Friday, March 22, 2013

5 Ways to Practice Singing Outside of the Studio

I remember when a bright-eyed, bushy-tailed young me walked out of his first voice lesson at the age of eighteen. All my musical training up until this point had been in piano and everything I knew about singing I learned from the choirs I had sung in. I thought I had at least an idea of what I was doing, but then I started learning about the various bad habits I had already formed and 45 minutes wasn’t even enough to cover them all.

I recall feeling utterly defeated by the experience. I would go on to develop a thicker skin and eventually correct these habits, but interestingly enough I found that a lot of the biggest strides I made weren’t from my efforts in the practice room. Here are five of best ways to practice singing without practicing.

Speaking Practice
One of my teaching mentors told me the best way to control a room is with a clear, commanding voice. Fortunately, you don’t need a room full of half-crazed 8th graders to practice this. You can apply the principles of good vocal tone in just about any conversation. I recommend trying this out on someone like a waiter, store clerk, or more formal acquaintance such as a teacher or boss; your friends—or at least my friends-- are a lot more likely to mock you. Focus on producing a crisp, clear tone and enunciating each word precisely. When executed well, you’ll find this impresses most people.

Posture Practice
Similarly, you can practice good singing posture wherever you go. This requires a lot more vigilance on your part because while you’re not always speaking, you are constantly sitting, standing, or walking. Try to catch yourself slouching at your desk, make an effort to stick out your chest when you walk, and generally give off an air of alertness and confidence. Physical exercise like running, weight-lifting, and yoga can also contribute to better day-to-day posture.

Sing in a Mirror   
“Open up your jaw wider.” “Release the tension in your forehead.”  “Don’t hunch your shoulders.” When you hear this kind of constructive criticism in your voice lesson, it can trigger a defensive response. After all, your jaw feels as open as it possibly could. Your forehead has never been this relaxed. And your mom says that you have the posture of a Greek statue. So what’s the fuss?

In our own minds, we’ve followed these directions to the letter, but reality is often far from perception, especially when it comes to something as personal as our own voices. Sometimes these things need to be seen in order to be believed, which is why I advocate singing into the mirror.

 photo Singer_zpsd269a0d3.jpg
Whoa! A tad crazy. Just a tad.
Technically, this tip works best when applied in the studio, but if, like me, you shave in the shower as well as sing, the mirror becomes twice as useful. Ditto for the rear-view mirror in my car (though only at red lights, of course). In any case, get used to what good singing looks like as well as what it feels like. If you’ve never done this, be prepared for a shock: it turns out good singing makes you look a tad crazy.

Record and listen to your own voice
Just like singing into a mirror opens your eyes to how you really look when singing, recording yourself opens your ears to what you truly sound like. This can be painful, but what can I say? The truth hurts, and a big step to improving is getting a brutally honest idea of your strengths and weaknesses. You’ll likely grimace when listening to yourself, but at least you’ll know what you’re putting the rest of us through when you sing. What’s better motivation to keep practicing than that?

You are what you listen to
A lot of people who take voice lessons start out with a vocal role-model, someone who’s voice they admire and strive to sound like. Whether or not this is a good or bad thing depends, naturally, on who that happens to be. You’d be surprised how few popular singers have had any sort of vocal training.

I can already hear people thinking “But so-and-so never took any kind of music lessons and he/she sold a bazillion records!” First of all, it is possible to be a successful singer without being a good singer. Sure, a few singers have powered their way to fame with raw talent alone, but they are the exception that proves the rule. Besides, how much better would they be if they had taken lessons?

And second, in the age when computers can make Paris Hilton sound decent enough for a single, singers who you thought were really good may not actually have any significant talent to back up their fame. Listen to live recordings of your favorite artists or, better still, see them perform in person. Just make sure they aren’t lip-syncing.

Jason Campbell is a voice coach and piano teacher who blogs about all things music at IvoryMan. Book a lesson with him on The ZOEN or follow him on Facebook.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Add your comments