How to practice vocals at home with best results
Photo credit : Soundtrap
Practice is always part of a Method. Any good method has tried and tested steps that work in a certain order. Practice is basically self-teaching. You need to be equal parts methodical and creative with yourself to get the best results. First, we must break down our vocal goals and figure out which segments they belong to. It's important the break your practice regime up into 3 different segments. This is because each activity works in completely separate way in our body, mind and physiology.
Here are the 3 components
1) Vocalizing 2) Singing 3) Study
Vocalizing is about aligning and coordinating the physical aspects of singing. The best kind of vocalizing helps you to automate your voice so that it delivers the exact sound you want as soon as you ask for it. The goal of vocalizing is the make your physical system very efficient and allow it to give you maximum sound and coloration with minimum effort. A really good vocal exercise always comes with "Control Conditions". These are hardly ever listed with the exercise. But control conditions are the secrets that either make a vocal exercise effective or merely make it a melodic shape sung in different keys.
Good vocal exercises also have very specific in-built tasks. A few of these would be
a) onset b) tone c) flux/decay d) rhythm e) volume f) breath support g) vowel flux
Every musical paradigm favours a different type of vocal sound. A classical singer, a rock singer, a jazz singer, a rapper and a Bulgarian folk singer will all have very different wishes from their vocal instrument.Your job while vocalizing is to optimize your voice to work effortlessly and freely in the direction of the sonic world that you belong to. You prime and train your body to be amazingly effortless when it produces the sounds that you love.
Singing is the addition of emotional information into your well trained vocal machine. While, vocalizing is purely scientific, singing converts that science into art. Vocalizing will train you to hit the highest , lowest, loudest, softest notes with efficiency. Singing will then convert those empirical factors into a meaningful sound for your audiences to connect to.
Emotion and mental imagery make tiny adjustments all over your body, and this greatly alters the vocal output.
It's because of this, that you must also keep singing separate from vocalizing, especially in the early stages of training. For example : "Fear of high notes" is an emotional thing. You might feel fear or hesitation while singing high. This may make your body choke off the sound or severely alter your natural neutral tone. So if you are someone who is afraid of singing high or loud, it's important to neutralize the emotional signal while you are prepping your voice and vocalizing all your ranges.
Take a second now. Try singing a "difficult" line by completely changing the meaning of the line or the melody. You will see that different mental approaches make it either easier or more difficult. The sonic output will keep changing every time you change the mental input! (If this doesn't happen, get in touch with me)
Study is the third aspect of practice. Study is predominantly intellectual while singing is predominantly emotional and vocalizing is just like oiling a machine and making sure all its parts work well.
Study may include sight reading, transcription, ear training, rhythm studies etc.
Do not force yourself to vocalize or sing perfectly when you are studying something new. If it's happening, that's great. If it isn't, there is really nothing to worry about. All the three processes are very different. The brain and the body, both behave very differently in these three aspects.
A mentor once told me that it takes up to 2 years for new intellectual information to become part of your performance instinct. So you must keep shedding and then allow for it to reflect naturally in your performance as your musicality deepens.
PLANNING YOUR PRACTICE SESSION
1) Once you have picked your primary goals for the session, break them into very simple, bite-sized parts and make a list of these parts.
2) Warm up from the most comfortable note of the day. Find the note that you find most effortless today and then sing higher and lower pitches maintaining ease all the way. In a few minutes you will feel ready and you may start working on the list of mini goals you have set for the session. Try a before/after test to see if you have made progress.
3) I always encourage advanced singers to step away from the piano or the guitar when they are prepping their voice. Voice is free of key and in voice training, vocal behaviours need to be calibrated and managed. We may check back with the instrument intermittently so see which pitch we are singing on --- but we must never be dependent on the instrument to vocalize.
4) The entire vocal apparatus --- your breath, your muscles, your posture, your vocal folds, your larynx, your face, your tongue--EVERYTHING responds to emotion. Install a " neutral, relaxed and safe" emotional signal or feel "playful and curious". In this way, you will create a optimal conditions for the voice to self-adjust and develop.
5) Keep the session reasonably short and specific. However, if you get into a flow state then don't interrupt it. Once you're done, step away, do something else. Come back after an hour and see if you retained the effects of training. If you didn't, then re-do it. Again keep it short and specific. Take another break. Forget and re-learn. Shorter but more frequent sessions create much faster and longer lasting results. My early vocalizing used to be 20 minutes , 4 times a day. I wouldn't have got the same results had I done a single 80 minute session. 4 sessions of 20 minutes each worked like magic for my mental retention and physical training too.
6) Occasionally, to test yourself, practice in changing environments. Work in a different room. Invite someone home and try out the song you're working on. A change in environment often changes the way you perform. It's a great way to gauge how much real progress you have made. Progress in the shed must convert into progress on stage, and changing environments will actually make that process roll out faster.
Hope you have a beautiful and fruitful practice session today.
Love Vasundhara Vee