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ABRSM Exam Certificates

The New ABRSM Syllabus is Here!

Eight years since the last major refresh of the singing syllabus, and five years after the last update, ABRSM have been heavily promoting their new syllabus as a modern update for singing students.

Yes, it’s true to say it’s been refreshed. Unfortunately, it’s otherwise a disappointing update.

But, let’s start with the good stuff!

There’s More Musical Theatre

Loads more songs to choose from, many of which I found myself thinking “oh, this wasn’t on there already?”. Most of the additions are from older, more established shows, and Disney works, but they are good singable tunes.

More for Teenage Boys

I noticed they’ve included a selection of new songs from publications aimed at teenagers with changing voices. This is great news for encouraging singing among boys who could easily be put off during their teenage years.

Simplifying the Publications List

ABRSM have included a good number of songs from some new publications, and expanded the use of some others. I can see they are trying to reduce the burden on teachers and students when it comes to buying materials in general. I’m actually quite interested in buying one or two, like the Songs from the Far East collection.

A Few Bad Options are Gone

I’m glad that As Long As He Needs Me is no longer listed for Grade 2. It’s about domestic violence, so not really suitable for kids! I’m also pleased to see the back of Die Henne, but then I have a personal vendetta against that song!

Unfortunately, there’s quite a bit more that I’m less impressed with…

Foreign Languages are Not Required.

The requirement to sing in a foreign language at grades 6 to 8 is no more. This is a bit odd as these are classical singing exams, and classical singing requires the ability to sing in multiple languages. I can only see this as a weak attempt to attract non-classical singers to the exams, even though there’s so many excellent options for other styles of music. Any teacher worth their salt will ignore this change and continue to insist on a foreign language.

Basses can Sing Soprano Arias

There’s two issues here. Firstly, they’ve removed the restriction on key changes for oratorio and opera. As above, this is a weird decision as it’s so contrary to professional practice. Alongside this, this type of song is no longer listed by voice type in the syllabus. All this does is make it harder for good teachers to wade through the material to work out what is right for their students, and encourages weaker teachers to choose inappropriate repertoire.

Money Making Publications

ABRSM are also publishing a new set of books for Grades 1-5. Funny that.

It’s Still OLD

Even though about a third to a quarter of the repertoire has changed, I still feel like this syllabus is built on out-dated ideas about what children sing, and it’s full of difficult folk songs and pop songs from the 20s, 30s and 40s. There’s very little contemporary music, and the music theatre offerings are still mostly mid-20th Century at best.

It’s still Illogical

It’s also very hard to see the logic of the syllabus. A Dream is a Wish Your Heart Makes is still on Grade 1, and I’d never teach it at that stage due to the huge leaps in it. Popular is on Grade 8 and I’d say it’s closer to 5 or 6. I still don’t know what musical skills students are supposed to develop from one level to the next, which makes assessing readiness for the exam difficult, and encourages rote-learning of songs.

No Change to Supporting Tests

The sight-singing still doesn’t reflect a logical progression for singers. They still organise it by key, rather than starting with pentatonic melodies and moving outwards. The Aural tests still duplicate the sight-singing test. The traditional song requirement also remains the same.

I wish ABRSM would take their singing programme apart and start over. I’d love to see them take a Kodaly approach, starting with pentatonic materials with strong accompanied support at Grade 1, and then develop more complex accompaniments and diatonic music through to Grade 5. I would also love to see more repertoire and publications to support adult learners at the lower grades. And for the love of music, please sort out the sight-singing tests. I’m fed up of having to teach to the test because it’s so badly constructed.

What are your thoughts about the new syllabus?

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.

To Enter, Or Not To Enter…?

It’s September. That means for all us music teachers, like the children we teach, it’s back to school and back to work. In the UK, as well as abroad, a new term means we once again face the question: do I enter my pupils for an exam this term?

Sometimes, it’s easy to answer. Maybe it’s a last opportunity before a student moves away, or maybe you put it off the previous term to give yourselves a few more months. Your student might even need to take the exam to get into university. For others, it’s more tricky to decide. Here are a few really important questions to ask before you enter a student for an exam.

Have I covered all the material required for the exam?

Image by chrisjtse on flickr

Image by chrisjtse on flickr

If you’ve not actually taught all the material, this should be a big warning light. There can be as little as five weeks between entries closing and the first possible exam date. Five weeks is not enough time to teach whole songs or concepts. You want to be able to spend the time working on refining and improving what your student can already do.

