There’s a common belief that the harder you work at something the better you become at it.
Therefore, the more time I invest, the better I become.
Where this rule breaks down is in the area of physical exercise. If I bench press every day of the week, not only will I probably risk injury, my muscles will actually atrophy. In this area, working longer and harder doesn’t get you further, it sets your back.
In singing and vocalization, it’s the same concept. This is because singing is a physical exercise, involving muscles. Singing endlessly all day will not help you improve quicker. In fact, it’s likely you will expose yourself to risk of vocal damage if you overdo it.
Like exercise, singing is not just about your form/approach, but about how much.
Before we dig in to why singing too much can be bad, let’s define our terms.
Vocalization vs Warm Ups
Vocalization is defined as the “conscious act of singing for the sake of technical improvement”. This means that you are singing an exercise or a passage in a piece with the express desire to improve on some aspect. It could be the purity of a vowel, the strength of your support, the timing of your breathing, or the roundness of your top notes. You’ll need to be a good listener as well as a good mimic. Why? Check out: Why mimicking is the only way you’ll learn how to sing.
A Warm Up is like a stretch before a run. You’re not aiming to conquer some challenge, just trying to get yourself loose and flexible so you can perform well. This happens whether you are singing live or in a studio. It’s just an effective way of making sure you hit your stride once you start singing for real.
When we talk about practice, we are referring to Vocalization. This is your daily workout. While it’s true that if you warm up too heavily before a performance you will tire yourself out before you even begin performing, our focus here is that is true even when you aren’t performing in the next few hours; you will wear yourself down by singing too much during your vocalization practice.
So how much singing is too much? How do we Vocalize efficiently, maximizing growth without burnout?
It comes down to five things:
- Quality vs Quantity
- Breadth & Depth
Regular warm-ups are key to consistent progress. Aim for 20-45 minutes 5 times a week. If you skip one, just get over it and do it the next day.
Being attentive to your voice and body tells you when you are overdoing it. Do you feel tightness in your jaw, or constriction in your breathing? Does your throat hurt? Are you coming down with a cold? It’s all about knowing when to continue singing or to take a break.
Also, not singing every second of your vocalization is so important. Have a glass of water, take regular breaks for breath between scales. Don’t over-stress your voice. Sing one scale, breath, sing another, breathe, complete the set, have a glass of water. Try to model the spacing of exercises in your lesson.
Remember, when you start a set of scales low and you gradually progress to the higher notes, you are at your most tired when you are singing those high notes because you’ve already sung so many notes! Let’s remove this complicating factor, by taking breaks in between scales, so you can gauge if your tiredness in the higher registers is really because your approach is wrong or you are just fatigued.
Mental Focus. Mental Imagery. Mirrors.
Whatever it takes for you to get into gear, use it. But, don’t let it be a crutch. No one wants to be the person who starts self-conducting on stage! Whatever your particular method to engage yourself, it’s critical you are singing consciously. We are vocalizing to get better, and not just go through the motions. (NB: I don’t recommend using hand movements as focus, not just because it can build bad habits that look silly live; the goal here is internal mental focus, moving your hands can stop the right muscles engaging by shifting the effort outside of your singing musculature)
Quality vs Quantity
It’s a cliche, but it’s actually true. I say quality trumps quantity for those times when we don’t feel like vocalizing. Sometimes the thought of singing for an hour with 40 minutes of exercises followed by 20 minutes of working on a song is overwhelming, especially at the end of a long day. So, don’t do nothing. Instead, 10 minutes of exercises with real concentration can be really effective. You might surprise yourself as to what you sound like after 10 minutes of quality. It’s ok not to cover every vowel or exercise you had set out to do.
Breadth & Depth
Breadth is the range or number of vowels in a given exercise. E.g. a 2 octave range or cycling through 3 vowels (Ah, Eh, Ee) or 7 vowels (Ah, Oww,Oh, Eh, Ee, Ih, Ey).
Depth is the amount of time or focus you give to a particular part of an exercise.
How do they relate?
Let’s say I start my vocalization with an arpeggio from F3 to F4. That’s a total of 8 arpeggios as I work through the exercise. That’s breadth.
Then I decide that my Oh vowel is not in the right spot.
So I decide to do another exercise honing in on the Oh vowel, doing scales and repeating individual scales if I feel that I did not articulate the vowel to a satisfactory level. I may only do 5 scales in this exercise. So less breadth, but more depth. Breadth wasn’t the goal. I didn’t want to get tired out by singing across a wide range or a lot of vowels. Rather, I wanted to focus intently on the Oh vowel alone across a smaller range. I’ll then have a glass of water, take a couple minute break and move on to my next exercise.
There you have it. By focusing on these five things, you will avoid singing too much and will be super-efficient in obtaining maximum growth from the time you put in. You’ll avoid burnout, improve your singing faster, and as a nice side effect, you’ll also have more free time :).
What do you think? Have you experienced burnout from singing too much? Whether it’s from Vocalization or Warm Ups, we’d love to hear about your experiences. What is your ideal Vocalization time ? How often do you practice or would like to practice? Leave a comment below and let’s get talking!
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