Now the school holidays are upon us in Scotland, I’ll be on maternity leave until mid- to late- October.
I won’t be open for new student enquiries for the next few months, so please get back in touch in October if you’re still looking for lessons.
For current students, my last teaching week will be the week commencing 17 July. Remember, I’ve not moved to the moon, so texts and emails are ok, I just can’t promise how quickly I’ll reply.
Wishing you all a lovely summer, and I’ll see you on the other side!
Many of us had disrupted school for the last eighteen months with lots of time teaching online, wearing masks, and little or no singing. This year, we’re being promised no shutdowns and at the moment, we’re all allowed to sing.
With five simple tips, you can get your voice functioning better than ever so you’ll still have a voice for the end of term carol concert.
Read more from Discover Singing's Emma Torry
Discover Singing provides private singing and musicianship lessons in Edinburgh, Scotland. Feel like you lack confidence? Consider yourself tone deaf?
Does the thought of singing Happy Birthday give you the wibbles? Discover singing - not only can singing lessons improve your ability to sing in tune, but singing also improves confidence and releases endorphins! Already a musician? Dread taking sung aural tests? Struggling to really 'get' how music sounds before you play it? Discover singing - taking singing and musicianship lessons can help deve
Operating as usual
Now the school holidays are upon us in Scotland, I’ll be on maternity leave until mid- to late- October.
🥳 So you’ve survived the first trimester. Everything looks good, you’re starting to feel better. Does singing go back to normal?
😌 First up, enjoy the respite. Even if you’re still tired or uncomfortable, try to be grateful for any improvements!
💦 Don’t stop hydrating though. I know loads of pregnant people who have struggled with dry skin and dry mouth. Use steam if you need to, but don’t add extra oils etc as they can be an issue for pregnancy.
The immune system is suppressed in pregnancy (to stop your body attacking the baby), so you’ll be more prone to colds and worse. Get any vaccines you’re offered, and keep up hand hygiene. Some people choose to wear a mask in busy places too. And sorry, if you do get a cold, you can’t really take anything for it…
Swelling can also be an issue as your blood volume increases dramatically. This will affect your vocal folds, so be gentle with them. Stuffy noses are another side effect - if you’re mouth breathing a lot in your sleep, try anti-snoring nose strips.
💨 Your breathing will start to change over the middle few months as your belly grows too. Keep up breathwork practices, adapting them to what you can do. You might need to add extra breaths into songs, or choose repertoire with more natural breaks.
Keep watching out for reflux and take steps to help like avoiding triggering foods, eating in plenty of time before bed and making use of Gaviscon or similar.
💪🏻 Don’t stop exercising! (Unless medically advised, of course) The kinds of exercise that support good singing are great for pregnancy - swimming, yoga, pilates and walking are ideal. Start doing pelvic floor exercises too - you need a strong AND flexible pelvic floor for singing and childbirth. Practicing before birth will help you recover faster after.
And as always, work with your healthcare provider to treat other symptoms. Since so few medications are approved for use in pregnancy, most interventions should be voice-friendly.
I can’t really keep it a secret any longer - I’ll be welcoming my third baby 👶 into our family in the summer!
It’s been a journey! Singing while pregnant 🤰, especially in the early phase when you’re feeling awful but haven’t really gone public, can be tough.
So how do you manage it?
🗓 Well, the first big one is to reassess your expectations and your calendar. Whether you like it on not, you’re on a countdown so you need to manage your energy more carefully. You might have to push big plans back or space out performing a bit more than usual (finances allowing).
Plus, your voice is going to be affected along with just about everything else.
😴 The biggest advice I can give is to rest as much as possible. That might mean shorter practice sessions, or breaking them up through the day. Focus on gentle warm ups and stretches more than crazy coloratura!
💦 Hydrate as much as you can - lots of people find pregnancy means they’re much drier than usual. Sip little sips, and remember it doesn't have to be water if you can’t stomach it. If you’re actually vomiting, this is even more important.
When you are actually singing, ginger or mint tea 🫖 can be ideal to have to sip as both herbs can settle digestion. Keep some snacks 🍪 nearby too, and nibble as needed. I also love the accupressure bands to reduce nausea (does require long sleeves though).
🤢 Even if you’re not vomiting, watch out for reflux as that can affect your voice directly. Thankfully Gaviscon is one of the few things known to be absolutely safe in pregnancy!
👩⚕️ If your symptoms are getting in the way of your singing, remember, you can ask for help. Speak to your healthcare practitioner for more advice on safe management.
I definitely found singing in the first trimester wasn’t super comfortable, but by nibbling and sipping (and plenty of sleep), I did make it to the point where things improved, at least digestively!