Would my student pass if they sat the exam tomorrow?

This can be a really good acid test of whether your candidate is ready. If you reckon your student could get the pass mark or a little better if they sat the exam now, then you have plenty of time to ensure that not only will they pass, but they’ll do so comfortably, or even gain a merit or distinction. If your candidate is looking ropey, it might be time to push back a term and give you both a little more time.

Am I considering entering them because their parents/they have asked to even though I don’t think it’s a good idea?

It can be really hard to say no to a parent who is keen for their child to excell, but it’s not kind to a student to enter them too early. If they fail, you may crush thier confidence. If they pass, they (and their parents) might gain unrealistic ideas about their abilities. If you are not happy entering them, bite the bullet and say ‘no’.

Would my student do better by waiting an extra term?

Some students will improve massively with more time, allowing them to slowly and surely build towards success. Others will continue to procrastinate until you put a deadline in front of them. Get the measure of your student – are they likely to work hard in the extra time, or do they need pressure? You can wait forever for a procrastinator to be ready for an exam and many of them may give up entirely if you wait too long.

There’s no right or wrong answer about when to submit for an exam. It’s a careful balance between knowing your students, listening to the parents, and forming your own judgements. Make sure everyone has a say in the choice. It’s often easy to give in to pushy parents, or decide you ‘might as well enter’, so if in doubt, leave it one term and see what happens.

Good luck to everyone who is entering candidates this term. I hope they do really well.

Movement for Non-Actors (Part 3) – It’s the Little Things

As we have been discussing in previous posts, the use of movement in a performance is always tied to the information you’re trying to communicate to your audience. So far, we’ve talked about the big movements – walking around and changing levels. In this post, we’ll take a look at a few of the smaller things that are really important.

NervesEye contact & Posture

One of the key ways we communicate with others is through our eye-contact, or lack thereof. If you want to appear confident, or in charge of the situation, you’re likely to look someone directly in the eye. If you’re afraid or someone, or aware you’re in the wrong, you’ll probably avoid looking at that person’s eyes as much as possible.

Here are some of the questions you can ask yourself to establish where you should be looking, and how you should be standing:

  • What status does your character have? Are they a powerful person in society or a weak one? A pauper or a king?
  • What relationships does your character have with others who are on stage during the song?
  • How does your character feel about themselves? Do they feel confident or insecure? This will determine how you look at the audience.
  • How do these feelings change throughout the song? Does your character increas in confidence through the song, or do they get more insecure?

One of the exercises that is really good to do, is to try to communicate your status just through posture and eyecontact. Practice this with your teacher.

Inhabiting the body of your character is very important, so you could also try a technique called “hot seating” where your teacher asks you questions and you have to respond as though you were this character. By thinking like the character, you will find your body responds to your thoughts and moves like your character.

I hope to do a series on characterisation in the future to help with just this issue.

Gestures

public-speakingGesture is a tricky area in theatrical performance. Many people do talk with their hands, so standing still is unnatural, but you don’t want to be waving them around aimlessly, or worse, in a choreographed “hand dance”.

We usually gesuture to emphasise particular things we are saying. Consider where the most important lines are in your song. These are the points where you should consider moving your hands. To take an example, in the Gilbert & Sullivan song A Lady Fair of Lineage High, there’s a repeated line: “but it would not do / his scheme fell through” which has an accompaniment that is emphatic too. When performing this song, I chose to make a repeated gesture at the same time as singing these lines to emphasise the shortcomings of the character the song is speaking about. You might want to consider similar actions.

Whatever you choose to do, make sure it’s a natural action, and a simple action. Unless you are deliberately communicating the whole song through Sign Language, too many motions which interpret specific words will look downright weird!

PropsCups of Tea

The final aspect I want to mention is props. The LCM syllabus encourages the use of props and costume, and so I always encourage students to use a prop in at least one song. This might be anything from a ruler to a suitcase. Including props creates simple movement and action, and helps to communicate character and meaning.

