Voice teachers often have strong feelings about whether or not you should use a microphone for vocal practice. In other words, when you sing with a voice teacher or go through your practice sessions at home, should you amplify yourself or just sing acoustically? One camp, often made up classically trained singers and teachers, tends to almost never use amplification for practice sessions. Another camp tends to use amplification for practice whenever possible, particularly during voice lessons. So where is each group coming from, and what’s my stance on it? If you’ve worked with me or read any of my other articles, it probably won’t surprise you to learn that I’m a proponent of practicing both ways.
The Case for No Amplification
The case for practicing without mics is that amplification can give you a false sense of how much power you’re using. Important vocal techniques, like support and frontal resonance can be falsely replaced with cranking up the volume on the mixing board or getting closer to the mic. It’s important to have an adequate sense of what your voice sounds like acoustically so that you don’t get a false impression of how much your voice will carry over a piano or orchestra.
In the case of classical training, rehearsing acoustically is even more imperative. Opera performances tend to be acoustic, with the vocalists being expected to make their voices carry over an orchestra or, at the very least, piano. Voice lessons and practice sessions should prepare you for this challenge.
The case for Amplification
Voice teachers, especially ones focused on CCM styles, often like using mics at their lessons for a variety of reasons. First, it can make recording the lesson easier, and it’s important that students have lesson recordings as practice tools. Secondly, it makes it easier to hear a student and pinpoint nuances that they can work on that might be less obvious without amplification. Thirdly, using a mic can help beginning vocal students avoid the tendency to over-push. Often, when your tendency as a singer is to get shouty in order to be heard instead of using breath support, the initial stages of working on support can actually cause you to sing more softly at first (I’m sure you’ve all heard the adage about getting worse before you get better). Working with a microphone can help combat the natural inclination to start pushing harder when you’re having a hard time hearing yourself.
For more advanced vocalists, especially in the pop and rock world, practicing with amplification is absolutely imperative because you’ll usually be performing with amplification. You don’t want the first time you’ve worked with a mic to be at your rock performance. Certain techniques, like indie-pop breathiness are also much safer to practice with a microphone, because if you’re using a lot of air, you don’t want to couple that with pushing hard to be heard.
So Should You Use a Mic For Vocal Practice?
Yes. And also no. Regardless of style, it’s important to practice singing in a variety of ways. If you’re a classical singer, by all means, spend most of your practice sessions singing acoustically, but grab a mic once in a while as well. There will probably come a time when you’re performing in concert and are expected to use amplification. Or you may be interested in one day crossing over into performing other genres, or even into recording, in which case, you’ll most definitely use a mic at some point. I don’t necessarily think your practice sessions should be 50/50, but you should once in a while work with amplification.
If you aren’t a classical singer, I encourage you to be even more balanced in your practice sessions. It’s very likely that there’ll come a time that you need to at least audition without a mic, and you should be prepared to make your voice carry without the use of amplification. I was one of those singers who always took my voice lessons as a teenager with a microphone, and I remember finding it constantly jarring when I’d attend an audition, realize I wasn’t as loud as I remembered, and start pushing too hard and losing control of my voice. I promised myself I wouldn’t let that happen to my own students. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t also practice with a mic. Not only will you get used to performing with one, you’ll also learn what nuances your voice is capable of when turned way up.