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Learning to Garden along the Lower Clarence River

Dietes – A clump-forming, rhizomatous perennial from South Africa.

We have been living in the Iluka/ Woombah area now for several months.

When we arrived it was winter and there were so many lovely shades of green – it rained hard for a few days and since then no rain really (maybe it has been 2 months now without rain). I realise we are more fortunate in terms of rainfall here than many of our friends and family who live further inland from the coast and have had little if no rain at all.

Since the 1st of September the garden has come alive. A new friend told us that at this time of year ‘it is as if the flowers just know it is time to wake up’ and they do. I have a baby Japanese Maple that I brought with me from our garden in Victoria. I have been worried it was about to die. During our travels between leaving Victoria and moving into our new home the Maple suffered the misfortune of being nibbled by a rabbit one evening when I left it outside in the fresh air. Now however, after being re-potted and given some fresh soil she seems to have come back with to strong healthy branches and a tiny curl of leaves forming between them.

I am learning a lot about how things grow in a new climate. So far it has not been very hard as most things love it here as much we do. You are welcome to add a tip for me about planting, veggie patching, mulching or anything you love to share about your favourite plants…

The Clarence at Sunset

I was sitting on the banks of the Clarence River looking out towards Maclean and playing my guitar recently as the sun was setting. The smoke from the fires at Sharks Creek was still in the air and I was thinking to myself how beautiful the sky looked.

Satellite imagery of blaze at Angourie in NSW spreading across the peninsula. Picture: Channel 9.

Satellite imagery of blaze at Angourie in NSW spreading across the peninsula. Picture: Channel 9.Source:Channel 9

Living in the Clarence Valley is a wonderful experience. We were out with friends yesterday from Melbourne and they were lucky enough to see dolphins in the Clarence River at Yamba, kangaroos in our front yard, kookaburras along the fence, koalas in the trees along the roadway, and whales at the beach looking down towards the Bluff at Iluka.

Iluka Bluff Lookout

What a great day. We came back and enjoyed each others company.

This morning before they left we had a quick mini harp lesson to send them on the next leg of their journey. I hope they have a wonderful time up north.

If you are interested in making an inquiry about Booking Leeann for Music  Lessons in the Lower Clarence Valley or via Skype (Singing, Bass, Banjo, Celtic Harp & Autoharp, Flute, Guitar, Keyboard, Mandolin & Ukulele)  or Performances please use Leeann’s Contact Form.

StringSong Music – Leeann Flynn
Lower Clarence Valley – Ashby, Chatsworth Island, Gulmarrad, Harwood, Iluka, Maclean, Woombah, Yamba

How to Warm-Up & Practice Singing in Your Car Each Day

Singing Lessons with Leeann Flynn can booked through StringSong Music.

Singing practice can sometimes be tricky, especially if you are a busy person. Of course the ideal situation for practicing singing is to be able to stand so you are freely supporting your body and so that you able to use your diaphragm efficiently. A lot of singers sit to accompany themselves as they sing (keyboard players, guitarists, harpists) so standing is not always an easy option when practicing and performing. So developing a process that works for you and which suits your needs is worth pursuing.

Before you embark on practicing in a mobile situation it is important to gather together what you will need:

For those singers who spend time travelling to and from work each day by car these suggestions are hopefully going to be of some value to you.

* a device of some kind to play your exercises on (phone, MP3 player or tablet)

* seat adjusted so your back is straight, you will need to consider this even more so if you are practicing regularly whilst sitting

* a recording of your chosen warm-ups and exercises (scales)

* a recording of your chosen song – preferably a version with a lead singer to start with and then more importantly a version that is just an accompaniment (backing track or instrumental)

* have drinking water available  

1. Start off by breathing in through your nose and out through your mouth: a technique I use with my students is get them to mentally count to 5 on the in breath, then hold for a second or two and then slowly release the breath out through your mouth counting to 5 as you release. This is excellent for stress relief, as well as oxygenating the brain in preparation for singing. Repeat this step 4 or 5 times or as need – you know it is enough when you feel relaxed.

2. Hum softly for 3-5minutes. Humming entails making notes with your mouth closed, you will be breathing in and out through your nose as you do this. The use of humming as part of warming your voice up for singing is excellent as it forces you to really breathe well and use your diaphragm to help produce sounds. You could hum a song you would normally sing, however when warming up scales are a good place to start as you can focus on your pitch and getting long or short notes in a deliberate way.

