Tag Archives: seasons

Winter is Coming…

Yes, it’s that time of year when the Ned Stark memes run rampant on Facebook and we all start wishing we lived in a more equatorial nation. For singers, winter can pose particularly big challenges as we try to take care of our voices. Here are some of the things to watch out for at this time of year

Beware extreme temperatures

Winter in the UK is a land of extreme temperatures. While we’re outside in the freezing cold at one moment, we’re then back inside in a heated building the next. Although our bodies are self-regulating, the temperature of the air we breathe will affect our vocal folds as it rushes by.

In cold temperatures, breathing through your nose is the simplest way to warm air up before it hits your throat. Noses go red in the cold because the body sends blood to it in order to warm the air coming in. Covering your mouth/nose with a scarf can help too, if you’ve got a bad cold.

Once you’re inside, make sure you warm up properly before singing. A bit of running on the spot and gentle stretching will get your blood flowing and help your vocal folds to warm up. Try not to keep the heating in your house too high as this makes going outside even worse, and can contribute to the problem of hydration.

Wherever you end up singing this winter, make sure you give yourself plenty of time to acclimatise, and warm up your body and voice in the venue.

Beware dehydration

Mad as it sounds, dehydration can be a real problem for singers in winter. Central heating often dries out the air, and because we’re not feeling warm, it can take longer to become aware we need to drink more liquid.

The best way to hydrate is to use warm, body temperature liquids as your body can absorb those most easily. Take care also not to drink only caffeinated tea and coffee as caffeine has diuretic properties (i.e. it makes you want to pee more often), and the milk we usually add can cause phlegm issues (ugh!). Switch in warm sugar-free squash or fruit teas, especially before practicing and on performance days. Honey and lemon makes a really good hydration choice as it cleans out excess phlegm and boosts your immune system.

Of course, the dangers of overhydration are as serious as dehydration, so only drink if you are thirsty, and stop when you feel satisfied. If you have chronic dehydration, speak to your GP as this can be a sign of something more serious.

Beware of colds and coughs

Most of us won’t get flu this winter, but we might get some bad colds. If you’re not sure which you’ve got, here’s a handy chart:

Thanks to Jillee at One Good Thing.

Thanks to Jillee at One Good Thing.

Assuming it’s a cold, take care to be alert to how your voice feels. So long as it’s not painful, it’s absolutely fine to sing if you have a cold, cough or other mild illness. If it hurts, stop! Make sure you keep hydrated, though. It’s also important to avoid taking any medication which numbs your throat (e.g. Strepsils) before singing. By numbing your throat, you’re preventing your nervous system alerting you when you’re damaging your voice.

Colds can’t be treated by medication because they’re viruses. Even paracetamol can slow down the healing process as a fever is one of the tricks your body uses to kill of the virus. However, if your symptoms are severe, go on for more than a week or two, or include non-cold symptoms like breathlessness or sustained high fever, do get in touch with your GP, or your local out-of-hours helpline (e.g. NHS 111 in England, or NHS 24 in Scotland). Remember, your local A&E is for emergencies only, and 999 for dire emergencies.

Beware the flu

Finally, if you’re eligible for the flu vaccination for free, go and get it. Most people I know who get it attest that they get less colds over the winter, as well as the benefits of the protection from flu. Eligible groups include under 18s (nasal spray), over 65s, and people with long-term conditions like asthma, heart problems and diabetes. If you’re not sure if you’re eligible, give your GP a call.

If you’re not eligible for the vaccine for free, you can pay for it privately at your local pharmacy. This year, your local Boots store will charge you £12.99. I would highly recommend considering getting a flu vaccine if you are a singer as it will help to boost your immune system all year long!

Whatever else you do, keep singing, and keep taking care of your voice by exercising as often as possible.

Do you have any winter survival tips for singers? Post them in the comments below.

Greenbelt 2013: Life Begins

greenbelt2013This isn’t, strictly speaking, a music-related post or a review, but I wanted to share with you a little bit about the other passion close to my heart – faith. If you’ve looked around on my site, you have probably found that I offer a specialised focus on Church Music. This is because I am a Christian and I regularly attend worship at one of the churches in Edinburgh. I firmly believe that music is a vital and important part of our human lives not just because it is fun, but because it is a way of expressing, sharing and experiencing something beyond our words and our rationality. For me, music is a way to connect with God as well as a way to connect with others.

