• What’s the Best Exercise for Singers?

    I’ll preface this by saying that the BEST exercise for YOU is the exercise you enjoy doing! However here is a breakdown on recommended types of exercise (and why they’re so good!)

    On the Matt (great for balance, relaxation and full body strength)

    What is it: Pilates

    Full disclosure: I’m a bit of a convert to this one. Due to scoliosis, I’ve had back and shoulder pain for many years and Pilates is now my best friend. If I don’t do it, I feel 100 years old- stiff, in pain and tense. If I do it regularly, I feel pretty wonderful most of the time. It really has been a game changer.

    Why its so good: Pilates strengthens the body in an even, balanced way. It’s been designed for the ‘modern’ body and there are modifications for people with physical limitations and injuries. Pilates helps to reduce tension and tension spreads- to the shoulders, neck and voice! So craning to look at your smartphone or laptop for hours WILL impact your voice. Pilates can help you find balance again..

    Be careful of: communicating medical conditions or injuries. A good teacher will give you a modification or an exercise to directly address your concern.

    Find out more

    Picture courtesy of runwaypilates.com

    What is it: Yoga

    Why it’s so good: Yoga and Pilates often get tied together, however there tends to be more twisting with yoga which doesn’t suit everyone. However there are many different types of yoga- some are more dynamic and intense and some are more chilled out. People often find yoga helps them to relax and unwind, which helps to reduce tension. Like Pilates, there’s a focus on abdominal breathing, which we definitely want to encourage!

    Be careful of: pushing your body into a funny configuration. Always tune in to how it feels and ask for modifications if you need them.

    Find out more

    What is it: Feldenkrais

    Why it’s so good: Similar in some ways to yoga and Pilates, Feldenkrais aims to get you tuned into an awareness of your body. Like Pilates, its a ‘thinking persons exercise’- and promotes ‘awareness through movement’. This can be especially useful for performers, who need balance in a dynamic way.

    Be careful of: forcing anything. You don’t need to. Just honour your body and just do what you can. If you like Feldenkrais, you might also like Tai Chi and Alexander Technique. This is probably not for you if you would rather thrash it out at the gym!

    Find out more

     

    Cardio (Good for your heart = on stage stamina here we come!)

     

    What is it: Dance

    Why is it good: It gets you tapping into rhythm, gets your endorphins going and is another creative outlet.  Apparently Zumba can even help develop your cross body co-ordination, which can be especially useful if you’re neurodiverse. Even if we’re not ‘good’ dancers and choose to do this alone in our kitchens- this is a great mood booster! Let’s not forget some of those moves might come in useful when performing.

    Be careful of: Holding your abs in a tense fashion. Some dancers find it hard to relax the abdominal area, which is essential to breathing for singing. So make sure to check in with those abs now and again and relax that tum!

    Find out more

     

    What is it: Swimming

    Why its so good: Not only does swimming strengthen and tone the body in an even and balanced way, it also relies on good breathing co-ordination.  When breathing for singing, we need to breathe at the best opportunity. We don’t wait until we’re running out of breath to snatch a gasp of air. As soon as we start doing this, we feel like we’re battling against our body. Instead of battling against it, we should be working WITH our body. We need to let out a steady stream of air and get the balance of air just right. We need to empty our lungs completely of air before letting in the next breath- but we don’t want to hold our breath and get tense! Swimming can help you with this (and when you’ve got the hang of it, you can let your mind empty..)

    Be careful of: the mentality of bigger breaths are best. We just want a ‘normal’ breath when singing- we don’t want to be tanked up full of air which can make us feel like we don’t have enough!

    Find out more

    Strength Training- keep those muscles strong and supportive!

    I’m a fan of using your own body weight in strength training ( planks are good, even if they feel terrible!hah!) Pilates and Yoga both take this approach. HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training) can be great for some, but I urge you to make sure your technique is good before you thrash through a frenetic workout. It’s easy when you’re under pressure, to end up pulling something so make sure you’re warmed up and confident with the moves. Over-training can be detrimental to health. There is such a thing as too much of a good thing.

    Excessive weight training can impact the voice in a negative way however. If we’re not careful, we can encourage erroneous muscle tension- and muscle tension TRAVELS. That’s right- to the neck, jaw and tongue.

    Although we use our larynx (voicebox) for singing, it’s most important functions are to a) stop us from choking on our dinner and b) to help us bear weight. This is why physical strain can often be heard in the voice- because the false vocal folds (above our true ‘vocal cords’) are getting involved. They want to be helpful but they cause more harm than good, bless them. Sometimes body builders have raspy voices, and this is why. When we push our muscles too hard, we can often drive the voice hard in the process.