3. A CD or MP3 file of scale warm-ups can be very handy to have playing – it is ideal to hear these scales through speakers and sing along rather than with ear buds in, as sometimes hearing yourself sing can be challenging. The important thing as you practice scales is to hear your voice as you sing each note, so that you know that your pitch work is effective.

4. Have the song you want to work on available – it is preferable to have a recording with a lead vocalist, so you can sing through with a guide singer. The best option is having the song as a backing track or as an instrumental version so that you can hear yourself as you sing. If you are practicing a song without a recording choose something very familiar lyrically. Remember it may not always be easy to work on learning lyrics as effectively as you would when not travelling.

5. Consider what it is you want to work on. Dynamics (variations in loud and soft sounds) is a great thing to work on in the car, especially if no-one is listening; this is one area singers sometimes forget to work on. Phrasing, timing and breathe work also areas you can work on in a mobile situation.

6. Plan your practice according to the length of the journey. If your make your own recording or use one from your singing lessons then the timing of how you practice will be more precise. 

Practicing should be a challenge, but also self-fulfilling in as much as it provides pleasure and a sense of a achievement. Take your time and be patient with yourself. Progress happens when strategic planning and dedication to using your time effectively occurs.

Let me know what your experiences have been like with this – I would love your feedback regarding any suggestions you have found useful.

If you are interested in making an inquiry about Booking Leeann for Music  Lessons in the Lower Clarence Valley or via Skype (Singing, Bass, Banjo, Celtic Harp & Autoharp, Flute, Guitar, Keyboard, Mandolin & Ukulele)  or Performances please use Leeann’s Contact Form.

StringSong Music – Leeann Flynn
Lower Clarence Valley – Ashby, Chatsworth Island, Gulmarrad, Harwood, Iluka, Maclean, Woombah, Yamba

Top 10 reasons to play Celtic Harp –

Learn to play Celtic Harp with Leeann Flynn, StringSong Music

The Celtic harp is one of the most relaxing and endearing instruments both for player and the listener. When  listening to this particular harp it is easy to understand how the gentle sounds of the instrument help people to feel peace and calm. The harp is both inspiring and interesting to people everywhere and it is a gift to others when someone shares its beautiful sounds. Celtic harp music has a rich history and touches each person deeply… it is music for joy, sadness, love and rest.

Here are some more reasons to play Celtic Harp…

  1. 1. The sound and feeling from the harp gives the player a great sense of inner peace
  2. 2. Accompanying someone as they sing is easy
  3. 3. There is a wide variety of sheet music available for instrumental playing
  4. 4. You can play just about any style of music on the harp
  5. 5. Composing your own music on the harp is very pleasurable
  6. 6. It has been said that the sound of the harp’s strings being plucked can help to relieve physical aches and pain
  7. 7. Harpers have been known to help babies and people who suffering an illness to fall asleep as they listen to harp’s gentle sounds
  8. 8. Learning the harp engages the left and right hemispheres of the brain and strengthens body – brain connections
  9. 9. The satisfaction of being able to carry on ancient tradition which brings with it echoes from another time
  10. 10. Playing the harp is a highly physical activity and helps the player maintain cardio vascular health, as the harpers arms are always raised as they play which ensures healthy blood flows.

Leeann playing and accompanying herself as she sings ‘A woman’s Heart’ at the Art n All That Jazz’ Art exhibition.

If you are interested in making an inquiry about Booking Leeann for Music  Lessons in the Lower Clarence Valley or via Skype (Singing, Bass, Banjo, Celtic Harp & Autoharp, Flute, Guitar, Keyboard, Mandolin & Ukulele)  or Performances please use Leeann’s Contact Form.

StringSong Music – Leeann Flynn
Lower Clarence Valley – Ashby, Chatsworth Island, Gulmarrad, Harwood, Iluka, Maclean, Woombah, Yamba

Learning the Ukulele – How to enrich your Brain…

Norwegian Wood performed by Leeann Flynn on the Ukulele

The Ukulele is an instrument that appeals to all ages and is fun to play as your first instrument or yet another to tuck under your arm and minstrel your way down the road of life. When choosing your ukulele the first thing to consider is what size you want. Ukuleles more commonly come in four sizes: Soprano, Concert, Tenor and Baritone. Each size brings with it sounds that are unique to the particular size. As with string instruments in general, smaller sizes are sweeter and higher as opposed to the larger sizes being deeper and lower. Each instrument has it’s own rich sound and is worth experimenting with to know what suits you.

