Tag 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.

Review: Go for Bronze

One of the biggest challenges any singing teacher faces is teaching sight-reading skills. Sight-singing is often neglected because singers tend to learn more by listening than reading. Many singers can go a long way with only rudimentary ability to read music – much further than a violinist or pianist can.

On my search for resources, I discovered Go for Bronze. Go for Bronze is a resource produced by the National Youth Choir of Scotland and it is used by them to develop musicianship in their choirs.

Image from musicroom.com

Image from musicroom.com

 

 

Title: Go for Bronze
Type of Material: Teacher’s Folder, Student Booklets
Publication: 2012, NYCOS
RRP: £35 for binder, £30 for 10 booklets (or individually from the BKA)

 

 

 

Go for Bronze is a comprehensive resource which is primarily designed for use with groups of children aged about 7 to 11. It uses traditional songs to help teach musicianship through the Kodaly method. It is structured to use tonic sol-fa along with physical movement and singing to teach fluent music reading.

Go for Bronze begins with the concept of holding a steady pulse or beat, before introducing the minor third (the easiest interval to sing). From there, rhythms are introduced in a slightly different order to traditional educational texts, as they draw on folk music rhythms. For example, syncopation comes much earlier in Go for Bronze than in most piano tutor methods. Complexity of rhythm is also built up much earlier than complexity of pitch which is really good for singers as they tend to be weaker on reading rhythm. Singing activities are interspersed with writing tasks as stick notation and then staff notation are introduced.

The general structure of the book is excellent, and very logical. There is plenty of time given to practice each concept before a new one is introduced. All the text is big, bold and clear. There is also plenty of information in the student book, making it a resource students can use confidently at home to practice and keep for years to come.

The pace of the book is quite slow – it takes a month or more to get to three pitches (so, mi and la). This can be frustrating for those who already read music, and for this reason, Go for Bronze may not be the best material for those students. For non-readers, or those with little more than school level knowledge, Go for Bronze starts right from the basics without being patronising. Despite the suggested ages, I mainly use this book with adult beginners, and they are very happy using it. Many of them enjoy singing songs they know from their childhood which appear in the book.

If you are considering using this resource, it’s well worth buying the teaching manual as it gives very clear guidance on how to teach each section. There are also loads of ideas about additional songs and games to reinforce concepts. The teaching manual also includes the end of level tests and photocopyable certificates which can be given to students. The Go for Bronze manual includes both levels in the one binder. The student books are good, but probably insufficient if one is using this programme with a group, or with several students. Unless you are already very familiar with Kodaly based learning, I would advise getting the Go for Bronze teaching binder.

Overall, the cost of this resource is quite high, but the effectiveness makes the £35 worth every penny. Since using this resource, I have become completely converted to this being the best method to help singers learn to read music. Kodaly resources are, by no means, the be-all-and-end-all of musicianship resources, but they do what they do extremely well.

Go for Bronze has two further levels: Go for Silver and Go for Gold. By completing the whole course, students encounter an equivalent understanding of music theory to the ABRSM Grade 5 theory examination.

Content: ♠ ♠ ♠ ♠ ♠
Layout: ♣ ♣ ♣ ♣
Value for Money: ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦
Overall: ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥

Review: Sing Musical Theatre

One of the things I had been intending to add in to my blog posts is reviews of new materials. Now I’ve finally been shopping, here’s my first review.

Sing_Musical_Theatre_Wouldnt_It_Be_Loverly_Book_and_CD_e

 

 

Title: Sing Musical Theatre; Wouldn’t It be Loverly? (Foundation, Grades 1-3)
Type of Material: Sheet Music with Backing CD
Publication: 2011 Faber Music
RRP: £14.99

 

 

I was delighted when I discovered this series as I have been looking for a “graded” approach to musical theatre songs for a while. Musical Theatre is dominated by vocal selections, or anthologies sorted by theme or voice type, rather than difficulty. This made it hard to give students a single text to buy. Thankfully, Trinity developed these volumes which help students up to Grade 5 work on easy but satisfying songs.

Wouldn’t It Be Loverly? has a good selection of songs, many of which are well-known. A good number, however, are taken from UK Youth Music Theatre productions which are less known. This could be a disadvantage, but I like that the book isn’t just the standard songs. There is a good range of styles and dates which means one could pull an LCM programme out of this book alone for the early grades.

This book is also an educational manual as each song has some background on the show, and tips on both musical and theatrical performance. This makes it a great buy for learners as they have reference material to support their practice. For LCM candidates, the information about the song is really helpful for the viva too.

The backing tracks too are good. They’re nicely paced (not too fast or slow) and have a fuller sound than just the piano, with some percussion etc where appropriate.

I would recommend this book to any beginner or teacher working with beginners. It’s not too condesending to use with adults either, and the inclusion of backing tracks really makes this a value for money choice.

Content: ♠ ♠ ♠ ♠
Layout: ♣ ♣ ♣ ♣ ♣
Value for Money: ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦
Overall: ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥

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.

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.

Trinity AMusTCL Resources

Trinity LogoNow that my AMusTCL exam is over, I’ve collated all the useful links to essays and analysis I’ve found throughout the course of my preparations. Over time, I hope to provide links and book recommendations for the sections I didn’t do as well, along with a series of posts to give some better guidance on preparing for the exam.

Section A – Lutheran Chorale

Tom Pankhurst’s Chorale Guide – Straightforward, step-by-step method for completing chorale-based tasks. Work through all the worksheets and you’ll be on your way to full marks.

