Why I describe myself as a Singing Coach

There’s no difference right? Between a Teacher and a Coach? WRONG!

I suppose I am a bit of both, as being classically trained teaching good musicality to my students is part of my DNA. But being someone who has had many good and bad teachers over the years, I have adapted more coaching practice into my teaching and place and always focus on the positives, however great or small they may be. I actively praise and encourage so students build self belief and the confidence to develop. For a long while I worked as development Coach in a busy office, helping colleagues get through personal challenges (e.g. overcoming the dreaded interview nerves, or adapting to organisational changes.) Now I coach my students through their singing and performance challenges.

With coaching, the goal is for the individual to realise/experience the solution themselves, not to just be told what to do. This way they really learn and GROW, which handily is an acronym for a coaching model I apply with my singing students!

Goals

– What do you want?

– How will you know you’ve got there?

– What will this give you?

Reality

– Where are you right now?

– What challenges have you overcome?

– What have you learnt?

Options

– How might I achieve this?

– How would I do it if I had no fear?

– What is possible (considering all possibilities)?

Will

– What will you definitely take action on?

– When will you take action?

– How will you feel when you take the action?

So for one of my students, a common Goal is to sing in front of an audience. Their Reality is that often a previous negative experience or low self esteem which is subsequently holding them back. Through me helping them improve their vocal technique and learning new approaches to their singing they move into the Options stage, before declaring that they Will get out there and sing for that audience!

When you are empowered and have belief in yourself, you become invincible. And this is why I am a Coach.

Teaching Online

This week I have I have learnt that computers need a lot of TLC.

And yes, that is three laptops in that picture!

Making the switch to online teaching has required jumping a number of hurdles but I’d say the biggest has been sorting reliable and good technology.  There is a big difference between having a Skype chat with your mates and teaching a 7 year old the rhythms in Any Dream Will Do over a dodgy internet connection.  I had especially worried about my younger students, thinking that frozen screens and the unavoidable sound delay would put them off.

But I was proved completely wrong!  During my first online week I had it all – freeze screen, delay, random crashing, but the kids just accepted it and even thought it was funny.  I guess this is just the tech savvy generation.

I’ll go into the full details of my setup in another blog, but will say that the biggest game changer has been buying a nice smart flat cable which means I can be plugged into the internet but not have ugly wires running through the house.  As we are currently stuck at home, it is important that the home still looks nice!

 

 

 

Muscle Tension

The muscles in my neck are incredibly sore at the moment, most likely due to spending too much time staring down at my phone/Nintendo Switch and so I have been taking every opportunity to stretch, including with my students in their singing lessons.  Tension is the devil for any singer so any tools for getting rid of niggling muscle aches are most welcome.

Most days I am fighting with pretty permanent jaw tension so don’t need any other muscle pain added to the mix.  I know that my singing technique is on point whenever it feels effortless and completely free flowing.  Muscle tension can hamper that so I like to do all I can to just relax.  I experimented with my students a bit this week and got them to raise their arms and reach for the ceiling as they inhaled to stretch, stretch, stretch.  They enjoyed this and there was some fab singing afterwards.

I follow many yoga and pilates Instagram accounts and one recently popped up showing some very simple stretches for helping with anxiety.  I love that breathing is also a massive focus which is a bonus for all singers.  These stretches certainly calm me but also make me feel ten times taller and tension free, perfect for a good sing song.

My routine is detailed below, though as a disclaimer I must add that these should only be done if you know your body and know it is safe to do so.  Any doubts please go speak to your doctor.  Otherwise, enjoy the stretch!

 

Child’s Pose for 8 breaths

Cat – Cow for 8 rounds

Standing Forward Fold for 8 breaths

Tree for 5 breaths on each leg

Bridge (my favourite!) for 10 breaths

Legs up the Wall for 20 breaths

 

As seen on the Instagram account @inflexibleyogis

Bowie and the Berlin Wall

Today, 9th November, marks 30 years since the fall of the Berlin Wall, a physical and ideological barrier that had divided communities and families for 28 years.   I adore Berlin and have visited many times.  My first trip was with my then boyfriend (now husband) and on our first day I dragged him for miles, walking in circles trying to find the site of the famous Hansa Studios.  For those who don’t know, Hansa was where in 1977, in the shadow of the Wall and its patrolling soldiers, David Bowie recorded his “Heroes” album.

