Monthly Archives: November 2013

Friday Favourites

Take a friday pause
Advent begins this weekend, and with it so does the season of Christmas carols and winter concerts. Stay tuned for an advent series on the history of Christmas song. For singers this can be a trying time of year, so stay warm and hydrated. If you’re not out tonight, take a look around at some of these great posts and articles.

Posts on learning

Digging deeper to facilitate learning thorny passages (Beyond the Notes) – why taking the time to really know your music can help you learn better.

What motivates you to turn up for choir (Chris Rowbury) – Clue: it’s some of the same things that will see you succeed as a singer!

How to Reduce Practice Room Angst (and Boost Creativity) (Bulletproof Musician) – and don’t we all want to know how to do that?

Overcoming Mental Limitations (Jazz Advice) – A long and detailed post on how to push through those negative thoughts and perform to your very best.

Tilted Larynx (Wonder of Voice) – a technical post, but one which explains very well what tilting the larynx is all about!

Posts on teaching

How To Play “Where’s Wolfgang” in Your Piano Studio Waiting Room (Teach Piano Today) – A lovely game to keep bored students or siblings happy while they’re waiting for their lesson!

Posts about other things

Battling for Britten (Dr Marc’s Blog) – is Benjamin Britten the greatest English composer of all time? Who else is in the running?

Music in the News

Gove: ‘I have the worst taste in music of anyone I know’ (ITV)

Ofsted challenges Music Education Hubs but it is the government’s attitude to music and arts education that will handcuff them (Local Schools Network)

Education bosses hit out at Ofsted over music lessons (Birmingham Mail)

Top Books to Buy for New Singers

Books with a ribbonAs Christmas is coming, I thought now was the time to look at some gift ideas for singers. Next week, I’ll post some of the non-book ideas, but today’s post is all about books for new singers who have started lessons in 2013.

Before you buy, do check with their parent, friend, flatmate or significant other in order to be sure what the singer does or does not have!

The New Illustrated Treasury of Disney Songs (Hal Leonard, RRP £21.95)
Now in it’s sixth edition, this wonderful volume is great for any young or new singer as the songs in it are easy and satisfying. It’s also a great gift as it has a lovely introduction on the history of Disney’s music and each song is illustrated with a still from the film. This is a gift which will be treasured for years to come.

Sing Solo Christmas (Oxford University Press, RRP £13.50)
This is a festive gift for a new singer which contains some graded material and plenty of great ideas for classical singers to use in concerts. As with any Christmas music volume, this will be useful year after year. This book comes in high and low editions, so you may need to check which would be better.

Songs of Christmas (Boosey & Hawkes, RRP £14.99)
This is a lovely series of books edited by Marjory Hargest Jones. Across the series there is a wealth of graded material and plenty of ideas for unaccompanied traditional songs. If you don’t fancy the Christmas one, there are editions with songs from England, Scotland, Wales, Ireland and the Americas.

The Singer’s Musical Theatre Anthology (Hal Leonard, RRP £16.99/£29.99)
This series is rich with resources, and has a multitude of volumes for all four main voice types. You can buy the volumes with or without CDs. Whichever you choose, these books will go on and on being useful for singers throughout their training.

How Music Works by John Powell(, RRP £12.99)
A really accessible introduction to the science of why music actually sounds good to us, and how that affects the way we make it.

The Story of Music by Howard Goodall (RRP £12.99)
The book to accompany the brilliant TV show from 2011. This series gives an excellent overview of the development of music in the Western world.

The Story of the Orchestra (Black Dog & Leventhall, RRP £13.95)
A delightful book introducing the orchestra for ages 8-12.

You can buy all of these books by clicking on the links which will take you to my special Amazon store. By buying through these links you help to support the cost of running this blog.

What are your best buys for a new singer? If you’ve been singing for a while, do you have any books you are still using that were bought early on? Add your suggestions below.

