frequently asked questions
You might have never been to one of my singing workshops and don't know what to expect! If you're thinking of coming, here are some questions which come up regularly. I hope they help.
- Is there an audition and will I have to sing solo?
- You say "no experience necessary". Do you really mean that? I have absolutely no experience of singing except to myself!
- Do I need to have a 'good' voice? What happens if I sound really awful? I don't want to ruin it for others.
- My friends and family tell me that I'm tone deaf. I don't think I can hold a tune. Will that be a problem?
- Do I need to be able to read music or understand music theory?
- What does "learning by ear" mean?
- What exactly is "unaccompanied harmony singing"?
- What kind of songs will we be singing?
- How will I manage with foreign words? I don't speak any languages.
- What does "natural voice" mean?
- What happens in a typical workshop?
- What do you mean by "bring lunch to share"?
- I can't stand up for very long at a time without needing to sit down, is this a problem?
- What if I've paid in advance for a workshop, but find that I can't attend after all?
- Why do your singing weekends cost so much more than your one day ones?
- What's the structure of a typical singing weekend? Will it be wall-to-wall singing?
- What if I have a question that isn't covered here?
A. There are no auditions. My workshops are open to anybody who loves
to sing. No experience is necessary and you will not be asked to sing solo
because all songs are sung in harmony with others. My work is all about
the joys of singing together.
A. Yes, I really mean it! Some people come with some singing experience,
but many don't. I've you've ever hummed along to a song on the radio or
sung in the shower and think it might be fun to sing with others, you've
got all the experience you need.
A. All voices are welcome. The great thing about singing together as a
group is that we can have a real mix of different voices and no individual
ever need stand out. As long as you are prepared to have a go, listen well
and remember you're part of a group, not on your own, it will be fine.
A. Almost nobody is tone deaf unless there is some brain damage. Like any physical activity (e.g. tennis, football), it takes a while to be able to control the necessary muscles to become accurate. It's the same with singing. It might take a while to be able to hold a tune accurately, but remember you are never alone in group singing!
A. I never use sheet music in my workshops so you don't need to
be able to read music to join in fully. I also don't use any unnecessary
musical jargon or assume people have prior musical training of any sort.
A. Songs will either have just one or two simple words or I will put large lyric sheets on the wall. You then learn the song bit by bit by me singing, you listening and then singing back. Slowly the parts and the song will build up, all by using your ears rather than your eyes.
A. The "unaccompanied" bit means that there will be no piano or other
instruments playing and I don't use recorded backing tracks. It's just
voices only. "Harmony singing" is when two or more notes are sung at the
same time. That means the group is divided into different parts or sections
of singers, each of which learns a different melody. When all the parts
sing together, then it is singing in harmony.
A. I usually give some idea of the songs in the workshop title. For example, Good time gospel or Sing Africa! I tend to draw on traditional songs from all around the world. Some countries don't have harmony singing traditions, so we won't usually be singing songs from Asia or the Middle East for instance. My particular love is for songs from Eastern Europe (Russia, the Balkans, Bulgaria, Georgia, etc.) and Southern Africa. I have been known to run the occasional pop song workshop too!
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Why don't you sing songs from India?
A. Most of my repertoire comes from countries where they don't speak English. Don't worry though, I don't expect you to be fluent in a whole bunch of foreign languages! I carefully choose songs which don't have too many words and I will break the foreign words down into separate syllables. It's sometimes easier to learn in a foreign language because it takes you outside yourself (you become less self-conscious) and you learn syllable by syllable (instead of paraphrasing the English).
A. I am a member of the Natural Voice Practitioners' Network (bit of a mouthful!) or NVPN. We all approach our work in a similar way and adhere to several basic principles:
- everyone can sing (hence no auditions, no experience needed)
- singing should be accessible to everybody (hence no sheet music or unnecessary jargon)
The NVPN ethos states that "We believe that singing is everyone's birthright and we are committed to teaching styles that are accepting and inclusive of all, regardless of musical experience and ability".
Your 'natural voice' is the unique voice that you were born with through which you express yourself. It can be trained to be more free and expressive, but you shouldn't become a slave to a particular technique or try to be someone else.
A. I always begin with some physical and vocal exercises to prepare for singing. I believe that the voice is rooted in the body, so there will be a mix of gentle shaking and stretching of both voice and body to prepare us for singing. There will also be some elements of vocal development which will help you to sing without effort and extend your singing abilities.
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We'll then begin with a simple round or chant and then move onto songs
which have three or more separate harmony parts. In a one day workshop
I'll often reprise what we've learnt at the end of the day and record it
so you can hear how good you sound!
A. Singing together is a great community and social experience. It's
great to extend this to eating together. All the food you bring will be put
together on a table and we will have a buffet. People sometimes bring something
that they've made at home (it's helpful if you label these!), or you can
pick something up at your local supermarket. I will provide plates, cutlery,
etc. I'll also provide various teas, coffee, milk and biscuits for other breaks!
A. I always encourage people to stand as much as possible as it's
much easier than trying to sing sitting down (and it keeps the energy up!).
However, there will always be chairs available and people can sit down if
and when they need to, as much as they need to. You can take part fully in
my workshops even if you need to sit down the whole time.
A. It depends on when you have to cancel and also whether it's a weekend
(or longer) course or a one-day (or shorter) workshop. I have a cancellation
policy which you can find here:
booking terms and conditions. This only applies to workshops that I run
myself. Other venues and organisations which book me have their own policies.
A. The cost of a singing weekend includes full board and accommodation as well as all tuition. The cost very much depends on whether it's a venue that I've hired myself specially, or if I'm employed by a residential centre (such as Farncombe Courses) as well as the standards of accommodation: a shared dormitory room in a youth hostel will always cost less than a well-appointed single room with en suite facilities.
There will also usually be far more singers in a one-day workshop so the
costs can be kept down accordingly. Once you've considered the smaller group,
great food and lovely accommodation, a singing weekend starts to look like
A. Typically singers will check into the venue in the late afternoon on the Friday. Our first session will be before supper at around 5pm for an hour or so to introduce each other and to gently start singing together. Supper won't be too late (6.30pm or 7pm usually), then the Friday evening is free to mingle, visit the bar and get to know each other.
Saturday and Sunday mornings each start around 10am with a warm up and go on until lunch at 1pm, with a half hour mid-morning break for tea and coffee. Saturday after lunch is free to chill out or discover the local area. We reconvene for a session before supper, and then have a relaxed, fun evening singing session on the Saturday evening.
Sunday morning is spent going over all the songs we've learnt and we end up running through them all just before lunch to feel that everyone has really got them under their belt. The weekend ends after lunch at around 2pm.
There are around nine hours of formal singing sessions over the weekend, which equates to the equivalent of two
one-day workshops. The structure is quite loose so there is plenty of time for relaxing, walking and generally chilling
out with a long 3 1/2 hour break on the Saturday afternoon.