If you want to make use of props, start by selecting your prop carefully. You want something simple, small and safe. An entire car is probably unrealistic, but a mocked up steering wheel might be do-able. Don’t use any props which involve fire, chemicals, or liquids etc. If you want to drink, it’s much safer to mime the wine than to try to pour it while singing, slop it on the floor and end up slipping over in your next number. Note that in the UK, at least, smoking is not permitted indoors, so you’ll need to keep cigarettes fake or unlit. Over the years, I have used folded letters, lipstick, picnic baskets, rulers, suitcases, and mugs.

Whatever you choose, mark all your actions into your score so you can rehearse them.

Oh, and don’t forget to pack your props on the day of your exam!

That’s the end of the whistlestop tour of movement for non-actors. I hope to come back in a week or two and talk about choreography for non-dancers, and also look at characterisation for singers. If you’re interested in any of these, click the RSS feed at the top right to subscribe to the blog.

In the meantime, do any of you have tips on how to add movement into your performances? Add them in the comments below.

Movement for Non-Actors (Part 2) – Where?

Mary Poppins

As we talked about on Tuesday, movement isn’t normally part of a singer’s repertoire, but it becomes vitaly important in musical theatre.

However, once you’ve worked out why you’re moving, it’s time to work out where to go.

Geography of the Stage

In this post, I’m going to give a quick run-down of some of the different places you can move to, and ways in which you can move there to help you develop a plan for your song.

One of the first considerations is where on the stage you will stand. Will you go for front and centre, or back and off to the side? Each choice says something different about how you character is feeling, and how s/he relates to others.

Stage Geography

Front and centre is the most powerful location on the stage. No other actor can get in front of you, and you can speak right to the audience. For a song like Maybe This Time from Cabaret, you might want to select a front and centre position, and stay quite static too. Something more tragic, and uncertain such as I Dreamed a Dream might feel a bit odd sung from that location.

Conversely, the back of the stage suggests weakness. You’re easily overshadowed by other actors and the set from the back of the stage, and you need to really project to be heard. It’s rare to find an entire solo sung from the back of the stage, but many a number begins at the back and moves forwards as the character develops.

Character or plot development pieces like Daddy’s Girl from Grey Gardens often end up in the middle of the stage. Front and centre breaks the imaginary fourth wall of the room, and speaks to the audience. If a song is directed at a character on stage, then it makes sense to be mid-stage, well inside the imaginary room.

Off to one side or the other of the stage is a good location for narrative songs, or for introspective songs, as the character has removed themselves from the action and can look from the side of the stage over to the events of the story.

Levels

It’s important to consider not just where on the stage you are, but what kind of position you take in that location. When directors talk about “levels” they are referring to whether an actor is standing, sitting on a chair, sitting on the floor, or lying down. You can think of it as what “level” your head is on. In some shows, such as the opening number of Wicked, levels can even mean flying in from overhead!

Standing up is a confident and pro-active position. A big solo number with a very definite mood like I Am What I Am might be stood throughout. Character and plot development numbers might also involve standing, depending on the context.

Lying down on stage

Sitting down is often a sign of meakness or uncertainty. It can also be a sign of reflection or introspection. A number like Still Hurting usually starts with an actor sitting down as it’s a reflective song, dealing with painful issues. Sitting down on the floor can have a similar effect of sadness as in With You from Ghost, or it can be a relaxed and optimistic act as in By The Sea from Sweeney Todd.

Lying down is either result of the events leading up to the song, or absolute emotional brokenness. Being horizontal can make breathing difficult, so this should be used with care, but it can be very dramatic and communicate strong emotions.

Making the Move

Movement means choosing where you’re going to start and then when and where you’re going to move to. Go back to the score you’ve marked up and start by thinking where you are going to be when the introduction plays, or you say the preceeding lines. From there, at each point where the emotional story of the song changes, you should consider moving to another part of the stage, or changing your level. If you get sadder, move away from the centre of the stage or sitting down. If you get angry, stand up and move forward. Happier people also tend to move more, and faster. Think about how you move when you feel particular emotions.

Don’t be afraid to move while singing too. If a bridge or chorus builds towards a new emotion, you could make the transition as you sing.

Whatever you decide to do, make a note in the music as to exactly when you are going to move, and where you are going. Practice the movement to a recording of someone else singing before you try the movement while you are singing.

I hadn’t intended this, but there’s so much to say that I’ll conclude this with a third part next Tuesday talking about smaller kinds of movement such as eyecontact and gesture.

In the meantime, are there areas of the stage that you think have particular meaning? How do you map out the stage, or use levels to show emotion?