Friday Favourites

Take a friday pause
It’s been quite a week in music education in England, with new talk of a “rigorous curriculum” being discussed again. All is quiet on the Scottish front, but that doesn’t mean the blogosphere isn’t teaming with great articles!

Posts on learning

6 Ways to Identify High-Quality Music Teachers (The Musician’s Way) – 6 key things to look for in a music teacher. For my tips, click here.

Posts on teaching

Dealing with Choir Members who are Always Late (Chris Rowbury) – What to do if your choir members are late, and what you should do if you are always late.

Why the Wrong Kind of Praise Can Undermine Our Students’ Confidence (Bulletproof Musician) – why it’s better to praise the process than the person.

Posts about other things

Twitter? In the concert hall?? (Beyond the Notes) – What do you think about the idea of real-time tweeting a concert? Great idea for a conversation, or a travesty of modern times? Erica Sipes tried it and this is what happened.

Comfortable Piano Playing (Classical Mel) – Some key tips to make sure playing the piano is always physically comfortable.

The Sacrament of the Microphone (Dr Marc’s Blog) – What is it about the microphone which makes a performance seem more legitimate? Or does it?

What the Music Industry can learn from Milk (88pianokeys) – A great thought on the importance of the right kind of PR.

Theatre-going is not a competitive sport (Guardian Theatre Blog) – A timely reminder that we don’t have to see everything. Honestly.

Music in the News

Chalk Talk: New approach to music strikes the right notes (The Independent)

Queen’s official composer: youngsters are ignorant of classical music because of ‘elitist’ attitude (The Telegraph)

Government plans to fund music lessons (The Telegraph)

The Global Search for Education: The Master – Renée Fleming (Huffington Post)

50 Shades! The Musical Headed Off-Broadway in 2014 (

Why Gove’s shakeup of music education in schools hits the wrong notes (The Guardian)

Trinity AMusTCL Resources

Trinity LogoNow that my AMusTCL exam is over, I’ve collated all the useful links to essays and analysis I’ve found throughout the course of my preparations. Over time, I hope to provide links and book recommendations for the sections I didn’t do as well, along with a series of posts to give some better guidance on preparing for the exam.

Section A – Lutheran Chorale

Tom Pankhurst’s Chorale Guide – Straightforward, step-by-step method for completing chorale-based tasks. Work through all the worksheets and you’ll be on your way to full marks. – Most of Bach’s chorales are online at this site. It’s really important to get a feel for how the original chorales look and sound and this site has plenty of mp3s and MIDI files to help non-pianists listen to the music.

Section A – Orchestration

I’ve yet to find much about this one, but a good knowledge of instruments is key.

Section A – Popular Song

Music Arrangers Page – A blog all about arranging for popular music. Not all of it is relevant, but it’s worth looking through the articles and applying the ideas to your own practice.

Section B – Schubert Symphony No 5 in Bb
Topic list blog post

This was definitely the trickiest section to prepare for. However, plenty of work on identifying chords and musical features is important in gaining the more straightforward marks on part b.

Scott Foglesong – Scott Foglesong works for the San Fransisco Conservatory of Music, and he’s put up a fantastic essay analysing Schubert’s Symphony no 5 in Bb. Saved me a lot of time doing the formal analysis, so I can concentrate on the thematic issues.

Section C – Musicals
Topic list blog post

The best way to approach this section is to watch as many of the musicals as possible. Lots of these are available on Netflix and LoveFIlm, and you can also find various versions on YouTube.

“Inside” series from New Line Theatre – there doesn’t seem to be an index page, but the link will take you to the search which brings up most of the pages. There are articles on Chicago, and Jesus Christ Superstar

Notes, analysis & essays for OCR A level Music – a Scottish-based webpage with useful articles on West Side Story and Les Miserables.

Sweeney Todd: an analysis of the dramatic and musical structure – Someone has very kindly put up their entire PhD thesis on this particular show, with detailed analysis on several of the key songs.