Yes, it’s that time. Spring is here and so are the Easter holidays. There will be no lessons for the next two weeks. I’ll see everyone back in the studio from 17 April.
As usual, I’ll keep an eye on my emails for any urgent queries, but it might take a few days for a reply.
See you all soon!
Struggling with tension? 😬 Me too.
Tension is, so often, the enemy of singing. The tiny muscles that control our voice are easily affected by tension in our bigger muscles.
Tension isn’t just about physical things either - it can be as much about the mental stress of the work you’re doing as the chair you sit in to do it.
So what helps?
🏋️ Get some exercise. Physical exercise will get your muscles working better and help relax your mind. Anything is good, so long as you aren’t holding your breath to do it (so careful with very heavy weights).
🧘 Try adding in mindful movement like Yoga, Pilates, Tai Chi Feldenkrais or Alexander. Slower and more focused movement ramps up your body awareness and helps you isolate specific sensations. All these movement activities tend to help you think more widely about your daily movements and support mental and physical tension reduction.
🧠 Practice conscious relaxation. If you have never tried consciously working through your muscles and relaxing them, definitely look into practices that can help you learn to do this. Mindful movement practices are great for this, as are guided relaxation and meditation exercises. I love using a body scan to help me bring down the tension in my body.
🎁 Take time to treat yourself too. Doing things you enjoy simply for pleasure can help you get to a place where you’re carrying less tension. It’s so important to remember you matter and you need time to feel like yourself. Some activities (like a long bath) are tension reducing at the time, other things (like adventure activities) can help you relax after.
🚶And don’t forget, try using movement when you sing. Anything from changing position to lie on the floor to using a balance board can disrupt your natural holding patterns and free up your voice as you practice.
How do you try to reduce your tension?
Are you doing warm ups 🔥? Or exercises 🏋️? Can you tell the difference?
When you get into that practice room, we all know we need to warm-up. But what is a warm-up?
▶️ Put it simply, a warm-up is getting your voice from no singing, to ready to sing. It shouldn’t take long (3-5 minutes) and should feel easy and relaxed.
⏫ Exercises, on the other hand, are more about taking that warm voice and working on skills or techniques to improve it.
So, if you’re warming up, you’re probably working with SOVT exercises like hums, or fricatives (VV, ZZ etc). You might choose to use a straw 🥤 or even a kazoo!
I always recommend starting gently and close to your speaking voice range before expanding out to your singing range.
Starting with unpitched slides and glides also make sure your muscles are working smoothly through all possible sounds before we start to tune into specific notes. Sliding shapes also give you a way to check if your voice has any glitches in it to day - sticky areas, breaks or cracks.
Warm-ups can be on pitched patterns too, but the goal is light, gentle, and exploratory rather than anything too specific.
🎼 Then it’s time to go into exercises. This would be your more traditional scales and arpeggios, on vowels (oo) or consonant fronted vowels (ba, la, da) or even using words or phrases.
↗️ Now we’re selecting the things we’re doing to improve parts of the voice. Maybe you’re working on your mix voice, or you need to improve your high notes. Perhaps you’re exploring finding twang, belt or classical set ups. Maybe you need to improve your articulation with a nasty tongue twister or two?
You also don’t have to do exercises before singing songs - you might want to sing a song, then do an exercise to help with a sticky part and then go back to the song.
You -do- need to warm up before singing a song though - give that voice a chance to be ready to go.
How do you use warm ups and exercises in your singing?
🥤 Right, you’ve got a straw. What now?
On a simple level, anything you can do without a straw you can do with one!
🌊 I like to use my straw for gentle vocal warm-ups like sirens, waves, slides, glides and revs. This is one of the most impactful ways to use SOVT techniques as it helps your voice get moving really safely.
🪜 You can make huge use of your straw in technical work as well - scales, arpeggios or any other pattern your teacher has set you. Try using the straw and then repeating the exercise without. Usually, you’ll find it’s better having used the straw first!
🎼 What about repertoire? When I’m learning songs, sometimes I use my straw on a gentle setting as I work through the melody. We can often use less than optimal technique when learning and the straw will mitigate that.
Once you know the song, keep your straw handy for any sticky bits, as working with a straw can be one way to try and free up sections or work through a difficult run.
💦 And what about water? Water is best for tired days, when your voice isn’t quite as functional as it should be. It’s also a great cool down at the end of a practice session or the end of the day. Or you can add water for more resistance if you want a bit more of a workout.
🧪 The key is to experiment. Try different straws, different exercises, different set ups, and you’ll see what works best for you. Don’t be surprised if your straw becomes your best friend!
