Music for the Most of Us (Episode 1)

Posted September 30th, 2016

Music Lessons? 5 Tips to Get You Started

kazooWith the start of a new school year comes the chance for our children to try a host of other new things. At the top of my list? Music! Whether you consider piano lessons a rite of passage or you’re hoping to have birthed the next Joshua Bell, or, best of all, you appreciate music for its lifelong interest and value, extra-curricular music activities are a great investment. So, let’s get started!

1. When should we start private lessons? Your child is older than age 6. (Please note: private voice should not begin before 8th grade—more on this later.) Private piano, violin and ukulele lessons are often dependent upon reading or pre-reading skills (like tracking left to right and top to bottom and counting) A reading five can manage with the right teacher and teaching method, but the risk is high that a child who starts too young will be frustrated easily. For children 6 and under, the most essential experience for future musicality is making music with family.

2. Which instrument should we choose? While piano is foundational to all other instruments, it may be helpful to consider what instruments are played in your family. Like language, music is absorbed environmentally by children, so if Mom plays the violin, it may be best to start there. Starting from scratch? Consider a double ukulele lesson with Daddy learning along side Junior. Have a young star singer? A children’s choir is one of the best places for young singers to develop.

3. Which teacher should we choose? With hundreds of private music teachers in the Richmond area, it may seem daunting to narrow it down, but ask around! Fellow parents know what they like about certain teachers and what didn’t work with previous ones. Your child’s school music educator is likely familiar with the teaching styles of many local instructors, and, knowing your child, can recommend a few good matches.

4. Ask for a trial period. This is often overlooked as a great step toward making the right match, so don’t be afraid to ask to book a month of lessons before committing to a particular teacher. A great music teacher knows how important it is for teacher and student to be compatible.

5. Create Goals. Draft three achievable goals with your child and present them to your teacher at the start of your trial period. He or she will gain valuable insight into what your family wants out of lessons, and will be able to fill out the goals for you with their expert musical knowledge. Make sure these goals are achievable! An achievable goal is not, for example: “We want to see if she has what it takes to Make It!” Put dreams of stardom on hold for a minute and concentrate on how learning music will benefit your child this year. He will learn that hard work improves outcomes. She will learn that ‘not getting’ something right away doesn’t mean she’ll never get it. He will learn that he has the power to create something beautiful. Achievable short term goals could include: playing ‘happy birthday” for so and so’s special day, playing a holiday song for grandma’s visit, auditioning for a school group. Long term goals include preparing for college auditions (it takes years!), learning to read music competently, fostering a deeper appreciation for the musical arts, becoming a well-informed audience member. Keep your goals in an accessible place, and reevaluate often with your child and teacher.

Now, sit back, enjoy the music and crack the whip! Whoops—“How to Practice” is another article entirely….

Your instrument is your body!

Posted November 27th, 2015

Your instrument is…your entire body!

A singer’s instrument is the entire body. Even how your toes point can ultimately affect what you sound like! It’s important to know how it all works together, and how to keep the body humming along, so you can keep…well…humming along!

Fran Coleman (D.M.A., Board Member, Capitol Opera Richmond, Deputy Director, Classical Revolution RVA, Adjunct Professor, John Tyler Community College, Longwood University, Owner/Teacher, Songbird’s Studio–so she KNOWS what she’s talking about) recently presented on Vocal Health and Hygiene at our SongTalks program in September.

Here are Fran’s top ways to keep your voice (and body) healthy:

Voice Health Tip #1. ​HYDRATE, HYDRATE, HYDRATEdesert
Dehydration (not enough water in your body) occurs ​externally​ and ​internally​.
External​ dehydration may come from breathing dry air, breathing with an open mouth, smoking, and certain drying oral medications like antihistamines. To help allergies without dehydrating, try nasal steroid sprays (prescription and over-the-counter versions now available!)
Your vocal folds can be ​re-hydrated​ by inhaling steam (i.e. hot shower, facial steamer, hot-water vaporizer).
Internal​ dehydration comes from too much caffeine, alcohol, drying drugs, or sweating without
fluid replacement. Internal ​re-hydration​ is probably best achieved by drinking lots of water.

How much water should you drink per day? Divide your body weight in halnosef!  This is the MINIMUM number of ounces you should be drinking per day.

Throat Clearing/Coughing When a person clears his throat or coughs, the vocal folds violently crash together, which can cause inflammation, which causes loss of singing and speaking range or a husky-sounding voice.  Untreated inflammation can cause serious long-term vocal damage.

Clearing your throat or coughing is usually due to excessive mucous. (The stuff just got real, folks.) Mucous will drain from sinuses down the back of the throat, irritating the vocal folds and causing a cough.

-To reduce mucous and therefore coughing, treat allergies or infection promptly by following advice from your doctor.
-To prevent mucous and therefore coughing, use a nasal irrigation system regularly, especially during dry weather, cold weather, flu season, allergy season.  One such system is NeilMed sinus irrigator, available at drug stores everywhere.

Shouting in excess causes severe vocal strain.  Avoid shouting, and absolutely avoid screaming.

Vocal Health Tip #3. ​STAY RESTED
If your body is tired, your vocal cords are tired, too! Get a good night’s sleep, regularly.

Vocal Health Tip #4. ​EAT WELL & EXERCISE!
As singers we are vocal athletes. We must train our bodies the same way.
● Sugar
● Fatty foods
● Preservatives
● Dairy (2 hours before performance)
● Fruits
● Vegetables
● Whole grains
● Cardiovascular strength, which creates pulmonary and muscular stamina

Vocal Health Tip #6. ​DO NOT SING SICK!!!
Refrain from singing if you have:
● an infection, virus, or fever
● Laryngitis
○ When we are hoarse, our cords are swollen. Singing on swollen cords is like
running on a sprained ankle – IT’S NO GOOD!

Songs for Peace: Wintertide Concert 2015

Posted February 4th, 2015

I know I’m not the only one who has been avoiding the news.  It seems a tide of darkness threatens from almost every story.  What can we possibly do?


photo by Randy Marshall


photo by Petite Shards Productions


photo by Petite Shards Productions

Well, Mara Smith, Margaret Taylor and I are lucky enough to work with young people who are weekly ‘doing something’. They are more actively engaged in understanding differing cultures, cultivating brotherhood, and practicing empathy than any other program I know of: they sing together.  They sing songs from around the world and across the ages, songs of kings, songs of slaves, songs of the holy, songs of war, songs of pain, songs of hope.

One song may seem a small thing, but many voices singing as one?  That’s powerful.  That’s the power of song.

Performing Arts Seminar 2015

Posted January 13th, 2015

On January 10 we had the pleasure of hosting the third annual Performing Arts Seminar for middle and high school singers and actors.  Reynold’s Development generously provided our location.


Many thanks to our fabulous speakers who donated their time to teach group classes, give audition points, share their expertise, and shower the attendees with their wisdom. 2015 workshop 2Participants attended classes taught by Richmond performing arts royalty: Anne Carr Regan, Phillip Vollmer, Desiree Roots Centeio, Mike Boyd, Stephanie M. Hill, Carmen Ward and City Singers faculty. Missed the event? Blasted shame! Get ready for next year!IMG_5131

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