Music and its effects on the brain are well documented; enhancing long and short term memory, growth of new neural pathways and even pain relief. Playing the ukulele relieves stress and helps you let go of your everyday worries; giving your chattering mind a break.

Some more reasons to play the Ukulele:

It sounds beautiful

Increases co-ordination and fine motor skills

Enhances body –brain connections

Mental Agility

Develops skills of co-processing

Enhances well-being

Lifts the spirit

A great sense of unity with the instrument occurs and a sense of being in your own centred space

Promotes Social Engagement –

Playing with and for others gives pleasure to the player and the listener.

A very portable instrument

It easy, portable, sounds sweet.

If you are interested in making an inquiry about Booking Leeann for Ukulele Lessons in the Lower Clarence Valley or via Skype (Singing, Bass, Banjo, Celtic Harp & Autoharp, Flute, Guitar, Keyboard, Mandolin & Ukulele)  or Performances please use Leeann’s Contact Form.

StringSong Music – Leeann Flynn
Lower Clarence Valley – Ashby, Chatsworth Island, Gulmarrad, Harwood, Iluka, Maclean, Woombah, Yamba

Banjo: a very friendly instrument to learn to play

The Banjo playing garden gnome…

I first became inspired to play banjo after seeing Billy Connolly and Ralph McTell playing together, Ralph was playing his guitar tenderly and Billy was of course playing banjo. After that I was hooked. Billy has been a great example to me of someone who has a desire to play and who has doggedly worked to master his skills, and make it all look like so much fun.

Learning The Banjo

Here is a snippet of Billy talking about his experiences as a beginner banjo player.

Billy Connolly ~ Cripple Creek

Here is Billy’s rendition of this well known Bluegrass piece. A great example of claw hammer style playing.

The banjo can be a four, five, or six-stringed instrument with a resonator also known as the head or body (looks like a drum –which be plastic or animal hide). The banjo is believed to have been developed by early African Americans who brought it with them from West Africa in the 17th century.

4 String banjo is well known in Celtic, Jazz, Ragtime and Dixieland music. Here is a link to learn more about 4 String Banjo and its features.

5 String has become more associated with Bluegrass, Old Time, Mountain, Folk & Country music. This is a great site for learning more about buying your next 5 String Banjo.

6 String banjo, sometimes referred to as a Banjo Guitar or Banjitar has been around for about 100 years and plays much the same as a guitar lending itself well to blues, country, Dixieland, ragtime and modern music. Here is a link to learn more about what to look for when buying a 6 String Banjo.

The banjo is such a wonderfully versatile instrument. In more recent times it has become well known in Bluegrass:

Earl Scruggs And Friends – Foggy Mountain Breakdown

however, any style of music can be played on the banjo. Historically speaking it grew out of the African American folk culture and today it has strong associations with: Old time, folk, traditional Irish, country, modern rock and pop, Dixieland, Jazz & Gospel and even classical music.

Here are some examples of how versatile and enjoyable it is to play Banjo:

Mumford & Sons – Little Lion Man (Live from Red Rocks)

Modern Irish pop

Taylor Swift – Mean (Live from New York City)

Country Pop – an example of a 6 string banjo

Pete SeegerDown By The Riverside

African American Spirituals & folk

Anaconda – Vintage Bluegrass Hoedown – Style Nicki Minaj Cover feat. Robyn Adele Anderson

Great example of styles old and new blended together

Dixie Chicks bluegrass melody

Great 5 string with fiddle

Tenor Banjo Dixieland Bill Bailey

Great example of this style

John Bullard – Telemann Aria I, Partita No. 5 (Classical Banjo: The Perfect Southern Art)

Fabulous, so much early banjo was written for classical players.

92-year old banjo player blazes through a Jazz medley on his Vega plectrum.