🥤Singing through a straw is everywhere! And for good reason - there’s loads of evidence in favour of SOVTs, and using a straw especially.
So if you want to give it a go, how on earth do you choose a straw??
There are a number of singing straw options out there if you have budget to buy a specialist tool. You can get a sing ring or an SOVT straw easily in the UK, or other options overseas. These metal straws are designed to offer a range of set ups and are really the best thing to buy.
But what if you want to try straw work before you invest in an expensive item, or can’t afford to?
🧲 Metal straws are washable, but only offer one set up option unless you add water or use a finger to cover the end slightly. If you want a metal straw, I’d suggest looking for a longer length to make it easier to use in water, or collecting a few different sizes over time.
📃 Paper straws are more flexible as you can squeeze them to narrow the diameter and increase the pressure. Unfortunately, they also have a tendency to disintegrate over time, and faster if you use water. Useful for workshops or occasional use but not really a great long term option. I’d rule out food-based straws for the same reason!
🧋 Which leaves silicone. If you’re looking for a starter straw to see if SOVT is for you, I’d say a silicone straw is probably the best to get going with. You can squeeze it like paper to vary the size, but they’ll also be durable and washable like metal. You can also take a pair of scissors to a longer silicone straw to make it into a shorter one if you like.
What kind of straw do you use?
🌸 Spring is just around the corner (I hope!) so it’s time for a quick seasonal reminder about how to best look after your voice.
☀️ First off, the days are getting longer and brighter, so make the most of it and try to get some sunshine. While in the UK we don’t get enough sun for all the vitamin D we need, there are other qualities of natural light that are really important. Natural light can boost mood and also help us sleep better, which is key for singers.
💨 Next, use the fresh air! Start to air out your house. As it gets warmer, crack open windows to help reduce the spread of viruses that can be a real problem for singers.
🏃 Even better, if you can, try taking your exercise outside! Exercise is essential for all of us, and has special benefits for singers. We need good lung and heart function, strong yet flexible muscles and a generally healthy body to support our sound. If you’ve been stuck running on a treadmill all winter, now is the time to dust off your outdoor kit. Even finding time to schedule in a walk a few times a week will mean you can get sunshine, fresh air and exercise all at once.
🤧 Of course, you might be cringing at the idea of going outside. Maybe you’ve been really enjoying winter and now spring means allergy season is around the corner. If you struggle with allergies, make sure you get the right medical advice from your doctor. Allergy meds can be drying, but that’s still preferable to sneezing your way through an aria. There are lots of non-medical things that can help too like saline nasal sprays that wash out pollen after a trip outside.
💦 And of course, always keep hydrated! As the weather starts to warm, you might need to change how much you’re drinking or make adjustments to what you’re drinking. Don’t get too hung up on just water - if you drink more with a splash of squash in, that’s fine! Just so long as it’s not booze, you’re ok!
Maybe you love exams? 😖 But to be honest, most of us find them one of the most stressful singing experiences. Somehow knowing you’re performing for someone who is specifically there to comment on your performance is way worse than just singing in a concert. At least then you only get the positive feedback!
So what can you do to keep calm and perform at your best?
🎤 Singers are extra vulnerable to the physical and mental stress because our body is our instrument. I always work with my exam-taking singers to help them practice a simple breathing technique.
💨 All you need to do is to breathe in slow-ish and then breathe out for longer. I like the count of four in and six out, but you can adjust to suit you.
Why does this help? 😌 Well, when we’re safe, calm and relaxed our breathing is slower and our exhale is often a little longer than our exhale. 😖 When we’re stressed, we breathe faster, shallower and often faster on the exhale (think running away from danger).
😎 What’s super cool is that when you breathe like you’re safe, you can actually “trick” your body into relaxing more generally.
🌬 So breathe in slowly for four, and out for six. Try to breathe into your abdomen as well as your chest and focus just on the breathing or the counting or a positive thought.
You can even add a gentle hum on the exhale which also helps to relax your mind and body (and it’s a good gentle voice warm-up!).
What are your favourite waiting room tips for nerves in exams?
👂 Aural tests are often the lonely, forgotten supporting test. We’re all busy focusing on perfecting our pieces and stressing about sight-reading, but don’t dismiss those aural marks!
If you’re struggling, the first key is to make sure you know what you’re learning. Ask your teacher to write down exactly what you need to do or look it up in the syllabus.
Then you want to find practice tests. I love [e-musicmaestro.com](http://e-musicmaestro.com) - they have free aural tests to practice for both AB and Trinity.
