Singing – How Often Should I Practise?
Consistency and deliberate practise
There is a well-known quote regarding practice frequency: “If I don’t practice one day, I know it. Two days, the critics know it. Three days, the public knows it.”
Consistency is an incredibly important part of your practise routine. Regardless of what your routine is made up of, repetition is the only way to condition muscles for endurance and ensure that they will respond how you want them to in a performance environment or under stress. An average practise routine five days a week (20mins each) will do far more for your vocal development and endurance than a perfect practise routine once a week for 30 minutes. A guide for frequency and duration of practise is outlined below however the underlying thing to remember is that you are training muscles, and muscles need repetition to learn.
One way to build a new practise habit is to attach it to something else you already do, forming a ‘habit stack’. Choose an activity that you do every day already (like brushing your teeth, feeding the dog, putting your bag away when you get home) and attach the new habit to the existing one. E.g., I put my bag away and then I practise singing. If duration is a little difficult in the beginning, start with a short and sweet 2minute practise session after your chosen activity and build the duration from there.
Julia Nilon (2021)
Once a practise habit is in place you can further refine the contents of your practise to ensure that you are focused, aware and have intention for your session. Being aware of your pitch, vowels, breath, lyrics, vibrato, character etc. are some things you may focus on. This is called ‘deliberate practise’ and will improve the quality of your session overall.
How often should I practise?
Despite repetition being an important part of vocal development, how often and for how long will change depending on what level you are at. Singers at different stages with difference vocal loads will need different levels of frequency and duration. While the table below is a guideline for personal practise depending on your level of development, you may need to play with the frequency and duration that works best for you to avoid overworking.
Overworking your voice will result in fatigue and you may find it harder to sing next time due to strain or tiredness. Be realistic with your current level/endurance and if you are experiencing fatigue, choose the frequency and duration that allows you to grow without tiring you out. When setting up your practise habit remember that frequency is more important than duration and so, breaking down the duration of the practise into smaller chunks is not only a great way of preventing fatigue but will ensure that you can remain focused, increasing the quality and productivity of the session. E.g., 2 x 30min or 4x15mins sessions with a break/rest in between instead of 1hr straight. Additionally, if you haven’t sung in a little while you may need to start with shorter sessions until your endurance/stamina returns.
|Stage of Endurance/Development||How Many Times Per Week||How Long|
|Beginner (Child <13)||3||20mins (or 2 x10mins)|
|Beginner (Teen)||3||30mins (2 x 15mins)|
|Beginner (Adult)||3||30mins (2 x 15mins)|
|Intermediate (Child <13)||4-5||30mins (2x15mins)|
|Intermediate (Teen)||4-5||45mins (1x 30min + 1x 15min)|
Julia Nilon (2021)
|Intermediate (Adult)||4-5||1hr (2 x30min, or 1x30min + 2x 15min)|
|Advanced (Child <13)||5-6||45mins-1hr (1x30mins + 1x15mins, or 2x30mins)|
|Advanced (Teen)||5-6||1.5hrs (2x45mins)|
|Advanced (Adult)||5-6||1.5hrs-2hrs (2x45min + 1x30min, or 2x1hr)|
|Professional (Child)||6-7 (cycle)||1.5-2hrs (2x1hr or 1x1hr + 2x30min)|
|Professional (Teen)||6-7 (cycle)||2hrs (2x1hr, or 4x30min)|
|Professional (Adult)||6-7 (cycle)||3hrs (3x1hr or 2×1.5hrs)|
Rest and Awareness
Rest is a non-negotiable part of good singing practise. In order to maintain vocal health, it is important to schedule at least one day of rest. You might see above that the ‘professional’ frequency is 6-7days, but this may vary greatly depending on their expected vocal load (rehearsals, performances, sound checks, tours etc.). Professionals may work in ‘cycles’ rather than ‘weeks’ meaning that they should take a day (or even two days!) off every 6-7 days depending on the cycle. Rest and recovery are a critical part of looking after your voice and as the situation for each singer may be different your personal awareness of your vocal function plays a key role. A rock vocalist may have a different vocal load than that of a musical theatre performer so be aware of the following during your practise:
- Am I getting through my songs without fatigue/strain?
- Was I able to concentrate the entire duration of the session?
- Am I workshopping or am I maintaining a skill in this session? And, If I am workshopping, do I feel that I improved something?
- Were there moments of strain? Is my neck red from pressure? Did something feel wrong? Does anything hurt?
- Was there anything that felt really good? (return to that feeling as soon as you can).
- Will my current frequency/duration allow me to keep up with my repertoire/skill development or maintenance while balancing the rest of my vocal load?
Julia Nilon (2021)
Depending on your answers to the above you may need to discuss your current vocal load with your teacher or coach and/or modify you practise routine.
Things to Remember:
- Singing is a muscular activity that needs repetition to learn and condition new skills.
- Consistency is important. You can set up a practise habit by stacking on top of an existing habit.
- Deliberate practise that is focused, aware and has intent will improve the quality of your practise session and the quality of your singing.
- Frequency is more important than duration. Select a frequency and duration that will meet your vocal needs/level based on the guide.
- Break your sessions into smaller chunks to avoid fatigue and be realistic with your current level.
- Rest is incredibly important for your vocal development. Ensure that a day of rest is scheduled into your practise routine.
- Be aware of your voice and willing to modify your routine should you be experiencing fatigue/not reaching your goals or, alternatively, as your stamina/ability to concentrate improves you may find yourself increasing the frequency and duration of your sessions. Developing your singing skills is a journey of vocal conditioning. A solid practise routine will aid you greatly in reaching your goals and maintaining a healthy voice so find the right frequency for you! Happy Practising!
Julia Nilon (2021)