice
If you are starting out, not only are your muscles not used to singing, they are also not familiar yet with singing RIGHT. Moreover, you might not be aware of whether you are in fact “doing it right”. So practice should be relatively short, to prevent you from reinforcing wrong technique. I usually recommend around 15 minutes of singing for beginners.
Later I will lay out the structure of your practice, which doesn’t only involve singing, so it is ok to dedicate 15 minutes to the singing itself, and additional time for the other activities.
Intermediate singers: how long to practice
If you already have some lessons under your belt, you are more able to tell if you are doing something harmful or making an effort with your voice. So you can make your session longer without risk. Say 30-40 minutes, depending on how your throat feels.
Advanced singers: how long to practice
You can practice for an entire hour. I know some people are more than happy to sing longer than that. If you insist, and if you are sure your vocal instrument is doing alright - go ahead. But I actually wouldn’t recommend it. Even the best of us fall into the trap of overdoing it. I believe the regularity is more important than the duration of your practice session.
General rules for session length
Once you are in the session: pay attention. Mind your throat mostly, how it feels. Is it difficult to sing, are you making an effort? Mind it while you sing and also after you have finished an exercise or a phrase. If you feel an effort - use the technique you’ve learned to try and correct it. If it doesn’t work and you keep feeling the effort after a few times - stop. Do a different exercise, a different song. If that’s still no good - get back to it in a few hours, or another day.
3. What are the different parts of a singing practice?
And now, for what I consider the more critical question of how to practice singing: what exactly should the practice session be like? Of course, mostly people go about this wrong. We just go into our practice room and start the chaos:
I will go out on a limb and say - all this is not going to get you far very quickly. And by that I mean: that is a waste of your time. And it adds all sorts of blockages and obstacles to a task which is already not very easy - improving your singing.
Positive thinking and productivity go hand in hand. If you are anything like me, then a term like ‘positive thinking’ may sound a bit “new age” to you and raise an eyebrow. But it is in fact very practical.
For a more productive, hence more fun experience, here are some things to understand about how voice training works.
Advice for my 21-year-old me
If I could go back in time some 20 years and give myself advice - well, it would be a lot of advice - I have made many mistakes in my life, specifically when it came to my singing.
But I could have said one crucial thing: practice should not be a burden.
Practice is not a duty. As a 20-something-year-old, I would be a bit incredulous of that. So being given a formula which I can exercise every time I practiced - that would be a game changer. I would have seen the results for myself, and that would have motivated me to keep going. That’s what I am hoping to do for you.
My singing practice formula in one file + video!
As a part of my online singing course you get the full system of practicing effectively. You also get a printable plan that guides you through your practice, and a vid to walk you through it all. Here's a peek.
How to practice singing: my formula for a productive, fun practice session
1. Start with a bodywork routine.
This is crucial! Get the body nice and loose, with a nice posture, before you start.
The routine may change with time, according to what your body needs to relax. An overall routine might be a short yoga/pilates/alexander session, or even a few rounds of the sun salutation (yoga).
2. Warm up.
Like any athlete begins their practice session with basic movements, so should we. You can use my warm-up exercises, or any other you like.
3. Practice on a song.
Do one or two phrases at a time, and focus on one technical element at a time. You can learn more about how to improve your technical elements and how to multitask them in my online course Make Singing Click, but we’ll also go into some more details later on here.
4. Sing through at least for a few minutes.
Also crucial! Remember I said don’t think only of technique? Just sing. Sing for the joy, think of the lyrics, of the music, do some performance exercises, and come what may. That will remind you why you are doing this in the first place.
Whatever you do, please don’t skip step 1 and 4. These are the best way to ensure minimum anxiety and mental problems around your practice.
My students get the practice
RoadMap for free
I teach online and in my studio in Amsterdam. You will get my practice formula from me in the first lesson. This is the detailed version of what I discuss in this article. Crucially, it helps you decide what technical element to focus on (step 3 above).
4. Coaching yourself in singing practice
How often have you heard people say “You simply have to practice. Practice makes perfect. Practice, practice, practice” ? It will apparently get you to Carnegie Hall.
Yeah, yeah, but how?! What? Practice should not be a random thing, when you throw darts blindfolded, sometimes hitting board. I hope not…
Drill it into your system
So to show you exactly how you get better at something, What I mentioned earlier is what I call “drill it into your system”.
- 1Choose one technical thing you have learned from your teacher/Youtube tutorial/whatever. For example: relax your jaw.
- 2Sing an exercise, or one/two phrases from a song, without pausing.
- 3Rate your performance regarding this one technical thing you chose. That thing only. Give it a number from 1 to 10. I recommend under 5! I'l explain why below.
- 4Decide on a higher number - maybe double your last result. For example: if you gave yourself a 3 - go for a 6! That's your goal, and you will probably hit somewhere on the way there on the next try. That’s how you get better.
Be harsh on yourself - only at the ranking stage! Give yourself a lower score rather than a higher one.
When you think about it, if you say “that was an 8, or a 9” what you’re saying is: “I can’t do much better than that”. And that’s actually being harsh and negative. If you give yourself a 5, that makes the potential 10 much more exciting. I can’t wait to hear that 10 🙂
Follow these steps in your practice and report back: is it helpful for you? Let me know!
Let's see if I can make it concise for you:
- Practice singing regularly, 4-6 times a week. Regularity is more important than length.
- Use the 4-part practice structure and don't forget starting with bodywork and ending with singing through.
- Focus on one vocal technique element - until you get it!
This is it in a nutshell. If you implement this method - you will nail whatever a teacher or YT throws at you, and you will make fantastic, satisfying progress with your voice. With the right system in place, everyone can learn how to sing.
About the author
I'm an opera singer and (online) voice teacher, based in Amsterdam. It took me more than a decade to overcome my share of mental and physical issues and reach a professional level as a singer. Because of this background, and my 10+ years of teaching experience, I believe I can speed up your learning curve as a singer.
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Eye-openers, tips and stories. Also content that I don't publish on my website.