You’ll find some questions are easier than others so work out what you find harder and focus on those skills.
🥁 Beat work is easily practiced by listening to music and checking the time signature after.
📲 Intervals, tonality and chords are all easily practiced using musicianship or ear training apps.
There’s lots of tools out there that can help you pick up marks in the last rush.
And remember, no matter what your answer, give it clearly and confidently. Don’t ask the examiner if your answer is right!
Remember, a few extra marks in aural can make a big difference between grade boundaries if you’re close!
Want to improve your aural long term? Find a Kodály teacher! The skills you learn with musicianship taught the Kodály way will help you not only improve your aural but all your music making.
Yes, I know, it’s still February, but Spring exam season is rapidly approaching!
While we all know the basics of prepping for an exam, there are definitely a few sticky bits for singers. Mine is lyrics!
I hate learning lyrics. I get worried about forgetting them and always feel like I’m in a rush at the end to get them secure.
If you’re like me, here are some of the best tips I have!
📝 Work with the words first. Might be a bit late now that you’re approaching the exams, but I always now try to read the words before I start in on the music. If I can, I’ll read them out as a poem to try and make sense of the story, meaning and natural rhythm.
🎵 Isolate words and rhythm together. Work on reading the words in rhythm. This kills two birds with one stone - you practice the words AND you get to tidy up your rhythm.
✍️ Write them out. I once read a story about an opera singer who would use long flights to learn words. She wrote each line out five times, then each verse/section five times, then the whole song five times. I’ve never had the patience to do it to this level myself, but I definitely find just copying the words out really helps.
🤔 Make sure you understand them. It’s worth taking time to look up words you don’t know, or both a literal and singable translation if you don’t speak the language. Look at the narrative and try to memorise the overall structure/story to help with knowing which verse or section is next.
💔 Break up with your score! Finally, the only way you can be sure you remember both the words and the melody is to put the book down (or paper or tablet) and see what you know. If you do pretty well, try singing for others or recording yourself to check you know them under pressure!
What are your top tips for learning lyrics for your exams?
Yes, it’s that time again. Discover Singing will be taking a well-earned break next week for some 💕self-care as it’s February half term.
There will be no lessons next week and no social posts. Emails will be checked occasionally.
👋🏻 I’ll see you all after the holidays, with lessons starting back on 20 Feb.
🤔 Ever wondered how teachers plan? This is the system that works for me!
📒When I first started out, I read another teacher say they used an online studio management system to deal with invoicing, timetabling and lesson notes. They had a copy book that they wrote notes in during the lesson and then they copied them up later to add more detail.
📧 The notes then went by email to the student, AND to their parents (if they were kids). So much better than hoping the mum or dad would root around in a folder of music and try to translate my horrible writing!
Honestly, 🙏🏻 thank you to the person who put me on to this!
Since then, I’ve customised the system for me. Now, I use Notion to keep all my planning in. Notion has super powerful 🕸 relational database tools at the core of their platform which allows me to filter the lesson plans by date, use templates and keep track of whether I’ve planned the lesson, sent out the notes etc.
☑️ I can also create views of my lesson notes lists INSIDE my task list so I can see at a glance on a Monday whether I’ve planned the lessons for today and then tomorrow, I can see which ones I’ve written up and planned for next week.
😁 Honestly, Notion has been a game changer for me - I use it to keep my musicianship song database in, my lesson planning and even my social posts are written in Notion.
I am still a paper notebook girl for class teaching, but for individual lessons this hybrid system works perfectly for me!
I’ve been posting since New Year about all kinds of ways to get your musical spark ⚡️ back. So what did I do??
🎯 Well, I’ve set myself a goal to do an exam!
I will, I WILL do my grade 5 piano exam this year 🎹. I’ve been working on it for a while, but I really want to get it done.
I signed up for a medal challenge🏅. Normally, people use these for exercise, but I’ve decided to award myself 1km for every 10mins practice I do. It’s not going great so far, but there’s every hope of catching up!
And the last big one?
I’ve booked myself a couple of tickets to the theatre 🎭. Not strictly music, but I love watching people perform. It always helps me feel more excited about life and about my job.
What have you decided to do this year to boost your love for music?
Anything that you plan to pick up now we’re in February?
As January draws to a close, we’re reaching one of those points where resolutions often fall down. The 30 day challenges are over. Real life has set in. Winter (at least in Scotland) is still going for a while yet! ❄️
February is always a month when I have to slow down 🐌. But I try not to give up. Maybe exercise every day becomes exercise regularly. Maybe the piano practice goes from 30 mins to 10. So be it. Better to keep going than stop.
