Making the Most of Practice Time

One of the keys to success for any singing actor is an effective practice habit. The ability to practice frequently and productively is an essential skill, but one that requires cultivation. In fact, I would go so far to say that cultivating this skill is the single most important thing you can do to make progress toward mastery of the art of singing acting.

Singing actors are no different than instrumentalists, dancers or athletes when it comes to the development of technique. You have to “train to gain” – put in the time if you expect to make progress. Whether or not you subscribe to the validity of Malcolm Gladwell’s “10,000 hour rule,” based on research that has shown it takes that many hours of practice to achieve mastery in any particular field, the unarguable fact is that you won’t improve if you don’t put in significant amounts of time. During this semester, my expectation is that you will spend a minimum 90 minutes in the practice room – three 30-minute sessions per week – and that you will use the online practice log to document your practice time.

Of course, what you do with that time is also terribly important. It is crucial that you learn to practice with purpose in order to achieve meaningful gains. Your practice must be deliberate – persistent training in which you give your full concentration rather than just your time. Psychologist Daniel Goleman’s recently published book Focus, the subject of a recent post in the blog Brain Pickings, delves into the idea of deliberate practice, and offers ways to tweak your practicing for greater effectiveness.

Performance psychologist Dr. Noa Kageyama considers the question of how (and how long) to practice on his blog, The Bulletproof Musician. Dr. Kageyama endorses Goleman’s idea of deliberate practice. He recommends keeping practice sessions short and planning them for times in the day when you have good energy and clarity. He recommends establishing goals for your practice sessions, and using a notebook to keep track of those goals as a way of becoming more mindful about your practicing. In his view, we need to learn to practice smarter, not harder, using problem-solving strategies that he describes in his post.

“When most musicians sit down to practice, they play the parts of pieces they’re good at. … But expert musicians focus on the parts that are hard, the parts they haven’t yet mastered. The way to get better at a skills is to force us to practice just beyond your limits.” This advice comes from an interview with author Joshua Foer, whose book Moonwalking With Einstein is an account of his personal foray into the cultivation of mastery. You can read about Foer’s ideas at the challenge of getting past the “OK plateau” here, and view his TED talk and learn more about his experiences at www.joshuafoer.com.

The SAVI online practice log you will be using provides a way to record your goals at the beginning of a practice session and reflect on the quality of your work at the end of the session. In addition, it is designed to increase your awareness of the three different types of work that singing actors should do in the practice room:

1. Conditioning. This is the equivalent of the work that an athlete does in the workout room and the drills that a musician does to build skill, strength and coordination. In class, you will learn a variety of exercises you can do in the “behavior gym” part of your practice session.

2. Exploring. When preparing repertoire for performance, you need to investigate all your options for bringing technique and creativity to your work. In class, you will be introduced to procedures that will inspire you to explore your work more thoroughly and imaginatively.

3. Crafting. In the final stages of preparing repertoire for performance, you will want to finalize your choices and coordinate and polish your execution of those choices.

The quantity and quality of your practicing will count for 25% of your grade in my class. The online practice log gives you the chance to fine-tune your practice room habits, and documents your practice room experiences in a way that will enable to compare your work in the practice room with that of your classmates.

NEXT: “Train to Gain”

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18 Comments

  1. I agree with the three-step practice process and I try to follow the idea of warming up (vocally and emotionally/physically), actually working, and solidifying ideas. I love the analogy in the beginning that says that singing is no different from sports and instrumental work, because singing is a sensitive and difficult talent that must be preserved and taken care of well. It is easy to equate practice time with productivity, when really quality is better than quantity, even though both go hand in hand. The “OK Plateau” link was useful because after practicing for a while, I do tend to go into auto pilot and it has a negative effect. It is good to use those moments as advantages and let all the worries go away and just let the performing happen naturally. Instead of looking at this plateau as a time to stop, I’ll use it as a time to improve naturally by just enjoying the music and performing.

  2. After reading this and being in the practice rooms three times this past week, I do find it to be very helpful. After reading this, I realized that when you are in the practice room, there are three different types of work for singing actors which is, conditioning, exploring, and crafting. With that being said, after clicking on Malcolm Gladwell’s “10,000 hour rule,” I found that those similar types of work appeared among the most successful people he talks about. Lastly, one of the things I really liked that was mentioned in this article, was to keep track of your goals in a notebook and be constantly mindful when working in the practice rooms.

