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Get the most out of voice lessons

How to improve and get the most out of Voice Lessons

Voice Lessons with Monika Tiffany, The Lesson Studio Boulder

One of the questions that comes up most often from students and parents is “How do we get the most out of our lessons” and “What is the secret to improving”.

Record Your Lessons

One of the easiest ways to maximize your voice lessonsis to record parts of your lessons and use it to practice throughout the week. It can be difficult to listen to yourself at first. No one sounds the same on recordings as they do inside their own heads.

The human voice is produced through a combination of breath being forced from the lungs, the vibration of vocal folds (what people think of as vocal chords) and the sympathetic vibration of the bones and soft tissues of the body. The inner ear, which processes sound information to send to the brain, is housed an inch inside the average singers head. This means that most of what a singer hears is through the vibration of their own bones and soft tissues instead of what other people hear.

Another benefit to recording lessons is that, regardless of how good your notes are or memory might be, a recording can also show how a certain exercise improves vocal production. So, basically, if you record yourself doing exercises, like the ones at the beginning of a lesson for warm-ups, then you can hear the difference in your singing. Then, by practicing those same exercises with yourself on the recording, you can create a muscle memory of what you achieved in your lesson.

Practice Practice Practice

You get out of it what you’re willing to put into it. Meaning, if you practice what you learn in your lesson, you will improve over time.

How much practice is enough? This is another question that comes up with a lot of my students. Ideally, I would like everyone to practice a minimum of 20 minutes a day, five days a week, not counting lesson days. If you’re only practicing right before or right after your lesson, you’re not developing the muscle memory created over time. But beginners beware! If you’re a true beginner, two times a week (still not on lesson days), is plenty. You’re working up to the five days a week mark. Two days a week is plenty to start, because you’re working on building healthy habits for good vocal production.

Why haven’t I improved? Some questions to ask yourself (honestly).

  1. Are you practicing the amount of time your teacher has suggested?
  2. Do you practice with a recording of yourself or one from your teacher?
  3. Have you been practicing without any added distractions?

4: Are you practicing while standing or at least sitting up as tall as possible?

Lets break these down a little further

I’m sure you’ve noticed that every one of these start with “Are you practicing… ”. That’s not by accident. The only way to truly improve is by practicing. There is a saying that it takes 10,000 hours to master a skill. I think that’s a terrible exaggeration, but there is a nugget of truth to it. Learning something well requires time devoted to developing it correctly.

How much time did your teacher suggest you practice? If you’re one of my beginner students that would most likely be 2-3 times a week for 20 minutes each time. One reason behind this is to create a habit at a specific time on a schedule. If your lesson is on Tuesday, for example, and I’ve suggested to practice 3 times a week, maybe practice Monday, Wednesday, Friday at 4pm each time. Part of what you’re practicing is the habit of practicing. Scheduling in an activity and making it a priority is part of the point of this activity.

What are you practicing with?

This is one of the most challenging things for all of the students I’ve ever had. With the invention of the internet its extremely easy to fall into the habit of practicing with your favorite singer doing “their version” of the song you’re learning. Why is that a bad thing? It’s not bad, per se. However, often times it is in a completely different key with different rhythms and different interpretations. If I’ve given you a recording of our version in a lesson its because that is the one that I’d like for you to learn. The reason for this is often twofold.

Firstly, I generally can’t play the pop-song version of songs because I’m not an entire band and secondly, a pop singer’s recording has been edited, their breath sounds have been removed and their entire performance has been compressed and equalized. Also, if I’ve given a student sheet music it’s because I want to help them learn how to read that music and get better at that part of singing as well.

Added distractions… what?

Are you practicing without anything else going on at the same time? Voice is a little different than most other instruments. If you play the flute its possible to watch a television show and move your fingers through the fingerings for different songs at the same time. With guitar, you can mute the strings and practice strumming patterns.

Your entire body is your instrument and to “play” it correctly, you’ll need to practice without anything else going on at the same time. You need a quiet room, your recording to practice with and some time. Not a ton of time, but some.

Correct body position.

Runners don’t run with their arms waving up over their head. Swimmers don’t try to swim races with just their arms and not using their legs at all. Just like runners or swimmers, singers have to hold their bodies in a certain way to produce the best sound. If you practice with great posture, that creates better muscle memory. Better muscle memory leads to better vocal production and both of those lead to better singers.

What’s the takeaway in all of this?

Practice makes perfect. Practicing correctly and on a schedule with the recordings from your lesson will bring improvement over time. Another great byproduct of recording your lessons is that if you have a recording from an earlier lesson to compare a more recent lesson it’s easier to hear, first hand, how much you’ve really improved.