HOW TO PRACTICE SOLO

GETTING SET-UP

RECOMMENDED TOOLS

A METRONOME

  • Use GOOGLE's metronome (google "metronome")

  • Download a metronome app (I use THIS ONE because it is simple, because I like it's ability to go up incrementally by 1 bpm, and because it has sounds that don't drive me insane.) It used to be free, but looks like it is now $0.99

  • Get an "old fashioned", free-standing metronome

A TUNER

  • I use CLEARTUNE (one of the early pioneers in tuning apps that allows you to use all sorts of different temperaments which is awesome for early music performers.) It costs $3.99 on the App Store.

  • Get an "old fashioned", free-standing tuner

A KEYBOARD

  • A guitar, violin, viola, cello, or bass also work to give/check pitches from

  • If you don't have a physical keyboard, use an online one.

A MUSIC STAND

  • To help with posture so that your eyes/back are not looking down at your books

A QUIET SPACE

  • If possible, so that you can hear yourself, inside your head, and outside your head

 
 

REMINDERS

THINGS TO CONSIDER​

  1. Be patient - ear training is a long and cumulative process. The material cannot be mastered in a day or a week, but takes months and years. Think about ear training like learning a language, or going to the gym. TIME is necessary in order to see results.

  2. Set up a reasonable schedule for yourself/your life.

  3. STICK TO IT!

  4. Work a little each day. 15 minutes a day adds up to an hour and 45 minutes for the week. Be disciplined.

  5. Know what you are going to work on before you sit down.

    1. Structure your practice and have a plan before you begin.

  6. Develop a routine (but change it up every now and then so that it doesn't stagnate.)

  7. Record yourself (video/audio) and listen back. Critique yourself and tape yourself again, implementing the observations you made.

  8. Perform in front of others (family members, pets, over facetime to friends).

  9. Work with a partner (over facetime can be great)

  10. Test your "la" each time you sit down to practice.

  11. Apply your ear training skills and work to pieces you are interested in learning - analyse them, looking at their intervals, form, etc.

  12. LISTEN - to as much music as you can!

 

SAMPLE PRACTICE PLAN

  1. Warm up your voice by speaking your solfege in scales, 3rds, and 5ths while conducting in 4

  2. Sing la - check with piano or tuner to see

  3. Sing 5432171 in circle of 5ths to warm up your voice

  4. Practice singing intervals - check your pitch AFTER you've sung the interval

  5. Choose one of the following to work on for the day:

    1. Sight sing in Modus Vetus, checking back your pitch AFTER you've sung it

    2. Practice Starer

    3. Practice Dandelot - *try Dandelot on your instrument in a clef that is less familiar to you (if you're a violinist, try bass or alto clef etc.)

  6.  Do a round of key signature flash cards. Use THIS pdf (print it out double sided, and voila! flashcards!)

  7. Review the difference between Major, Natural, Harmonic, and Melodic minor scales

    1. Sing a note "chunk" with all the variations (ie. Do Major/Do natural minor/Do harmonic minor/Do melodic minor.) Do a different chunk each day

  8. Review how each triad is build

    1. Sing a triad "chunk" (i.e. Do Major/Do minor/Do diminished/Do augmented (you can also add dominant seventh/major seventh/minor seventh, etc.)​

  9. Do a round of harmonic intervals or triads

  10. Feel comfortable sight reading Starer (slowly)

  11. Review your Dandelot so that Treble and Bass clefs feel comfortable. Add Alto, Tenor, Soprano, Mezzo, and Baritone clefs as desired.

  12. Play music! Sing, play the piano, or any instrument.  The more practical application you have the better! 

 

PRACTICING SOLFEGE

Practice in SCALES, THIRDS, AND FIFTHS

Conducting in 4

  1. Pick a tempo that will stay consistent for the scales, thirds, and fifths

    1. Practice with and without a metronome

  2. Practice starting on a different note each day

  3. Vary whether you start with ascending, or descending, the pattern each day.

 

SCALES, 2 octaves (2 syllables per beat)

  • Conduct in 4

  • Pick any Solfege syllable

  • Go up two octaves with each syllable getting the value of half a beat.

