Tag Archives: repertoire

Repertoire Corner



Happiness and joy are our themes this week, and I’ve selected two intermediate level songs


Schubert – Seligkeit (Heavenly Bliss)


This song has quite a long introduction which should be used by the singer to prepare mentally for the mood of the song. The melody here needs attention to detail. It’s vital to get the trill at the start of each verse right, and all the slurred notes need to be clean. Watch especially for the large jumps in the second half – they shouldn’t become glissandos. This song needs good, clear top notes without too much vibrato to reflect Schubert’s semi-classical style. Each verse should be sung with a different character to reflect the meaning of the words regardless of whether the song is sung in English or German. [Lyrics] [YouTube]

* * *

Lerner/Loewe – I Could Have Danced All Night (My Fair Lady)

Watch the key change in the opening recit to this song – it’s easy to think it’s a repeated phrase, but it’s not! Once the main theme gets going, it’s important to sing right through every note, shaping it roundly. Dynamic variation is also important to communicating the story of this song. Breathing needs to planned carefully to ensure every note is really well supported. Finally, this song needs a good dose of raw enthusiasm to be truly excellent. [Lyrics] [YouTube]

Repertoire Corner



Two love songs this week…



Greig – Tø Brune Øin / Two Brown Eyes / Zwei Brune Augen
[ABRSM 3(B); NC 2]

This is a fairly simple song melodically, but still needs a good acting performance to ensure the meaning is clear to the listener. The opening section needs to be light, but not staccato – sing right through the notes. There is a shift in mood in the middle of the song which needs to be communicated by the singer as well as the accompaniment. At the end of the song, there is a quick dynamic change alongside chromatic movement which needs to be cleanly executed to be sure of a strong finish to the performance. [YouTube]

* * *

Bernstein/Sondheim – One hand, one heart (West Side Story)
[ABRSM 4(C); TG 4(A1)]

This seems like a very simple song at first sight, with a straightforward slow melody and repeating verses. However, the key challenge with this song is to keep not only a sustained tone throughout the song, but to shape each note so that it is rounded. The high point of the song in the B section also requires strong vocal control as the singer is required to crescendo and decrescendo on a single note. It is the dynamic variation and tonal control required that make this song both challenging and rewarding to sing. [YouTube]

Repertoire Corner



Welcome back to Repertoire Corner. This week, we’re contrasting two very different songs taken from the ABRSM Grade 2 list – both with more adult ideas in them than might first meet the eye.


Anon. English – The Coventry Carol
[ABRSM 2(B), TG 2(B)]

At first listen, this sounds a like a gentle lullaby to be sung around Christmas time. Instead, if you delve into the words, this is the mothers of the baby boys massacred by Herod singing a lullaby to Jesus. Throughout this song, the singer needs to engage deeply with the agony of these women who have lost their children, and yet still urge the baby Jesus to be quiet so that Herod does not find him. Carefully chosen dynamic variation will help to keep the simple melody from becoming repetitive. Take care with the end of each verse as the shift to the major key could easily catch beginners out. This song is also very long, so needs effort to maintain interest and concentration throughout. [YouTube]

* * *

Bart – As Long as He Needs Me
[ABRSM 2(C); TG 3(A); LCM MT 5-6]

It is all too easy to sing this song as a flowing and pretty tune. It sounds so romantic. However, this is really a song about a woman trapped in a violent relationship, and in fear of her life, but unable to leave. It’s a 1960s version of the haunting “Maybe I Like it This Way” from Lippa’s The Wild Party. Instead, the lyrical melody should be sung more haltingly as though on the brink of tears, in desperation. LCM’s music theatre rating is a lot more accurate regarding the difficulty of this song. Even without the acting challenges, there are also vocal challenges since singers should also aim for a cockney accent over the top of basic good vocal technique. [YouTube]

Repertoire Corner

file0001545806234Apologies for not having posted this for the last few weeks – I have been quite busy recently and forgot about it :(… Two songs for young beginners this week.

