Tag Archives: tips & tricks

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

Gesture 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!

Props

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.

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!

Old Wives Tales: You Can’t Sing if You Have a Cold

It’s January, and that means it’s cold season! When you have a cold, often, it can seem like a bad idea to keep singing. Singers often cancel gigs because they have a cold. So should you stop singing if you have the sniffles?

There’s a very simple rule with singing when you have a cold: if it hurts don’t sing. Otherwise, you can keep on singing as normal!

You might, of course, find that you have a more limited vocal range, or need to take more frequent breaths. You might also have less stamina than usual, or be unable to produce your usual tones and sounds.

If you have a cold, here are some tip to help you take care of your voice:

  • Keep hydrated. If you’ve got a blocked nose, your mouth and throat can get dry, so be sure to drink regularly.
  • Keep your drinks warm. Slightly steamy drinks help to keep your nose and throat from getting dry.
  • Take care with taking cold medicines. In particular, avoid using anything that might numb your throat, like Strepsils. If you can’t feel your throat properly, you won’t know if your voice is starting to hurt.
  • Shorten your practice times, or move them to the shower. It’s vital to sing every day, but you should reduce down the amount of time you’re singing for. Singing in the shower helps thanks to the steamy environment.
  • Breathing steam can help to open up your airways. Fill a bowl with hot water and then cover your head and the bowl with a towel. You could use a little menthol-based oil like Olbas to help open up your sinuses, release a blocked nose, and reduce pain.
  • Rest your voice. If you can, reduce down how much talking you’re doing. Complete vocal rest is a bit much for most of us, but if you have a cold, but if you can rearrange those meetings, or stay home with a movie, it’ll help protect your voice from damage.

Above all, if singing hurts, stop singing. Don’t push through the pain. Pain is designed to tell us when to stop, and as a singer, it’s vital to listen to our instruments.

If you have a cold for more than ten days or so, it may be worth getting an opinion from your GP. Of course, most colds are viruses, and can’t be treated with medication (antibiotics only work on bacterial infections), but it’s better to rule out more serious problems like chest infections.

Three Key Practice Principles

New_Years_Resolutions.JPGIn the theme of New Years resolutions, we’re taking a look at what makes practice good practice. Many musicians resolve to practice more, but that often falls by the wayside because they don’t have good practice habits. This post will give you three key principles for practicing that will make it easier to stick to your goals!

1. Quality over quantity

It can be very easy to get bogged down in ideas of how long we should practice for. Should someone at grade 1 practice for ten minutes or thirty? Shouldn’t someone at grade 8 do three hours? It can make even the best of us feel inadequate when we start to measure the quantity of practice rather than the quality of practice.

Doing three hours of practice is useless if you stop focusing after thirty minutes. For singers, long practice sessions are impossible as our voices get tired. Instead, aim to make the most of the time you have, whether it’s ten minutes or ten hours. Make sure you know what you want to achieve in a practice session – having a routine can really work wonders for this. I usually start with scales and exercises, move on to studies, then classical work, and finish up with the musical theatre repertoire. If I have time, I might pick an old favourite to run over at the end. You might find a different order works better. If you’re short on time, why not choose to work on song A on Mondays, song B on Tuesdays and song C on Wednesdays? If you already know what needs to be done, you can get right on and do it.

Another key to getting quality time is to have everything in one place. Keep your music on the piano, or the music stand, and keep your notes from your teacher with them.

Finally, it’s better to go deeper into a short section of your piece than to sing the whole song over and over fluffing bits of it. Sing through, and then work on the bits that you’re messing up. It’s always better to work in small chunks. Which leads on to my next key principle…

 

2. Little and Often

Not only is it important to aim for quality over quantity, but that quality time should be a daily occurrence. For singers especially, it’s far better to get through scales in the shower every day and nothing else, than to just do one mega three hour session on the day before your lesson.

Muscles develop best when theyare stretched and used a little bit at a time, but frequently – this is just as true for the tiny muscles in your larynx as it is for the big muscles in your leg. Marathon runners do shorter runs every other day and build up, rather than running a half marathon every weekend and nothing else. Treat your singing practice like that. Sing daily, but do a short focused burst rather than a long gruelling slog. It’ll feel far less arduous! Plus, by singing for a short time every day, it becomes habit and you’ll find it easier to make space for it in your life.

 

3. The Principle of 80:20

80:20 is an amazingly accurate ratio for many things in human life, but for musicians, I like to think of it as 80% work, 20% fun. In your practice time, you want to aim for 80% effort on the stuff you need to be doing. That 80% includes scales, exercises and the pieces for your teacher. However, 20% of your time should always be for playing and singing the music that you love.

Music is a tough hobby to have as it requires hard work and commitment (if you want an easy ride, following a soap opera might be a better choice!). However, we all took music up for a reason. Whatever you enjoy most about music should be your 20% treat time. You might be studying for a classical piano exam, but you can still enjoy 20% of your time playing jazz improvisation. You might be working for a musical theatre concert, but really love singing a bit of Handel too. Make space for your guilty pleasures – it’ll help to keep you sane when things get tough and you feel worn out and hopeless.

