Category Archives: Resources

Finding Traditional Songs

Bartok Recording Folk MusicI’ll be honest. I don’t like trying to find traditional songs! Ever since I read the ABRSM advice and heard about the poor examiner who had ten renditions of ‘Ten Green Bottles’ on one day, I am super keen to find something different or unusual for my students to sing. So, how do you find that elusive song which is both appropriately challenging, enjoyable and unusual?

Ask your students

This might seem a total no-brainer, but with my most recent exam, I asked my student to find a song from her own cultural background and family traditions (Geordie in this case, so not particularly exotic or far flung). This turned out to be a great experience for my student because she was able to spend time with her family learning about their interests and heritage. Singing in a native/family language or accent can be a really positive experience for students too. It’s important to vet the songs to make sure they are not too difficult or too hard, so it may be a good idea to ask them to come up with two or three options if possible.

Browse in strange places

Books of folk songs often show up in places you’d never think to look for music books. Volumes of traditional songs can regularly be found in tourist shops, independent book shops and second hand stores. ‘Music’ shops are actually less likely to carry these kinds of books as they’re often considered to be a specialist market. I’m always keeping half an eye out when on holiday for books and recordings of local songs. Remember, there is no requirement to have sheet music for the song – only a translation of the words if the song is not in English. Audio recordings can be a surprisingly good source.

Find hidden gems on the internet

Audio recordings can also be found online in unusual places, such as university archives. The School of Scottish and Celtic Studies at the University of Edinburgh has an online archive of oral history recordings including recordings of traditional songs. Other institutions have these kinds of resources.

Another good source is IMSLP. Many of the Victorian ‘collectors’ of folk songs published books which are now out of copyright. One example of this is the page of Cecil Sharp’s collections from around England.

Avoid the traditional books

Sadly, while ‘Sing Together’ is a solid text, the songs in it are overused and not terribly inspiring. The suggested songs in the back of the ABRSM Songbook collections are more varied and unusual, but are likely to be frequently used.

The search for the right traditional song can be time consuming, but it can be a gateway for the student to explore their own heritage, that of the country they live in, or indeed the culture and heritage different to their own. A well-taught traditional song can also bring with it enlivening discussions about the fundamental nature of music, and how we came to have the musical traditions that we do in the West.

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.

Name That Tune!

If you, or one of your students is heading for Grade 5 theory, you’re probably dealing with the rather dull subject of enharmonic equivalents. Most of the existing resources on this topic are pretty uninspiring, rather like a page of maths questions that asks if 3+1 is the same as 6-2, or 5-3…

So, why not try something a little different?

Once you’ve got the basic idea of enharmonic equivalents, why not have a little look at this:

Mystery Tune

 

Far from a newly discovered work by Schoenberg, this rather messy looking tune is actually one of the most famous melodies in existence.

Can you play it? Can you work out what it is?

Why not try to write it out on manuscript paper in the simplest correct key?

If you’d like to share this with your students, or print it for use at the piano, you can grab a pdf copy here: [purchase_link id=”1460″ style=”button” color=”inherit” text=”Purchase”]

 

Understanding Repertoire (Free Printable)

Sheet music 2One of the aspects of teaching I really enjoy is when I get to use my degree (which isn’t in music) to help students understand the songs they are singing. I studied Social Anthropology and Social History, and so I love discussing historical context, composers and meaning.

When preparing repertoire with students, I often make use of my Understanding Repertoire printables. These short forms give prompts to help students start thinking about the emotional content of their songs, as well as covering musical features like key and structure. These sheets also make a good additional written aspect to practice for students if they are likely to have trouble doing regular practice one week. I also use them regularly for exam song to help students start to go beyond just singing the song accurately and really start to engage with the motives of the singer.

The sheet isn’t really suitable for very young singers, but from around age 9 or 10, students should be able to engage with this. You may need to explain the terms “baroque” and “romantic” etc if you’ve not covered basic history of music with them (and stay tuned to the blog for more information on my History of Music for Singers programme in the future).

You can download the pdf by clicking this link: [purchase_link id=”1318″ style=”button” color=”dark-gray” text=”Purchase”]

Please don’t modify this sheet before you give it to students, or sell it to anyone. You are, of course, welcome to print copies for students or use it as inspiration for producing your own activities to help students get to know their repertoire.

ABRSM Grade 6+ Theory Resources

the_hand_writes_musical_notes_a_featherMany a theory student has reached the dizzy heights of passing ABRSM Grade 5 theory and thought ‘I’m enjoying this, why not do more?’, only to fall at the first hurdle by buying the wrong materials to learn with.

If you, or someone you know, would like to take ABRSM Grade 6 theory, here are my tips and book recommendations:

Tips

  • The exam format changes dramatically from grade 5 to grade 6, and many say it’s the largest leap. Have a browse through a past paper at a music shop to familiarise yourself with where you’re going.
  • Allow plenty of time to study for it – I would recommend at least a year.
  • Start with more general workbooks on harmony before trying to tackle the exams. This is not an exam which is simply regurgitating facts any more!
  • Listen to plenty of music, and get to know more about styles and composers as this will help with the score-reading questions.
  • Make time for learning musical terms and instrumental names throughout your studies.
  • If in doubt, find a teacher. You are best to look for someone who specialises in theory at advanced level, so use a resource like ISM’s musican directory to ensure you’re going to someone who knows their stuff.

Workbooks

  • Harmony is Fun (Maureen Cox & Claire Liddel) is your best starting point. Although these books don’t look like much, they review all the core harmony content from Grade 1-5, and then introduce more advanced building blocks with fun illustrations which will help you remember Mother chord, and Father chord for many years to come. Link is to the Boosey & Hawkes shop listing for the first book.
  • Harmony in Practice (Anna Butterworth) is a mighty tome, and can appear both dense and dull on first reading. It is kinda both. However, you will never forget how to write out all the chords you might ever need since there are extensive practice exercises. Answer book is sold separately. Link is to Amazon listing.
  • Practice in Music Theory (Josephine Koh) provides the best ‘graded’ introduction to the skills required to pass the exam itself. These books work through the new harmonic vocabulary and key concepts before seamlessly moving onto tasks which echo the exam questions. There is one book for each grade, and the link here is to Grade 6 on Musicroom.
  • My Music Theory.com isn’t a book, although you can buy their lessons as a pdf, which sort of counts. They do, however, provide a careful introduction through the theoretical concepts leading towards the exam questions int he same way as Practice in Music Theory. Well worth using, though there’s nothing for 7 and 8 yet. Link is direct to the grade 6 page.
  • Theory Workbook (ABRSM) gives a more exam-direct approach with each question as encountered on the exam itself being broken down into manageable steps. The authors work the questions slowly and methodically from start to finish, with working shown at each stage and then a selection of examples to practice. Again, there is one book for each level and the link is to Musicroom.

Reference Books

  • AB Guide to Music Theory (Part I & Part II) (Eric Taylor) are recommended reading for all theory exams. The information contained in Part I covers up to grade 5, and is recommended as a reference book from the start. Part II goes on to cover useful information like the names of instruments in multiple languages, which is required at grade 6 and above.

Hopefully, I will add to this list over time, but if you have any suggestions of things you’ve used and found helpful, please let me know!