On Becoming a Singer

by Bruce Schoonmaker

I began writing a document on how to practice, to help my voice students develop successful use of practice time. It dawned on me that successful strategies for practice depend on the clear understanding of greater goals, so I have written this document and "How to Practice."

Other than the question of innate talent, it seems to me that the Big Question in our art is:

"Are you willing to pay the price to become a singer?"

In other words, do you have the persistence and patience required to maintain the constantly demanding discipline of practicing voice?

How can you tell?

1. Write down your vocal goals/dreams. Be as specific as possible: "I would like to sing at the Met by the time I'm 30," or "I want to be the best choral soprano I can be within 2 years."

2. With your voice teacher and/or coach, figure out how long and what kind of discipline it will take to reach these goals. Does your teacher/coach feel you are overestimating your potential? Underestimating it? Create a five-year plan (or two-year plan, if you hope to reach your goals in two years). Write down these goals and a plan to reach them.

What are the intermediate goals within the plan? Come up with a schedule to reach those goals and write it down.

What are the short-term goals within the plan? You may be able to create these only for the time leading up to your next intermediate goal (This creates the impetus for your daily practice strategies.)

3. Write an essay on whether you have the gumption, will, tenacity, or stick-to-itiveness to reach these goals. Begin with an honest assessment of your strengths and weaknesses as a singer, as a musician, as a linguist, and as a voice student.

4. Do your goals/dreams require that you increase your physical, mental, spiritual, or emotional well-being? If so, how do you plan to accomplish this? Is it reasonable that you can do so?

5. Write down 10 good reasons for not putting in the effort to reach your goals defined in #1. (This is a very important step. Do not skip this.) If you cannot come up with ten reasons, set this aside for a day or two and come back to it. It is imperative that you clearly understand your shadow self and the reasons you may get in the way of accomplishing your goals.

6. Write a strong response to each of the reasons you listed in number 5, telling yourself how you will overcome these mental, physical, emotional, or psychic barriers to progress.

7. What are your conclusions? Can you reach the goals? Can you put in the every-day, persistent, patient practice necessary to become the singer you want to be? How tenacious are you?

8. Talk with someone you trust (someone who does not always tell you what you want to hear) about your dreams and goals for singing. Tell them your conclusions. Ask them for an honest assessment of your potential. (Do not base your final decision solely on the opinion of this person.)

9. Do your goals/dreams open to you the possibility of rejection? How do you respond to rejection? Do you have the tenacity to endure despite rejection?

Remember that Michael Jordan was cut from his high school basketball team. Keith Lockhart (Conductor of Boston Pops) has saved 300+ rejection letters during his career. Singers must endure to reach their goals.

By this point, you should have a clear understanding of whether you have the discipline necessary to become a singer.

Goals and dreams change during the process of becoming an artist. There is nothing wrong with altering them.

An old martial arts saying goes,

Everyone studies for the wrong reason

Learning to sing and becoming a performer will change who you are. Those changes bring about changes in your motivation for singing. Changes in motivation bring about changes in one's goals for singing.

Therefore, going through this process will alter your perspective on the process itself. All of this is a natural process. Rather than inhibiting this process, the above steps help to engage the evolution toward being a singer.

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