Traditional English – I Had a Little Nut Tree
[ABRSM 1(A); Trad. Song]

A gentle tune which would suit a young singer. The simple melody leaves plenty of room to communicate what appear to be sweetly romantic lyrics. This rhyme was allegedly written from the perspective of Henry VIII’s older brother Arthur who was betrothed as a child to the King of Spain’s daughter, Katherine of Aragon [source]. Of course, as with all nursery rhymes, don’t think about the lyrics too hard, or they start to have much more adult connotations. This song could be sung as quite a naughty rhyme, but perhaps that interpretation would be best left in the pub rather than the exam room! [YouTube]

* * *

David/Hoffman/Livingstone – Bibbidi Bobbidi Boo (Cinderella, 1950)
[LCM S1-1; ABRSM 1(C)]

This joyful song from Disney’s Cinderella is sung by the Fairy Godmother as she uses her magical powers to change Cinderella from lowly maid to dazzling soon-to-be-princess. It’s quite fast, so watch that all the words are crisp and accurate before adding movement to this song that reflects the fun that this character is having while she’s making magic. Remember to sing this song to the startled Cinderella – try to use the upbeat nature of the song to reassure her not to be scared of the magic going on. A cloak would make an easy but effective costume for this song, and something to act as a wand would be a good prop choice. [YouTube]

ABRSM Exams Series – Choosing Repertoire 3: Unaccompanied Traditonal Song

NB: While reading this series, it can be helpful to keep a copy of the ABRSM Singing syllabus to hand. The syllabus can be downloaded here http://gb.abrsm.org/en/our-exams/singing/

Bartok Recording Folk MusicMany years ago (I’m not sure how many) the ABRSM syllabus used to have scales and exercises for singers, just as they do for instrumentalists. However, following feedback from teachers and students, the board decided to change this component to the “unaccompanied traditional song”. This segment of the exam, while it might seem easier than memorising scales, brings particular challenges as students do not have the support of the piano to keep them in tune and in time.

Choosing a song for this section can be a pleasure, but it can also be a nightmare! There has been a decline in traditional songs in schools and general culture, so many of our students have no knowledge of their own traditional songs, never mind those of other cultures. For this reason, investing in some good resources are essential for teachers.

Let’s look first at what kind of song is required. The ABRSM syllabus gives a very clear definition:

“A traditional song is defined as a folk song originating among the native people of a region and forming part of their culture. The following genres are not suitable: hymns; national anthems; stylized folk song arrangements.”

The main sign a song is suitable is that there is no composer listed. Arrangements are more tricky as many publications have piano accompaniments added. However, the key test is really whether or not the song can be sung without the piano accompaniment and still sound complete in itself.

ABRSM published a very helpful article in Libretto magazine last year which gave ten key points to doing well in this section. I’ve added my own notes to this list:

  • Excellent communication – choose a song with a story, or emotional journey to help candidates know what they’re
  • Totally secure memory – this goes without saying really, but often these songs require more in terms of memorization as the tunes are repetitive and the songs are wordy.
  • Overall pitch sustained with assurance – secure pitch without the piano should be something developed long before exams, but this can be more difficult for some singers than others.
  • Accurately controlled intervals and intonation – songs can often have wide or unusual intervals, so it’s important to make sure you work on securing these early on.
  • A well-chosen, comfortable key for the candidate’s voice. Ideally a singer will know this instinctively and not need a starting note from the piano – I did not know before this article that there were marks for not using the piano for starting a song, and it’s something I certainly hope to encourage my students to try! The songs can be sung in any key, so do try taking songs up and down in pitch.
  • Effective tempo choice and inherent sense of rhythm – Reading the article has also illuminated to me the possibilities of using more rhythmic songs.
  • Instinct and ability for story-telling – narrative songs are often a great choice as it makes it much easier to develop this aspect. Encourage singers to delve more deeply into the words of these songs and link them to their own experiences of story-telling (after all, these songs are often little more than playground gossip!)
  • Facial involvement – a singer’s eyes are so important – this should be true for all the songs, but it can be easy to forget how important it is when singing unaccompanied
  • Expressive use of colour and dynamics – dynamics are entirely controlled by the singer, and so it’s worth taking time to explicitly talk about when to use different volumes and textures
  • Use of rubato where appropriate – same goes for slowing down at dramatic moments. Unaccompanied singing gives the candidate all the control, which is terrifying, but also fantastic for their development as a musician.

