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Practice Makes Perfect: An Ode to the Practice Log

Are you stuck on the same melisma? Do you have trouble scheduling practice time into your already hectic schedule? Do you need an accounta-bili-buddy for your practicing? Stop hitting your head against the wall and consider incorporating a practice journal into your practice regimen!

When I started grad school this past year, my teacher required the studio to log their practice hours and write-up some short, thoughtful reflections. I admit at first, I found this practice to be a little off-putting: “I’m in grad school. I don’t need help practicing.” But after some sulking, I discovered I was wrong - I actually began to enjoy recording my practice sessions. My log has been quite helpful in holding myself accountable and tracking my progress. Here are some useful tips for incorporating a practice log into your own routine:

1. Find a format.

Whether you log your hours and observations in a leather-bound, Etsy creation, or via Google Drive, be sure to save your notes in a centralized format. Keep it secure and readily available to you and your teacher if applicable.

2. Keep it consistent.

Consistency is key. We prefer the specific Q and A format, but you can also structure your log like a diary. Some singers include staff paper for recording specific exercises into their log. Experiment and then discover which strategy works best for you. Exercises, dates and time, and observations about challenges and triumphs in the practice room can all be included.

Here are some example questions you can include in you log:

  • The following technical concerns were a challenge this week and I addressed them as follows…

  • I focused on the following repertoire in three stages:

  1. Learning Notes/Rhythms

  2. Working Technically/Dramatically

  3. Memorizing Polishing

  • I made the most progress in the following areas this week…

These fill-in-the-blank statements provide structure and a consistent format week-to-week. If you prefer more of a free form, the diary format may be best. Just remember to remain objective and observant. Try Musicians Way for a variety of styles and structures.

As for exercises, you can print free blank staff paper on sites such as Sketch out your warm-up and cool down exercises in an cohesive, organized manner. Are you not sure where to start? Past pedagogues such as Richard Miller and Berton Coffin collected and catalogued exercises covering everything from onsets and offsets to agility exercises. Miller’s The Structure of Singing and Coffin’s Historical Vocal Pedagogy Classics are valuable resources for exercises and variations.

3. Follow Through.

Put in the effort and do it! Complete today’s log as soon as you finish your practice session. If you prefer a weekly format, jot down your observations, comments, and feelings in a separate notebook and configure your weekly log from your notes. Don’t make the mistake of waiting until the last minute to reflect on your practice hour from five Tuesdays ago. Your observations will not be as freshly engraved in your memory as today’s practice and defeats the purpose of a log.

Note: In case you're under the weather, traveling public transit, or are too vocally fatigued, you can engage in silent practice. Silent practice includes diction work, intoning speech and rhythm, dramatic research, and blocking to name a few. Access online resources such as IPA Source, The LiederNet Archive, and the Aria Database for reference in silent and audible practice. Feel free to log these types of learning in addition to your regular practice hours. You can also write down recordings you reference. This is a great opportunity to expand your listening library, boraden your tastes, and discover new artists.

4. Go back and reflect.

Humans are creatures of habit. Has a particular passage been rather troublesome the past month? Have you been tracking your progress of said practice? The solution may be found in your previous entries. Are you having a low self-esteem day? Re-read your old practice logs for a pick-me-up. Rather than dwell on challenges, reflect on how you solved a problem, your growth with a specific piece, and/or how you’ve worked through a challenging exercise. Look how far you’ve come!

5. Sharing is caring.

Feel free to share your log with your teacher, coach, or trusted fellow singer. Track your progress with them and incorporate their input into your log. Your practice log provides them with a window into how you function behind-the-scenes. A trusted colleague often notices things we miss: maybe you are stressing the wrong syllable in this one song or you are describing too much subglottal pressure in a particularly bombastic part of an aria.

Whether you’re a professionally managed singer or a freshman in college, practice logs can be valuable tools for holding yourself accountable in this hectic and crazy world. Examine what does and doesn't work in the practice room so you can be the best singer you can possibly be. Now if you excuse me, I need to get back to practicing...

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