Rehearse the Smart Way

A “bits and pieces” approach to practicing will strengthen your memory and improve your recall.

This article is an excerpt from The Ultimate Guide to Singing, the most comprehensive book on the market for covering on all aspects of singing.

We have been learning so much recently in the field of voice science about effective practice. In fact, several time-honored ideas have now been turned on their heads. 

The first thing we have learned is that it is better to distribute your practice time throughout the day rather than do it all in one chunk. In the old days you might have spent two hours working on a chromatic scale without a break. Now, we know it is better to practice 15 minutes here and 30 minutes there and then to put it aside for a few hours before taking it up again. This distribution of practice time has two benefits: first, your voice does not get fatigued and, second, it creates more recall of the motor patterns — this means your “music memory” will improve.

So, if I am going to give a performance at night, I’ll begin in the morning with a light, 15-minute warm-up. Then I will do something completely different — have breakfast, read, work on a paper, etc. I will have another warm up around noon and one later on before my performance.

The next thing we’ve learned is that it is far better to practice songs, parts of songs, and exercises in random order than in the same order. So, instead of running though each song from beginning to end, you start at the end of the song — and just forget the intro. Then, you may work on a passage from the middle of a song and then on the intro. Short vocal exercises in between the songs are also helpful. This “bits and pieces” approach to practicing is yet another way to strengthen your memory and improve your recall. 

As for all rhythmic training the metronome is your best friend (and sometimes, your worst enemy!)

—Ingo R. Titze, PhD: one of the world’s leading voice scientists and Executive Director of the National Center for Voice and Speech

Daniel Zangger Borch, PhD, one of Sweden’s most established vocal coaches, Head of the Voice Centre adds this insight:

Finally, we have learned that it is great to practice with interference. In the standard model you ran though things several times in a row until your singing teacher said “well done.” Then you might step on stage and blow it! The problem with the stage is you don’t get to try your song five times. Why might singers blow it after so much practice? Because of interference: the curtain, strange equipment, noise from the audience — all kinds of sights, sounds and interruptions that weren’t present in the rehearsal room. You need to bring this interference into your practice. If you are rehearsing and the phone rings, keep singing. If you are in the middle of a song and someone knocks on the door, resist your temptation to stop and keep singing as you open the door. Keep going and don’t let the interference stop you. This is excellent preparation for live performance.

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