    Of course there are endless ways to exercise and the one that’s right for you is the one you enjoy! The reason I have suggested the above exercises is because they encourage a degree of awareness of the body. I’m not keen on pushing through the pain of a punishing exercise regime. I believe exercise is a way to nurture and be kind to ourselves, not thrash it into submission. Similarly, I have students who love an insanity workouts. As long as it brings joy and you’re not pushing your body too hard, that’s wonderful! There’s no point snoozing through a Pilates class if it’s not your thing.

    Do you feel inspired to take up exercise or shake up your existing routine? Drop me a line and let me know how you’re getting on, I’d love to here from you!

     

    April 17, 2018 By @HannahMarie Uncategorized
  • Singing lessons for kids- a parent’s guide!

    When I was 8, my parents took me to see The Lion King at the cinema- a small event that planted a lifelong desire to sing! Songs such as ‘ I just can’t wait to be King!’ blasted out as I sang along- there was nothing I loved more!

    In every other way I was a shy child- until you gave me a song I loved. Then the whole world opened up before me and I forgot my reservations completely.

    I see this magic occur all the time in my students, and it’s a joy to be part of it. Here are my tips for parents and those with the privilege of nurturing young talent…

    Keep it fun!

    This is so important! Enjoyment isn’t just a nice side effect of your kid singing, it’s THE most important part. If a child is enjoying the process they are much more likely to do well. Whether or not your child is destined to become a star or not, a love of singing can be a wonderful creative and therapeutic outlet for the rest of their life. That’s  the best gift you can give anyone, whether they grow up to use it professionally or not. Most kids have academic and social pressures from a young age- there’s huge value in allowing singing to be a space of self expression and ‘play’.

    Don’t get wrapped up in ‘talent’

    Here’s the thing about talent- scientists have discovered that talent can be grown. Literally! (check out Daniel Coyle’s amazing book The Talent Code to discover more).

    The short version is that ‘talent’ is a neurological phenomenon that can actually be seen in brain scans! Thanks to neuroplasticity and ‘muscle memory’ we can actually grow our talent. Some people are definitely born with talent, but passion and dedication have more influence than inborn talent!

    This is why it’s important that we focus on the process being enjoyable. If the lessons are fun, your child is likely to feel motivated to practice- this is turn develops confidence, which feeds back into the whole cycle! Rather than focusing on how talented a child is (especially in front of those impressionable ears!) it can be more constructive to celebrate the EFFORT that a child has put into the process. This creates a growth mindset (more about this here) that will benefit them in every area of their life.

    Let them sing what they want- if it’s age appropriate!

    This is always a bit of a minefield. It’s so important that your child likes what they’re singing but let’s be real- some lyrics just aren’t appropriate for a kid to sing. This is a call that parent and teacher need to make together! Adult lyrics aside, it’s also important that the song is vocally suitable. Anything vocally intense (ie, really high, loud or fast) should be avoided or only practiced in small doses. I don’t outright ‘ban’ technically difficult songs, but find there is usually a healthy compromise.

    For example, if a young girl wants to sing a very powerful song (and I know she’s going to belt it out at home anyway) I will encourage her to be aware of her effort level. If it’s a high level ( ‘a 7 out of 10 hard’ or similar) I will ask her to try singing it with a ‘3 out of 10’ so she’s not going to be pushing her voice. I will then steer her towards an easier song by the same artist, or in a similar style.

    This approach is usually effective as the child gets greater enjoyment from mastering the easier song, rather than getting disheartened at the difficult one.

    They may have their own taste in music!

    Although a lot of my young students have strong ideas about the type of music they like, a lot won’t have developed their own tastes yet. One of my young students had always sung serious ‘grown-up’ music, as it was what she’s been encouraged to sing. She was a high achiever and quite ‘serious’ in her approach to singing. I sensed she needed something a bit different. I suggested a bit of Taylor Swift and she had the best time! The spirit of play and fun came back into her performance. I was hoping to instill in her that singing can also be for our own enjoyment, and there’s room for all kinds of music. For other students, venturing outside of the top 40 can open up a whole world of musical possibility! Just like us grown ups, every child will gain something different from their singing lessons! 🙂

    If you would like to find out more about singing lessons for kids,you can read more here– or get in touch with me directly on 07341278731

    In the meantime, here are some recommended songs to get your kids singing!