With young candidates, it can be good to use this part of the exam to help them connect with their own cultural music heritage. I love working with young Scottish singers and encouraging them to find folk songs they can sing in their natural accent. I’ve also encouraged candidates from Christian backgrounds to submit traditional spiritual songs which are part of their faith heritage. Older students can be encouraged to learn about new cultures, and musical traditions.

My final word of advice is not to leave traditional songs to the last minute! Traditional songs should form part of the diet of singing lessons throughout the year, not just at exam time. They act as fantastic as studies for technique. Many of them follow traditional harmonic rules and provide practical demonstrations of theoretical concepts like cadences. By selecting tunes from an international background, students can also explore alternative harmonies and scales such as pentatonic, whole tone and blues scales (all included in the Trinity theory books).


  • Sing Together – A core text for beginners covering a good selection of British traditional songs
  • ABRSM Songbooks – each has a selection of traditional songs in the back which provide good examples of the difficulty expected
  • Songs of… (series) – A series of six volumes including one for each of the four nations of the UK, Christmas and the Americas.
  • Folk Songs of England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales – Another big collection of folk songs
  • IMSLP Petrucci Music Library – an online repository for out of copyright sheet music. You do need to be careful about the copyright dates as not everything on the site is out of copyright in the UK, but there are some 19th century folk song collections which are available for legal download.
  • Beth’s Music Notes – a great blog with loads of folk songs from all sorts of cultures.

Now you’re all set with some repertoire, it’s time to submit for the exam and move on to looking at how to prepare your songs for performance in the exam.

–>  Next post “Preparing for Performance

[ Introduction ♦ Previous Post ]

Repertoire Corner

Two lullabies for you this week. Both beautiful, but both very different.

Reger – Maria Wiegenleid
[ABRSM 5(B); TG Int.Cert.(B); LCM(5)]

This song shifts frequently between major and minor tonality so the singer needs to be confident at adjusting between the two. The “chorus” element (“Schlaf kindline…”)of this song needs a good understanding of how to bring colour to long notes which should sit in the middle of the singer’s range. The German pronunciation should not be too taxing, and since the song is short, it should be manageable to sing in its original language. [YouTube]

* * *

Brown, Jason Robert – Christmas Lullaby (Songs for a New World)
[LCM MT 6-7]

On a first listen this song sounds simple, but, like all of Jasno Robert Brown’s songs, it is surprisingly challenging. The chorus passage (“and I will be like mother Mary..”) has large vocal leaps which need to be executed with accuracy, while maintaining the same volume and tonal quality of the lower sections of the melody. The emotional communication of the song is also key as the lyrics are not explicit about the meaning (so much so that Brown reportedly had to explain them himself). This song should be sung with a sense of mixed emotions: joy, fear and most of all awe. Not a song for the faint-hearted, but a rewarding one to master. [YouTube]

ABRSM Exams Series – Choosing Repertoire 2: The Lists

NB: While reading this series, it can be helpful to keep a copy of the ABRSM Singing syllabus to hand. The syllabus can be downloaded here http://gb.abrsm.org/en/our-exams/singing/

ABRSM did a wise thing when they invented the lists. It might initially seem restrictive to have to pick from a list, but as I’ve already noted, there’s plenty of choice on each one for singers. In fact, rather than being restrictive, the ABRSM list system means students must pick songs from at least three different styles and periods.