That 20% might even be a cheeky day off practicing, but try not to skive off more than one day in five, or you’ll break your habit!

 

Practising regularly is hard work, and sometimes we just don’t want to, but if you can get these three key principles working for you, your practice times will feel like less of a chore and more of a pleasure!

 

Have you got any key principles you use to help you practice regularly and effectively? Let me know in the comments!

 

5 New Years Resolutions Singers Should Make

January is that time when we all look at our post-Christmas selves and consider the improvements we could make to our lives. Us musicians are no different. We’re all making resolutions to practice for two hours a day and watch more operas. If you’re one of us, here are five resolutions you should make that you might even have a chance of keeping!

1. I will sing every day

There is nothing more important than singing every single day. Sing in the shower. Sing in the kitchen. Find a secluded section of your walk to work and sing there. Your voice is powered by muscles and muscles need exercise to strengthen them. When you sing, make sure you are singing properly. Think about how you’re breathing. Make sure you’re sending the sound out of your mouth not your nose. Watch for a good clean start to each phrase (“glottal attack”). It doesn’t matter if it’s opera or pop you’re singing – all singing is singing and you can’t go wrong if you’re focusing on technique as you do it.

2. I will join a choir that uses sheet music

Joining a choir is another easy, and vital thing for singing students to take up. Singing in a choir teaches loads of aural skills (like part singing), and technical skills (like blending). It’s really good for combatting singer’s ego as you’re part of a team in a choir and you have to work together to make a good unified sound. If you pick a choir that uses sheet music, you’ll also be improving your sight-reading and music theory skills without having to work at it! Plus, being in a choir is a great way to meet other musical people and make new friends.

3. I will take care of my body

Considering loosing some weight, taking up exercise, giving up smoking or cutting down on your drinking? These are great resolutions for singers. Being overweight can be a serious problem for singers as it puts extra stress on your lungs and respiratory system. Exercise improves lung function, mood and cognitive performance. Smoking is also bad for singers because of the impact on lung function and mouth health. Alcohol causes dehydration, and can result in bad vocal decision making like excessive shouting!

Even if these aren’t resolutions you need to make, resolving to take better care of yourself by eating better, exercising regularly and sleeping sensibly will help keep your instrument in tip top condition ready for exams and performances throughout the year.

Music with CDs and headphones4. I will listen to more music, and more kinds of music

Listening to music is vital for all musicians, and if you don’t do it much, why not resolve to do it more? If you already listen to music, add in another genre or two. BBC Radio 3 might seem snooty and scary, but you’ll hear music there you’d never hear anywhere else. If that’s too big a leap, why not put Classic FM on as you wind down at night? If you already listen to classical music, venture out into BBC Six Music, home of some of the cutting edge of contemporary music. For musical lovers, there’s also Elaine Paige on Radio 2 on Sundays form 1-3pm. Whatever you do, listen often and listen widely.

5. I will focus efforts on learning my words, not just the notes

I don’t know any singer who doesn’t find learning words a chore, and so we’re all bad for leaving it to the last minute. If you’re one of us, why not resolve to learn the words first this year? Make the effort to write out the words over and over by hand. Listen to a recording while reading them to yourself. Record yourself reading the words aloud. Make words a priority this year. It’s our privilege as singers to use words and music together to express stories and emotions, so let’s give both parts equal respect!

What are your New Years Resolutions this year? Do you have any other ideas for good resolutions for singers? Leave a comment below!

 

 

5 New Year Resolutions for Singers
sing every day
join a choir
take care of my body
listen to more music
focus on memorising words

Setting Goals for your Music – Why You Should be SMART [repost]

This is a re-post of an article I published last May. As it’s a New Year, I thought this might be a good time to share it again.


 

No matter what it is you’re learning, setting yourself a target is essential. You need to know where you’re going to know how to get there. It’s one of the main reasons why schools have a curriculum – there’s so much information in the world, so a curriculum gives teachers direction, and creates targets.

Most young learners come to learning music with the same expectation as in school. We learn things, and then we take exams to prove it. Young students are also used to teachers setting the pace and direction. Some will come in knowing they want a career in music, but many are happy with moving from one target (usually graded exams) to the next with no long-term goal in mind.

For adult learners, however, musical targets can be a huge problem! Private teachers often struggle with students whose targets that are far too ambitious “I want to go from nothing to Grade 8 in one year”, or who flounder when things get tough because they have no goals and “just want to play for fun”. Both of these extremes usually end up with the student giving up.

I first came across the concept of setting SMART goals on my gap year, where we were challenged to set ourselves personal goals for the year beyond completing the course. Although I didn’t manage to achieve all of mine, simply making the goals meant that I made more careful choices about how behaved and what I did with my free time.

