Monthly Archives: November 2013

Friday Favourites

Take a friday pause

This weekend marks Remembrance Sunday, and Rememberance Day on Monday. This year marks 99 years since the start of World War I, and as part of the reflections, I always find the last post almost more evocative than the silence – a true reflection of the power of music. If you want to take some time to reflect, you can listen to the last post here.

And now, onto this week’s blog posts:

Posts on learning

Get Real about Music Careers (The Musician’s Way) – Some harsh but true thoughts about what kind of music careers are out there.

How to catch up if you miss a choir rehearsal (Chris Rowbury) – From a new blog I’ve discovered, here’s some key tips on what to do if your winter cold keeps you from making it to choir practice.

Learning to Learn: Part 1 – Forget Me Not! (Music Teacher’s Helper) – A rather in depth post that talks about how we learn.

Posts on teaching

The Truth About Piano Students With Learning Challenges (Teach Piano Today) – a great post with ideas for any young student with concentration issues, learning difficulties or just a challenging personality. Tips that way beyond SEN students.

The Doctor Teaches the Piano Teacher (Compose Create) – A thought about what piano lessons are really paying for, and whether that means we can really have a 24 hour cancellation policy. There’s a link for a great leaflet explaining where music tuition fees go too.

You Know That Awkward Moment Before They Break Down In Tears?… (Teach Piano Today) – Some key tips for teachers to stop the struggle moments before they happen!

Music in the News

Highlights of Glasgow 2014 Cultural Programme: Big Big Sing

Childhood Music Lessons May Offer Lifelong Benefits

Childhood music lessons ‘leave lasting brain boost’

And finally, this isn’t a blog post, but I came across this great series of YouTube videos explaining some basic theory concepts that has been created by one of the bloggers I follow: Pianoanne Theory Tutorials Playlist

Old Wives’ Say: “Thou Shalt Not Eat Dairy”

MilkOne of the things that is often said in singing circles is that eating dairy products causes the body to produce more mucus and phlegm, so singers should avoid it on the day of performances. However, I was astonished to discover recently that this isn’t strictly true…

Dairy does seem to cause some thickening of phlegm and mucus in human beings, but studies have shown that it does not cause the body to produce more phlegm (Wüthrich, Schmid, Walther & Sieber, 2005/Pinnock, Graham, Mylvaganam & Douglas, 1990). Instead, foods which are high in dairy fats, like whole milk, leave a residue of fats on their way which can make it feel like we have more phlegm. This is a good reason to avoid dairy on the day of an exam or performance – but reducing phlegm production isn’t!

Dehydration is also something which increases the thickness of mucus and phlegm, and this is far more likely to be the problem than the cheese toastie you had for lunch. That’s why tea, coffee and fruit juices can contribute to phlegm issues. It’s water that thins out phlegm and coffee and juice both contain acids, caffeine, tannin and other things that reduce their effectiveness at treating dehydration.

Finally, singing stimulates large parts of your respiratory system making it vibrate. This loosens all the phlegm and mucus in your throat, which in turn means it feels like you have more of it. So even if you consume no dairy products at all, you can still get that annoying phlegm in your throat!

So what is so bad about milk? A lot less than most people think. In fact, thinking that milk causes more mucus is more likely to cause phlegm problems than drinking the milk (Pinnock, Graham, Mylvaganam & Douglas, 1990).

However, avoiding rich, fatty foods (including full-fat dairy) that can create the illusion of increased phlegm  on the day of exams and performances is definitely a good idea, alongside keeping well hydrated and avoiding any foods which are prone to upset your stomach at all. And if you feel all phlegm-ey? Reach for the glass of water rather than blaming poor milk.

Are you surprised to find out that dairy doesn’t cause mucus? What other singing myths have you seen busted? Are there old wives tales you’ve heard that have turned out to be true? Comment below, and follow the blog for more tips, tricks and myth-busters.

Break a… Pencil? (Good Luck for Theory Exams)

Zemanta Related Posts ThumbnailThis afternoon is the ABRSM theory exam date, and Trinity are holding theirs on Saturday. Good luck if you’re taking a theory exam this week!

For those of you who are in a twirl, here’s a few last minute tips to see you safely to the end of the exam:

  • Make sure you’re prepared for a broken pencil – pack yourself a couple of pencils, an enclosed sharpener, a good quality rubber and a ruler. Bringing more than one pencil is definitely vital.
  • Know how much time you have for each question – most theory exams are plenty long enough, but it’s best to work out how much time you can spend on the tough questions before you go in, so you’re not rushing at the end.
  • Manage your time carefully – I always suggest candidates start with the hardest question first (usually the compose-a-melody for grade 5). Click here to read my suggested order for Grades 1-5.
  • Look at the marks available – Don’t spend half an hour trying to remember an Italian term which will only actually give you one more mark!
  • Check your work – most marks lost are silly mistakes, so make sure you double check all your details before you leave the exam.
  • Chill out afterwards – do something nice afterwards, whether that’s a mug of hot chocolate, your favourite TV show, or taking time to enjoy playing your instrument.

