Strategies to Motivate Practice
Updated: Dec 17, 2020
“Rome wasn’t built by you going to the gym once.” - Trixie Mattel I love that quote. Said another way - Success does not come from what you do occasionally. It comes from what you do consistently. With that in mind, it’s really hard for me to practice right now for all the reasons - I don’t want Luke to hear me practice and sound bad, I’m tired, I have no gigs so there is nothing to practice for, my neighbors probably hate me, my back hurts, I can’t make a decision about what I want to sing, I can get back in shape when things are closer to opening up, etc. Let’s change the perspective. If you want to get better at something, you have to work deliberately, focusing on small improvements just beyond what you are currently able to do, over a consistent period of time. That applies to learning anything! Understanding that consistency is the MVP motivates me to get back in the swing of things when I have dropped off for a while.5 minutes every day is better than 30 minutes once a week. Don’t get me wrong, it is totally ok to take long breaks from practicing, but they should be intentional pauses. I’ve complied a list of strategies to help motivate you to practice that have worked for me. Try them out and comment with what has worked for you!
Spruce up the space where you practice to make it more inviting and a place where you want to spend time. Add a fan, humidifier, space heater, mood lighting, comfortable piano bench, music stand, plant, paint the room. Go wild!
Link practicing with a pre-existing daily habit to create a habit chain. For instance, if you already do something every day (like brush your teeth, eat lunch, put away the dishes) practice after doing that thing. Like Pavlov’s dog, one activity becomes a trigger for the next activity.
Make practicing a luxurious experience. Light a candle, lotion your hands, moisturize your lips, make a mug of throat coat tea, put your phone on silent, steam before warming up. Enjoy the experience.
Start a practice journal. Log the date, time, 1-3 goals you would like to accomplish in the session, notes about what worked, and what needs improvement. I usually choose a technical goal (such as dictating and being present while inhaling), a session goal (such as watching myself in the mirror for a natural expression and returning my attention when it drifts to other things), a repertoire goal (such as singing through the melismatic passage and changing the rhythm on each repetition). Your goals should reflect what you would like to work on and change as you progress.
Video record yourself singing with your phone in small chunks. Rewatch immediately and choose two things that you like and two things you would like to improve. Repeat until what you see is what you want to see.
Vocalize while doing things around the house, like vacuuming, showering, folding laundry.
Get an accountability buddy (an “accountabilibuddy”). Pair up with someone else who is trying to establish a new daily habit and check in with one another at a specific time each day to make sure you’re on track. Motivate one another to be disciplined and consistent.
Create a habit tracker and keep a log of when you practice. Get curious about your habits and the factors that contribute to your successes and failures.
Join a studio class (like Anna Hashizume’s Zoom Studio Class on Thursday nights, or AOT’s Voice Lab, or Lisette Oropesa’s Masterclasses, or schedule your own get together with friends).
Watch something inspirational before practicing. Suggestions: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ikAb-NYkseI and https://vimeo.com/danielsax/thegap
Schedule a specific time to practice each day.
Read a book about technique in small chunks and try out what you read about while warming up. Suggested reading: “Your Voice: An Inside View” by Scott McCoy, “Vocal Wisdom” by Giovanni Lamperti, “Great Singers on Great Singing” by Jerome Hines, “The Naked Voice: A Wholistic Approach to Singing” by W. Stephen Smith.
Watch videos of different artists singing repertoire that you’re working on. Borrow what you like from their performance and try it out for yourself.
Try the Pomodoro Technique: Set a timer to practice for 25 minutes and then take a 5 minute break.
Commit to practicing for a short period of time (only 5 minutes) so you can build the habit of practicing without the resistant thought of I don’t want to practice it takes too long. Gradually increase the time you spend practicing once the short stints are part of your daily routine.
Work through a warm up or exercise book. Suggestion: “Vaccai: Practical Vocal Method of Italian Singing”
Create a routine for your day and schedule practicing when you are at your most productive.
Investigate your thoughts related to practicing. When you say you “should” practice, what are your reasonings? What thought or thoughts do you believe in the moment that convince you not to practice? (Your neighbors will hear? You’re tired? Don’t know what you want to sing? Not in the mood?)
Reward yourself after practicing. Watch 15 minutes of your favorite show, eat a cookie, scroll through social media for 10 min. Treat yo’ self!
Pay yourself to practice. Get a jar and each time you practice, add a quarter or a dollar or a paper clip that represents a denomination of money. Each time you practice, add one of those things into the jar. After some time, buy yourself something nice with the funds!
Read and copy down quotes that motivate and inspire you. Look through your list before practicing.
Call a friend and talk about your struggle. Ask them what strategies work for them.
Be kind to yourself. Ask yourself if you really should practice or if the idea of practicing has become a means of beating yourself up by using your inability to get yourself to practice as evidence that you are a failure. In response, I recommend the exact opposite, tell yourself that you are not allowed to practice today. Investigate what you’re telling yourself and try too to remove the emotional resistance to the task. Remind yourself that every living being has inherent worth, you included.
Write down a list of singing things you are good at, things you are improving upon, and things you would like to improve but haven’t prioritized yet.
Warm up in a character. Practicing your acting and color your voice with different emotions. How would an amorous character sing the exercise? How would a villain? Impersonate your favorite characters and have fun with it- how would Dwight Schrute sing the aria?
Listen to recordings from past lessons and take notes on what your teacher says, what you hear, and what you’d like to try when you practice.
Practicing isn’t always singing. Work on languages, IPA rules, musical skills (sight singing, ear training), piano, etc.
Is there an instrument you have always wanted to learn? Practice it before singing. Or don’t sing and just practice that instrument to get you in the habit of being in the space where you practice.
Practice singing a popular song operatically. Have fun with it!
Pick a piece of music to practice that you enjoy singing and for no other reason.
Do work on a piece besides singing: IPA, word for word translate, and subtext translate your song text, historical research, watch the full opera or listen to other compositions by the composer.
Set a rule that you are not allowed to do “so and so” until you practice. For instance, you’re not allowed to watch TV, eat cheese, check Facebook/Instagram, or read, until you have practiced that day.
Set up a daily routine that gets you in the mindset to practice. Be flexible with the methods, but stubborn with the goal. The goal being productive, focused practicing. As an example: make the bed, brush teeth, yoga, meditate, breathing exercise, warm up, practice repertoire, cool down, eat, respond to emails.
Write a quote or quotes that inspire you and stick them around your practice space.
Take a zoom lesson.
Watch YouTube videos about singing techniques.
Revisit old repertoire.
Warm up virtually with a friend and talk about your techniques.