While “SMART” goals are a bit 1980s Yuppie, they are effective, and I encourage my students to set goals annually that match more or less to these criteria:

S is for Specific – The “just play for fun” student quickly falls at the first hurdle. Playing for fun isn’t very specific. Exams are, of course, very specific. However, specific could be something like “I want to learn to sing “I Dreamed a Dream” from Les Miserables” or “I’d like to reach a top Bb”. If you’re coming into music with a loose goal like “singing for fun”, try to define what you mean by fun right now. Is singing in a choir fun? Or is “fun” singing solos for an audience?

M is for Measurable – Goals also need to be something you can know you’ve achieved. There’s a chasm of difference between “I want to climb a couple of mountains” and “I want to climb Ben Nevis, Snowdon and Scafell Pike” [the highest mountains in Scotland, Wales and England respectively]. The first one is fairly specific, but it’s not as easy to measure.A signer might say “I want to improve my vocal range”, which is a specific goal, but “I want to have a solid Bb” is even clearer.

A is for Attainable – Attainable is where our “I want to get to Grade 8 in a year” goal fails. While it’s very specific and measurable, it’s not realistically attainable. Even in singing, where a student might very well start with Grade 5, a year is not going to be enough time to develop the skills required to pass at Grade 8. It’s a bit like saying “I want to run a marathon in one week’s time”. Even a professional athlete makes decisions about what races they’re going to run months or years in advance because they know it takes time to prepare. A goal like “I want to be on (or, worse, win) the X Factor” is also going to fall down on the attainability. You might be talented enough, and you might have allowed enough time, but it’s still statistically unlikely (and why would you want to be on a show like that anyway…?).

R is for Relevant – Relevance is not normally a problem for musical goal setting, but it is important to keep your goals connected to what you’re doing. If you’re studying singing, make sure your musical goal is related to singing, not playing the piano!

T is for Time-Bound – Ideally, time-bound should mean you give yourself a deadline. The “grade 8 in one year student” has given themselves a great deadline, even if it’s completely unrealistic! Sometimes, time-bound is “by Christmas” or “in two years’ time”. Time-bound can also be a little less specific. I have goals which have are “soon”, which translates to “somewhere in about the next three to six months, maybe”. I do have a sense of time, but it’s a bit vague. Depending on what sort of person you are, you may find fixed deadlines more or less helpful than vague ones. Usually more driven people are ok with vague deadlines, while naturally reticent people respond better to more concrete time restrictions!

If your goal meets all these criteria, it’s a great goal, and your teacher should be able to help you get there. Not every goal is achieved, of course. Some change before we get to the end. That’s absolutely fine. I once heard someone point out that “you can’t steer a ship that’s not moving” (Think about it. It’s absolutely true). Of course, if you never reach your goals before you change them, you might want to think about why that happens.

Goals are great. Everyone should have at least one. Why not have a think about what goals you could set for your music, and let me know in the comments below?

If you’re a teacher, keep an eye on the blog, as I hope to post later in the year about the resources I use to help my students set their own SMART goals. You can follow me on Twitterlike my page on Facebook or get posts delivered by RSS feed.

How to Make Musical Note Cookies

I 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.

Old Wives’ Say: “Thou Shalt Not Eat Dairy”

MilkOne of the things that is often said in singing circles is that eating dairy products causes the body to produce more mucus and phlegm, so singers should avoid it on the day of performances. However, I was astonished to discover recently that this isn’t strictly true…

Dairy does seem to cause some thickening of phlegm and mucus in human beings, but studies have shown that it does not cause the body to produce more phlegm (Wüthrich, Schmid, Walther & Sieber, 2005/Pinnock, Graham, Mylvaganam & Douglas, 1990). Instead, foods which are high in dairy fats, like whole milk, leave a residue of fats on their way which can make it feel like we have more phlegm. This is a good reason to avoid dairy on the day of an exam or performance – but reducing phlegm production isn’t!

Dehydration is also something which increases the thickness of mucus and phlegm, and this is far more likely to be the problem than the cheese toastie you had for lunch. That’s why tea, coffee and fruit juices can contribute to phlegm issues. It’s water that thins out phlegm and coffee and juice both contain acids, caffeine, tannin and other things that reduce their effectiveness at treating dehydration.

Finally, singing stimulates large parts of your respiratory system making it vibrate. This loosens all the phlegm and mucus in your throat, which in turn means it feels like you have more of it. So even if you consume no dairy products at all, you can still get that annoying phlegm in your throat!

So what is so bad about milk? A lot less than most people think. In fact, thinking that milk causes more mucus is more likely to cause phlegm problems than drinking the milk (Pinnock, Graham, Mylvaganam & Douglas, 1990).

However, avoiding rich, fatty foods (including full-fat dairy) that can create the illusion of increased phlegm  on the day of exams and performances is definitely a good idea, alongside keeping well hydrated and avoiding any foods which are prone to upset your stomach at all. And if you feel all phlegm-ey? Reach for the glass of water rather than blaming poor milk.

Are you surprised to find out that dairy doesn’t cause mucus? What other singing myths have you seen busted? Are there old wives tales you’ve heard that have turned out to be true? Comment below, and follow the blog for more tips, tricks and myth-busters.

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.