One good thing about music, when it hits you, you feel no pain - Bob Marley
For those gifted with golden, soaring vocals, a singing training exam almost seems effortless. All you are supposed to do is sing from the diaphragm and not through the nose, maintain good posture, let the music flow through you and you are set to rock the exams. And in case you don't know this already, these are actually some of the best practices of singing.
As with any other profession or skill like computer software applications or public speaking, aspiring singers too have to devote a lot of time, energy and hard work to hone their skills and improve on their abilities. But unlike other streams of specializations like Mathematics where you can lay down a clear path to reach your final destination, it maybe a little more difficult to do so when it comes to developing your natural talent as a singer and get ready for your future.
But not all is as gloomy or impossible as it may seem. There are some tried and tested tips to prepare for singing exams, improve performance level and even achieve great outcomes.
Singing Test Prep Strategy and Components
Some artists might say that you can't really plan for an artistic endeavor. It is contradictory to the whole idea and essence of art itself. Some argue that planning might kill the freedom of expression, spontaneity, and passion. But at the same time, it can't be a wise strategy to leave everything to talent when it comes to a singing test prep. You may have the best voice in the whole of India, but that will not make you the next most sought-after singer in the country. You have to respect the system of exams and of course, never undermine your competition. You should be able to put all the pieces of tests together in order to learn and move ahead.
Whether you are a tabla player or a guitar expert or have a sensational voice, in every role you have to know how to read music. Every exam, audition and all grades will test this ability of yours. The good news is this component constitutes a small part of your singing lessons and tests. And to prep for this you just need to find sheet music to read.
Mind you that your repertoire may include hymns, but you are not allowed to use it during exams. The reason for this is that they are very singable and they have almost zero complexity. The latter specially doesn't do justice to testing your abilities. Also the fact that hymn music is abundantly available on the internet and at no cost at all, makes it the last choice for examiners.
You can practice sight-reading on your own at home simply by setting a timer. But have someone check your key and tempo of the piece and don't forget the pauses and other notation characteristics. Some exam boards like ABRSM even allow you to bring your preferred sight-reading sheet music to your exam. If not, you will be given a piece to test your music-reading abilities.
Having a musical ear is a rare ability that most singers are not born with. The aural exam is designed to test how well you can sing in tune and catch off-key notes. It will also test your ability to capture a piece’s texture, dynamics and style. This component also test your time-keeping skills.
Several subscription-based apps are now available that act as useful tools for your aural exam prep.
Your Own Repertoire
It is not a good idea to wait till the last moment to fill out your repertoire slip. Make sure you maintain a repertoire well in advance that can help you stay focused. It also helps to memorize lyrics, which is otherwise a very difficult task for students. You will find tons of examinees who have faltered in their lyrics-testing exam while remaining pitch perfect!
Making notes in your song book is a good practice to build your repertoire and for your singing training practice.
Learn to Improvise
Improvisation is an underlying skill of any artist. Your singing training practice maybe 100% but you may still be required to improvise during the actual exam. In fact, some boards like ABRSM expect to see your improvisation skill with a piano or guitar accompaniment during a singing training exam.
Getting Ready for Singing Training Exam
One of the most important tips to prepare for singing exams is to develop the ability to anticipate what examiners expect of you. And this theory applies to both the teacher and her students of music. This also means knowing the nitty gritty details of the examination board and familiarizing yourself with the board's standards. During your singing exams, there is a bunch of expectations from you, the student, like the ability to,
- Recognize clefs and notation.
- Sing on key.
- Read music at grade-appropriate levels.
- Show restraint and deference.
- Present yourself in the right manner.
You can only practice so much and hope for the best results. There are many things and useful tips that you can try that will help you naturally during your exam. After all, exam stress is one of the primary reasons for poor performance during an exam. So, what can you do to reduce stress?
- Practice and practice more.
- Review progress.
- Prepare every detail about your exam day including your attire.
- Plan the logistics; for example have multiple options handy when it comes to choosing the fastest route to the exam venue.
- Always arrive 15-30 minutes prior to the exam start time.
- Pack the important resources like repertoire slip at least 24 hours before.
- You can even pack props and costumes if you want your performance to stand out.
- Do not forget a bottle of water.
Doing these will make you feel in control and do wonders to boosting your confidence on the day of your singing training exam.
Singing Training Practice for Exams
Being able to visualize your exam day is half the battle won. And the rest is dependent on how well you have practiced your lessons, your repertoire of songs and of course your level of singing expertise. It is, after all, scary and intimidating to walk into a room full of musical talent and experts and see your future hang in the balance. Confidence plays a big part in determining the outcome of this day.
Useful Tips for the Big Day
You need all kinds of support from wherever to pass any exam, especially on the day of the exam. No matter what grade you are appearing for or what lesson you are trying to remember, you need a lot of strength and encouragement to get through the day. Here are some useful tips to prepare for singing exams:
- Arrive at the exam venue early.
- Give your mind the time to adjust and warm up.
- Do a few breath control exercises to suppress anxiety and get your vocals ready.
- Don't forget to smile to make an impressions.
- Deal with the situation with utmost grace even if your heart is pounding.
- Don't let the examiners bog you down with their indifference at times.
- Don't get distracted by rigorous notes taking of the examiners- it's part of their job.
- Be patient.
- Be encouraging towards your musical hands, like the piano or guitar player.
- Don't rush things.
It is okay to not know the answers or the theory to everything the examiner asks. Remember not to come across as complacent or overconfident. If you don't know something or feel nervous, it is okay to let it out and not try to hide. Honesty can go a long way. But don't be dramatic!
And, when it’s all over, don’t forget to thank your examiners.
And remember, it is okay to skip a few grades.
Things to Avoid When You Prepare for Singing Exams
Music can change the world because it can change people - Bono
Take inspiration from Bono's thought and remember that examiners are human after all. And that it is okay to falter. But it is important to jump right back up and try again. While this is a general life advice, there a few things to avoid on your exam day or as part of singing test prep.
Do Not Strain Your Voice
You don't want to end up with a broken voice on your exam day. So, practice hard but practice carefully and don't overdo it during the build-up to the D-Day.
Eat Well and Sleep Enough
A tired body will eventually break down and fail to deliver when it matters the most. Make sure you don't skip meals or sleep less. Maintaining a good routine is important as part of the exam prep. Vocal health is a part of your general health; they could both suffer from lack of rest and improper diet.
As a singer, your voice is your most important asset. Remember to take care of it not just for the exam day but for the future as well. Your entire life and career as an Indian classical musician or a Bollywood playback singer or a theatre artist in London, depend on the health of your voice.