Why do I say all this? Well, I have been away over the last weekend at a very special place called Greenbelt Festival. It’s a festival focused around the three areas of faith, arts and justice. Broadly, faith means Christian, but many invited speakers are Muslim, Jewish, Atheist, Agnostic or from another faith tradition. The festival is also passionate about justice, aiming to be a voice speaking up for the poor and oppressed and inspiring people to live in a sustainable and fair way. However, it’s the arts I am always most drawn to. Greenbelt is a place where art is linked to faith, but it’s not just Christian bands and paintings of the cross. It’s a place where art and music is about challenging ideas and inspiring people to think differently about the world. It’s the place where I learned that Christian music doesn’t have to mean singing about God, but, for me, it always means singing to God.

Mainly, however, this post is because I wanted to share a lovely poem written by one of the 20,000 Greenbelters there over the weekend. I hope it shares a little of what I took away from this weekend, and inspires you to see how art (and music in particular) can help you express, share and experience those deepest things inside you.

Life begins

before conception, when a Holy Trinity love each other very much and want to invite you to the party.

Life begins

with the sight of a baby in a sling being sung to by her father.

Life begins

in some fields near Cheltenham where you can find a little patch of home.

Life begins

with music and dancing and celebration.

Life begins

when people put past cares behind them and grasp a clean slate.

Life begins

when for the first time in months when you hear

“you give and take away”

you can at last sing

“my heart will choose to say, Lord blessed be your name”

and mean it.

Life begins

with new connections and old recollections with cups of ale and gales of laughter.

Life begins

when you let go of the day-to-day drudgery,

cry yourself silly in the arms of a friend,

before laughing yourself happy in the arms of Jesus.

Life begins

when you find yourself not doing what you might have expected

and instead tagging along on a whim with fellow travellers for an unscripted adventure

and are extremely glad that you did.

Life begins

when something else has ended or died, often, like a phoenix from its ashes.

Life begins

when you recognise you only have a finite length of time at your disposal,

so many opportunities and choices all the time

but this isn’t so that you sit paralysed in indecision

it’s so you relish in the richness of it all and try and squeeze the best out of it

whilst still making time for the ordinary-yet-potentially-hallowed times

of unplanned nothing-muchness.

Life begins

when you acknowledge and accept that pain and doubt and uncertainty and all manner of darkness

may not be ignored or wished away

and that even without it always lessening

you can live through & with it.

Life begins

with a dawning hope that all will be well one day, somehow

and everything until then is just the journey.

Life begins

with glorious, terrifying freedom.

Life begins






Written by the talented poet who goes by the handle of stirringthepensive.

Summer is Over and the Autumn Air is Here

Autumn leavesJust a quick updated to say that the hectic month of August is over, and I am back lurking around the internet as normal now. Here are some of the things you should be looking out for this autumn:

  • The rest of the series on “A History of Music for Singers”
  • A new “Composer of the Month” feature with biographies, musical works and a set of free printables for your History of Music binder which will be available this autumn
  • A range of new printables and spreadsheets which will be available from the shop which should be online by Christmas
  • A new series on preparing for LCM Music Theatre exams and content for AMusTCL candidates
  • Regular weekly posts like Repertoire Corner (which I promise will actually start happening every week…) and Friday Favourites
  • Reviews of shows as diverse as HairsprayA Christmas Carol and Don Giovanni
  • Plenty of other tips, tricks and ideas for teachers and students of singing and music in general

Any other things you’d like to see? Let me know below if you have any questions you’d like me to answer or topics you want me to write about.

Singing Through the Summer

It’s school holidays from this week, up in slightly sunny Scotland, and it won’t be long before the schools are off in England too. That means lots of music teachers are on holiday too. Some teachers take the whole summer off and most of us will take a couple of weeks.

So, how do you survive the summer as a music student? Here are some of my favourite things to do to keep myself motivated without weekly lessons.

1. Read some books about music

As things quiet down over the summer, it’s a great time to pick up a book about music. If you’re off on holiday yourself, a good book is a must to pack into your suitcase. Join your local library to get books for free. If you’re under 16 (mainly aged 4 to 11), you can also join in the national summer reading challenge at your local library and get rewarded for reading!