If you want more tips, click on over to my theory exam top tips post from earlier this year, or if you have one to share, leave a comment below.

Conquoring Exam Nerves

NervesEveryone gets nervous, and when it’s something like a singing exam, it can feel like your nerves are out to get you – they’re just determined to make you fail even when you know you’re capable! So here are some of my key tips to help you conquer exam nerves.

Counteract every bad thought with two good ones

In the weeks leading up to your exam, every time you finish a piece or section, tell yourself two things you did well for every one mistake you think you made. That way, you’re training your brain to focus on the positive things and not to dwell on the negative – it builds confidence and self-esteem. This should be a year-round, life-long habit, but at exam time it’s never more important.

Let yourself process the (actually possible) worst case scenario and realise that’s it’s ok

If you’re a “what if” person, you’ll be used to thinking “what if I forget my words?” or “what if I freeze up in the aural tests?”. It’s so easy for these kinds of thoughts to get out of control and small things seem bigger and bigger. Somehow, forgetting your words begins to feel like the start of a domino effect which brings down governments and destroys countries… Crazy as it sounds, fighting the worries is harder than giving in. So let yourself answer the “what if”:

“Ok, what if I forget my words… I could sing to “la” – that shows I can still do the rhythm and pitch… It’s also only one song, so I have a chance to do better on the others, so I might even still get a decent mark… If I keep forgetting them, the examiner will still look for the positive things I did and try to give me marks… And worst case scenario where I forget them so much that I fail? I never have to see the examiner again, as they probably live on the other side of the country, no one but me and my teacher have to know how badly I failed (I can tell my family it was by one mark) and I can take the exam again next session…!”

Somehow, the what if just seems less scary when you answer the question rather than leaving it hanging and open-ended.

Give yourself permission to be nervous

Reverse psychology is a fact! If you give yourself permission to be nervous, you’ll find it’s less intense. By denying yourself the right to be nervous, you’re both nervous and stressed.

If you get a dry mouth, stop wishing it wasn’t like that and focusing on it as this will make it worse. Instead, just let it be dry and concentrate on breathing properly and standing well. You’ll probably find it’s less irritating, and might even stop altogether.

For more about performance psychology for musicians, click on over to the Bulletproof Musician where you can read articles on lots of topics from performance anxiety to effective practicing.

Exercise, eat well and sleep properly

Exercise releases endorphins and makes you happier. Physical activity also helps to regulate adrenaline and stress hormones in your body. Eating healthily will help to stabilise your mood – too much sugar can cause you to have big highs and lows, so aim for slow-release carbs like whole grains. Watch out for caffeine and alcohol as they can affect your mood as well as your behaviour. Sleeping properly is vital too – aim for a regular routine, and do gentle, calming activities before bed. You can read all about what are good sleep habits on this page from NHS Choices

Meditate, breathe, pray or just be still

Taking time to practice meditation and stillness is a really good way to help calm yourself if you are nervous. Find a quiet space, sit comfortably and breathe in and out slowly and deeply – just as you should do for singing. Focus your mind on a single positive thought, or just on your breathing. If your mind wanders, bring it back gently to your breath. It can take a lot of practice to get the hang of it, but once you know how to do it, you can get into that space anywhere. Some people find a string of beads or something they can handle makes a good focal point, others like to light a candle. There are some useful apps for timing meditation and providing background noise. You can find guidance online such as this site about secular Buddhism.

If you are from a religious tradition, many have forms of meditative prayer that you may find helpful to use as an aid to calming your mind. For Christians, I can recommend resources from the Northumbria Community, Shane Claibourne’s Common Prayer and Sacred Space. You can also access this guided Prayer Garden online. If you’re a fidgety sort of person you could also using an Anglican or Catholic rosary prayer. If you are from another faith tradition, do ask your local faith leader for some ideas such as scriptural verses to focus on or prayers you can repeat.

Whatever kind of meditation you choose – secular or religious, being able to relax your mind is a vital skill for combatting nerves and stress for music and beyond.

What are your top tips for combatting exam nerves? Share them in the comments below.

Friday Favourites

Take a friday pause
Blog posts for learners have been few and far beteween this week, but fear not! A little scroll down this page will help you find the pearls of wisdom I have attempted to capture for you this week.


Posts on teaching

Is It Possible To Hack Practicing With The Addicting Properties Of Video Games? (The Collaborative Piano) – Can we reward practice in the same way as simple clicking games become addictive? Or is that a step too far?

Take Time to Give the “Why” (Music Teacher’s Helper) – Sometimes communicating the reasons why we do something is just as important as how we do it.

They Like You…But Do They Respect You? (Music Teacher’s Helper) – Some very important thoughts on building the right kind of relationship with students and parents.

What ‘Old School’ Piano Teachers Did Well (Teach Piano Today) – Four really good things to keep doing as a music teacher.

More Than Notes On a Page (Music Teacher’s Helper) – What are we teaching? Is it just how to interpret a series of dots, or is it more than that?

Posts about other things

Good hand position for piano (Helen Russell Music) – As great post about using the imagination to teach good piano technique from one of my online friends.