Every choir member (yes, all of us!) has at some point had the song with the words we just can’t seem to remember, the harmony part that is elusive, or the high or low notes that just don’t seem to come naturally.
If you’re looking for ways to boost your confidence at your next virtual or in-person rehearsal, these five tips will make it easier to correct those little trouble spots.
1. Prioritize Practice Time
Sometimes prioritizing practice can be difficult. Here are a couple of suggestions for finding time to practice:
- Mark it on the calendar. If you only have time on Wednesday nights, write it in and stick to it just like you would trivia night or homework for the kids. Making a routine of practice will help it come more easily to you.
- Put a sticky note on the mirror in the morning to remind you to enthusiastically read your lyrics, hum, or audiate while you get ready in the morning.
- Take your rehearsal tracks with you in the car on your morning commute so you get your dose of harmony before you even start the workday. If you're working from home, listen to these while you're getting ready for the day or plan to take the time you would have spent commuting to practice instead.
- Break up your practice into multiple mini-sessions. Schedule five minutes in the morning, ten minutes on your lunch break, and five minutes right before bed. You’ll be amazed what you remember by the next rehearsal!
- Practice without singing! Watch last week’s rehearsal video. Listen to a professional recording in the car. Practice your choreography in the mirror while you mouth the words. You don’t have to be singing to be learning the songs you are working on.
Remember, practice doesn't have to take hours – in fact, it often shouldn’t. You can practice in five- or ten-minute increments and still get a lot done!
2. Utilize a Mirror
You might be thinking that practicing in front of a mirror is the last thing you want to do, but it is one of the most educational things you can do as a singer. You won’t really know how you look until you are faced with… yourself.
Start with a five-minute performance with an audience of one (you!) in front of a mirror. Then, you can really start to make changes on your vocal technique, expression, and choreography. Recording yourself on video is an equally good trick to help you make the appropriate vocal and physical adjustments (as long as you are brave enough to actually watch it!). Your confidence will certainly translate on the risers every time.
3. Work Your Trouble Spots First
When we practice, the tendency is to start at the beginning of a song, get frustrated when we mess up (at that same darn spot we’ve been missing for weeks), and just keep sailing through to the end. What this accomplishes is practice that includes repeated errors without corrections.
Instead, here's a different plan for success:
- Note your trouble spots in your music and correct those first.
- Sing through the piece from a place where you feel confident in your notes including through the trouble spot in its corrected form.
- Go back a little further and sing through the same spot again with the corrected format.
- Then try the whole song all the way through, fixing the places that are difficult.
You shouldn't try to work all of the trouble spots at once. Especially if you are in a time crunch, find four or five measures to work on for ten minutes and then move on to the next section when you have another opportunity. Rome wasn’t built in a day.
4. Incorporate Vocal Exercises as You Go
If you feel like you're struggling to get through the piece vocally, you aren’t alone. There isn’t a singer on the planet who has sung a piece to technical perfection while singing it the first time (or ever, really). Incorporating vocal exercises while you practice your music can help ensure that you are making not only the notes and rhythms a habit, but also the technique with which you sing a habit as well.
If you're struggling to reach a note that feels just out of your range, stop singing the music and switch to a vocal range warm-up. If you're running out of breath on a phrase, stop and do a breathing exercise.
The most important thing to remember here is that healthy sounds are better than harsh or forced sounds. Take it easy on those notes that are difficult to sing until you have the right technique. Incorporating these vocal exercises while you practice can help you get the right sound up front and avoid forming bad habits.
5. Practice Your Lyrics Separately
Learning and memorizing song lyrics can sometimes be a bear, especially when in a foreign language or in a vernacular that isn’t commonly spoken any more. One of the best tips I’ve ever gotten for helping to remember song lyrics is to read them to yourself like a poem.
Take a print-out of the lyrics with you to the treadmill at the gym or on your morning jog, read them to yourself out loud in the mirror before bed, or recite them to your dog with gusto. Practicing the words like you would speak them can help you identify with the story you are telling and help you remember how the words feel when you are singing.
If you are dealing with a song in a foreign language, note the places where you have trouble with pronunciation and ask for clarification and/or write in the correct articulation on your paper so you practice the words correctly when you read them out loud.
The most important thing you can do is create time to practice so you feel like you are the best singer you can be. Do you have practice tips that really help you perform your best? Share them in the comments below!
Amanda Carroll currently teaches middle school chorus and general music in North Carolina. She also directs a small women’s chorus and is a member of Sweet Adelines International. She has a Master of Music and Master of Public Administration from Appalachian State University. Her background includes singing with large and small ensembles, as well as solo work and teaching private lessons. She is passionate about creating meaningful concerts and connecting with the community through performance.