Let’s take a closer look at the styles and periods. Where I’ve mentioned specific songs, I’ve linked to them on YouTube. At the end of each section, you can access my playlists on YouTube for each grade. The playlists aren’t always complete as not everything has been put on YouTube, and I’ve not done every grade list yet. If any of the links become defunct, please use the comments box to let me know so I can update them.

List A (all grades) – From Folk to Baroque

List A is the earliest list in terms of composition date. At Grade 1, it is dominated by folk songs such as “Golden Slumbers” and “The Miller of Dee”. Although folk songs are not necessarily hundreds of years old, they are usually unknown in terms of date, so fit into the idea of ‘early music’. By Grade 5, students are expected to manage simpler baroque arias such as Handel’s “Where ‘Ere You Walk”. Grade 5 candidates are also offered their first taste of Renaissance music with Arne’s “Where the Bee Sucks”. Handel, Haydn and Purcell are regulars on this list. Mozart and early classical composers also feature, straddling lists A and B. At Grade 8, candidates can choose Renaissance songs such as Dowland’s “Flow my Tears” or “Weep You No More Sad Fountains” , oratorio and mass settings such as Mozart’s “Agnus Dei” or operatic recitatives and arias like Purcell’s “Ah Belinda/When I am Laid”. For Grades 6 to 8, there is a general section, and then four sections for soprano, mezzosoprano/alto/countertenor, tenor, and baritone/bass.

List A songs tend to be quite word-y, in that the words are as important as the melody. Clear diction is important. The Baroque songs usually require a level of vocal agility in tackling the long  runs of quavers on a single vowel, while the Renaissance songs often change time signature every bar. Many of these songs have the opportunity for students to learn about ornamentation (both written by the composer and added by the performer).

YouTube Playlists: 1 – 2 – 3 – 4 – 5 – 6 – 7 – 8

List B (Grades 1-5) – From Classical to Classic Art Songs

List B for Grades 1-5 covers simple repertoire from about 1750 to 1950 in date. The ABRSM have a bit of a love-affair going on with Brahms, and his songs feature heavily. High romantic songs (Faure etc) are notably absent, primarily because of their difficulty. They start to appear on the Grade 6-8 list B. Grade 1 offers songs such as Brahms “Die Nachtingall”, Schumann’s “Der Abenstern” or Lin Marsh’s “Seagull”. By Grade 5, the choice is a little more varied with Chopin’s “Smutna rzeka”, Finzi’s “Boy Johnny” and Copeland’s famous arrangement of the Shaker hymn “Simple Gifts”. There is no requirement to sing any repertoire in a foreign language at Grades 1-5, even though much of the B list was not originally written in English.

Vocal music became more and more about the music and less about the words as it progressed into the 19th century, and so these songs often provide opportunities to show of breath control and depth of tone along with emotional communication.

YouTube Playlists: 1 – 2 – 3 – 4 – 5

List B (Grades 6-8) – The Foreign Language List

At Grades 6 to 8, list B is the mandatory foreign language list. While other songs may be sung in translation, list B must be sung in its original language. At Grade 6 high romantic music in the form of Faure makes an appearance with the likes of “En Priere“, and students can delve into German Lieder with Schubert’s “Stanchen”. By Grade 8, Faure is a stalwart appearance, joined by his contemporary Debussy’s “Beau Soir” and Verdi makes an appearance with “Perduta ho La Pace”.

The key to a good B list choice at higher grades is finding a language your student is comfortable singing in. Good pronunciation will be essential, as will communicating the meaning through tone and facial expression. Thankfully many of the songs on this list have strong emotional content making them easy to engage with as performances.