     

    April 4, 2018 By @HannahMarie Uncategorized
  • We made a music video!

    The weekend before last I went to visit family in Shropshire, and ended up getting snowed in.  Significant snow fall is a rare thing in the UK, so we thought we’d make the most of it.

    The result was an epic snowball fight, and thanks to the power of the smartphone, a music video! I hope you enjoy this little glimpse into our weekend and the song too. It’s a cover of Cold War Kids’ Hospital Beds‘- a song that I’d wanted to cover for the past 10 years.

    Its a slightly left-field choice of song (very much my taste in music!) I didn’t write the song, but I’ve always felt it was about embracing life, through its ups and downs.

     

    ‘Vietnam! Fishing trips! Italian Opera! ‘- I feel like its a call to go and have adventures. Whether your adventures involve gondolas, fishing lines or snowball fights, I hope you enjoy this video…

    May the new year bring many more!

    December 19, 2017 By @HannahMarie Uncategorized
  • Why you need to ‘let go’…

    Often our knee jerk reaction is to ‘fix’ the problem, but of course there is an irony here- you can’t force yourself to relax. You can only allow yourself to let go. Awareness is the first and most important step. The next step is the willingness and patience to go with the process. 

    Often we learn when we stop trying so hard. I truly believe that learning to sing is really unlearning all of those unhelpful habits we’ve adopted. None of us came into this word all hunched up and ‘wearing our shoulders as earrings’ (as my Pilates teacher once observed!)

    If you look at babies, you’ll see that they breathe freely into their abdominal area, and engage these muscles when they cry. Let’s face it, your average baby doesn’t have problems with projecting their voice!

    Perhaps its our western obsession with having flat stomachs, but often we hold ourselves upright and breathe shallowly into our shoulders, which is the first thing we need to unlearn.

    Being suited. booted and poker faced might be necessary in the corporate world, but it can leave us alienated from our bodies and disconnected from our voices. Psychology aside, if you’re at a computer for 8+ hours a day, chances are you’re going to suffer from some muscle tension.

    So, whats the answer?

    In my opinion- the answer lies, in part, with movement. I don’t mean the hardcore kind of movement, where you thrash around, overriding what your body is telling you- but the gentle, mindful kind where you listen to your body. (Think yoga rather than high intensity workouts- which might be great for weight loss but not for this!)

    Try this- next time you sing, try ‘unlocking’ your body. You could walk gently or perform with your arms outstretched. You could try leaning against the wall while supporting yourself with the palm of your hands. Observe if anything feels different. Is there a change in vocal tone? Do you feel more free? Try and incorporate this exploration into your singing practice.

    Until then, keep singing (and moving!)

    Hannah 🙂

    September 22, 2017 By @HannahMarie Uncategorized , ,
  • The joy of singing whilst cycling- singcling will be your new favourite thing!

    When I was 12 years old I had an accident while riding my little brother’s bike- it was far too small for me, (my own bike had a puncture) and I was riding like a little speed demon at the time. One short attention lapse later, and I was unceremoniously thrown in the air after colliding with a lamp post. Not my coolest moment.

    Luckily I was wearing a helmet and it was my pride that hurt more than anything. It must have put me off though, as I didn’t get on a bike again until I was 24.

    I wasn’t sure I’d even remember how to ride, but it’s true you don’t forget! I rode 16 miles the day I got back on a bike- a big step towards making me a less nervous cyclist!  I’m far from a ‘proper’ cyclist. I rarely ride on busy roads, or rely on my bike for transport. For me, riding a bike is about exploring and having fun.

    and what better way to have fun than to sing? I have a feeling that some of you reading this may have done this already. Several of my friends have mentioned that they sing on their bikes (or while kayaking- hey why not?)

    Needless to say, your primary focus while cycling should be on the road- always! If you’re not a confident cyclist I suggest sticking to the cycle superhighways  or any designated cycle path. If you have any green spaces nearby, even better (ahhh)

    A treasured sunny day in London

    Then- let rip! enjoy the absolute freedom of motion and sound. There’s something so liberating about the independence being on a bike gives you. Add the joy of belting out one of your favourite songs and it’s the happiest feeling in the world!

    It’s rare that you get to hear your singing voice out in the open air, amongst other people milling about. (Unless you’re super confident, or a musical theatre student- props to you!) and you can do this without having to soak up all the attention as- weeeeee! you’re off again!

    Maybe its the playful, child-like nature of it, or the freedom it gives you- or the motion, but I have a hunch ‘singcling’ is really good for the soul. Give it a go!

