Category Archives: Practice


Do you have trouble getting pieces memorized? Try these techniques:

  • Write the text many times. After the first time, do not look at the book until you’ve finished the song text as well as you can. Check it, then put it away while you try again. By the time your arm starts to fall off, you will know the words pretty well.
  • Use imagery to create a picture for each phrase. If the visual scene leads from one thing to another, like a movie, it should be helpful in keeping your place in the story. This can be good for your acting, too.
  • Use odd imagery that progresses from one thing to another so that it brings up specific words. Something like four (fore) to golf ball, to world. Only you can decide what association will bring the correct word to mind. Since your mind is not on the song’s actual meaning, this may not be the ideal solution, but it might help with the initial memorization.
  • Read the text out loud and then think it through while doing some other task that doesn’t involve a lot of thought. If you sing through the song while washing dishes, you can’t look at the book every time a word escapes you, so you have to think about it and come up with the word. Go back and check it afterward if you aren’t certain, and next time that word should come more easily.
  • Stage the piece. When acting in a play the words are easier to remember because the memory is linked to a movement and the other person in the conversation. If you work out some moves that suit the text, you will remember it better, even when not doing those gestures or steps.
  • Know the song as well as possible. This includes background research, translations and familiarity with the accompaniment.

Imaging Techniques for Better Singing

Practice is the one ingredient you can not eliminate as you learn to sing. Or, to be more accurate, correct practice is the indispensable element, since practicing the wrong technique only strengthens its grip on your habits. Aside from singing correctly, though, you must train the mind to eliminate the bad mental habits that interfere with your performance.
If the gremlin in your head is always saying “I don’t want to be here, I sound terrible, I’ll never get it right,” your body will have to fight it in order to succeed. Better to have all your resources on your side!A beneficial technique when training the mind is visualization – guiding the mind through the best performance you can imagine. Such imagery can help you avoid the mental pitfalls of the piece you are working on. Say Joe usually sings easy high notes, but always balks at a particular note in a certain song, even though the note is not all that high. It could be that one time he cracked it, and expects to crack again each time he sings it. Such expectations set him up with tension and a big lack of confidence, both of which are detrimental to good singing. By repeatedly seeing himself sing that note perfectly, he begins to train his mind to expect success.There is much more to visualization than positive thinking, however. Here’s how I would suggest Joe create the images that will help him conquer the mental difficulties he has on that one note:Sit comfortably and close your eyes. Breathe softly for a few minutes until you feel relaxed. Now begin to picture your practice space. See all the items on the piano and the sick geranium in the window. Listen for the usual dogs and cars. Smell the dinner cooking. See the music of the song out in front of you and “sing” through it in real time without making a sound. Don’t rush. Make this rendition exactly as you want it to be. There’s no reason there should be any imperfections, because your imagination is not limited at all. Feel the vibrations of focus, the full breaths, and the easy flow of that difficult phrase. Repeat that phrase several times, to enjoy how easy it is.

Use as many details as possible, involving all the senses. Create the place and situation in your mind’s eye as realistically as you can. If Joe does this exercise every day, his mind will begin to accept the idea that he can sing it, and sing it well.

Another example: Perhaps you have a problem with stage fright. Imagine the room, the people, the piano introduction, and all the while you are doing everything perfectly. Even introduce something out of your control, such as a baby crying, and mentally rehearse how you will handle it. Try this with an emphasis on interpretation and acting, too.

Visualization has been used successfully by businessman and athletes at the highest levels. The U.S. Olympic Committee hires a sports psychologist (bet you didn’t know there was such a career, did you?) to teach the technique to Olympians, with positive results. A very interesting book called Thinking Body, Dancing Mind, by Chungliang Al Huang and Jerry Lynch, applies similar methods to sports and life goals. The exercises can be easily used by singers.

As a footnote, I’d like to suggest that you are defeating yourself every time you say “I can’t,” or “That was awful.” I hear these from students in lessons, and I sincerely believe that you will succeed only after you have removed this sort of negativism from your vocabulary, and consequently from your thought patterns.

So be sure you do perfect practice – not only with your voice, but with your mind, the most powerful tool you have in your journey to more beautiful singing.

Talking to Yourself

Do you talk to yourself? Sure you do. Everyone does. Maybe not out loud, but with thoughts and assumptions you’ve developed over a lot of years and become comfortable with, because it’s how you perceive yourself and the rest of the world. If you started talking out loud you’d see how silly some of your assumptions are. (“You really are stupid. You can’t do anything right.” “She hates you, of course. They all do.” “I’ll never sing as well as he does.” Or one of my favorites for many years, “I have a small voice.”)Thoughts are very powerful if you don’t recognize them. It’s like subliminal propaganda from an insidious fascist regime. We really say awful things to ourselves, and, incredibly, we believe them. By acknowledging the negative things in your mind, you can start to laugh at them and weaken their effect.