Do re mi fa so la si do  x2, come down

Re do si la sol fa mi re

Mi fa sol la si do re mi

Fa mi re do si la sol fa

Sol la si do re mi fa sol

La sol fa mi re do si la

Si do re mi fa so la si

Do si la sol fa mi re Do

 

THIRDS, 2 octaves (1 syllable per beat)

  • Conduct in 4

  • Pick any Solfege syllable

  • Go up two octaves skipping every other syllable in the scale with each syllable getting the value of a beat.

Do - mi - sol - si - re - fa - la - Do - Do - la - fa - re - si - sol - mi - Do

 

FIFTHS, 4 octaves (2 beats per syllable)

  • Conduct in 4

  • Pick any Solfege syllable

  • Go up four octaves skipping every other third with each syllable getting the value of two beats.

Do  -    -  sol  -   -  re  -   -  la  -   -  mi  -   -  si   -   - fa  -   -  Do

 

PRACTICING INTERVALS

SINGING INTERVALS

You can practice singing your intervals whether you have a piano (or guitar, or string instrument) to aid you or not. (Unfortunately it is hard to practice these with a wind instrument as you will need to sing and play in quick succession. If you don't have an instrument at home, use an ONLINE PIANO.)

  1. Get your instrument set up (if it is a string instrument make sure it is in tune.)

  2. Decide what you are going to work on (limiting what you are practicing is key to make sure you are not throwing all possibilities at yourself at once.)

  3. Pick your starting note (I like to start with A=440 to test my pitch recollection of that note.)

  4. Sing the desired interval above or below your first note (do not play the note on the piano/guitar/etc. until AFTER you have sung the desired pitch.)

  5. Make any necessary corrections.

  6. Continue steps 4-5 from the note you are currently on.

Tips:

  • If you do a little bit of work each day it will become easy over time. Don't overload yourself - like all ear training, this is slow and steady work.

  • Make sure you are seated comfortably, with proper back support

  • Don't work for more than 15 minutes at a time so that you do not strain your voice at first. You can increase your time as things progress.

  • Drop your shoulders - and try to relax any tension in your neck (especially when you sing in your higher range, try to "work less".)

  • Drink lots of water!

 
 

While our goal is to have everyone able to sing their intervals without prompts, sometimes it can be helpful to have a helpful hint while you are getting used to singing intervals. That can either be a harmonic trick, or a song-related trick to get our brains and voices lined up with something familiar.

*Please note, it is very important to understand the harmonic context of the song you wish to pair with an interval. For example, many people come in and use the opening notes of "Hey Jude" to recollect a descending minor third...BUT...this can be problematic for two reasons:

1. The two notes are a descending minor third, BUT, they are acting as scale degrees 5 and 3 in a Major triad - thus they sound decidedly more "major" than "minor". This can be ok, but you HAVE to know the harmonic context so that it doesn't confuse you.

2. Hey Jude is often performed in the same key, thus can feel "uncomfortable" when we hear/sing it back in a different key

TIP: Picking songs that are folk songs, nursery songs, or traditional songs is a great place to start as they are sung in many different keys and so we do not associate them with specific keys/pitches.

HARMONIC INTERVALS

Two notes played at the same time. These can be quite hard to practice at home because you always know what you are playing...additionally many apps designed for this purpose use synthesized piano sounds which are not ideal...

so...I've made audio files using my grand piano that you can find on SOUNDCLOUD. All files are downloadable - you can import into iTunes and make playlists with different intervals and practice that way, or practice right here by taking the online playlists and just making sure they are set on SHUFFLE MODE

 

MELODIC INTERVALS

Working on it!

 

SCALES

54321, 7, 1

Use this PDF as a guide. Sing through every key in the Circle of Fifths, first with scale degrees, then with Solfege syllables.

 

TRIADS

SINGING TRIADS

 

1. MASTER YOUR THIRDS

Triads are just different raids stacked on top of each other. If you can successfully sing different thirds one-after-another, you can sing a triad!

Tip: Singing successive minor thirds, or successive major thirds one after another is hard!

 

2. MASTER YOUR SCALES

Use this PDF as a guide.

