Practicing During the Coronavirus Epidemic

Dear Singers,

The coronavirus quarantine has been a time of ups and downs for many of us, so I would like to share some practical and inspirational ideas for practice during this time of isolation. Quarantine can be an unprecedented gift of time despite the challenges and anxiety that go along with it. Many are already taking advantage of it by posting their creativity on social media, while others might not have the physical place to practice or record videos, or might be feeling depressed and even shame because they are seeing so many artists inspired to create. Taking a break can be good for the soul, but when you are ready to get back to practicing, I hope these ideas can provide the kick start you need for jumping back into practicing. Know that the pressure is off for once. There are very few auditions and no live performances, therefore there is no judgement or criticism. Drop your shoulders, let go of the rigors of deadlines, and sink into a joyful practice, a time when you can forget the worries of the outside world. Play and experiment because there is no rush to be perfect right now! Try some of these ideas, and use this time to reset your mind, body, and spirit, and grow.

Where, How, and What to Practice in a Home Full of People

  1. Practice at their lunchtime or after work hours to avoid interrupting work.
    • This will help you schedule your time; a regular routine will help you feel motivated and focused.
  2. Practice in the garage or in the backyard.
    • On nice days I have practiced in the backyard and received applause from neighbors. Sing until they complain. I seriously doubt they will. Free concert!
  3. Get a belt box. 
    • They sell for about $50.
    • It minimizes sound, and as a bonus, you can’t hear yourself, so you can focus on feeling rather than sound, process rather than outcome.
  4. Practice in your car.
    • You can tilt the seat back and focus on what muscles need to work more and which need to work less. Lying down highlights tensions that the standing position often blurs.
    • Sitting while practicing can focus your mind on keeping your center of gravity where it should be, approximately two inches below your navel. 
    • Sitting while singing can draw your attention to the words or pitches that cause the center of gravity to rise.
  5. Straw-phonate.
    • Practice your repertoire with straw-phonation. No one will hear you in the next room. It’s quieter than a lip trill and is like exercising in a swimming pool for your voice. 
    • Don’t know about straw-phonation or semi-occluded vocal tract exercises, this website explains it well: https://www.voicescienceworks.org/sovt-exercises.html
  6. Monologue your songs. 
    • Do that extra work on the acting that you know you should always do.
    • Acting work isn’t going to bother a person in the next room.
  7. Dance your songs. 
    • Play the music in your headphones and get the beat in your body.
    • If you feel inspired, try doing an interpretive dance, exploring the physicality of the emotions and actions in the song.
  8. Research and read source material for the operas, musicals, or poetry on which your music is based. 
    • We should always do this, but now you have TIME.
  9. Find creative ways to work on your music that doesn’t require making sound.
    • Fun assignment I gave my university students: 
      • Pick an unlearned song from your repertoire for the semester.
      • Make a playlist of 5 to 10 performers interpreting your song.
      • Go on one of the many free virtual tours being offered by the best museums of the world while listening to your playlist.
      • Search the museums for the artwork or artworks that best represent your song.
    • Do you have any fun ideas to add?

Advertisement (article continues below):


No Piano or Pianist

  1. Download a piano app to your phone, computer, or tablet, or use the piano that is in the ForScore app (an awesome music reading app). 
  2. Utilize the karaoke tracks on YouTube and Spotify. 
    • Try a karaoke party via online group chatting. 
  3. There are great apps like appcompanist and pockestra that have a huge database of repertoire and the ability to adjust tempi and keys.
    • Appcompanist has a Covid-19 one month free trial, normally only 7 days.
  4. Pay a pianist to make recordings of your accompaniments.
    • Then listen to the accompaniment. REALLY listen. Use this as an opportunity to dig deeper into what the composer is telling you about the story in the piano or orchestral part.
  5. Find and catalog old lesson recordings.
    • Write down vocal exercises and their purposes (another one of those things you’ve always wanted to do and now have the time).
    • Categorize your lessons, so you know which lesson helps with a specific technique or song.
  6. Contact your voice teacher and ask if they would make you a recording of some exercises. We all want to help.