  3. I also couldn’t agree more with Daniel Goleman’s theory of having a deliberate practice session. I believe that the only way to truly get better at something is to have a motive and a plan of attack , whether that be a certain part of a song that you cant quite get right or finding the meaning to a song that works for you so that you can apply the proper actions and emotions. Although I would love the think that I apply this rule to my practice sessions I know that I honestly don’t most of the times but now that I have this information and the use of the practice log, I am more inclined to pick a specific thing that I would like to work on every time I practice to improve on. I also found the 3 different types of work that a singer should use while practicing to be very helpful. Breaking the elements down into three categories makes it easier to actually apply them. In the following weeks I plan on using these three elements in my 90 minutes a week practice time.

  4. Practicing has always been something really important for me, but after reading this is has even opened my eyes even more. to practice smarter, not harder, really stood out to me and is something i need to learn to do. I loved how being a singing actor is compared to playing in instrument or playing a sport or dancing. Because we do need to train ourselves and not get lazy with our work, we need to work for what we want to be. practicing with purpose is another thing that really stood out to me. you should know what you want to improve on and what you want to get better at. What is every true and I confess to do a lot is work on parts of the song i already have down, but i should be doing the more challenging part to master it. I will working and practicing all the time!

  5. I find this article very helpful. I have been working in the practice rooms in a sort of goalless way. After reading this I feel like I can really plan out what I want to accomplish before a practice session. I find Malcolm Gladwell’s 10,000 hour rule to be true and important to anyone wanting to become a master of their craft, as all of us do. I really enjoyed (and can’t wait to use) the three step process of how we should be working. It really gives a useful structure to what used to be a free slot of time that was mostly spent thinking about what I can do to make this better. With these steps combined with what we are learning in class, I feel confident that I will see improvement and get more comfortable with this technique.

  6. I highly agree with the three-step practice process. I feel it is just as important to work on your singing as well as your acting and/or dancing for this business. Practicing 90 minutes every week on what you want to do for your career should be painless and easy. Applying the three steps provided above will not only enhance your practicing but your over-all performance (which is what we’re trying to perfect, yes?). When I go in to practice next, I will try new tactics and ways to deliver lines, I will work on the singing technique I am being taught in my voice lessons, and I will start to find choices that work with the way I want to perform the song.

  7. After reading this article I found that I agreed with the three types of work a singing actor should do in a practice room. Conditioning, exploring, and crafting were great ways to understand and process what I needed to accomplish during my practice sessions. I also found it extremely helpful to establish goals for your practice sessions and to keep a journal of those sessions. I had never done that before and I think it will help further my training. Lastly, I found it interesting and pretty logical to keep practices short and to plan them for times in the day when I have good energy and clarity. Its so simple and logical, but I had never thought to practice that way.

  8. I’ve always struggled with the idea of what it means to practice, and I’ve always thought that I don’t do it correctly. And, after reading this article, I know for sure that I don’t. But this past week I started to fill out practice logs. And I love the ideas of exploring, conditioning, and crafting. I usually don’t do much warming up when rehearsing on my own, which makes no sense! After reading this, I tried to warm up before practicing today. I’m excited to learn more conditioning exercises. I also really appreciated Dr. Noa Kageyama’s insights; “We tend to practice unconsciously, and then end up trying to perform consciously…” I also attempted to engage my brain more while rehearsing; I tried to think about the intention behind the lyrics and the notes themselves.
    I found this article to be informative, and I look forward to learning more and to changing the way I practice.

  9. A singer actor should have to work just as hard to condition their instrument, like an athlete who works out their body. Practice defines the hard working artist, and there are certain ways to achieve this. However it is hard to discover what practice routine is most effective. This article really highlights some excellent points on how to go about practicing successfully. I really enjoyed learning how planning short practice periods at certain times in the day when you have the most energy, is most effective. These periods should be around a half hour each, with specific goals kept in mind, totaling up close to 90 minutes a week. Vocally, the parts that come most natural shouldn’t be the ones targeted in practice even though they are the most enjoyable. Also these practice periods should not just be the technical singing, but crafting the acting as well. I love the term ‘OK plateau’ since its something that all singer actors have experienced. Reaching a point where the work is good enough, but still lacking everything it could have been if all the proper work was put it. I personally feel like I have done this plenty of times, but I am determined to move past it from now on.

