Many of us who have been singing for a while know the age-old problem of needing to practice but feeling like there isn’t enough time. How can you squeeze in enough rehearsal time to feel like you were productive without taking hours out of your day?
Fortunately, not all practices have to be an hour or more long to be productive! You can get a lot from a quick five-to-ten minute rehearsal without affecting the pace of your daily activities.
Is a Ten-Minute Practice Session Worthwhile?
Our brains are marvelous things! Scientific studies suggest that the act of “spacing” our learning can actually lead to improved memory recall. We can commit to short and long-term memory pieces of information that we collect by the minute. A ten-minute rehearsal can be a great way to absorb musical information without putting your brain on overload.
The other aspect of this is that shorter rehearsals must be focused. That means you’ll want to be strategic about the areas you want to work on musically to make the most of the time available to you. If you are in “learning new music” mode, you might pick measures causing you difficulty. If you are in “performance mode,” you may choose to sing through your songs several times in succession while practicing expression or choreography.
You’ll notice from taking time to do shorter, more focused practices at home, on choir rehearsal night you remember more of what you practiced and can achieve your goals more quickly.
There are also many benefits to extended practice at home for 30 minutes to an hour. You can achieve a lot in that amount of time! However, for anyone short on time, a ten-minute practice session can go a long way to helping you achieve your goals. Need a few ideas to get you started? Here are ten practice options you can complete in ten minutes:
1. Ten-Minute Warm-Up
Warm-ups are arguably among the most critical part of any rehearsal. Your director will have specific warm-ups they use to help the choir achieve a particular sound. Practicing some of these same warm-ups can improve your personal singing quality and confidence when you're at home. Warm-ups are meant to be challenging to a point, so if you have one that you struggle with during rehearsal night, you could choose to spend a few extra minutes on it while practicing on your own. Remember not to get stuck doing one single warm-up the whole time. Instead, mix the ones you enjoy with the ones you find challenging for a more well-rounded ten-minute practice session.
2. Vocalize on a Challenging Musical Phrase
Warmups are meant to set us up for success, especially in difficult areas in our music. While warm-ups can sometimes seem disjointed from our music practice, you can and should use warm-ups to help you achieve goals on challenging musical phrases.
For example, sing a challenging phrase three times using only a lip or tongue trill. Then switch to singing the same phrase on an open vowel, like “Ah.” Lastly, sing the phrase on the words. You may find that the challenging phrase was more manageable due to starting with a healthy warm-up that will set you up for vocal success. Spending ten minutes working on this trouble area will surely make it easier when you go back to sing the whole song.
3. Ten Minutes of Listening
Did you know that listening can count as practice time? It’s always so tempting as a singer to sing along any time a practice track is playing. However, if you allow yourself to actively listen to a practice track without singing, you might discover something new about the music! It could be an area where you need to work on dynamics, phrasing, lyrics, or any other musical concern. You could also listen to performances by other groups. By doing this, you are reinforcing musical concepts, lyrics, expression, and more by actively listening to the music.
4. Lyric Recitation (No singing required!)
Memorizing lyrics is another common struggle for singers, especially when songs are in languages we aren’t familiar with. It could be pronunciation problems, difficulty with musical phrasing on appropriate syllables, or inability to remember what comes on the following line.
An easy way to remedy a lyric memory challenge is to recite the words without singing them. You can read them off the page or challenge yourself to practice from memory if you feel more confident. The goal is to help your teeth, lips, and tongue more fully embrace the words so that when you do sing the lyrics, they come more easily to you. You should be able to speak the words to any song like you are conversing with someone next to you without stumbles or odd gaps in speech.
5. Ten Minutes of Breathwork
Another vital area of practice for many singers is breathwork. Often, we focus on how we are going to hold a note to the end of a phrase without running out of air. Practicing breathwork ten minutes a day can help with this…but it’s not just about stamina. The way you take in air initially, before you ever sing a note and at the start of every phrase, will affect how you can sustain your air during a song. Practicing your breathing onset and breath extensions for long phrases will significantly improve your singing!
6. Ten Minutes Conducting
We rely on our choir director to help us with expression, breath, stamina, dynamics, and more. But have you ever tried directing the music on your own? You might be surprised at what you discover when you listen to a track and direct the musical moments necessary to achieve a great performance. Many people who direct themselves during practice have better engagement, are more expressive, and better understand the musical expectations of the song overall.
7. Sing Against Another Part Track
For anyone that has to stand next to someone who doesn’t sing the same notes as themselves, you know the struggle when you are learning your music! Even folks with a good ear can sometimes have difficulty singing music against another part during rehearsal. To remedy this, if you have access to alternate part recordings at home, take time to challenge yourself to sing your part against one that isn’t your own. Not only will you learn the musical places you need more practice, but you’ll be able to determine where you can sing with confidence!
8. Ten Minutes of Lip & Tongue Trills
Many singers struggle with lip trills, but there is a reason they are so useful! Lip trills naturally require core engagement, solid breath technique, a relaxed jaw and tongue, and a high soft palate. Here’s an explanation and demo of lip trills if you need help getting started.
If lip trills aren’t possible, an alternative for some people is tongue trills. This is like a rolled “R” in many Latin-American languages. Tongue trills still require you to engage your core and relax your tongue and jaw to achieve a quality sound. Here’s a demo of tongue trills if you’d like to give them a try.
9. Ten Minutes of Choreo
Choruses that use choreography as part of their performances know the challenges of learning music and movement simultaneously. While choreo can be helpful in the learning of music, sometimes it can be hard to get everything coordinated during performance practices. One of the best ways to solidify your choreography or movement during a song is to spend a few minutes each day going over the moves. You don’t even have to sing! You can mouth the words or play a practice track while you move along. It’s advisable to practice in front of a mirror to see how your movements look from the audience's perspective. All it takes is a few minutes to run through a song!
10. Alleviate Performance Anxiety
While many of us think practice time is all about the music, it can be important to have a routine for those stressful moments right before you walk on stage. Most performers have suffered from stage fright in their lives, and everyone has their own way of dealing with stress before a performance. Finding the things that relax you and make you feel confident before stepping on stage can be an essential ritual for your home practice.
One way to practice performance anxiety relief is to “stage” your entrance in a comfortable space. Maybe you practice walking “on stage” in front of a mirror or map a route from the front door to your “mark” in the living room. Take a few moments to utilize deep breathing techniques, rolling shoulders for confidence, and a sure-footed walk to your spot as you practice walking on stage before your first song. You will feel more confident by practicing your pre-performance routine ahead of the actual performance day.
One of the most important things you can do to improve your practice time and performances is to simply make time, even if it’s only ten minutes a day. Ten minutes here and there can make a world of difference in your confidence during choir rehearsals and on performance nights.
What are some things you do to practice when you are short on time? Please share your tips and tricks with us in the comments!
Amanda Carroll is a former middle school chorus and general music teacher in North Carolina. She is a member of Carolina Style Chorus and Sweet Adelines International and is a non-performing member of Womansong of Asheville. She has Master of Music and Master of Public Administration degrees from Appalachian State University. Her background includes singing with large and small ensembles, as well as solo work and teaching private lessons. Amanda is passionate about creating meaningful concerts and connecting with the community through performance.