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On The Importance Of Somewhere To Practise

A Room of One’s Own

First off, it is very important that everyone who trains their voices has, or can find, a safe space in which to practise their exercises and the songs they wish to sing. Voice training requires that you take the instruction and guidance imparted by your teacher and practise at home so as to gradually recondition old, bad habits into good, new ones. Bringing out your voice is an art of gentle persuasion.

While there are many highly beneficial exercises that are performed silently or very quietly, if you are, for some reason, inhibited from singing freely by an irate or unsupportive neighbour, housemate or spouse, it could be an obstacle to your progress. Luckily, there are usually ways around these obstacles: trying to time your workouts to coincide with someone’s absence is a good one. Timing just the noisiest parts of your workout with someone’s absence is even better. Most people, when advised of noisiness in advance, are very supportive and accommodating and will help you find a good solution (my partner often puts her headphones on when she’s working from home) but it’s something worth bearing in mind.

Should you find yourself in a position where your practice is impeded by these factors, don’t throw in the towel! Even I don’t get to sing as often, and as boisterously, as I’d like. Progress can and will be made, even with small but focussed training sessions. And while the following are not substitutes for active, attentive disciplined training sessions, life presents plenty of opportunities for exercising on the go. Washing up, showering and driving (but your attention here should prioritise not killing people) are three such opportunities that spring to mind for singing and performing less demanding vocalisations. When I’m travelling by train, I find the engine noise drowns out other passengers’ ability to hear me casually performing some quiet, but very effective vocalises. I’m actually doing some supported humming as I write this, and I’m doing so in the corner of a cafe, next to some noisy air-conditioning. Even just mindful talking can be considered practise, since your singing voice will benefit from proper breath support and consideration of pitch level and variety.

My own little Bat-cave, with accoutrements. For recording and mixing purposes, I’ve hung acoustic isolation panels on the walls (out of shot here), neutralising the room’s acoustic reflections. Since singing in a dead zone isn’t very inspiring, I reintroduce a little life and sparkle by setting up a live room mic feeding an amp or appropriate software with some medium-length reverb dialled in. I also use my loop pedal to instantly audition my performances and give myself feedback for self-critiquing (or just feeling awesome, depending on how on it I am).

If you still feel that these solutions are not enough to bridge the gaps between available workout slots, there are semi-public spaces that can be accessed for little to no cost. Local colleges may offer a space, although expect to be de-prioritised in favour of registered students. Talk to whoever runs your local community hall. These things are often out of use for big swathes of time. Even churches can sometimes accommodate this (and there you get the advantage of awesome acoustics). Live rurally? I bet there are plenty of isolated, zen-worthy spots for you to work in. What’s that? Your friend/family-member are going away and need a pet-sitter? One intensive vocal retreat coming right up!

Still not convinced? Then find yourself someone else who wants to learn alongside you. Having a study-buddy is a great way of evening the playing field, self-consciousness-wise. Also, it’s great to have a second pair of ears handy and embarking on a project together may help reinforce mutual motivation to practise.

Remember: it’s entirely natural, even in the event that x person within hearing distance is very supportive, to feel self-conscious about vocalising. It’s a time where you’re actively and non-judgmentally exploring the frailties of your voice, and that sometimes involves making some pretty embarrassing sounds. I started serious vocal training while living in shared university accommodation that had paper-thin walls. Admittedly my co-habitors’ total lack of consideration for their own noise pollution kind of gave me license to throw caution to the wind as far as they were concerned, but it still took some guts to just go for it even when I knew I sounded ridiculous. But, and this is very important: inhibition equals note death – if you fear failing a note, then you’re anticipating it, which means you’re expecting it, which means you’re less likely to commit wholeheartedly to it, which becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. Singing is a leap of faith, in more ways than one.

The good news is that if you bring yourself to jump that psychological hurdle, you’ll have brought yourself one big step closer to delivering the goods on stage. If you’re prepared to vocalise within hearing range of someone, you’re much better prepared to sing in front of an audience without crumbling under stage-fright.

Beyond this, what will you need? Just determination, ambition, drive, patience, perseverance, that sort of thing. Basically everything an annoying American motivational speaker ever put into nine steps.

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