How to Practice Smarter
After an eye-opening conversation one day with a friend who runs a private voice studio, I realized the importance of tracking how much time I spend practicing on a regular basis. But it doesn’t actually matter how much time you spend practicing if you aren’t practicing well. Practicing is a skill, not a chore*, and I promise you can learn how to practice smarter, cut down your time in the practice room, and improve faster than you ever have before.
*Well… sometimes it’s a chore, too. I won’t pretend like it isn’t. But the odds of it feeling chore-like go down SIGNIFICANTLY once you begin to see the faster progress that comes from smart practicing. I promise.
I never had a plan for my practice time. I would schlep myself to the practice room and run through stuff over and over again, hitting the spots that I thought I needed to in the moment, and stay there for as long as my voice could handle because I did go to the trouble of schlepping all the way there so I’d better make it count.
But sometimes I forgot (or avoided on purpose) the really problematic areas of the piece. I didn’t have any sort of game plan to follow to ensure my success… I just kind of hoped that I would gradually get better.
Here’s the thing: It turns out that I had no idea how to practice.
I had all the tools I needed, theoretically. My teacher guided me through vocalises in every lesson that bettered my technique, and we would work on my trouble spots, but I could never get it together in the practice room. If things started to go downhill in there—if I couldn’t sing that high note without screaming, if I couldn’t make it through that phrase without breathing—I couldn’t recover! I’d walk away from the practice session feeling like a failure, which didn’t exactly make me eager to try again next time.
But I’ve finally figured out a system that works! All it takes is keeping a practice journal. With a little bit of planning, you can keep yourself accountable and stop wasting time on anything that isn’t helping you achieve your goals.
Here’s a step-by-step guide to keeping your own practice journal.
1. Set your practice goals for the week.
Rather than just slamming through your rep again and again and again, identify 1-3 goals you would like to accomplish in your practicing over the course of the week. They could be broad goals like, “integrate new breathing technique into rep” or something more specific like, “learn all notes and text for the first set of my recital.” Your practice goals should change from week to week depending on your upcoming deadlines and the goals you have for your overall singing career.
2. Make a daily plan based on your weekly goals.
For the coming week, write down what you need to practice each day in order to achieve your weekly goals. If your goal is to learn all the notes and text for two pieces, break those pieces down into seven equal portions and work on a bit of it each day (or six? Sometimes I like to take lesson day off from practicing, but that’s up to you!). If your goal is a general one, like working on a new breathing technique, make a plan of which piece to practice every day, and then each time you practice take notes about where you had success/trouble. Take the trouble spots into your next lesson. Finally, you’ll have a great answer to, “So, what would you like to work on today?”
3. Write down what you did each day, and what you need to do next.
Keep a running list of what things you worked on, and write a quick note to remind yourself of what needs to be done next. This way you have a record of what you hit each day, and you can hit the ground running come your next practice session. Nothing kills a good practice vibe faster than floundering to remember where you left off from the previous day’s work.
4. Log how much time you spent practicing.
As I’ve detailed before, keeping track of how much time you spend honing your craft is a great exercise in personal accountability and making sure you are practicing in the first place. But what’s more, as you get more efficient at practicing, you can see yourself start to accomplish more in less time! And if nothing else, the next time your Aunt Edna decides to pull the “singing isn’t a real job” card, you can whip out your practice log and show her just how much real work goes into this little profession of ours.
That’s it! Just four little steps to take your practice game to the next level.