YouTube Playlists: 6 – 7 – 8

List C (Grades 6-8) – The Art Song List

I will freely admit to hating List C as a student, but then I love baroque music, opera and music theatre! List C for Grades 6-8 covers modern art songs. Several of Roger Quilter’s Shakespeare settings are on the lists like “How Should I Your True Love Know?” at Grade 6. Madeline Dring’s Shakespeare setting of “It was a Lover” features at Grade 8. Britten’s “When You’re Feeling Like Expressing Your Affection”  features at Grade 6 and Barber’s “Sure on this Shining Night” is on the Grade 8 list.

Modern art songs can be comic, emotional or pretty. All of them require confidence against more complex accompaniments which are often less helpful than those for the other lists. It can be quite a balancing act to get the emotional content across while maintaining good tone and technique.

YouTube Playlists: 6 – 7 – 8

List C (grades 1-5)/List D (grades 6-8) –  The Musicals List

Well, strictly speaking, this isn’t exclusively a musicals list, but the vast majority of candidates choose from the musical theatre or opera choices. At Grade 1, the musicals choices include classics like “We’re Off to See the Wizard” (The Wizard of Oz) and “My Favourite Things” (The Sound of Music). There are also some lovely songs written for primary aged children that I’m keen to look into further, such as Jenkyns’ “The Crocodile” or Lin Marsh’s “Pirates!”. Grade 5 has gems like “Sunrise, Sunset” (Fiddler on the Roof) and “I Could Have Danced All Night” (My Fair Lady). By this level, Gilbert and Sullivan are also on the list (“The Policeman’s Song” and “When a Merry Maiden Marries”) expanding the genre into operetta. There are also still art songs such as Rowley’s setting of “From a Railway Carriage”. By Grade 8, the musicals content like “Adelaide’s Lament” (Guys and Dolls) is thinning out to make way for opera arias such as “The Dew Fairy’s Song” from Humperdink’s Hansel und Gretel or “O Columbina” from Leoncavello’s I Pagliacci.

This list has a great range of choices all the way through the grades, with a mixture of musicals, jazz standards, and art songs for early grades, and more opera arias later on. This list allows students the chance to show off different skills, like characterisation, accents and a greater depth of emotional communication. It can be a real joy choosing a song from this list as students are likely to have several songs they enjoy and can perform well.

YouTube Playlists: 1 – 2 – 3 – 4 – 5 – 6 – 7 – 8

Now you’re getting to grips with the accompanied repertoire, it’s time to choose an unaccompanied traditional song.

–>  Next post “Choosing Repertoire 3: Unaccompanied Traditional Song

[ Introduction ♦ Previous Post ]

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.

Repertoire Corner

A Stack of BooksIn addition to my Friday Favourites posts, and the slot on Wednesdays reserved for series (like the current ABRSM exam series), I hope to make a regular appearance of a short post on Mondays with my teaching notes on one classical and one music theatre song. I like to discover new repertoire, and I hope that this will inspire you to look at new songs, and go back to old favourites.

So, without further ado, here’s the first “Repertoire Corner”:

Handel – Where’er You Walk
[ABRSM 6(A); TG 6(A1); LCM DipLCM]*

Although a well-known tune, don’t be fooled by this, it still requires technical skill. All the phrases should be sung legato, but ended crisply. Special attention should be paid to the starting and finishing of each phrase and candidates should avoid the temptation to sing through the rests. The long runs of notes also need careful attention to be clean but still legato. The first repetition of “shall crowd in to a shade” needs particular attention. The da capo repeat of the A section should be ornamented, and suggestions can be found in the ABRSM Songbook 5.

* * *

Formby – When the Lads of the Village Get Crackin’
[LCM:MT c.4-5]

Wartime songs, while assumed to be “part of British musical culture” are often unknown to young singers, but can provide good variety and contrast in Music Theatre exams. When approaching this song, the melody itself is fairly simple, although it does modulate a little, which makes it more challenging for those who aren’t confident with pitch. The accompaniment is, however, very supportive. The challenge in performing this song well comes from really telling the story – getting the audience to believe that the singer is proud to be in the home guard, even if they are mocking it at the same time. Make sure there is ample time for the candidate to engage with the words in preparing this song. This peice could be sung in any natural British accent, but would be best performed using Formby’s own Lancashire accent.