Bowie had moved to Berlin in 1976 to escape from his fame and the drug addiction that had caused him to have no memory of recording his 1975 album Station to Station.  In this pre-internet and social media era, Bowie was able to enjoy relative anonymity in Berlin and in his own words, “was going broke; it was cheap to live. For some reason, Berliners just didn’t care.  Well, not about an English rock singer, anyway.”  He lived with Iggy Pop and they both became fans of the German Krautrock music scene and would be influenced by Kraftwerk, Tangerine Dream and Neu! amongst others.  Bowie then paid tribute to them on “Heroes” most famously naming his track V-2 Schneider after Kraftwerk’s Florian Schneider.

[Recording “Heroes” was] one of my last great adventures in making albums.  The studio was about 500 yards from the Berlin Wall.  Red Guards would look into our control-room window with powerful binoculars  –  Tony Visconti, “Heroes” Co-Producer.

The song that best describes being in Berlin, directly beside the Wall in view of soldiers is the title track and universally judged to be one of the best songs ever written – “Heroes”  Go listen to it now.  Seriously, go!  Immerse yourself.

“Heroes” was co-written by Bowie and Brian Eno  with Eno later commenting how it had always “sounded grand and heroic” and he had had “that very word – heroes – in my mind” even before the lyrics had been written.  The most poignant verse contains the most beautiful description of a young couple kissing in front of the Wall which evokes a feeling of hope juxtaposed with the despair of a divided city.

I, I can remember

Standing by the Wall

And the guns shot above our heads

And we kissed, as though nothing could fall

It took another 13 years for the Wall to finally fall.  Bowie had performed a gig in June 1987 at the Reichstag in the then West Berlin and many consider his performance of “Heroes” at this gig as a catalyst for the falling of the Wall.  He had recorded and released the song in other languages, including the German “Helden” which further endeared him to his German fans.  No more so evident than when he died in January 2016 and the German government publically thanked Bowie for “helping bring down the Wall” and added “you are now among Heroes.”

Listen to “Heroes.”  Go visit Berlin.

Quotes taken from Wikipedia as the 10,000 word university dissertation I had researched and written on this very subject is currently too safely stored for me to be able to find it…  All pictures my own, taken on my first trip to this fabulous city.

Happy Halloween

Yesterday was Halloween and I admit I felt a little upset by the masses of trick-or-treaters we received as it meant no sweeties left over for me.  I had put two aside when the bowl was running low but couldn’t resist parting with them to some gorgeously ghoulish little witches.

Of all annual festivities, it is Halloween where music really ups the ante for setting the scene; minor chords, tremolo violins, the Theremin…  My trusted go-to music for getting in the spooky mood is the thrilling opening theme to Tim Burton’s Beetlejuice.  I just love it.  But this could be for nostalgic reasons as I first saw it when I was pretty young (too young to watch it really) and cannot help but think back to all the crazy nightmares I used to have as soon as that music started – “Daylight come and me wan’ go home.”  The Edward Scissorhands soundtrack is also a winner, in fact anything by Danny Elfman really, the King of Macabre.

As I was trawling the Spotify Halloween playlists yesterday, I came across 2WEI whose version of Britney’s Toxic had been used for an epic pro dance in last weekend’s Strictly Come Dancing.  I am now slightly obsessed with their grand production (to be expected as their music is used in blockbuster international advertising campaigns) and have been stomping the autumnal streets with their album Sequels as my soundtrack.  Not your traditional Halloween music maybe, but dark and dramatic nevertheless.

Responsibility

There were tears before my youngest student came into her lesson this week (her, not me!) and I was reminded of my responsibility as a teacher, especially to young children.

I have had many different teachers over the years, some good, some not so.  I too have cried in singing lessons though unlike my student, my tears were sometimes during and after lessons.  My tears were a result of, not in anticipation of a singing lesson.