    Do you do this already? Are you going to try this out? Let me know how you get on!

    Hannah

     

     

     

    September 8, 2017 By @HannahMarie Inspiration Lifestyle Singing ,
  • Bigger is not always better

    Today I want to talk about size. More precisely, how big your voice is. How loud it is, how powerful it is. Can you do vocal athletics? Can you shatter glass with those high notes?

     

    Whatever the answer to those questions, I hope you will realise there is a lot more to being a singer than how loudly you can belt the high notes.

     

    After 15 years of talent shows such as the X Factor/ Pop Idol etc, I feel that the general consensus is that bigger and louder= better. Big voice, big performance, and possibly, but not necessarily, big hair.

     

    This opinion is totally legitimate- having a big voice, huge range and vocal agility and athleticism is impressive. These performers dedicate hours to their craft, and work really hard too.

     

    But what about the individual with an incredible voice who doesn’t have the size? They may have beautiful tone, real artistry, honesty and vulnerability, but they would probably raise an eyebrow at the concept of a ‘sing off’ on national television.

     

    What about these singers? Yes, they’re out there!

     

    Laura Marling, Thom Yorke, Bjork, Birdy, Bat for lashes, the late Billie Holiday and Jeff Buckley…

     

    Even mainstream artists like Alicia Keys  are considered vocally featherweight against their big voiced counterparts ( like Beyoncé or Adele)

    Rather than strain to emulate others, these artists have embraced their voices, and their power lies in their tone, communication, honesty and vulnerability.

    First Aid Kit by Renee Barrera (cc)

    Whether it’s the heartbreak in the voice of Sinead O’Connor, or the fragile purity of Birdy’s cover of skinny love, these voices can cut to the core of you. Not to mention the hugely emotional voice of Jeff Buckley, who often walked the tight rope- he sang with such passion and commitment that there was a certain messiness to some of his live performances, at least in terms of technique. That did nothing to blunt the beauty of his work.

     

    Billie Holiday used her haunting vibrato to deliver possibly the most powerful protest song of all time- Strange Fruit. Vocal acrobatics were not needed, Lady Day was a natural storyteller.

     

    So whether you have a ‘big’ voice or a gentle voice, be kind to it. One is not better than the other. The truth is, listeners are as diverse as singers. Whitney Houston may have made the powerhouse vocal de rigueur when she took the world by storm in the 80s-but even Whitney doesn’t do it for everyone!( even if her talent was indisputable!)

     

    So please embrace whoever you are, because there is only one of you. There are so many different vocal tones and ‘textures’ you can experiment with- from breathy to belt-y. The key is to sing in a way that feels authentic to you. It all comes back to communicating honestly with your audience, whatever the sound and style! 🙂

  • No one belongs here more than you…

    ..I borrowed that title from a collection of short stories by writer Miranda July, (which I still haven’t read!) but I’ve always loved it. How many of us have needed to hear that now and again?

     

    Today I want to talk about imposter syndrome, a silent epidemic of self-doubt that effects many performers, both professional and otherwise. It’s the belief that you don’t really deserve the success you’ve had. Perhaps you feel that you’re going to fail publicly if you take a risk?

    I probably don’t need to point out how counterproductive this is to giving an honest performance. It’s impossible to be truly present in the moment when we are second guessing ourselves. I have witnessed this phenomenon with singers who freeze when they hear their own voice through a PA system. It’s so easy to over-listen to your voice, and fall down a rabbit hole of analysis- this distracts us from (our true task) of communicating with our audience!

    This is true for all of us– life is a pitch after all! Perhaps you need to give a presentation in your office job, but you freeze, cotton mouthed while you have an out of body experience (and not in a good way!)

    Harvard professor Amy Cuddy describes imposter syndrome as feeling like a fraud. “impostorism causes us to overthink and second guess. It makes us fixate on how we think others are judging us (in these fixations, we’re usually wrong), then fixate some more on how those judgements might posion our interactions. We’re scattered- worrying that we are underprepared, obsessing about what we should be doing, mentally reviewing what we said five seconds earlier, fretting about what people think of us and what that will mean for us tomorrow.”

    Phew. sounds exhausting, doesn’t it?

    Perhaps unsurprisingly, there’s a link between perfectionism, performance anxiety and impostorism.

    Ironically, those who feel like frauds are often the most successful!

    However, external markers of success do not make you immune to feeling like a fraud.