There are loads of choices for all ages. You could pick up a composer biography, a book on the history of musical styles, or one about instruments. What about a scientific book about how music works, or one on the psychology and neuroscience of how music works? Amazon even has a selection of classic texts on music available free in kindle format.

I’m just compiling my reading list for this summer (more later in the week), but in the meantime, check out my book recommendations page.

2. Head out to a concert or festival

Music happens all year round, but in the summer it’s usually mild enough that musicians venture outdoors. There’s a huge range of outdoor concerts that take place throughout the summer, from national events like Proms in the Park, to the bandstand in your local park. Keep an eye on national sites like The List as well as your local listings for opportunities, especially family friendly ones with the option to picnic while you listen.

For the more adventurous, summer is the time for festivals. Urban festivals often showcase local talent, while weekend events in fields give a more intense and cosmopolitan environment. These aren’t the cheapest option, but often offer a wider variety of styles of music. I’ll be reporting back from Greenbelt later in the summer which offers a huge range from classical opera to punk rock all on the same site.

If you really can’t find anything locally, check out coverage on the BBC of the various music festivals from Glastonbury (last weekend) through to Leeds and Reading (at the end of August). They also broadcast lots of concerts from the Proms on radio and TV.

3. Make some music with others

I nearly titled this one “take part in a concert” and I would definitely recommend that as one of your considerations. If you have a local festival, why not consider participating? It might be too late for this year, but you could use your summer to plan for next year.

If you’ve got some more free time over the summer, why not touch base with some musical friends and get together to play? You could even head for the park and make music outside, or try busking (check out your local council’s by-laws before setting up just anywhere). Making music with others challenges all kinds of skills like sight-reading and aural perception, and it’s loads of fun. I love getting together with my duet partner to rehearse new songs.

4. Take part in a summer school

Summer schools for music come in all shapes and sizes for all ages and abilities. Local events are often short and affordable. Come-and-sing events often crop up over the summer, as do workshops for kids run by local music groups. I was lucky, as a teen, to take part in summer workshops with a local opera society, for example. Non-residential summer schools are often run in vacant school buildings for local kids, while boarding schools often host residential weeks for more advanced children.

For adults, the range goes even further with Conservatoires opening their doors to a wider audience. There are also many residential events, some of which involve travelling overseas to French country lodges or Mediterranean hotels. You can get a taste of what is on offer here.

5. Set Yourself a Challenge

Why not set yourself a challenge? Your teacher might have left you a list of things to do, but if you’ve got some extra time (especially if you’re on school holidays) why not set yourself something totally different to do? The summer break is a great way to hit the T of SMART by making your challenge one which is “time-bound”.

You could set a goal of learning anything from a single song you don’t know up to a whole song cycle. I’m toying with learning all the mezzo arias from the Messiah as my musical challenge while my teacher is on holiday for a month.

To take a different angle, why not consider the challenge of composing something? Set a favourite poem to music, or muck around on an instrument (anything from piano to recorder) and write down a melody all of your own.

6. Think about what you want to do by next summer

Maybe you need to take some time to refocus on what you want out of music lessons. We can often get stuck in one track in music, like getting from one grade exam to the next without really thinking about why we’re doing exams. It’s important to think about what you’d like to do in the future and summer is a great time for blue skies thinking (well, on the three days when the skies are actually blue anyway!).

Think about what you’ve achieved up till now. Is it what you’ve wanted to do? Are you happy with all of it? What would you change?

Then think about what you’d like to do in five or ten years with music. Do you want to go to conservatoire, or be a teacher? Do you want to sing in amateur musicals? Or just to be able to sing to your kids?

I try to spend time with my students at the end of the summer talking about what we’ve achieved and where we’re going together. Watch out for more on this later in the summer.

7. Don’t stop singing!

Whatever you do, don’t stop singing all together. Just as when you stop exercising for a month, going back to the gym is unpleasant to say the last, so if you don’t sing over the summer, your voice will get out of condition! So keep singing. Even if you’re on holiday on a Spanish island, do your warm-ups in the shower to keep your vocal chords in check! Remember, too, that just like athletes, singers need to be wise about things like drinking too much and sleeping too little…


All in all, though, have a great summer and enjoy taking a more relaxed approach to music for a few weeks. If you’ve got any of your own tips as to what to do over the summer, why not comment below with your ideas.