We know that practice involves lots of repetition of varying specific technical exercises in order to improve our singing technique. We know that we can become more efficient at practicing by setting goals and creating a plan to reach those goals. We also know that even if we have no voice or are unable to physically sing for any reason, there are still at least three ways we can practice silently.
However, there is so much other work we as singers must do besides the actual singing. In my book, doing any of the following counts as practice time.
1. Translation Work
Do your own word-by-word translations using a dictionary or consult an available library resource (whassup, Nico Castel!). Make copies to place in your voice binder along with the piece, or choose to write them directly into the score. You can usually find both literal and poetic translations of many pieces, but I sometimes like to put things into my own colloquial translation to help me connect to the text even more.
2. Historical Research
Research the poet/librettist and his or her time period. Learn about the life circumstances of the composer at the time they wrote the piece. Learn about the historical events or physical landmarks referenced in the text. Research the time period in which the work is set, as this will inform your character research and help you gain a deeper understanding of the entire libretto. You may want to use some of this time to research the work itself, how it fared at its premiere or any notable performances, for example. If the piece is based on another historical source, track that down and give it a read!
3. Character Research
Start by finding clues in the score to start fleshing out your character. What are the relationships with other characters in the work? Consult the original source, if it exists. Is your character similar or radically different? Are there clues in the original source that flesh out any character traits that the musical score or libretto doesn’t indicate? You can also use your historical research of the piece to learn more about how your character should act. After your research, make personal choices about any character traits that are not explicitly stated in any original source.
4. Repertoire Research
Spend some time surfing YouTube or other streaming services to find rep you like. Start with singers that sing the same kind of rep that you do, then let the YouTube rabbit hole take over. You may want to take time to email a few trusted friends or teachers and ask if they have any repertoire recommendations for you. As you go, keep a repertoire ideas list of the pieces you find interesting.
5. Put Together a Recital Program
I’m not talking about planning an actual recital here. No need to find a venue or worry about no one coming (wait… is that just me?). Use your repertoire ideas list to put together a sample recital program or two to have at the ready. Why not do it now and have it ready to go in case opportunity comes knocking? If your rep ideas list doesn’t come together into a perfect recital program, use more repertoire research time to find pieces to fill in the gaps.
6. Create Program Notes
If you have a recital offering coming up (or want to do this for one of your sample recitals you have created), put some program notes down on paper. No one likes to do this at the last minute when you’re worried about all the other aspects of your recital. Use your background research to make writing these notes a little easier.
7. Plan Out Your Practice Time
A good practice plan is the best way to make sure you stay on track to achieve your musical goals, big and small. My practicing habits changed completely when I started becoming accountable to myself by making these plans. It’s kind of like meal prepping when you’re on a diet – you are far less likely to fall of the wagon if you have a plan ahead of time for what you’re going to eat… I mean, practice.
8. Updating Your Materials
Make it a habit to regularly updating your resume/CV, rep list, and website. I find it helpful to set a reminder for myself to do this once per month. A month is a decent chunk of time to wait between updates. It is just enough time to do at least one or two things to add to the resume, but not so long that you can’t remember all of the awesome things you have done. I’ve waited too long before. It’s overwhelming. Baby, don’t do it.
Have I left anything out? What other non-singing practicing activities do you do? Leave a comment and let me know!