Monthly Archives: May 2014

Friday Favourites

Take a friday pause

Plenty of musical goodness for you this week, including responses to the BBC Young Musician of the Year final, and some rather appearance-ist reviews from Glyndbourne. And that’s without all the usual blog posts for teachers and learners alike.

Posts on learning

Slaying-the-dragon (Practicing the Piano) – “Piano playing can never be an exact science. We will not always be able to say with absolute precision or certainty how we arrived at a particular result in our playing. We may think we know, but in the end it will be a variety of different – and possibly even contradictory – means that bring about a result.”

What makes a ‘good’ singer? – it’s all about context (Christ Rowbury) – “Given that everyone can sing, what might it mean when someone says one singer is ‘better’ than another? What makes a ‘good’ singer any way?”

Does Perfectionism Get a Bad Rap? The Right (and Wrong) Way to Be a Perfectionist (Bulletproof Musician) –  “Well, the good news is that we may not have to throw out all of perfectionism quite yet. Perfectionism is not as black and white as we may have thought.”

Masterchef: redefining “amateur” (Cross-Eyed Pianist) – “Things which are described as “amateurish” are usually badly done or poorly put together. Not so these finalists in Masterchef: their dishes showed imagination, creativity, highly-developed technical skills and, above all, love for what they were doing.”

Posts on teaching

The Value of Singing at Piano Lessons.html (Heidi’s Piano Notes) – “Singing is such a powerful tool to accelerate learning and reinforce musical concepts in piano lessons, and yet I don’t recall any of my teachers singing at piano lessons, and I’m pretty sure they never asked me to do it.”

Learning Research Turns Music Teaching on It’s Head (Music Teacher’s Helper) – “A ten-year study of learning, just published 6 weeks ago, has come up with some surprising conclusions.   One is that drilling a passage of music over and over is not the way to master it.  For some students and teachers, this will come as a shocker!”

Teaching Adults Piano: Ten Tips (Diane Hidy) – “Jambalaya!” says James. “I absolutely LOVE Jambalaya! Can you teach me how to make it?” “Absolutely!” says the chef. “I’ll teach you to make Jambalaya. But first you need to learn how to cook my famous Lima Bean and Okra Soufflé.”

Posts about other things

Young Musician competition – let’s start with a level playing field (Guardian Music Blog) – “I have a dream, people; a musical utopia in which recorder players and percussionists aren’t discriminated against just because Mozart and Beethoven didn’t write concertos for their instruments; … a level playing field of musical opportunity in which it’s not just lip service that’s paid to the idea that all instruments are created equal, but something borne out in the decisions juries make in musical competitions”

BBC Young Musician 2014 (Melanie Spanswick) – Whilst I’ve always been a fan of the BBC Young Musician Competition (formerly Young Musician of the Year), I hadn’t previously had the opportunity to attend any of it. So when invited to the 2014 final, I took the plunge.”

Are opera singers now to be judged on their looks not their voice? (Guardian Music Blog) –  “How, then, have we arrived at a point where opera is no longer about singing but about the physiques and looks of the singers, specifically the female singers?”

Music in the News

Oh No! I Have a Cold!

Image by Cieleke at

Image by Cieleke at freeimages

I’ve had a cold this last week. It always feels ironic to say I’ve had a cold in May, but there you are.

Times can be tough for singers when viruses run rampant through our respiratory system, making it hard to breath and sing. Here are some tips to help you make it out the other end without damaging your voice or missing too much practice.

Managing your practice

It can be frustrating to have a cold when you need or want to pratice! The good news is that so long as it doesn’t hurt to sing, you can keep on practicing. If it hurts to sing or makes you cough incessantly, then stop.

Of course, just because you can practice, doesn’t mean you want to practice. When you have a cold or are suffering badly with allergies, it can be hard to be motivated to do anything, let alone the “work” of practicing. Somethings that might help make it easier:

  • Plan a couple of very short practices rather than one long one
  • Pick songs you know well, rather than working on anything new and challenging
  • Avoid songs which require long phrases without breathing or which push your upper range
  • As soon as you start feeling better, try to up your singing practice little by little back to your normal level to help build up your strength.

If you do need to take a few days off singing, why not use that time to listen to some classical music or podcasts. Try the BBC Radio 3 Composer of the Week as a starting point. If you can’t sing, but are up to doing written work, why not have a go at some theory exercises, or try some online flash games that might help you with your musicianship.

Coping with performance

If you have a performance coming up, sometimes you have to suck it up and get through it. Unless you have lost your voice, it hurts to sing, or singing makes you cough, you should be ok to push yourself. If you can, try to take vocal rest in the days leading up to the performance rather than doing a lot of practice (a good reason to make sure you are ready long before the date for any performance). Make sure you keep hydrated. You can dose upon over-the-counter medication and traditional cures if you need to, and rest your voice afterwards.

Traditional cures

The best kind of cold cures for singers are the traditional cures of steam, hot drinks and citrus. Steam helps clear your sinuses and will soothe the headache that comes with a cold. Keep hydrated – honey and lemon is great for a sore throat, and citrus-based fruit teas are great too as they don’t contain caffeine. Citrus, ginger and honey all have properties which are good at helping your body fight off colds.

