Monthly Archives: March 2014

Friday Favourites

Take a friday pause

March marches to it’s end, and Easter is looming near. Are you working hard for an Easter concert this year, or are you in the middle of exams? Easter is a great time to catch some of the great choral works, so why not have a look and see what’s on this weekend?

 

Posts on learning

Process vs. product: are you along for the singing ride or just the final performance? (Chris Rowbury) – Some of us are interested in the outcome, others the experience. Chris discusses both approaches and gives some thoughts on how to enjoy both parts of performing.

Not an Optimist? How to Make Pessimism Work for You. (Bulletproof Musician) – Pessimists do some things better. Find out what they are and how to harness them to become a better performer.

How to Compose a Madrigal [Challenging] (MyMusicTheory) – Ever wanted to sound like a Renaissance troubador? Now you can!

The Number-One Motivator of Music Practice (The Musician’s Way) – No prizes for guessing the answer, but it’s good to be reminded of what it’s all about!

Posts on teaching

Using MTH creatively – Part IV – Emergency info + more! (Music Teacher’s Helper) – Here are some useful tips for keeping emergency contacts in Music Teacher’s Helper.

“Themes” Add Focus to Your Teaching (Music Teacher’s Helper) –  Some ways to bring new creativity to your teaching.

Posts about other things

Music in the News

 

How to Find the Right Choir

Evensong in York MinsterFinding the right choir for you can be tough, but as I’ve said before, joining a choir is a great way to improve your singing and musical skills. Here are five really important questions to ask yourself before you start looking at the myriad of options available.

How Does the Choir Learn the Music?

Some choirs use sheet music, while others learn “by ear”, or more accurately, “by rote”. Using sheet music opens up a range of more difficult (dare I say, interesting) repertoire than can be learned just by listening and repeating. It also means things can be learnt more quickly. If the choir uses sheet music, you will get a real boost in your sight-reading abilities. However, you want the choir to challenge you, but not leave you behind, so ask the director if you can find out more about what kind of repertoire you’ll be singing and how fast you have to cover it.

Do I Have to Audition?

A good number of choirs audition, and they auditon for lots of reasons. Some want to check if you can keep up with the sight-reading needed. Others might be looking for a particular vocal sound. The most prestigous will want the whole package. You might find a choir auditions sopranos and altos, but doesn’t audition tenors as they’re a bit short handed. The size of the choir will give you an idea of how difficult the auditions are to pass, and you should definitely ask the director what you have to do and how formal the process is. You might also ask how many people are successful, and how many are turned away too.

What kind of music do they sing?

There’s a choir for every genre of music, but the main types you find are traditional choirs (singing classical music usually with sheet music), pop choirs (singing contemporary music learned by rote) and church choirs (singing religious music, usually with sheet music). You definitely want to look for a choir whose music you enjoy, so why not go along to a concert or service to hear the choir and decide if you like the general kind of music they sing. You won’t like every peice, so consider the overview more than the specifics.

Sopranos

What kind of performance do they give?

The TV show Glee has led to a rise in the “show choir” in the UK. There are now more and more choirs who really go to town with their performances including dance and costume. Some choirs are more sedate, going for some swaying and clapping. Others are much more formal and just stand with book in hand. Think about what is most comfortable for you. You should be able to find out about this easily.

This is also the point to consider if you have any mobility or health issues that might affect your ability to stand still for a long time etc.

How much does it cost?

Some choirs are free. Some might even pay you to be part of them (church choirs, for example). Others charge a membership fee to cover the cost of the musical director and accompanist, hall hire and books. There may also be charges for loan of music or buying choir t-shirts. You should ask what costs are entailed, and make sure that you check about extras, not just the membership fee. If you do have to pay, ask about the arrangements for leaving the choir – do you get money back, or can you only leave at the end of a subs period?

Useful Websites

Here are a few directory sites that might help you find a few choirs to try:

  • http://www.choirs.org.uk/home.htm
  • http://www.bbc.co.uk/sing/findachoir.shtml
  • http://www.nationalassociationofchoirs.org.uk/

Are you part of a choir? What kind of choir is it? How did you find it?

Friday Favourites

Take a friday pause

 

Good news, everyone! Normal service should be resumed from now on!

 

Posts on learning

How to Get Those Distracting Thoughts Out of Your Head When You’re Trying to Practice (Bulletproof Musician) – Did you know it’s normal to get distracted? It’s true! And, as a bonus, you can read some great tips on how to deal with those distracting thoughts too.