Michael Bennett’s A Chorus LIne 101 – Three pages analysing the songs and structure of the show.

A Chorus Line: Does it Abide By Equity? – Ok, not strictly speaking useful for the exam, but a really interesting read! (link is to a PDF)

Have you taken an AMusTCL? What resources did you find useful? Post them below.

Why I Love Teaching Adults

I wrote a post a few weeks ago about why I like teaching kids, and there are a lot of reasons. Now, it’s time to tell you why I love teaching adults!


Adult voices are settled and ready for intensive training

Once you’re in your mid-twenties, your body has settled into it’s adult state. This means that adult voices are more stable, and can be trained more intensively. That voice is also the one that adults will have for the rest of their lives, so it’s much easier to work into developing that persons’ particular vocal range and colour to develop a repertoire that will last a lifetime. As a wise blogger recently said, a true soprano prodigy is about 24, not 12 – adult singers are in the best vocal form of their lives!

Adults are more regular practisers

Most adults don’t take up music because their mum or dad thought they would be good at it. They take it up because they chose to invest their own hard-earned cash in a new hobby. When you make the choice to spend your own money on something, your work ethic goes up massively. Even students who work in very demanding jobs seem to find far more time for practice than kids who finish school at half-past three and have only a few scraps of homework to do.

Adults ask great questions

I love the conversations I have with my adult students. We can start off on one topic and end up somewhere completely different. I rarely explain the science of harmonic sequences to kids, but adults love to know not only what is right, but why aspects of music theory work.

Adults constantly push themselves

Kids rarely have any idea of where they’re going with music, and although some get frustrated with their progress, most of them are happy to just enjoy the journey. Adults, however, tend to have goals in mind and are constantly measuring themselves against other people, and their own existing achievements. In music, this means the best adult students are always pushing themselves to do better. It’s actually really nice to sit down for a lesson with an adult student and find that they have made startling progress, or to be able to praise them for their hard work (rather than nag them because they’re not getting better!).

Adults are partners in their lessons

The adult students that really are a joy to teach are the ones I have who are partners in the lesson. They invest in their learning by coming up with ideas, asking questions and sharing their insights. Kids see their music teacher as an authority figure, and either obey or play up. Adults are much more likely to view their music teacher as a mentor, guiding them rather than leading them.

Adults are often more rewarding to teach than kids because of their higher personal investment levels, but I love teaching all my students, no matter what their age or stage.

Are you an adult thinking about taking up music? If you’re thinking about it, why not contact me to arrange a consultation lesson? It’s never too late to take up music!

Friday Favourites

Take a friday pause


Another quiet week on the blogs – everyone must be very busy! Still, there’s some great articles ready for you to enjoy over a cuppa tonight.


Posts on learning

Be the best singer you can, but don’t forget there’s more to life (Chris Rowsebury) – A very wise post about the nature of ambition and the realities of what it means to want to be good at something.

How to be profoundly grateful and feel better about your challenges (Ear Training and Improv) – A little early for Thanksgiving, but a post that encourages us all to be more thankful about life.

Posts on teaching

How to Tackle the Measure Monster (Teach Piano Today) – a lovely teaching tip to help students struggling with a specific bar or phrase.

Posts about other things

We Need to Talk About The Diva (We Need to Talk About Opera) – New to the Friday Favourites, We Need to Talk about Opera gives a spotters guide to a true diva, and separates real ones from their caricatures.

Music in the News

Listen to heavy metal? You may have low self-esteem (Daily Mail)

Singing boosts brain activity in Alzheimer’s patients, scientists say (The Independent)

Music – a gift for language learners (The Telegraph)

Shakeup in children’s music education has failed to bring significant benefits (The Guardian)

Music Teacher of the Year Awards conclude (Classic FM)

An arts education develops strong creative multi-disciplinary minds (The Information Daily)

How to Make Musical Note Cookies

I thought, since it’s exam season, I might deviate from my usual posts of tips and tricks, and share a wonderful recipe I found for cookie-cutter biscuits. I have road-tested these and not only are they easy to make, but they also hold their shape really well when you use cutters.