Movement for Non-Actors: Part 1- Why Move?

If you’re preparing for an LCM Musical Theatre Performance exam, you might have noticed this rather ominous line in the syllabus:

dance and movement are encouraged and expected, and credit will be given for appropriate dance and other movement which is in context and is integral to, and enhances the performance of, the pieces… (p14, section 2.5.2, emphasis added)

To the first study singer, this kind of instruction can strike fear in the heart of even the most confident. So, how do you start to bring movement and dance into your performances? In this post, I’ll talk about movement, and then in a future post I’ll discuss dance.

Why Do I Need to Move?

Eponine

Standing still in the middle of the stage makes a statement. It’s very intense, and it’s very direct to the audience. Some songs are definitely those kinds of songs, but most of them aren’t. Think about it. How many times have you seen someone be completely static in a musical? Have a look at this example from Ghost. Although most of the song is static, there’s still a point at which Molly moves (at 3:35). Note how the choice to move conveys a change of mood as the song breaks from the sad and depressing verse to an angry bridge.

Movement is just as important as the music in helping the audience to understand the meaning of a song. Just as you map your song vocally, you’ll need to map your song out physically. Here are some questions to help you start figuring out how to build in movement:

  • Who am I talking to? Am I singing to the audience or another character on stage, or who has just left the stage? e.g. There’s a Fine, Fine, Line (Avenue Q) is directed at the audience, but Daddy’s Girl (Grey Gardens) is sung to Jack, and Bring Him Home (Les Miserables) is directed at God.
  • Is there a particular point where the mood changes? e.g. With You (Ghost) or Still Hurting (The Last Five Years)
  • Do the lyrics describe what I’m doing? e.g. in On My Own, Eponine talks about walking through the streets.
  • Are there instrumental sections where you aren’t singing?

Grab a copy of your music, or the lyrics, and in pencil write the person to whom you’re talking to on the top. Then mark in the other points in the music. Once you have these key aspects you can begin to map out where and how you’re going to move.

Kate Monster

Move with Intention

One of the most important rules in theatrical movement is always move with intention. You don’t, in real life, wonder around aimlessly. You always move for a reason, even if it’s unconcious. Sometimes we move closer or further away from someone to show our feelings about them. We might pace the room to help us think. We move to pick something up or put something down.

The same is true for your character. For every movment you make, you need to make an active and considered choice about why you are moving. As you map out you movement, write in the reasons why you’re moving in pencil next to the action.

Starting Point

Before the beginning of any number, something has already happened to your character. Even if it’s the opening number of the show, the character hasn’t popped into existance at that very moment. In Les Miserables, Jean Valjean is already in prison. He’s had a whole life before that point which has landed him there in the first place. In the immediate moments before he sings his first solo number, What Have I Done? he has been speaking to the Policemen and the Bishop. This means he will already be on stage, and in a particular location.

In your song, you need to know what has happened before. Write this at the top of your music too. Is it that you have just finished talking to someone? Have you just come on stage? Where are you entering from, or where did the conversation take place? There’s no requirement for anyone to start a solo number in centre stage. Look again at With You from Ghost. Molly sings the whole song downstage left, which adds to the atmosphere of weakness, pain and fear.

Making Choices

From there on, you can make choices that work for you. Perhaps your character gets frustrated and starts to pace? Or they’re happy and they want to dance around? Do they give up by the end and need to collapse on the floor? I sang one performance where I began lying on the floor and slowly stood up towards the end. At each of the change points you’ve marked, make some decisions about whether or not to move and where to go. Look at some videos on YouTube of actual performances and see what aspects you like. A friend of mine has been preparing Steps to the Palace from Into the Woods, and she found it very frustrating that for someone who was supposed to be stuck to the spot according to the lyrics, an awful lot of Cinderellas kept moving around! I, on the other hand, borrowed most of the movement from the original show for The Wizard and I from Wicked.

In Part Two

On Thursday, you can pick up on part two of this post, where I’ll talk about how you can use space, levels, eyes, gesture and props to help bring movement to your performance.

What do you do to help bring more movement into your performances for Musical Theatre? Add your tips in the comments below!

How to Make Musical Note Cookies

CookiesI 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 Amazon.co.uk 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!

Me singingI 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.

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.

cienpies @ sxc.huExercise, 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

Candle-flame-no-reflectionTaking 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.