JSBChorales.net – Most of Bach’s chorales are online at this site. It’s really important to get a feel for how the original chorales look and sound and this site has plenty of mp3s and MIDI files to help non-pianists listen to the music.

Section A – Orchestration

I’ve yet to find much about this one, but a good knowledge of instruments is key.

Section A – Popular Song

Music Arrangers Page – A blog all about arranging for popular music. Not all of it is relevant, but it’s worth looking through the articles and applying the ideas to your own practice.

Section B – Schubert Symphony No 5 in Bb
Topic list blog post

This was definitely the trickiest section to prepare for. However, plenty of work on identifying chords and musical features is important in gaining the more straightforward marks on part b.

Scott Foglesong – Scott Foglesong works for the San Fransisco Conservatory of Music, and he’s put up a fantastic essay analysing Schubert’s Symphony no 5 in Bb. Saved me a lot of time doing the formal analysis, so I can concentrate on the thematic issues.

Section C – Musicals
Topic list blog post

The best way to approach this section is to watch as many of the musicals as possible. Lots of these are available on Netflix and LoveFIlm, and you can also find various versions on YouTube.

“Inside” series from New Line Theatre – there doesn’t seem to be an index page, but the link will take you to the search which brings up most of the pages. There are articles on Chicago, and Jesus Christ Superstar

Notes, analysis & essays for OCR A level Music – a Scottish-based webpage with useful articles on West Side Story and Les Miserables.

Sweeney Todd: an analysis of the dramatic and musical structure – Someone has very kindly put up their entire PhD thesis on this particular show, with detailed analysis on several of the key songs.

Michael Bennett’s A Chorus LIne 101 – Three pages analysing the songs and structure of the show.

A Chorus Line: Does it Abide By Equity? – Ok, not strictly speaking useful for the exam, but a really interesting read! (link is to a PDF)

Have you taken an AMusTCL? What resources did you find useful? Post them below.

A History of Music for Singers – Resources and More

So we’ve travelled the best part of 2,000 or 3,000 years as we’ve examined the history of music, and especially the history of vocal music. If you’ve missed any of the posts in this series, you can jump to all of them here:

A History of Music for Singers

However, I hope this won’t be the end of your interest in the history of music. In fact, I hope this is only the beginning. Here are some of my favourite resources as a starting point:

Books

      

(Books bought through the above links will benefit the running of the Discover Singing blog)

Websites

Classics for Kids – This child-friendly website features a different composer each week with a five-minute audio podcast feed and loads of information.

Radio 3 Composer of the Week – Each week BBC Radio 3 features a particular composer with features on them each day. At the end of the week a one hour edited programme is released as a podcast and these remain available on the feed. UK access only, though.

Classic FM Discover – This UK radio station plays classical music all day, every day and is usually considered more accessible than BBC Radio 3 in style. Their website has some great resources on the history of classical music, and suggestions of music for various themes and events like weddings or studying. There’s also a section on film scores, since this makes up a large proportion of the more modern music they play.

 

AMusTCL – Topics for Section C

Trinity LogoTaken from the past papers (2009 sample, 2010 and 2011 so far), here are a list of the topics which have been covered by previous essay questions in Section C: Stylistic Development – Musical Responses.

Toccata: Jacques Loussier Plays Bach

  • Spontaneity and improvisation
  • Inspiration from Baroque features
  • Creative limitations of arranging
  • Commonality between Baroque and Jazz
  • Compositions in their own rights?

Popular Music

  • Worldwide appeal
  • Variety of cultural backgrounds
  • Innovation
  • Distinct musical sound
  • Musical qualities that lead to success
  • Non-musical qualities that lead to success (video/fashion/publicity etc)

Film Music

  • Hallmarks of film music as a specific genre
  • Importance of music in film as an art form
  • Integration of music within the film
  • Music and emotional response
  • Relationship to Programme Music
  • Role of music in enhancing drama

Musicals

  • Conflict between speech and music v. unified artistic whole
  • Treatment of ‘the outsider’
  • Social and contemporary issues
  • Role as ‘Protest music’
  • Ingredients of a successful musical
  • Popularity of the music v. other reasons for success

For details of the full questions, the past papers can be purchased from Trinity. I have no insider knowledge, so this is by no means a guarantee that these topics will come up again. However, it should give an idea of what kind of areas to focus on in preparing.

I hope this is helpful if you are preparing for this exam. I’m hoping to get a resources post up soon with links to websites I’ve found useful.

AMusTCL – Topics for Section B

Trinity LogoTaken from the past papers (2009 sample, 2010 and 2011 so far), here are a list of the topics which have been covered by previous essay questions in Section B: Stylistic Development – Set Works.

Schubert Symphony no 5 in Bb major

  • Relationship to music which came before and after
  • Treatment of sonata form
  • Chamber-like nature
  • Hallmarks of the classical symphony
  • Markers of later symphonic form

Stravinsky Symphony of Psalms

  • Novelty of orchestral features
  • Use of orchestration to provide colour
  • The setting of the text
  • Innovation in the music
  • Neo-classicism
  • Latin as a language choice

For details of the full questions, the past papers can be purchased from Trinity. I have no insider knowledge, so this is by no means a guarantee that these topics will come up again. However, it should give an idea of what kind of areas to focus on in preparing.

I hope this is helpful if you are preparing for this exam. I’m hoping to get a resources post up soon with links to websites I’ve found useful.

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!