Never tell someone they can’t sing – it is brutal, damaging and untrue (Chris Rowbury) – Why we should be really careful what we say, and what the truth is about whether people “can’t sing”.

How Much Practice Should  I Do (Helen Russell Music) – A really great video that Helen’s found to remind us all how to do practice properly.

How to Compose a Mnior Pentatonic Piece (My Music Theory) – Ever wanted to try your hand at composing? Here is a step by step guide to writing a simple melody using a minor pentatonic scale.

Why You Should Be Hearing Music in Your Head (JazzAdvice) – What is it that makes the difference between playing and really making music? It’s the internal sense of music.

Posts on teaching

Ten Reasons Why “Music Teachers Helper” Pays for Itself! (Music Teacher’s Helper Blog) – Yes, I know it’s shameless advertising, but as a MTH user, I can vouch for how useful and effective it is.

How to introduce composing to Piano Students (Compose Create) – Here are some great ideas to get students making their own music.

Posts about other things

10 Best Piano Judging Comments (ComposeCreate) – We’ve all had bad comments made in exams and competitions, but here are 10 reminders that we often get really helpful ones too.

8 Tips on How to Behave at the Theatre

Theatre-Audience

 

Ever wondered how you should behave at the theatre? Well, here’s a beginners’ guide based on my most recent trip to the Edinburgh Playhouse…

 

1. The overture is just background music. It’s just there so that you don’t have to talk to your friends in a silent room while you wait for the show to start. Same applies to the Entr’acte.

2. Letting your phone ring during the performance just adds to the music and makes the show more dramatic. There’s nothing quite like the tension created when everyone starts looking for the ringing phone.

3. Leaving your phone on vibrate creates a really fun game of “where’s that coming from?” for the people sitting around you to play during the boring bits. Everyone will really appreciate your efforts to make the show more interesting.

4. In a musical or opera, the spoken dialogue isn’t part of the show. It’s a nice pause for you to have a cough, or chat to your friend.

5. Everyone in the theatre loves to know what all the other people think about the show, so you should keep a running commentary going to your friends.

6. It’s really important to let everyone know that you have the best possible sweets by buying the ones we the really rustly plastic and opening them up at the quietist possible moment.

7. Moving your head around all the time means the people behind you get to have a nice stretch and shuffle too as they readjust to make sure they can see. You should do this regularly to help your fellow theatre-goers stay healthy.

8. If you have a really bad cough, it’s much better to let it all out. It’s really uncomfortable to hold back a cough, and your neighbours will be really glad they caught your germs because they didn’t want to go to work tomorrow anyway.

Ok, so maybe that’s not the best way to behave. Instead, here are some key tips that mean everyone in the theatre including you, the actors, the musicians and the rest of the audience are able to really enter into the moment and enjoy the show:

  • Listen to the overture and the entr’acte. Just because you can’t see the musicians doesn’t mean they don’t deserve respect. Plus, the composer has constructed it to give you a flavour of the music to come.
  • Switch you phone off or to silent. Vibrate makes a really, really loud noise in a quiet room!
  • If you need to cough, talk or rearrange your position, try to do this at the end of a scene while nothing is happening, or during the LOUDEST points of the music.
  • If you’re coughing or sneezing so much you can’t do this, don’t go. Or at the very least, ask to switch seats to sit to the end of the row, so you can slip out to have a coughing fit and then sneak back in again.
  • If you must bring snacks, bring sweets which are unwrapped and preferably, switch them into a box before coming so you don’t even have to rustle the bag.
  • Remember, in the theatre, the actors are putting on a performance for you. Imagine if they were your sibling, parent or child – how would you want the audience to behave? Model that behaviour by being quiet and respectful during the show and applauding really loudly at the end.

What are your real bug-bears at the theatre? And is there anything you’d add to the list of good ways to behave?

Should I Join a Music MOOC?

MOOC [mook] n. massive (or massively) open online course: a usually free online course open to anyone and potentially having a huge number of enrolled participants.

Anyone here taken a MOOC? I have just completed my first two MOOC courses with Coursera, one of the major provide of free online courses. The first course was run by the National University of Singapore and called “Write Like Mozart: An Introduction to Classical Composition”. The second “Songwriting” by Berklee College of Music. I was surprised at how much I learnt and how creative each course was in its design.

Online Education

What Kinds of MOOCs are Out There?