What’s that got to do with singing? Everything. Many times I’ll say to a student, “What
happened there? That note wasn’t quite right.” And the answer is, “I was thinking about the measure before it, where I screwed up.” You were singing along, thinking, “Breathe. One-and-two. Focus.” Then, “Oh! Darn! I missed the C# again! What an idiot. I always do that. I just can’t get that spot. This song is too hard. I hate it.” Notice how unyielding and judgmental this is: always, can’t, too hard, hate. In the meantime, 3 measures have passed and you were not concentrating on what you were doing. In fact, all that negative propaganda made it harder. It robbed your physical, mental and emotional resources. In
addition, singing, especially performing, takes a lot of confidence – even bravado. That was all drained from you the moment you started berating yourself for the mistake.

Obviously, improving your singing means that you must notice and take care of your mistakes. But that’s not the same as being mean to yourself. You can think,
“I need to practice that phrase more,” without putting yourself down. Then you can go on and concentrate on the next phrase.

So when beginning a new piece you should work on what is a manageable goal for you. This help you avoid taking on so much that you really can’t convince yourself it’s do-able. If you have difficulty learning the notes, do rhythms alone until they are working well, then pitches, then add the text. Sometimes you can take a short phrase that is well-learned and start to work on opening for the high note or getting the focus right. The thing is that
you can’t expect correct notes, rhythms, diction, tone, breathing and expression to all come immediately. Plan on small achievable goals so you get less frustrated. Then you are less likely to think those ugly thoughts.

Aside from the unemotional “Practice that spot more,” you can add positive phrases to boost your confidence. Try “I can do this. I enjoy performing. High notes are fun.” Even “I am a great prima donna!”  (Oh, and try to avoid  “I’m better than that guy who just sang.”)
So what if you have to pretend it at first. Say them anyway. Besides, if you stick to small  goals, it’s not hard to believe that you can do it. You may find instructional affirmations  (“Breathe deeply”) most helpful during practice, while the positive and uplifting (“I
am Luciano Pavarotti!”) work well as you get close to performance and are polishing the expression and presentation. You won’t be able to perform without those negative thoughts if you haven’t practiced replacing them.

You can’t afford a single negative thought.

Emotion and Subtext

In everyday conversation, a huge percentage of the message someone receives from you is not in your words, but in your facial expression, posture, voice inflection, speed of delivery and an infinite number of other unidentifiable factors. Anything that makes up your personality or that expresses emotion could be included. If your words were written down and read by a third person, he or she would have only a fraction of the clues to your
personality. (The transcript of most everyday conversations would be very dry and uninteresting, even though the participants may be fun people.) Behind those elements of personality is your particular way of seeing things and the thought patterns that are unique to you.When you sing a song, the audience wants to see and hear a three-dimensional character with personality, emotions, concerns and goals. If you the performer do not explore the character’s thoughts, your rendition will be no more interesting than if the audience read the text. (Perhaps less interesting, since they have turned off their imaginations in order to see what you will do with the song.)An excellent way to build your character’s personality is to write subtext in your music, along with the translation, if necessary. Subtext is what’s going on in his mind – his train of thought. If someone says, “I don’t want to,” there are many things he could be thinking, such as “No way! Not with you,” or “I’m really tired,” or “She’s trying to get her way
again, just like always.” By writing phrases like these underneath the song text and keeping them in mind as you sing, you will be helping flesh out the character.Note that there usually is no “right” subtext. There are generally several choices available. One person may see the character as spiteful, while another would rather play hurt. If it fits the text and story and works well for you, then it’s right – for now. You may decide to
change you mind later. There’s nothing wrong with that.

If acting is still new and uncomfortable to you, keep each song rather uncomplicated. Limit the subtext to things associated with only one mood, or progress from one to a second during the song. Later you can add a lot of depth to the character by employing subtext that includes thoughts and emotions unlike the surface meaning of the lyric, or even opposed to it, as in sarcasm.

Changes are also very exciting dramatically. Use changes in subtext during interludes and wherever the music seems to change. Put the new subtext before the new phrase so the audience sees the thought in your eyes first, just as people think or feel things before speaking.

Always choose an active or dynamic feeling. “I’m sad,” is hardly ever a good choice, but despair, as in, “I will kill myself since she rejected me,” is much more interesting. Rage, madness, hatred and ecstasy are emotions that will make an impression. You will probably need to use something stronger than the effect you want, at least until your acting skills develop.