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Back to School, Back to Singing!

Can you believe it’s Labor Day weekend already?! Even here in Southern California, I already see subtle shifts in the seasons— the days are growing shorter, the quality of the sunlight is changing, and the hot summer is finally cooling off a bit. I even hear football fans cheering in the high school stadium near my home, a sure sign that fall is just around the corner. But the biggest event for most of us? It’s Back-to-School time, and that also means back to singing!

Whether you’re a student literally going back to school, a chorister staring choir rehearsals again, or you’re auditioning for a fall musical or upcoming holiday program (yes, I already saw a Christmas ad today!), this time of year means new beginnings, and a new focus on your singing. I’ve spent most of my life either as a student or teacher, so I always feel that back-to-school anticipation as September draws near. Whether it’s you, your child, or other family members going back to school or other “summer is over” activities, this time of year marks a fresh chance to get back into the swing of singing!

How do you make the most of this unique season and opportunity to reboot your vocal life? Here are a few helpful ideas:

  • Revisit or set new singing goals. Take a pad and paper, get some quiet time to think, and start writing out specifically what you want to achieve with regard to your singing. Work backwards. If your one-year goal is to successfully audition for a specific group by year’s end, begin with that. Then, write your objectives— what you will do each month and week to work toward that goal? For example, list taking four voice lessons each month, and practicing for a half hour five times a week. The first week or month of your plan, the objective could simply be doing research to find the right voice teacher for you. See my post: How to Find the Right Voice Teacher for You, Part 2: Where do I look to find a quality teacher? Any goal can be made manageable and more attainable by breaking it down into smaller parts, and holding yourself to daily, weekly and monthly tasks will get you there!
  • Buy a planner. Get an old-school planner that you write in every day, week and month to stay organized and motivated. There are so many out there, and the key is to find the one that suits your needs and tastes, so that using it will be a pleasure! It will be an invaluable aid to keep your schedule, your goals and objectives, and any other needed information right at hand. That spells success!
  • Research career/program/audition requirements. Many of the college students and private students I work with are very vague about their singing goals, and/or what it takes to be successful as a singer in both the academic and professional worlds. My answer to them—research, research, research! There is a ton of information online at any school or college voice department about what their program offers, what must be done to successfully complete it, and what you have to do to be accepted in in the first place! Likewise, read audition notices carefully, and make sure that you are prepared for whatever that choir, musical production or band is looking for. If you are doing your own recording project, make sure you research all the personnel, equipment and expenses involved. In all cases, ask questions! Call people, interview them, get their advice and input. You can’t ask too many questions on the road to success.
  • Get the right supplies. Right along with your planner, take stock of what supplies can help you as you begin your singing journey again this fall. If you are going back to school, do you have all the pens and pencils, paper, notebooks, and textbooks that are required for school? I am astounded every semester at how many college students show up to school without even a pen or paper at hand! And what about your music supplies? Do you need blank staff paper, a music stand, a recorder, sheet music for songs you are working on? Again, having the right supplies makes all the difference!
  • Take voice lessons. Whether you qualify for one-on-one lessons at a college or school (called Applied Voice Lessons), or you are seeking to study privately outside of an academic institution, STUDY! A great teacher can guide you to new heights of vocal success and performing confidence. Yes, a good voice teacher can be pricey, but even if you can’t afford to have a singing lesson every week, some teachers (like myself) will see you every other week, or even less frequently if necessary. I always say that a little targeted voice instruction is better than none, and it can be worth its weight in gold…
  • Schedule practice time! Get out that planner and block out times to practice regularly every week. Those lessons you are paying for (or a voice class you are taking at a school) are only the tip of the iceberg. The magic happens when you practice. See my previous post: How to Find Time to Practice Singing— Even When You Don’t Have Time!
  • Review and renew your health goals. Singing is a total-body, lifestyle experience. Your voice does not exist in a vacuum. How you eat, sleep and exercise, combined with your lifestyle choices, stress and any health concerns you may have, can make or break your singing. Now is the time to restart that healthy eating plan, or commit to getting more sleep. And, if you have ongoing vocal problems, SEE A LARYNGOLOGIST. I am often frustrated by singers who refuse to get a vocal checkup, even when they have obvious nagging issues with their speaking or singing voice. Having good singing technique can help, but there is no substitute for healthy vocal cords, and a healthy respiratory system and vocal tract. (If lack of insurance coverage is the issue, ask the doctor if he will see cash patients. Many do, and for a greatly-reduced fee).

So, do enjoy the last lazy days of summer, but then start off on a new and exciting path as this back-to-school season begins. With the above tips and renewed energy, it’s time to make your singing dreams a reality.  Ready… set… sing!

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