*This gives the grade level of a song, if it appears on a list. Notes given in brackets refer to the specific list on the syllabus.

ABRSM Exams Series – Choosing Repertoire 1: Know Your Voice

NB: While reading this series, it can be helpful to keep a copy of the ABRSM Singing syllabus to hand. The syllabus can be downloaded here http://gb.abrsm.org/en/our-exams/singing/

A Stack of BooksFacing the list of song choices for an ABRSM singing exam can be daunting. For most other instruments there are between 6 and 10 choices per list. Several popular instruments even have their own book published with three pieces from each list in, making it very simple to choose. In contrast, Grade 1 singing has 22 pieces in list A, 21 for list B and 31 for list C. By Grade 8 this has grown to 53 choices for list A, 43 on list B, 45 on list C and 46 on list D!

There is one very important reason for all this choice, and it’s the thing which is most important to remember when deciding on repertoire – no two voices are the same. There are a mixture of male, female and non-gendered songs right from Grade 1, and from Grade 6 some songs are listed with specific voice types.

The key questions I use for choosing repertoire for AB exams are more or less the same as the ones I use for choosing my own concert repertoire:

  • What is the vocal range? Can my student hit every note required with confidence?  – Note that many of the songs on the AB lists are published in several keys. I tend not to do my own transpositions as it’s rarely necessary. However, the syllabus says “all items may be sung by any voice and in any key, published or transposed, suited to the compass of the candidate’s voice, except for those items from operas, operettas, oratorios, cantatas and sacred works in Grades 6–8 (Lists A and D) where a particular voice and key are specified (although original pitch may be adopted in Baroque pieces, if appropriate)”.
  • Where is my student’s vocal strength? – It’s no good to give a student who struggles to hold pitch in their upper registers a song which is almost entirely at a high pitch. Songs should reflect the best qualities of a student’s voice.
  • Does my student struggle with any techniques? Are there technical things they are really good at? – Young students may struggle to sustain long phrases as their lungs are small. Other students might have a knack for crisp articulation, or maintain really good tone on long notes.
  • For foreign languages: does my student already know a little German / French / Italian / Spanish / Icelandic? – Knowing a little of the language can really help a student understand and engage with foreign language pronunciation, as well as with communicating meaning.
  • How old is my student? How good at conveying emotional content are they? – ABRSM exams don’t have the acting component that Music Theatre exams do, but it is important to bear in mind that some songs may not be appropriate to give a young singer. Singers who are particularly good at conveying emotion should be directed to a song which can show off their talents.

I also have two more non-musical considerations:

  • Can you get hold of the music? – There’s an anthology of Icelandic Art Songs, for example, that is on several lists, but I can’t find anywhere to buy it from except the publishers’ website which is in Icelandic. If you can’t get a legal copy of the music, you can’t sing the song in the exam. Period.
  • Is it an overdone song? – Watch out for songs which appear in a lot of anthologies, especially the graded ones. Examiners will have heard these more often than repertoire which is only “published separately”. Watch out for really well known songs too. I’m sure it’s just a legend, but I’m convinced that it helps to offer a programme containing less popular songs!

These questions will start to narrow down the lists, but there’s no substitute for listening to as many songs as possible and singing at least a few from each list. YouTube has recordings of the vast majority of songs and is invaluable for making a first pass through. I try to maintain playlists with as many of the songs as I can find over at my YouTube page.

Ultimately, I do find that as much gut instinct as analysis goes into selecting songs for exams. With my younger students, I usually choose a list myself, but with older ones it can be a great journey to go on together to listen, sample, try out and choose a programme both of you love.

Join me again next week for a look at the types of music which can be found on each list.

–>  Next post “Choosing Repertoire 2: The Lists

[ Introduction ♦ Previous Post ]