3. PRACTICE MAJOR/MINOR TRIADS IN THE CIRCLE OF FIFTHS

Try the following exercise, conducting in 5/8 (2 beats per measure) that gives you a workout through all of your Major and minor triads around the circle of fifths in a super fluid way.

4. PRACTICE ALL TRIADS IN CHUNKS

Pick a note and sing through all triads that start on that note.

BONUS: start adding in your inversions that start on that note!

 

MEMORIZATION TECHNIQUES

Memorizing a piece doesn’t happen overnight. To feel comfortable stepping on stage and be able to recall a piece of music in a calm, collected, and confident manner is possible for everyone, especially with a few helpful tips and techniques.

 

 

SCHEDULE/TIMELINE

 

  1. Make a schedule, write it down, and stick to it. 

     

    Without a schedule, we are apt to opt out of regular practicing. Look at what is possible in your life, and set aside focused chunks of time each day to work on your memory and stick to it (if you can’t stick to it, adjust your practice schedule accordingly so that you can). Switch up the time of day you are working in order to make sure you can “perform” in any setting at any time (rather than just at 9:00 am in your kitchen.) I’ve been much more successful at sticking to my practice goals if I make a schedule in advance and write it down. There are all sorts of studies about how writing something down makes us more apt to actually follow through with the task, so write it down - on paper! (I have a portable white board at home I often use to write the next days’ practice schedule on.)

    *Be specific. It can be overwhelming thinking about where to start when practicing and/or memorizing a piece of music, so break things up into small, achievable goals. 

  2. Muscle Memory

     

    As I’ve mentioned, memorization doesn’t happen overnight. Learning a piece of music is like building a new muscle - you must give it time to grow so that it can support the weight of the music. You often hear people talk about “muscle memory” - when your body takes over and guides you through a series of motions when your brain’s memory falters or encounters a block. Without sufficient time learning the patterns involved with a specific piece, you cannot build the muscle memory required. If this is your first time memorizing a piece of music, start now and track how your muscle memory builds each week. If you have memorized music before, how long did it take you to get the music “into your fingers”?

     

    For more about effective scheduling for practice, read Christine Carter: Why the Progress You Make in the Practice Room Seems to Disappear Overnight

 

 

LONG VS. SHORT TERM MEMORY

Ever wondered why you can still remember your childhood house phone number but can’t remember your spouse’s cell number? There are all sorts of studies that have been done about the length of time and the techniques to take in order for something to go from short term into long term memory. These studies apply to all sorts of things not our daily life, and ring true for music and performance memory.

 

In my musical studies, I’ve often found that practicing something several times a day for a short period of time allows faster memorization and learning than practicing it once a day for a longer period of time. What this does, is allows your brain to recognize that the material you are working on is important enough to be looked at several times a day - warranting a move from short-term to long-term memory. The more often you re-introduce the material to yourself, the more important it becomes in our memory hierarchy, and the quicker you end up learning the material. (This is the reason I ask you all to do 5 minutes a day of ET practice rather than 35 minutes on Sunday night.)

See Noa Kageyama’s Why Does Cramming Get a Bad Rap? for more on this.

 

Multiple entry points can additionally help to anchor material into Long-Term memory. These can include visualization, movement, tethering, kinesthetic relationships, and more. The more you make the material associative to multiple things, the larger the chance of it “sticking.”

 

Visualization

  • Can you see the music in your minds’s eye

    • With your eyes closed?

    • With your eyes open? (This is the real test)

  • Can you imagine yourself performing it in the room of the performance? On stage?Who is there? What does is smell like? Look like? Feel like?

 

Movement

  • Choreography can have a huge impact on learning. Make your own set of movements for each section, or each note. 

  • Think of your conducting as choreography, as a dance. Where does your body move for each part of the piece?

  • Can you perform standing still? Moving around the space? Lying down? If you can in any situation, you’ve got it memorized!

Tethering

  • Associate various images, words, or feelings to each section. Make them as wildly fantastic as you can. See Joshua Foer’s Feats of Memory Anyone Can Do for a deeper dive into this idea.

