If you’re struggling with a student who is a serial shirker when it comes to practising, try these singing practice strategies.
There’s one frustration that every singing teacher comes across at some point in their career: the student who just won’t practise.
We’re not talking about the occasional hiccup when work, study or life gets in the way (things happen; we’re all human).
But what can you do when – despite your best efforts to encourage and persuade – a student consistently fails to practise?
We put this question to BAST founder Line Hilton on the Singing Teachers Talk podcast. Not only is Line an experienced vocal coach, but she’s also a trained hypnotherapist who specialises in helping people build resilience and overcome limiting beliefs.
But before we look at Line’s recommended singing practice strategies, it’s worth dealing with another question first.
How often should a singer practise?
Somewhere between four to six sessions a week is ideal, according to Line, but it’s highly dependent on the singer.
“Some people need to warm up for a lot longer than others,” Line says. “You also have to consider the student’s overall vocal load, especially if they use their voice at work a lot or are regularly gigging.”
Importantly, practice sessions don’t have to be long: in fact, extended periods of practice where the singer is doing the same thing on repeat may do more harm than good.
Five Singing Practice Strategies
Sit down and discuss the issue with your student. (Obviously, this is easier to do with older students, as opposed to children.) “Sometimes I’ve said to a student, ‘we’re not going to do any singing today; we’re going to try and get to the bottom of this’,” Line says.
Is the problem environmental? Perhaps the student has issues at home with neighbours or flatmates who complain about noise. Other culprits could be time management or mindset. If it’s the latter, the student will need to address the underlying belief – such as a fear of failure or a sense that they’re just not good enough – holding them back.
Help your students to understand the purpose and relevance of the exercises that you’ve set for them. They may have these lofty dreams of belting like their favourite singer and not understand how exercises such as arpeggios or trills will help them take them a step closer to achieving their goals.
3 Focus on progress
A student may feel like they’ve hit a brick wall with their singing and underestimate just how far they’ve come over time. Listen back to recordings of the singer from six months or a year ago and point out how they’ve progressed.
As you’ve probably figured out already, it’s no good simply telling a student what they should do. This can create an oppositional response, where the student digs their heels in. It’s much better if the student acknowledges they’ll benefit from a consistent practice routine and commits to doing a certain amount of work each week.
5 Encourage interleaving
Interleaving has been shown in several studies to be an effective practice strategy. So what is it? Instead of approaching something sequentially, it involves rearranging the order in which you would typically do things. So, in place of doing someone over and over the same way (and getting comfortable), you introduce an element of variability to help focus your awareness and intentions. To learn more, here’s an article on interleaving by musician and performance psychologist Dr Christine Carter from the Bulletproof Musician website.
And if all else fails
Don’t blame yourself. “All you can do is open the door,” Line says. “The rest of the work is down to them. You can’t do it for them.
“It’s also possible that the student views their weekly lesson as their ‘practice session’. Once you acknowledge that the lesson is essentially their practice session and adjust your expectations, it can make teaching much more enjoyable. Even by coming once a week to singing lessons, many students will progress.”
Listen to the full interview with Line where she also discusses:
- Why practice is essential when learning a skill such as singing.
- What constitutes deliberate practice.
- How we often get it wrong when identifying what’s truly motivating our students.
If you’d like to learn more about teaching strategies and how to demonstrate vocal technique, why not study with BAST Training. Take a look at our training courses and sign up today.