Make Online Submission Videos

  1. Practice making and cutting videos.
    • Many opera and musical theater companies are accepting video submissions.
    • Find a practice buddy with whom to share your videos and work out the kinks.
  2. Do research into auditions.  
    • There are a few musical theater auditions being done by video submission. There may be more as we begin coming out of quarantine. Let’s be ready for when they do.
    • Check Classical Singer, YapTracker, Backstage, and the many other resources for auditions once a week just to keep abreast of the situation.

Make Goals

  1. Set up a plan for the following months by choosing songs or roles you want to learn.
    • Make a schedule and follow it as if you were going to class, or to a voice lesson, or doctor’s appointment. 
    • Detail what you are going to accomplish and by when, giving yourself freedom to adjust goals as necessary.
  2. Make a practice journal that you share with your teacher or a practice buddy. 
    • Note good or bad patterns as they arise.
    • Use the journal in any way that makes sense to you: lists, getting your feelings out, pondering what is and isn’t working, etc.
    • Create what I call a tool box in your journal: a collection of exercises and concepts from all the teachers in your life that have helped you become the artist you are today.
    • Use this toolbox to assess and problem solve. 
  3. Plan a practice that is a balance of old and new music.
    • Don’t forget to sing old repertoire, music that is already in your voice.
    • Sing something that makes you happy everyday!
    • You are your most frequent audience. Enjoy performing and practicing for yourself.

Where and How to Find Inspiration

  1. Before singing became work or took a disciplined approach, why did you sing? 
    • Recollect those first feelings before you practice.
    • Remember when practice was play instead of work. See if you can reset your brain for play.
  2. Sometimes we need a break from the rigor of life in order to be inspired.
    • Try yoga or meditation, or even a nap, and see if this helps your mindset.
  3. Is there a song that every time you hear it you can’t help but sing?
    • Turn that song on full blast!
    • When I hear Carol Vaness sing Come scoglio, I feel empowered and need to express myself. What does that for you?
  4. Find new self-help or inspiring podcasts and books.
    • Here’s a link to some inspiring podcasts for actors: https://performerstuff.com/mgs/12-unbelievably-inspiring-ted-talks-for-theatre-people/
  5. What fills you with zeal for life?
    • Does watching a show like So You Think You Can Dance, or wandering around an art gallery, or taking a walk in nature inspire you to create? 
    • Check out the many online avenues for inspiration like virtual museums and free broadcasts from national theaters and opera companies. 
    • Do the things that make you feel alive and you might just find yourself singing and ready to practice.

The rigor of life often keeps us from slowing down, from practicing with mindfulness. This time can be the break you needed to reset your habits and your goals. Finally do those tongue exercises your teacher has been asking you to do for years; do more yoga to help with your postural issues; learn that dream operatic role with peaceful awareness; if you are a beltrix, work on your head voice without fear of failure; thoughtfully search for the source of your fears, those that keep you from being the artist you know you can be. You finally have the precious gift of time, the time to be truly patient with yourself as you conquer something new. How exciting!

There are so many ways to practice, to do the fun and essential work that helps you bring music to life. In this challenging new time, I hope you find ways to not just survive, but to thrive, and I hope you discover something new about yourself and your art as you practice and learn. Sink into the calmer, slower pace of the times, and find your joy for practicing. 

Much love and peace,

Courtney 

P.S. Before I finished this article I took a nap and had chocolate chip cookies and milk for dinner. Thriving!

Courtney Crouse

Dr. Courtney Crouse is a Professor of Voice at the Wanda L. Bass School of Music teaching advanced vocal pedagogy, vocal performance, opera, and musical theater majors. Crouse received her DM and MM from the Indiana University Jacobs School of Music, and her BA from Texas Wesleyan University. She is also an active performer of operatic, musical theater, and jazz repertoire. IG: drcrousewillseeyounow