You're practicing most days and listening to your teacher's advice, but you still find yourself struggling with a particular piece or technique. The lack of progress is disheartening and you may feel like giving up. What's going on?
Think of practice as compound interest
To borrow a concept from Warren Buffett, aim to improve your singing by 1% each day. Whilst this may seem like a negligible amount, too small to even notice, if you kept this up for one year, in theory you would have improved your singing by 37%. Obviously singing isn't objectively measurable, but this can be a useful mindset to adopt if you're feeling frustrated. Often we overstate the value of one big eureka moment in our development and undervalue the importance of tiny daily gains.
That 1% can definitely go unnoticed, especially considering the immense amount of moving parts when we sing. Singing is one of the most neural dense activities we can do as humans, and it requires an amazing amount of mind-body coordination. Many muscles are working in a fine balance to achieve efficient singing. The improvements you are making with practice could be linked with one small process of a complicated system, not immediately obvious, but still incredibly important for the whole.
One practice session won't make you a virtuoso, but a lifelong commitment to your craft will.
A 1% improvement each day is akin to 1% compound interest in the bank. Not only are you improving a little each practice session, but the improvement is multiplied each time the action is repeated. Day by day, it's unremarkable, but look back in two years and you'll be shocked by your progress.
Ok... real talk. Are you actually being regular with your practice, or are you blowing it off a little more often than you should? Be honest with yourself. Because compound interest is a double edged sword.
Much like these tiny daily gains go largely unnoticed, so does slacking off. If you're procrastinating, this video may help. Miss a few days of practice and you may not notice (although your teacher might!), but repeated misses and excuses are going to be detrimental to your progress. Much like daily 1% gains will lead you to 37% improvement after a year, missing your sessions for the same amount of time will bring you to almost 0. You get what you repeat.
Progress isn't linear
Sometimes it may feel we are practicing in vain when we aren't seeing progress. But in reality, a breakthrough can only happen as the result of all the practice you have done before. All of your many previous singing sessions build up the potential to unleash major change.
If you think about a pressure-cooker, you cannot see the pressure building inside. Just observing it on the stove, you cannot gauge how hot it is or how much pressure is within. But suddenly, the valve is released, the steam comes out, and your food is cooked. It's the silent building of pressure that made finished meal possible.
It's similar with your practice, you may not see quick results, but regardless, you need to put in these hard yards for a big jump to happen. If you're feeling a bit low about the whole process, I like the following quote, because your practice is something that is within your realm of control.
Just because you feel like giving up doesn't mean you have to give up.
Study the greats
Spend some time going down the YouTube rabbit hole of recordings of the great singers. If you're struggling with a specific piece, searching for that may be a good start. From here you can exercise diffuse or focused listening.
Diffuse listening entails listening to recordings purely for enjoyment and getting inspired. If you're banging your head against the wall in your own practice, listening to some gorgeous or exciting singing from the most iconic artists may be enough to re-motivate you and remember why you want to sing in the first place.
Focused listening, on the other hand, is much more involved. Here you will listen in great detail to a great recording and analyze it. Stop at the end of the phrase, go back, listen again. How did they shape that vowel? What did they do to prepare for that big interval jump? Videos are really wonderful in this respect too. It can be helpful if you want to examine something to slow the video to x0.5 or x0.25 in order to get a really good look at what the singer is doing. You can use this information to try out a new approach in your practice and see if it works for you.
Keep in mind that even if you are examining recordings in detail, try and diversify the material so you are studying different interpretations, lest you just end up replicating someone else.
Study your peers
Sometimes it's difficult to see our issues. We are our own instrument and we can't see what's happening inside us. Plus, our voice actually sounds different in our own head than it does to others. As a result, it can be very valuable to see teaching in action when it comes to other singers. You're in a position where you can listen more objectively to what technique is being implemented and how it is affecting their voice.
Ask your teacher if it's possible for you to sit in on other students' lessons to get an idea of how concepts you are working on sound like on another voice. Alternatively, you can attend masterclasses, or watch them on YouTube (Joyce di Donato has many of her masterclasses online).
Hearing the technique being explored externally through another voice may give you a light bulb moment which allows something in your technique to click.
Change things up
If you've tried all of this and you still feel stuck, consider switching up your education. This doesn't have to be as extreme as completely changing studios and finding a new primary voice teacher (although sometimes that does need to happen if you've learned all you can from that person, or it's simply not a good fit). You can contact a recommended teacher for a consultation lesson, sing in a masterclass, or take a short course where you will be mentored by various singers.
Each singer is completely unique, and what may work for others may not work for you, and vice versa. The work you've been doing prior isn't in vain; the same concept may be explained or demonstrated by someone else in a different way and all of a sudden it makes sense, and the practice you've already done feeds into that.
I hope you find use in these long-term and short-term strategies for overcoming the frustration of feeling like you aren't moving forward in your singing. If you fancy booking your own consultation with me, you can fill out this contact form and we can arrange a session.
Singing for Self-Care