What? I'm supposed to practice? Really?
Why do I need to practice? How long should I practice? What should I practice?
Whenever I bring up the subject of practice I see the student's eyes glaze over.
The purpose of practice is to develop reliable habits so that when you are required to perform you can concentrate fully on the performance itself and have the technical aspects working on autopilot.
Are you feeling nervous? Have you put in the required practice time? No? Then you should feel nervous.
One aspect to consider when dealing with stage fright is to make darn sure you know your stuff. There is nothing more debilitating than being aware that you are totally unprepared for the task. If you have consolidated your technique and know your repertoire then you can safely rely on it when the nerves hit (and they do) because once in the throes of anxiety I can guarantee that you will have a hard time remembering if you need to wait 4 beats or to breathe before a certain phrase. Furthermore, if that is all you are thinking of during your performance - your performance will be marred. The audience will not connect and both you and the audience will feel underwhelmed afterward.*
How often and how should you need practice?
In a perfect world the answer is you should practice every day. Personally I have found that if I practice at least 4 times a week, I'll progress PROVIDING that I am fully focussed during the practice sessions. Yes, mindless rehearsal is not only useless, it can be totally counterproductive because chances are, you have not applied the correct technique or made a detailed study of the score and you have created faulty habits which can be frustrating and hard to fix.
Have you noticed that you make the same mistake in the same place over and over again? Congratulations! You have just learned that mistake perfectly!!
"Practice makes permanent"**, NOT perfect! Practice is not starting from beginning to end, ignoring mistakes as you go along saying that you will fix it later. When will you fix it? Fix it now. Identify it, dissect it to ascertain the precise problem, practice this fragment slowly and carefully (sometimes it is only 2 or 3 notes). Can you do it slowly? Yes? Now pick the speed up gradually. Incorporate it back into the phrase or section. Still a problem? Practice the transitions. You will fix it, it just needs time and patience.
How long should I practice?
Are you preparing one song or a 40-minute recital? Are you a beginner or advanced? Do you experience voice fatigue or pain after a certain amount of time? Work within your parameters. Do not work beyond your capabilities. If vocal fatigue or pain is a problem, you'll need to discuss it with your teacher or doctor. Do not ignore it. Pain is there for a reason and you need to address the root cause of it. Beginners generally only need between 15-30 minutes a session which needs to include a warm up. Advanced singers need 30-60 minutes or maybe more, including the warm up. If you find that you desire or need to practice longer than 30-60 minutes, that's fine. Break up your rehearsal into blocks. Practice 60 minutes in the morning and 60 in the afternoon. Just never work beyond your capabilities. Build up stamina slowly and over time.
Remember, rehearsing is not always vocalising. Practice the language, analyze the lyrics, research it's context, tap out the rhythm ......... Sing silently.*
What should I practice?
Repertoire or technique? It should be both. With your accompanist or without? On the stage as a performance simulation or at home? Basically, if you're a beginner you should practice what your teacher tells you and as you advance you will have a better idea of what you need to practice with the guidance of a teacher or without.
How long do I need to practice this? Until..... Until you are able to execute the phrase/song with ease and reliability.
*I will talk more about this in later posts **Bobby Robson