I try to think of the end of January/start of February as a point to reset and restart 🔁. Change the goal up. Try a different tack. Maybe start a new piece. Maybe change the time I’m doing a habit if it’s not working. It’s a great time to start a new book or book some tickets in the next few week.
⭐️ My personal reset today is going to be setting a new goal for the rest of this term (till Easter) and switching some of the yoga time I’ve been putting in since January to piano practice.
I’ve also got a theatre ticket for the end of the month, and I’ve booked a CPD day in March.
Here’s to increasing daylight ☀️, hope for warmer weather 😎 and many more musical moments this month 🎵.
🤔 What’s my one guaranteed go-to for inspiration? 🎤 Book a ticket to a show!
🧑🎤 If you’re feeling sluggish and uninspired, get googling for local opportunities to see other people sing. You’ll find options to suit every budget.
I love a musical, but it’s not cheap, even with deals and choosing cheap seats. Our local repertory theatre usually has seats for under £20, though, and that’s often just as good a boost!
🍺 Even a night in a pub, watching a local singer-songwriter gigging in the evening can remind you of the joy of music and the fun of performing.
💷 Many theatres and concert halls offer discounts for under 26s, bulk purchase options and other things that can make it cheaper to get to a professional show.
You don’t have to splash the cash on a big name stadium tour! Although, if you can, go ahead and enjoy!
What are your best hacks for getting good value tickets for theatre and live music?
📚 One of my favourite hobbies is reading, and there’s nothing like a book for sparking new ideas.
Maybe you don’t have the energy, time or money for a course or class? You should be able to pick up a book that will keep you inspired when it comes to singing for under £10, or even free if you have access to a local library.
Here in Edinburgh, we’re really lucky to have a specialist music library as part of the city library service and all regular libraries can also do interlibrary loans for more specialist texts. I also have the option to set up graduate access to the university library (on my to do list for this year!).
Lots of out of copyright texts are available from Project Gutenberg for free. Make this the year you read Tetrazzini or Lehmann!
💷 If you have a modest budget, there some excellent books out there about breathing, books with singing technique tips and exercises. Try some of the books by Vocal Process or pick up a copy of The Inner Game of Music for psychology tips. Books on practice are a genre all by themselves and usually priced for popular reading.
You could even pick up the original novels that inspired operas or musicals. And there’s plenty of fiction out there about singers, performers and murders at the theatre!
What are your favourite books about singing?
😊 Best thing I did in 2021 to reboot my music was to sign up for a course with the British Kodály Academy. I booked myself onto the first stage of the Kodály teaching certificate for secondary. I haven’t looked back. 🤞Fingers crossed, I’ll be finished by the middle of this year!
🤔 Maybe you want something less intense? I highly recommend the self study courses by Vocal Health Education which cover, well, vocal health and wider issues like anatomy and inclusive teaching. You could also try out the weekly lectures by Voice Study Centre. Every single one has given me new ideas and had me diving down rabbit holes to learn more.
👩🏼🏫 Now we’re living in a post-Covid world there’s also loads more opportunities to go to in-person training. AOTOS is running in-person days across the UK this spring, and just about everyone is back to running a summer school in July or August.
📱Social Media is a great place to follow course providers like BKA, NYCOS, Voice Study Centre, Vocal Health Education, ABCD and many, many more. You’ll then see when new courses become available and be able to sign up.
‼️ Just be careful! CPD can become a bit addictive…! (she says, looking at her backlog of videos and teetering tower of books…🤣)
Anything caught your eye this year to spice up your music making?
💡 For this week’s first tip to reinvigorate your musical life, it’s a classic. Why not sign up for a performance opportunity? Maybe you could help out with a fundraising concert, volunteer for a solo at choir, or learn a piece for a friend’s birthday?
🎉 If you have a festival in your local area this can be a great way to both perform and get a bit of feedback on your music making as well.
🧐 There’s also always the tried-and-tested option of taking an exam. Did you know, if you don’t have a teacher, you can enter yourself? (If you do have a teacher, please make sure they are happy for you to take the exam, of course.) With modern video (”digital”) exam options now available with all the major boards, you can choose between a set face-to-face deadline or a flexible option to record when ready. Fair warning, if you choose digital, you need to make a deadline or you’ll never get there!
Setting yourself a performance target has all the SMART criteria:
👉🏻 Specific - a particular performance
📏 Measurable - did you do it? how well did you do?
☑️ Attainable - so long as you choose the right one
🎼 Relevant - performing is a key part of music making
🕰 Time-bound - there’s usually built in date for the performance.
What kind of performance do you fancy this year?
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