It was an absolute pleasure to share my singing tips with Stylist Magazine. You can read the article here.
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Want to sing, but not sure whether it’s safe in the current pandemic? Here’s the latest research on Covid 19 and singing…
So many of us are craving connection with much-missed friends, family and even chit-chat with friendly strangers. How we’d love to raise our voices in a choir, have a singalong with family, or a karaoke session with friends. Sadly, government advice is clear that singing face to face with others is a risky business. Singing, especially loud singing in enclosed spaces, has a high transmission rate. For this reason, singing lessons should be taken online to keep yourself safe.
Thankfully, virtual lessons can be equally effective as in-person lessons- in fact, many people prefer them. When I’m teaching, I wear good quality headphones and a broadcast quality mic to ensure we can hear each other clearly. Some students find being in their own home makes them feel more confident and secure as they get out of their comfort zone and take their first lessons.
In good news, socially distanced singing is still of great benefit to you –singing is scientifically proven to increase confidence, general wellbeing and brain development. Reassuringly, it can also improve your immune system and lung health.
I hope that this post inspires you to explore your voice and invest time in your singing, despite the pandemic. Never has self-expression been so needed.
Looking for more singing advice? Check out my posts on things you should know before taking singing lessons and a parent’s guide to singing lessons for kids.
Sometimes being a singer (and a person!) can be hard. Here are a few resources that can help you along the way. Your first port of call should be your doctor if you’re struggling, but these services may also be able to help! First up, a list of charities! Scroll down to discover a list of mood boosting podcasts that may make you smile and feel less alone.
The Brandon Centre offers counselling and psychotherapy to young people (aged 12-24) (*London based)
Young Minds offer support to kids. They have a helpline : 0808 802 5544 (Monday to Friday 9.30am – 4pm, free for mobiles and landlines)
Music Support help anyone working in the music industry with addiction and mental health issues.
CALM (the campaign against living miserably) offer support to men. They have a webchat, as well as helpline on 0800 58 58 58. They recently featured singer Benedict Cork, who wrote a song about his experience called Therapy.
Switchboard offer a helpline for LGBTQ+ people who need support, as well as online chat.
The Samaritans offer free round the clock support for anyone who needs it. The number is 116 123
Mind offer advice and will be able to advise you of help and support in your local area.
Intrusive Thoughts offer support to OCD sufferers and are doing things a little differently! Their website is beautiful, as they’ve tried to avoid the overly ‘medical’ look of a lot of charity websites.
This is by no means an exhaustive list, but hopefully you’ll find these contacts useful.
I love a good podcast! here are a few that are worth a listen…
This podcast is sheer brilliance. I love the fact that Bryony starts each one off by asking her famous guests” how are you?” and people actually answer honestly!Far from gloomy, her interviews have so much heart, and are full of hope and humour. Previous episodes have featured Mel C, composer James Rhodes, Will Young, and Prince Harry.
Jules and Sarah focus on happiness and body confidence in this frank, uplifting podcast.
Fearne speaks to famous guests (including singers Paloma Faith and Gary Barlow) about what makes them happy. I particularly enjoyed hearing Paloma talking about pregnancy has had a positive impact on her singing. She also shares wise words about how you can’t please everybody- not everyone will like you, and that’s ok!
The lovely George Ezra chats to his contemporaries about life as a musician. So incredibly inspiring! When else do you get to hear about what it’s really like to be a famous musician? George has had some legends on the show, from Elton John and Nile Rodgers to Sam Smith and Hannah from London Grammar (the list goes on and on). Perhaps because they’re talking to a fellow professional (not a journalist looking for soundbites) you get REAL TALK. So refreshing, and so awesome.
I hope this list has been helpful to you, in some small way! There’s no substitute for connecting with family and friends, and getting professional support. Nevertheless, realising you’re not alone can be helpful.
Stay wonderful and keep singing,
This doesn’t mean throwing your smartphone in the bin ( unless you want to!) but it could mean…
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.
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.
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!
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!
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!
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!
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!
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.
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.
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!)
Until then, keep singing (and moving!)