Of all the instruments, the voice is undeniably the most personal, being an extension of ourselves.  When we are critiqued, we cannot help but take it personally.  As a teacher, it is my responsibility to create a safe space in my lessons, where students can feel free to make mistakes.  I encourage mistakes!  We all learn best from mistakes, it is from our mistakes that we grow.  I will never tell a student off for making a mistake, my role is to provide encouragement, support and guidance.

As for my tearful student this week, her mother and I managed to coax her into her lesson using good old fashioned bribery.  She chose to sing all her favourite songs and I even learnt some new ones (Disney’s Descendants has some tunes!)  It was a great lesson.

Singing for my brain – how group singing is the best medicine!

I came across an old TIME magazine article today titled, ‘Singing changes your brain’  As someone susceptible to bouts of anxiety (who isn’t?!) I was intrigued.  I already knew that singing released endorphins and made me feel great, but I didn’t realise that a lot more happens too.

The article is geared towards group singing, something I am passionate about as I am currently leading a workplace choir designed for staff wanting to improve their health and wellbeing.  MusicForMy have arranged specific song requests for the choir so that staff have the added bonus of singing songs they love.

As it has been proven by lovely scientists, I can confidently say that singing improves your health as a result of releasing the following happy hormones;

Endorphins – make us happy and reduce pain

Dopamine – makes us feel good

Serotonin – improves our mood

Oxytocin – the ‘love’ hormone, helps us bond with other lovely people

If you thought that was it, you’d be wrong!  Singing with others also reduces Cortisol which is the nasty hormone that causes stress.  So it’s proven, singing creates the right balance of hormones in our bodies that reduce stress and anxiety levels.  As well as gaining this by singing in the car, singing in a workplace choir can make a real difference to how we engage in our jobs.  This is where MusicForMy can help, so contact us today if you would like to inject some musical happiness into your workplace.

Group singing is cheaper than therapy, healthier than drinking, and certainly more fun than working out.  It is the one thing in life where feeling better is pretty much guaranteed.  Even if you walked into rehearsal exhausted and depressed, by the end of the night you’ll walk out high as a kite on endorphins and good will. – TIME

http://ideas.time.com/2013/08/16/singing-changes-your-brain/

 

My favourite dress

My favourite dress is a fabulous sequin number I originally bought for my wedding day. I knew that I wanted to wear a different outfit in the evening and I knew that I wanted sequins. As someone who tries to be frugal, I justified the additional expense as it is the perfect performance dress.

Audiences can be fickle. When entering that stage, you want to immediately grab their attention. A dress made of hundreds of little mirrors paired with super trooper spot lighting is something your audience are going to find hard to miss. And then you will have them in the palm of your hand ready to be wowed by your performance. A sequin dress is a powerful tool for a performer.

This sequin dress of mine is one that I feel invincible in. It is my armour. It protects me from my nerves and gives me confidence. This dress makes me feel amazing which enables me to give the best performance I possibly can.

It is my favourite dress.

Why practice makes (nearly*) perfect

I have never been good at practicing. When I was younger and progressing through the ABRSM grades, I found every excuse not to practice. It was around the millenium and Buffy the Vampire Slayer was a very tempting distraction. But I soon learnt that practice does indeed make (nearly*) perfect and it really is worth putting the effort in.

When we sing, whatever we sing, it should feel effortless. We shouldn’t be worrying about the words, or the notes, or the technique as our full concentration should be on the performance. Practice is the only way to get to this level.

There are many that say it takes 10,000 hours of practice to truly master a skill. Just look at Beyoncé. She is the queen of practice and the result is the amazing performance she is able to give each and every time she is on stage. She commands that stage. She commands that stage because she never stops practicing. And the great thing is that practice is something everyone can do. It takes no money or pre-existing talent, it just takes a bit of time. But as the saying goes, You have the same amount of hours in the day as Beyoncé.

Tips to help with practice

1. Set achievable goals – you won’t be Beyoncé tomorrow if you have only started today. Baby steps.
2. Build practice into your daily routine – do some warm up scales while making your breakfast, or driving to work.
3. Ramp up your practice before a performance and do a rekkie of the venue beforehand – you want to remove all other worries before a performance, so a practice of navigating backstage will focus your concentration on the performance.

*There is no such thing as a perfect performance, so stop worrying that it has to be!  That’s a subject for another blog.