MOOCs come in two main types – scheduled and self-paced. Scheduled MOOCs are modelled on traditional distance learning, so they begin and end on a specific date, and usually release course materials one week at a time. There are real deadlines for completing quizzes and assignments. Assignments are usually assessed by other course members. These courses often offer free Statements of Accomplishments or paid certificates. The main providers include Coursera, EdX, FutureLearn and Open2Study.

The second type are self-paced courses. These courses are available to start at any time and all the materials are available right from the start. You can complete the tasks at your own pace. Some courses do have final exams (e.g. Saylor or ALISON), while others provide no proof of learning or tests (OpenLearn, iTunesU).

What Kinds of Skills Can I Learn?

Most of the MOOCs are bent towards maths and science, but there are an increasing number of humanities MOOCs beginning to crop up. This includes music MOOCs. Most of the MOOCs about music are focussed on music theory, harmony, composition, and music appreication and analysis. A music MOOC would be a good place to revise for Grade 5 theory, or to begin to explore composition in a guided setting. For a full list of music MOOCs I have found online, head over to my Recommended Courses page.

How much time will it take?

Most scheduled MOOCs will take about one evening a week to keep up with. Some need a bit more, others less. Most providers will display the time they reckon it will take on the course page. For self-paced courses, the time is more flexible, but if you want to make it through the whole course, you should set aside an evening or a lunch hour each week to work on the materials.

So what did you think?

I really enjoyed my MOOC experiences. I found them challenging and inspiring. It was great to get some guided experience in composition, as I haven’t studied this much before. I’m really keen to go on and take a few of the self-paced courses now, like Voice-Leading Analysis from OpenLearn.

So, why not explore the kinds of MOOCs you could take to learn more about music?

Have you taken any MOOCs yet? What did you think? If you’ve taken any music MOOCs, why not link to them in the comments, and I can add them to my recommended courses page.

A Quick Note

IMG_8232Just to let you all know, my posting schedule might be a bit all over the shop over the next couple of weeks. My schedule has changed and I’m not quite back into a routine yet. I’ll still be trying to get two posts out each week, but I can’t promise they’ll be on the same days or at the same times as they have been!

If you don’t want to miss a single updated, why not subscribe to the post using the links on the top right?

Five Reasons to Join a Choir

One of the most valuable things you can do as a singer is to join a choir. Why, you ask? Why should you give up another evening a week and a few weekends? Well, here are my top five reasons;

Evensong in York Minster

1. Meet other singers

Singing can be a very solitary business. We take one-to-one lessons and we practice alone. If we don’t go out there and meet others, we can end up becoming lonely and discouraged. Joining a choir is a fast-track way to meet other people who share your passion for singing.

2. Learn to sing in harmony

Solo singing teaches loads of useful skills, especially the confidence to get up and sing by yourself, but it’s not easy to teach harmony. By singing in a choir, there’s a 50/50 chance you’ll be singing a harmony part most of the time if you’re a woman, and a 100% chance you will be as a man. Even if you’re a soprano, sometimes, you’ll have to sing a high harmony while the altos or tenors take the melody line. Learning to perform in harmony boosts your aural skills massively.

3. Pick up the pace

Choirs ususally require you to learn things fairly quickly. The pace varies from choir to choir, so you might need to ask questions about this when you join. No matter what, you’ll be thrown new music to work on quite frequently.

Another way singing in a choir helps with pace is your ability to keep going dispite mistakes. In solo singing we can stop and start again, but a choir of a hundred, or even thirty, won’t stop if one member gets something wrong, or gets lost. You’ll need learn to be adept at carrying on regardless and finding your place if you get lost.

4. Develop performance skills

Altos

Singing in a choir develops all kinds of performance skills, whether it’s carrying on despite mistakes or being able to follow a conductor. You’ll also get used to dressing properly, coming on and off stage, and looking enthusiastic. Depending on the choir, you may also learn to clap, move or dance while you’re singing.

5. Improve ear and sight-reading

Choirs usually fall into two categories – teaching by ear, and teaching using sheet music. If you choose a choir which uses sheet music, it will improve your ability to sight-read no end as you will have to do loads of it! Choirs which teach by ear will hone aural skills like musical memory and the ability to hear and repeat complex music. Whichever kind of choir you join will be able to improve your ability to find notes which harmonise, sing in syncopation and a myriad of other things.

So what are you waiting for? Head on over to your favourite search engine and get involved in your local choir!