This one sounds like a no-brainer, but it means different things to different people. Many students are extremely motivated in spurts-deciding that they will work on vocal exercises for two weeks, 8 hours a day, or that they will get that impossible Whitney Houston song down by doing nothing but singing it for a month. Much more successful are the patient students who, over the course of months or years rather than days or weeks, combine practicing vocal exercises and working on a song or two every day, even if they only have time to put in 10 to 15 minutes a day. Learning to sing well is much more comparable to an endurance race than to a sprint.
It’s not that putting hours of work into a song right before an audition or performance is a waste of time. If you have a strong foundation to build on, taking a week or two to devote long hours to a song can be just what you need to make you competitive. But a few weeks of very hard work is not going to make up for years of consistent work, any more than swimming 20 hours a day for a few weeks will prepare you to be an Olympic swimmer. Like any exercise, consistent vocal exercises will slowly strengthen your voice, increase your range, and build positive muscle memory over a period of time.
2. A playful, unselfconscious, fearless attitude
At the risk of making this sound like a self-help pamphlet, I’d like to say that I can’t stress this one enough. While doing regular vocal exercises is indispensable for significant improvement, so is having fun with your practice. Your voice teacher can explain technique to you and give you music to work on, but he or she probably only sees you, at the very most, a couple of hours a week. If he is only giving you feedback based on what your voice is doing at a given moment, and not what it can do in general, his advice is necessarily limited. My most successful students play around with songs to see what their voices can do at home. Often, one of them will come in with 6 different possible ways she found to hit a note and then ask me which one I prefer. Unsurprisingly, tinkering students like this will improve faster than ones who wait for voice lessons before thinking about how they might improve a song.
It is not only playfulness, but also a certain fearlessness that these students have. No matter how talented and hard-working a student is, if she is unwilling to sound silly and make mistakes while she tries new ways to sing, it will be a long haul before she breaks out of her current habits.
3. An aptitude for listening and imitating a wide range of music
I know this one may get me in trouble with a number of voice teachers, and with good reason, so please keep reading before writing me off. Let me preface this by saying that I do not believe students should simply copy other singers. Every singer has his or her own unique tone and set of abilities. Some students will very comfortably use a chesty mix (i.e. they will sound like they are belting) up to a high Eb, while others will strain if they try to pull the chesty sound past A above middle C. Imitating another singer too closely may get you into trouble if your voice is simply built differently from that singer.