Alright, so now is the time in the semester that I'm in the practice room the most. I have an opera scene to memorize, opera chorus parts to learn and of course I must work on all of the general repertoire I have picked out. So I guess I'd like to talk about what a young voice major does in a practice room and how we come out at the end of the semester with our music learned and our voices in good shape.
When I first get into a practice room I immediately get into warming up my voice, however, a teacher or two has told me to begin practice time with breathing exercises. These would involve simply breathing in deeply, and breathing out while trying to control the speed of the air. These exercises are excellent for basic work on breath control. I've found they're also a great way to calm down and start breathing more steadily before practicing or a lesson. I will definitely try to incorporate this type of breathing into my practice time more often.
When it comes to warming up, I've found starting simple is the best. The voice needs to be treated just as an athlete would treat their muscles before an athletic event, so it needs to be warmed up slowly. I start with high sighs on an 'e' or 'o' and after about a minute of that my voice usually feels warmed up enough to go into a bit more intense vocalization. For me, these mostly involve ascending and descending scales and arpeggios that help make the voice more agile. Increasing the pitch each time with these scales and arpeggios also helps increase the range of the voice-- which I've definitely experienced since I began studying voice.
After about 15 minutes of warming up, I then begin to look at my music. I usually go over songs I've worked on the most first, sing through them and then go back over trouble spots. Then I move on to the songs I've worked on the least and add to what I've already done with them. After singing and learning music for about 30-40 minutes I call it quits; I've found that if I practice more than an hour a day my voice gets a little overtired. After asking around I've found that my peers usually aim for an hour a day as well.
A lot of voice teachers recommend that after practicing one must cool down the voice. This is something I'm lacking in. I do know that these exercises are basically slow, soothing vocalizations that help calm the vocal cords. However, I usually forget this element when I'm finished practicing. Hopefully I can start to incorporate them!
As a final thought, I think one of the most important things to keep in mind when practicing any instrument is to have a goal. If you go into your practice time not knowing what you want to accomplish, you probably won't accomplish as much as you would have liked and then end up frustrated. Even if the goal is sustaining a C while vocalizing or to get through a troublesome rhythm in an aria, goals while practicing are key.