    Writer Neil Gaiman suffers with impostor syndrome and has shared this anecdote with a fan who also suffers with impostorism. He talks about how he met Neil Armstrong:

    “Some years ago, I was lucky enough invited to a gathering of great and good people: artists and scientists, writers and discoverers of things. And I felt that at any moment they would realise that I didn’t qualify to be there, among these people who had really done things.

    On my second or third night there, I was standing at the back of the hall, while a musical entertainment happened, and I started talking to a very nice, polite, elderly gentleman about several things, including our shared first name. And then he pointed to the hall of people, and said words to the effect of,” I just look at all these people, and I think, what the heck am I doing here? They’ve made amazing things. I just went where I was sent.”

    And I said,” . But you were the first man on the moon. I think that counts for something.

    And I felt a bit better. Because if Neil Armstrong felt like an imposter, maybe everyone did. Maybe there weren’t any grown-ups, only people who had worked hard and also got lucky and were slightly out of their depth, all of us doing the best job we could, which is all we can really hope for.”

    If this is something you’ve ever felt, I hope you will find reassurance that you’re not alone.

    About 6 years ago I was offered a place on a group training program for music leaders. This was great news- but as a singer that couldn’t read music I was racked with self doubt.

    Despite my anxiety, I went along, made friends, and had the best time. Most of the musicians there were from leading conservatoires, and could play multiple instruments. I initially felt intimidated, but then I realised I wasn’t alone- there were other singers like me in the group. Singers from pop, rock and gospel backgrounds who learnt to sing by ear.

    We were split into small groups, and asked to devise a short composition together. To our surprise, many our formally trained classmates were in awe of our ability to improvise and create melodies out of thin air (even if we couldn’t say what those notes were!).Of course the admiration went both ways- but I learnt a valuable lesson from it.

    That’s not to say I won’t ever have those moments again- but I now know that it has a name, and that I’m not in terrible company either!

    So what is the solution? 

    Well, the first step is realising your not alone- there are others feeling just like you, but most people don’t like to share their insecurities. Being aware you have imposter syndrome can help you to ignore those doubts in the future.

    So keep singing, and know that no-one belongs here more than you!

    Want to read up on imposter syndrome? Both ‘Presence’ by Amy Cuddy and ‘ Beta: Quiet Girls can Rule the world’ are good places to start!

  • Do you need to change your mindset? Find out how..

    Hello singers!

    So, today I want to tackle the concept of mindset and how it relates to us as singers.

    I’d previously heard of the term ‘mindset’ in relation to positive thinking or being strong willed. i.e.. something you were told you should have- a kind of inner strength or resilience. So far, so good- however, what does that mean in practical terms? How does someone acquire this illusive ‘mindset’?

    According to Stanford Psychologist Carol Dweck, there are two types of mindset, a fixed mindset and a growth mindset. A fixed mindset is where someone believes that their nature, talent and abilities are fixed. The problem with this is that it becomes far too easy to write off yourself and others. A fixed mindset is a powerless place to be. It leaves little or no room for development.

    For example, if you believe you were born with a finite amount of talent, you’re probably going to take it a lot harder if you mess up on stage, than you would if you believed that you can grow your talents. Instead of being useful, mistakes will feel like a threat to your very identity as a singer, perhaps even as a person!

    Generally speaking, those with a fixed mindset struggle to push themselves out of their comfort zone more than their growth mindset counterparts. If you believe you can’t grow or improve, you’ll be less likely to risk failure- because that failure will be interpreted as you being a failure.

    The truth is, we all need to fail in order to grow.

    According to Daniel Coyle, author of the Talent Code, ‘talent isn’t born, it’s grown’. Developing our talents takes commitment and persistence, and this is the only way to improve.

    Recognising that you have a choice can be hugely liberating. You decide- do you believe your talent is fixed? Or do you believe it’s grown? Which of these beliefs would you prefer to steer your creative path?

    Creating takes a great deal of humility. You have to get comfortable with operating at the edge of your ability. There really is no place for perfectionism or ego in creation. Give yourself a break from these tyrants and get to work!

    The below video will give you more insight into Carol Dweck’s research into the ‘growth mindset’.

    If you’d like to learn more about this topic, I highly recommend reading the following books:

    Mindset by Carol Dweck (of course)

    The Talent Code by Daniel Coyle

    Presence by Amy Cuddy

    Ego Is the Enemy by Ryan Holiday

    Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert

     

     

     

     

     

     

     

    I hope you enjoy reading them, and that they blow your mind in the same awesome way they blew mine!

    If this post has been useful to you, please feel free to share it with your friends!

    Hannah 🙂

     

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