  10. This reading has been helpful to my understanding of how to practice. I have previous knowledge of similar techniques from my years of piano lessons prior to coming to college, and it has occurred to me that for best results I should practice singing the same way I practice the piano. I also found interesting the remark made in Dr. Noa Kageyama’s blog about practicing with our minds. It is so easy to go into a practice room for half an hour and just sing mindlessly through my songs, but of course I gain nothing from that. I will definitely be working on applying all of these qualities and techniques to my future practice more so than I do now.

  11. When practicing, I tend to fall into the rut of practicing what I enjoy singing and doing rather then working to improve my harder pieces or difficult parts. My practice discipline is incredibly weak in the sense that I practice a song randomly, when I feel like it rather then working at a steady pace. The 90 minute a week requirement will definitely push me in the direction I need to go to become a better singer actor. I think part of my practice problem is that I don’t know the efficient way to practice. After reading this article and seeing the outline of Conditioning, Exploring, and Crafting, by following these steps I’ll have a more stable and definite way to practice. A lot of the time when I decide to try and practice it is not my main focus and I’m either tired or hungry or something else. I agree with Dr. Kageyama’s recommendation of “keeping practice sessions short and planning them for times in the day when you have good energy and clarity.” With these new bullet points to guide my practice, I’ll be sure to have more successful times.

  12. When reading this I can agree that I will go back to pieces that I can succeed at because they are part of my comfort zone. Also I feel like making more precise goals would help my practice time explore singing techniques and character ideas that I didn’t realize. I should stay out of auto pilot. The link to Foer’s ideas really helped explain the phases of awareness when practicing, I especially like the idea of purposely making mistakes to correct yourself and stay in the cognitive phase.

  13. This is an incredibly helpful article. I did not practice last semester nearly as much as I should have because I just didn’t set aside time in my day to do it. This article has helped me see how important it is the find a quiet space for a half an hour and really practice. Time to go through my music and make solid bold choices in private so I can mess up and perfect them. I am going to schedule time in my week now to really encourage myself to practice as much as I need to be.

  14. I agree very much about finding time to practice especially with singing acting because so much concentration falls into this. There is very much to think about when it comes to trying to stay on pitch and remember the words and act them out at the same time. My biggest problem is connection while I’m singing so I have been practicing a lot on my craft of staying connected with the music and trying to find a personal connection instead of just trying to sound good like I am used to doing. Even watching the videos of myself singing I learned of bad habits that I do while singing that I must practice not too because it does not look pleasant at all. So reading this article definitely reassured me of much work I need to put in while practicing.

  15. After reading this I realized that the three step practicing process is probably one of the most effective ways to iron out a song and get it to its most raw and truthful form. Conditioning, exploring, and crafting are three very helpful steps to follow while rehearsing and molding a performance. Something I read that I never thought of before is the point that when we practice we like to go over the things that we are good at, leaving the parts that they haven’t mastered yet for later down the road. When I practice, I usually do perform the songs that I think I do best. This really made me reconsider my rehearsal process and how to approach the material that I am given so that I can become a more focused performer during my rehearsal time.

  16. Practice makes perfect, but only if you practice the right way. This article helped me to know what the right way is. I often find myself practicing my favorite parts of songs, or my favorite songs, this is often because I am good at them. But, if I want to get better I have to practice what I am not good at, and not be afraid to leave my comfort zone. I really liked the quote “practice smarter not harder”. You could spend every spare second in the practice room but if you aren’t practicing strategically and using your energy productively, you will be wasting your time. I like the simplicity of the three parts of practicing. All you need to do if you are lost is remember, conditioning, exploring and crafting. These will help me make the best use of my practice sessions.

  17. Relating athletic training to singer actor work is crucial. It forces us to be more dedicated, and routined in practicing our work. The guidelines are helpful, because if we do not have a set of goals when we begin our practice it will not be effective. I am grateful for the structure, and policy you have given us for rehearsal time , because it is a push in the best direction!

  18. I think the best thing about the structure behind this practice model is it holds you accountable. I know I am now practicing SO much more than first semester…but that’s because practicing hasn’t become so vague. You walk into the tiny room alone with the piano, and without a real plan last semester it would be really easy to get distracted and not really know what to do next. Before I would go to the practice rooms when I definitely needed to learn something, but at that point, you only have time to do the bare minimum and the step of exploration is completely lost, and it is that exportation in recent practice settings that I find to be the most fulfilling. The most exciting results also come from exploring. Having this structure creates an incentive to go back, which is the most important thing for actual progress.

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