  • Associating positive language with sections that you are nervous about, or that are tricky will lead to a better performance than negative words. (i.e. “you got this” vs. “watch out!” or “be careful”.)

  • Colour your music. I do this a lot. By associating different notes, dynamics, or sections with different colors, you can recall things faster.

Kinesthetic learning

  • Re-copying the score, or re-writing a memory project leads to quicker application to long-term memory as it incorporates other parts of the body, pathways of the brain, and senses to reinforce the material. (This works particularly well for speeches!)

    • You can write out your piece both as Solfege, and as music on manuscript paper.

  • Play the piece on an instrument to get other limbs and pathways involved with re-producing the music on another medium.

 

For more on types of memory, read Lois Svard: The Many Kinds of Memory

For memory tips, read Noa Kageyama: Why Some Musicians Seem to Be Memorization “Naturals” (and How to Become More of One Yourself) and How To Eliminate Memory Slips

DISTRACTIONS AND FOCUS

In today’s world we are faced with a constant barrage of information that is all competing for our attention. As a result, it is often hard to find a time and place where one can disconnect and do focused, thoughtful work easily - you have to create it.

 

Read Noa Kageyama’s Regular Memorization Works Ok, but Here’s Why “Deliberate Memorization” Is Way Better How Effective Is Mental Practice, Really? here.


Before you start to work:

  • Turn off your phone
  • Close your computer
  • Turn off any electronic device that is not necessary for your practice
  • Shut the door to the room you are working in and tell your family, roommates, etc. not to bother you while you are working. (If you have pets, put them in their crate or a separate room so that you are not distracted.)
  • In advance, schedule the amount of time you plan to work (everyone’s work habits are different, so be realistic for you. I work better doing multiple smaller chunks of time with short breaks.)
  • Pick a realistic goal for the session and focus ONLY on that goal. If your goal is to memorize the first 2 measure of the piece DO NOT go on to the rest of the piece. This way, you can get better acquainted with the amount of time that you need to accomplish any given task. (We are all different so figure out what works for YOU.)
  • Vary your practice. Some of us work better in the morning, or the night. By varying when you practice you make sure that you can focus when you choose to.

 

 

ACTIVE VS. PASSIVE LEARNING

I admit, I have been known to watch tv while I’m practicing, especially while I am drilling scales (standup is the best for this...), but this is actually a huge waste of time. The scales become an auto-pilot movement while my brain focuses on what is happening in the show, rather than on the quality of sound I’m creating, or the fluidity of the movement of my fingers. 

 

You often hear stories of musicians boasting about how many hours they practice, but it is not the hours of practice that make learning happen, but the quality of those hours. One hour of focused, active practice can achieve more than 5 hours of passive practice. You are busy people - so make sure you are using the time you have to practice in themes efficient and beneficial way! For a beautiful and interesting take on this, read this article in Strings Magazine about violinist Christian Tetzlaff: “Live a Musical Life - Without Armor”.

 

    

Tips and Techniques

  • Know the form of your piece. Having a road map can give you a structure for your memory and practice.

    • Look for patterns - intervals, rhythms, or repetitions that can help strengthen your memorization. 

  • Practice slowly, accurately, and deliberately in a steady tempo.

    • Don’t let yourself day dream! If you find yourself daydreaming, start from the beginning again with active focus.

  • If you make a mistake, fix it IMMEDIATELY. 

  • Test yourself - can you do it 3 times in a row perfectly? 5 times? 10 times? If you make a mistake, you go back to 0 and start again.

  • Work on small chunks at a time and gradually add them together to make a bigger structure. 

  • Practice starting at section B - can you do it? Section C? Rather than always starting at section A.

  • Do run-throughs for family/friends/pets/record yourself. Doing it “for real” will put an added layer of pressure on that will simulate the rush of adrenaline you might get in performance. See Noa Kageyama’s The Importance of Run-Throughs (and How to Get Better Grades While Studying Less)

  • Enjoy yourself! We all want you to succeed so have fun. For more about how stress impacts performance, read Noa Kageyama: Stress Impairs Memory…But Here’ a Way to Make Your Memory More Anxiety-Proof