If practice is left for any odd minutes when you do not particularly want to do anything else, you will never get very far.Dame Nellie Melba, Melba Method, page 14.
During Covid-19 I have begun the steps to transform myself into a coloratura soprano, mainly for the purpose of retraining myself into the 19th Century Old Italian School of Singing Methods. My reasoning is that this repertoire will sound hideous unless I fully understand the techniques I have fudged over or disregarded in the past. Accordingly, I have worked long hours in the singing studio. Let’s face it – we have all had a lot of time on our hands during Lockdown and here in South Africa I am fortunate I have the space to rehearse without driving neighbours insane.
The question is: how much practice is too much?
The great singers of the past have advice in this regard.
Your practice should be divided into periods of actual singing. At first they should be very short, not more than five minutes at a time, gradually working up to twenty minutes. Three periods of twenty minutes each are enough for any student.
But the time of study, apart from actual singing, should extend over several hours daily. How are you to find the real meaning of the words of a song unless they are read over many times, both silently and aloud?…[the] accompaniment should be studied…[memorise] silently…[a]bove all, watch yourself in the mirror as you practise…[p]ractice breathing exercises every day, and remember that you must continue to do so as long as you sing.Dame Nellie Melba, Melba Method, page 14.
This website is part of my three year study to become a singing teacher. The project is affectionally named ‘The Lilli Lehmann Project’. Lilli Lehmann also discusses the length of practice sessions in her book ‘How to Sing’. She advises the voice should be fresh to sing the next day.
My opinion is that freshness can be maintained, even with hours of practice, so long as the day is divided as Melba suggests. In this respect, we can use the timer on our iPhone to ensure we do not over sing. For example, when the 20 minutes of vocalising is complete we can then devote our time to studying. There is plenty to study. This is what Garcia has to say on the matter.
The special education of a singer comprises not only the study of solfeggio but that of some musical instrument, especially the pianoforte, of vocal music, and of harmony as a science. The last enables him to adapt songs and parts he has to execute, to the compass and character of his voice, – to embellish them, and bring out their peculiar beauties.Manuel Garcia, The Art of Singing, page 4.
Another useful tool is to keep a diary. Every day should be pre-planned with the exercises and repertoire to be rehearsed, including priorities and time limits which brings me to the end of this post. It is time to begin my practice, starting with the breathing as Melba suggests!