The other important thing is rest – take time off and let your body do what it does naturally. Your body is perfectly capable of fighting off a cold, so give it a chance! One day off work to let your body heal faster is going to be far better than struggling through and not giving yourself a chance to recover.

Over-The-Counter Medication

It’s perfectly fine to use over-the-counter medication to help with a cold, but beware that they only treat the symptoms, not the virus which is causing them. Your symptoms are largely your body’s response to the virus – trying to kill it off before it can do any real damage. Fever, coughs, sneezes, and snot are all part of your body’s natural defences, and by stopping the symptoms, you are reducing your ability to fight them off.

The only medication which comes with a word of caution is anything that has a painkilling element, especially if you are using something that numbs your throat. If you are ill enough that you need to take strepsills or paracetamol, take care when singing because it won’t be so easy to know if something hurts and you should stop. I would generally only recommend singing after taking throat lozenges in dire situations (e.g. a performance you can’t get out of) as you could do more damage than good.

When to See Your Doctor

The NHS recommends that you should only see a doctor if you still have a cold after three weeks unless you have another condition which might be aggravated by the cold (e.g. a chest condition). It is unlikely a doctor will be able to do anything for you anyway, as colds are caused by viruses and there is not really any medication that we have that can kill the virus. Antibiotics will be completely useless as they only treat bacterial infections.

Having said that, if your cold is so bad it is seriously affecting your singing for a week or more, it may be advisable to see a doctor just to confirm that you do have a virus and nothing more serious. Always tell your doctor that you sing, and make it clear if you have any upcoming performances.

As for allergies, you should work with your doctor to find a good antihistamine. These won’t affect your singing, but will make it much easier to practice!

So there you have it. If you’re a singer suffering with a cold, take time out to rest, try to sing if you can, but make good use of your time if you can’t.

What tips do you have for singers suffering with a cold or seasonal allergies?

Friday Favourites

Take a friday pause


Is it finally starting to feel like summer where you are? It’s definitely getting sunnier and warmer here. If you’re not out enjoying the sunshine this friday night, here’s a round up of the best of the blogs this week
Posts on learning

The myth of the perfect performance (Erica Ann Stipes) – the problem with this can also be that young musicians have no idea how human we are, that mistakes are an inevitability, and that much of our skill as professionals has to do with not sweating the things that aren’t “perfect.””

How Your Mom Can Help You Perform More Courageously Under Pressure (Bulletproof Musician) – And then, who is the “Mom” in your life? The one, who, no matter what, will love and accept you just the same? How might you prime yourself before performances to remember this person…?”

“Darling, your technique is showing” – don’t be a singer who is all style and no substance (Chris Rowbury) – It’s usually the case that professional singers have had some sort of training in a particular singing technique. But dontcha just hate it when that’s all you see when they perform??!! All style and no substance.”

Oblique Strategies in practice (and practising) (Cross-Eyed Pianist) – “It also struck me while listening to the radio programme that Oblique Strategies Cards could be used in practising”

Posts on teaching

What to say if someone asks you if they can sing (Chris Rowbury) – What can you say without hurting their feelings or putting them off singing entirely?”

Worksheet: About the Piano Scavenger Hunto (Color in My Piano) – “Here is a simple worksheet I used at the beginning of class to kick things off”

5 ways to keep your singers focused (Total Choir Resources) – As irritating as chatter can be to you as the choir leader, if the room was completely silent all of the time it would be a bit un-nerving and you’d be convinced no-one was having a good time!  Striking the correct balance is therefore vital to the choir’s health. “

Music in the News

Friday Favourites

Take a friday pause

Hoorah! I actually have Friday Favourites up this week 🙂  Enjoy some of the best of the web while you slob around (after you’ve done your music practice, of course!)


Posts on learning

The Fine Art of Page Turning (Cross-Eyed Pianist) – ““You read music! You play the piano! You must be able to turn pages!” is the cry I frequently hear, and while all these statements are true, many people do not realise that page turning is an art in itself…

WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT SONG CHOICE (We Need to Talk About Opera) – “It is now almost mandatory for there to be a classical vocal performance in a television talent show… opera is being broadcast into living rooms all over the world.

Starting Practice With Intention (The Musicians Way)- “The beginnings of practice sessions set in motion everything that follows.When we start with clear intentions, we accomplish more in the shortest time…

Posts on teaching

Teaching Unmusicality Part 1 (Music Teacher’s Helper) – “If, as our mythologies of human musicality suggest, Man is ‘naturally’ musical, where do these apparently ‘unmusical’ students come from? What can, and indeed should, we do for our apparently ‘unmusical’ students, and what, if anything, can they offer us as teachers?

Listening With Eyes (Music Teacher’s Helper) – “So why then can it be so hard to actually hear what you are playing whilst in mid performance?”

Posts about other things

You will only make it as an Actor if… (Bloody Hell Brennan) – “You know how to respond to the following sounds without even blinking: zip, zap, boing...”

Party (Don’t Shoot the Pianist) – “My girlfriend is an Italian model”

Essential Choices on BBC Playlister (BBC Radio 3) – “BBC Playlister allows you to keep track of the music you enjoy listening to on the BBC

Music in the News