There are so many skills that a classical singer needs to have. Honestly, the list is rather overwhelming: vocal technique, musicality, acting, languages, business savvy, poise and strength, charisma, and so on. This can be equally overwhelming for teachers who want their students to succeed in every way. There’s only so much time in a lesson, and oftentimes certain skills get overlooked.
One such skill is practicing technique. In other words, how do singers work to efficiently build their craft and prepare their repertoire? It seems like such a vital skill, yet so many singers end up learning how to practice through trial and error. While this certainly can have a particular level of effectiveness, I can’t help but think it would be easier for everyone (teachers, singers, colleagues) if singers learned how to practice efficiently and effectively early on.
This begs the question then: whose job is it to teach singers how to practice?
For the sake of this discussion, let’s talk specifically about practicing and learning repertoire. As far as practicing vocal technique goes, it seems reasonable that a voice teacher can and should incorporate this into their lessons. If a teacher gives a student a vocal exercise, they can simply tell that student to practice that exercise for a certain amount of time each day to develop a certain skill. Practicing music, however, can get tricker for the teacher as it can take away from the technical work.
Now, if we equate a musician’s practicing skills to a student’s study skills, we can then examine where learn to study. You might think that teachers in schools would teach that sort of thing. But wait! Study skills aren’t taught in school either.
It seems that learning how to learn is not a priority. Perhaps this is because most people who reach the collegiate level or beyond have already mastered a certain level of study skills, or learning how to learn just comes more naturally to them. This strikes me as a serious imbalance though, especially when it comes to music. It means that there may be promising voices out there who are falling behind because they don’t learn music as quickly, or don’t know how to prepare their scores in a way that creates an efficient rehearsal process, or for some other reason relating to a lack of practicing skills.
So if we go back to the concept of where students do learn study skills, we’ll find that while such courses aren’t taught in schools (generally speaking), private courses are often available. Just doing a quick Google search of “study skills courses” gives a variety of free and premium courses. Some institutions completely dedicate themselves to the development of study skills.
Searching for “practicing music courses”, however, is a little less effective. It seems such courses are taught at certain universities, and certain websites offer some good pointers. Yet there is still a noticeable lack of courses dedicated to the skill of practicing. This is especially true when it comes to practice for singers, since the few guides out there focus on instruments.
Ultimately, it seems that we, as a musical society, have collectively decided that it is either a singer’s job to teach themselves how to practice, or it is the job of private institutions to offer that instruction.
I really hope that right now you are thinking, “But wait a minute. Isn’t Operaversity a private institution? Why isn’t there a practicing course here?”
Actually, there is!
A Singer in the Practice Room, the course that focuses on teaching singers how to learn and practice vocal repertoire, is the first of (hopefully) many courses that Operaversity will offer. And great news about it – the date, price, and other specifics will be announced this week. So if you want to stay tuned to that, be sure to subscribe, and follow Operaversity on social media.
So rest easy teachers: I’m working to give you one less thing to worry about teaching your students. Singers, never fear: I don’t want you to have to learn how to practice all on your own. If you came into this post thinking that the answer to the question, “Whose job is it to teach singers how to practice?” would be, “Yours”, it’s not. The answer actually is, “Mine”.
How did you initially learn to practice? What elements of practice do you feel like you never really learned? Do you feel like your practicing could be more efficient or effective? What would you like to know about practicing and learning vocal repertoire? Feel free to ask anything and everything here, and I’ll be sure to add as many answers to the course as possible (if they’re not already in there)!