I don’t have a musical note shaped cutter, but you can buy them easily online. This one, from is currently retailing at only 99p with free delivery. If you don’t fancy making them musical note-shaped, you can do them any other shape you like!

The recipe came from Smitten Kitchen originally, and I have translated the American measurements to UK instructions to make it really easy for you

Excellent Brownie-Cookies

  • 375 g plain flour
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 225 g lightly salted butter, softened
  • 300 g cups sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 60g unsweetened cocoa powder

Preheat oven at 180C (Gas Mark 4, 350F). Line several trays with greaseproof paper or baking parchment – I did three and used them several times over.

Sieve and mix dry flour, salt and baking powder in bowl and set aside. Mix butter, sugar, eggs, vanilla and cocoa together. Gradually add dry ingredients, and mix until smooth. Wrap in clingfilm and chill for at least one hour.

Roll out cookie dough on a lightly floured surface. Cut into desired shapes, brushing extra deposits of flour off the top. (It does disappear once baked, though, so don’t overly fret if they go into the oven looking white.) You can pack them fairly tight on the baking trays, as they do not spread much.

Bake for 8 to 11 minutes (depending on thickness) until the edges are firm, and the centres are slightly soft and puffed. You want to take them out just as they turn from glossy to dry looking on the top – any longer and they will be a bit on try dry and crumbly side, rather than soft.

Transfer to a wire rack to cool, and try not to eat them all at once!

Have you found any great cookie cutter cookie recipes? Share them below! Or even post a photo of your musical cookies.

My First Singing Exam (yes, your teachers took them too!)

ABRSM Exam CertificatesI took my first singing exam in… oh, I won’t tell you, but I was aged 14 and in year 9 at school in the south of England. I had been taking violin lessons since I was eight, but my interest had waned, not least because my teacher refused to let me take any exams (I was about grade 4 when I stopped, but have only grade 1 to show for it).

My singing teacher let me skip over grade 1 as I had sung in choirs since I was seven or eight and knew a bit of music already. We prepared three songs, as well as covering the aural tests and some of the sight-reading. I can’t remember what I sang any more…

*goes to look up on the syllabus…*

Ok, I had prepared The Mallow FlingDie Henne and The Little Spanish Town. All of them are still on the lists, and I enjoy teaching both The Mallow Fling and The Little Spanish Town to students. I can vividly remember hating Die Henne, but we had chosen it, and so that was the song it was to be! Perhaps that’s one of the reasons I’m always keen to help students find songs they enjoy singing for exams.

I rehearsed several times with my accompanist, who was a good friend of my teacher’s. My first singing teacher did not play the piano, so her friend accompanied for exams. My second teacher played and accompanied me for my exam, and my current teacher does play the piano, but does not accompany me for exams.

Man at desk

My Grade 2 exam was scheduled as part of a special visit at my school. Examiners will come to any location at any time if there are enough candidates, and so there were a range of students nipping out of lessons to take exams. The room they used was the Old Library – a very large room with a grand piano. It was a lovely space, but intimidating to fill as a new singer. Quite different from the other venues I have taken exams in – a church sanctuary, a musicians society room, a conservatoire opera studio and someone’s lounge! I remember the examiner being very kind and reassuring, and that once I started singing everything felt so much easier and less nerve-wracking than it had minutes before. After that, I don’t remember much, so it can’t have been a bad experience!

I did well in my exam – I got a solid merit. I went back and completed my Grades 3, 4 and 5 over the next few years, and I am now working towards a performance diploma for classical singing and for musical theatre.

My first exam experience was just as scary as anyone else’s, but it was the beginning of a life-long passion and a life-long journey to become excellent at music so that I can share it with others.

What was your first exam experience like? Are you preparing for your first exam right now? Tell me about it in the comments below.