Josh Kaufman, author of the international bestseller, The Personal MBA, wrote another book called, The First 20 Hours, showing how you can achieve basic proficiency in any area with just twenty hours of practice, whether you’re learning a language, a musical instrument or a new sport. It’s a four-step method: deconstruct the crucial skills, learn enough to self-correct, remove barriers to practice, then practice twenty hours.
Note the stipulation of 20 hours does not apply to the entire process, only to step four, the practice part. In my opinion, Kaufman downplays the challenge presented by steps one and two that, in my experience, could take much longer than 20 hours. But let’s overlook that and consider how you might apply this approach to voice training?
Step 1: Deconstruct the Crucial Skills. My experience in voice training leads me to believe the crucial physical skills are relaxation, breathing and resonance. Relaxation slows your speech, and mellows your voice. Breathing does all those things, plus strengthens your voice and improves expressiveness. Resonance amplifies and enriches your voice, making it pleasing and engaging.
Step 2, Learning Enough to Self-Correct, is the tricky part, when it comes to good voice. Having lived with your habits for 10-20 years, it’s hard to recognize them, let alone change them. You might benefit from just doing exercises, if it’s a well-designed program, but you also risk reinforcing bad habits. At some point, you’ll want feedback from a voice coach, enough to help you avoid those traps and keep you moving forward.
Step 3, Removing Barriers to Practice, could involve finding a specific time for practice despite your busy schedule. Locating a private space for practice, away from prying eyes and ears, could be another challenge. One significant and unexpected barrier is your psychological resistance to experimenting with new sounds and giving yourself permission to use a voice that initially feels unfamiliar.
Having done all that, you’re ready for Step 4: Practice Twenty Hours. That’s forty minutes per day, for one month. I think twenty minutes per day for two months might be more realistic for most people who are working or in school full time. Besides, sixty days provides a more gradual approach to changing old habits and integrating new skills.
Everyone admires mastery and expertise, and it’d be nice to excel at everything, but no one has time for that. Besides, you quickly reach a point of diminishing returns. Basic competence is better than having no skill at all. It’s surprising how far you can go with just the basics and the payoff can be substantial.
When it comes to voice training, the underlying skills aren’t complicated or mysterious. Learning the fundamentals of relaxation, breathing and resonance, and integrating those techniques in your everyday speech, will soon have you communicating with clarity, confidence and credibility.