The Singer's Toolbox: 5 Must-Haves for Happy Practicing
When it comes to developing a practice routine, it's all about finding what works for YOU. Sure, your teacher tells you want to practice and (hopefully) how to practice it, but the way you structure your practice sessions and what tools you use to accomplish your goals is up to you.
But, if you're just starting out, you might be unsure of what you need. Your teacher will certainly have some suggestions, but ultimately, it's up to you.
So, if you're wondering what you should have on hand when you practice, here are some suggestions!
A Keyboard or Piano
Whether it's a real piano, an inexpensive keyboard, or even just a piano app on your mobile device, a piano is often necessary for checking pitches in warm-ups, exercises, and repertoire. You don't need piano skills to utilize one - all you need to know is the names of the keys. If you do have piano skills, playing whole phrases can be useful when you're learning a new song.
A pitch pipe can serve the same purpose, but I find them annoying. Maybe that's just me. Just be aware that there's only one set of pitches on that thing, and you may not be able to get your pitch in the octave you want.
A Music Stand
A sturdy music stand will enable you to keep your music at eye-level and your hands free, which
means more comfortable alignment for you. If you put your music on a desk or table in front of you, you'll have to bend forward or slouch to look at it - which is no good for singing. Holding your music the whole time can also invite alignment problems, and let's face it - it can get tiring.
Make sure you get a good-quality one. They're more expensive, but worth it. Those collapsible metal ones are okay for travel, but they tend to tip over if you so much as look at them the wrong way.
Have you ever been told by your voice teacher that you're doing Weird Quirk X, and you had no idea? This is the kind of thing a large or full-length mirror can help with. You can monitor alignment, breathing, and articulator movement (jaw/tongue/etc.), as well as facial expression and body movements as you work on your dramatic interpretation.
A Recording Device
If you have a smart phone, you've got a recording device! It's often helpful to record short bits of your practice session and then play them back to see if they sound anything like you think. You can do the same thing with video-recording, especially if you're preparing for a performance. This is a useful way to hear and/or see what the audience hears and sees.
Pro tip: If you're looking for a way to monitor your progress over time, use your recorder! Record yourself at regular intervals (like once a month, for example), and after some time has passed, go back and listen to your recordings in succession to hear your progress!
A metronome is that thing that clicks the beat while you sing. Annoying, but essential if you want to work on timing, rhythm, or even just check that you're singing the right tempo for your pieces. And - you guessed it - there's an app for that!
Bonus: A Straw
Have you ever heard of straw singing? It's exactly what it sounds like. A plastic or metal soda straw will do just fine. Singing through a straw helps to relieve the vocal folds of heavy work and balance your air pressure, making for a useful warm-up or cool-down for your practice session.
A straw is just one type of SOVT (semi-occluded vocal tract) exercise, though. Some people find lip trills or humming to be just as, if not more, effective. Again, it's all about what works for you!
Bonus: Fitness Equipment
This is more individualized, but having some basic exercise equipment on hand can aid your stretching or breathing exercises, or help to release tension that builds up throughout your practice session. Tennis balls, stretchy rubber bands (like the ones you often get in physical therapy), a yoga mat, foam rollers, and light dumbbells all have their uses. Make sure you consult with your teacher or a movement specialist so you know how to use these tools properly!
What things do YOU think are essential to have on hand for effective practicing? I want to know!