Banjo is an instrument for any age and any style…

Dirty Old Town – Leeann Flynn on Banjo Lessons StringSong Music

If you are interested in making an inquiry about Booking Leeann for Music  Lessons in the Lower Clarence Valley or via Skype (Singing, Bass, Banjo, Celtic Harp & Autoharp, Flute, Guitar, Keyboard, Mandolin & Ukulele)  or Performances please use Leeann’s Contact Form.

StringSong Music – Leeann Flynn
Lower Clarence Valley – Ashby, Chatsworth Island, Gulmarrad, Harwood, Iluka, Maclean, Woombah, Yamba

Laughing Kookaburras…

Lovely Female Laughing Kookaburra in my garden…

Another beautiful day …

Since living in the Lower Clarence Valley I have come to realize that native wildlife is normal part of life here. Often in the evenings I am able to sit and enjoy the luxury of silence. Silence that I have gradually noticed is a backdrop to the sound of our local Boobook Owl, a possum who is obviously keen to find a new mate and the wonderful sounds of the Laughing Kookaburras and the many other birds off in the distant trees.

I am fortunate enough to not only hear these beautiful guys each day, but I also have them regularly fly into our garden for mid morning, afternoon or evening snacks. This morning I was getting ready to take my lovely little doggie for his morning walk, I got to the front gate as a beautiful adult kookaburra flew down over my shoulder and snatched a 5cm warm out the grass and consumed it before my eyes. She looked very carefully at me until she completed her breakfast, eyed the tree across the road and flew off.

You may be thinking ‘how did I know she was a female’ – She looked just like this lovely one that I ‘snapped’ this afternoon. You can see from the photo that this Laughing Kookaburra has a brown patterned rump, and I recently learned that the male has a blue patterned rump. Such lovely birds, I feel great delight whenever I see them.

What do you think of these birds? Do you have Kookaburras or Kingfishers in your neighbourhood? Let me know 🙂

New Music

This week I’ve been fortunate enough to find these wonderful musicians. Let me know what you think…

John Adams –  The Things That Make You Beautiful

Callaghan – Crazy Beautiful Life

Marcio Novelli – Doctor, Please (ft. Alexisonfire’s Chris Steele)

Careless Sons – Carbon Dating

Jesse Will – Indigo

Kleanshot Sessions – The Framework Sessions: Pictures of My Game

Na Fianna – Step It Out Mary

Top 13 Ways to Get the most from singing lessons

Know Your Voice

The Voice is our first instrument. A good singing teacher or voice coach will help you to appreciate and understand how ‘your’ voice works. No two vocalists are the same. Our physiology and temperament play a huge part in how we use and express ourselves when we sing.  Singing, I believe, is the most personal instrument to master as we are expressing sounds so uniquely individual. For this reason, as teachers and students we must be even more respectful when approaching how and what we do in the learning process.

Once you have found the teacher that is the right fit for you, the next steps to take are:

  1. 1. Being Open – because everyone is different we need to be able to step outside ourselves a little to get the most from singing classes. It can be intimidating getting to know a new teacher so allow yourself time and try to be open to a new way of seeing and hearing yourself as a singer.
  • 2. Let Go of the ‘Self Critic’ – I cannot tell you how many times vocalists have come to me for lessons believing they are just ‘no good’ at singing – your voice is ‘yours’ – so be thankful if it sounds different to anyone else. The differences in tone an expression that you have mean you have greater cut through as an artist.
  • 3. Setting your own goals – know what you want before you begin and allow your teacher to understand what that means for you so they can help you get there. If you tell your teacher you just want to ‘sing in the shower’ but secretly want to be the next big thing online then don’t be surprised if all you do is sing in your bedroom and not grow as an artist.
  • 4. Record yourself often – listen to yourself. To begin with this is probably one of the most daunting things for a vocalist. We all hate the sound of our voice when we hear it recorded, so allow yourself to be ‘de-sensitized’ so you can really hear the tools you are using as you sing and can then choose how you use them.
  • 5. Practice Often – This sounds obvious, but so many of my students regularly tell me they sing ‘all the time’ but only practice once or twice a week. If your progress is slow then take some time to understand what ‘practicing’ as opposed to singing really means.
  • 6. Remember to breathe – Yeah you’re probably thinking this sounds mad, but since breathing is essential in singing a greater amount of attention needs to be given to it. Breathing helps us to relax into using our voice. Relaxing into using our voice can be one of the hardest things to master so give it time to develop. Practice your breathing so it becomes a habit.
  • 7. Do your vowel shaping exercises – A good amount of my time is spent helping students to have clarity and great pitch, without efficient vowel mastery this can be difficult, so practice your me, ma, meh, mo, moos … and enjoy the art of silly sounds.
  • 8. Hum often & Practice Your scales.
  • 9. Always warm up – find what suits you, Singing and voice coaches offer many ways to warm to get you going, you may not enjoy the formality of that – so if that feels ‘clunky’ choose a favourite song or songs to get you going. No more than 2 or 3 short songs or you may get lost in the singing and not actually practice.
  1. 10. Be gentle on yourself – turn off the self-critic – Singing takes courage, so be brave and let yourself be you as you sing.
  1. 11. Create a private space where you feel comfortable and go with the process.
  1. 12. Set aside time each day to something with your voice – sing in the shower but try to do more than that, maybe while you are driving listen back to a copy of your lesson on Mp3 and practice your scales.
  1. 13. Listen to as many different singers from different genres – especially ones outside your personal taste: Adele,Louis Armstrong, Etta James, Ed Sheeran,  Amy Winehouse, Shawn Mendes Gabrielle Aplin, Regina Spektor, John Frusciante, Lorde, Johnny Cash,  Bette Midler, Sam Smith, Karen CarpenterFreddy Mercury, Florence & the Machine, John Legend, Shania Twain, George Ezra, Vince Gill, Joni Mitchell to name a few if you are stuck for ideas…

Why Learning a Musical instrument is Beneficial…

If you were thinking that playing a musical instrument was something that only children gain benefit from, then you are only seeing a small part of how music can impact and improve everyone’s quality of life regardless of their age. Playing guitar, bass, banjo, ukulele, mandolin, keyboard, flute, harp & autoharp and using my voice has helped me to stretch and learn more about myself both as a learner and producer of music. I know first hand the benefits that come from playing and mastering the skills for playing an instrument.   

Here are some of the benefits I have personally experienced and researched:

  1. 1. The pleasure received from the instrument – playing music whether it be using your voice or any other physical instrument is a pleasurable experience which is different from merely listening to recorded music. Much has been written about the effect notes have on our physiology. String and wind instruments have a physical resonate through the body and have been scientifically shown to reduce stress levels, blood pressure and increase cardio vascular functioning
  2. 2. The joy of music can be shared with others – musical sounds provide a sense of well-being for the player and the listener
  3. 3. Developing skills of persistence – practicing, pondering and playing music helps the player to become more focused on skill development and mastery
  4. 4. Sense of self belief and confidence – learning music helps us understand our limitations and how we can overcome difficulty
  5. 5. Personal Achievement –  pushing boundaries of self expression and mastery helps us to understand what can be achieved through perseverance
  6. 6. Physical well-being, Pain relief  & reduction of blood pressure (W. A. Mozart, J. Strauss, and ABBA) Studies have shown the music of these artists to be of enormous help when played or listened to.
  7. Playing an instrument can distract us from pain and induce pain relief
  • 7. Stress relief – playing helps us to connect with ourselves and disconnect from our worries
  • 8. Co-processing – when we are playing an instrument  we are always doing more than one thing;
  • * reading the music (or remembering a piece),
  • * physically playing notes (left and right hand) –
  • * vocalist shape and use different parts of the left & right brain to create notes and sounds proficiently
  • * keeping time
  • * being aware of our surroundings, audience etc.
  • 9. Strengthens right –left brain connections – physical and mental co-ordination. Musicians are always integrating body-brain functioning and fine motor skills requiring deep level thinking
  1. 10. Communication development – playing and listening to music means being able express emotion and technical skill, playing with others means being able to listen and share thoughts about performance and expression of ideas
  2. 11. Long term and short memory gains – strengthening neurological pathways, requiring students to be tolerant of repetitive activity and creating new neural pathways as this happens
  3. 12. Self expression – connects us with our creativity and individual ability to express ourselves and use of higher level thinking and feeling
  4. 13. Connecting with others– Music helps us to connect with others without words with sounds and silences and develops Team building skills
  5. 14. Empathy  – helps us to be aware of deep feelings within ourselves and others and helps us identify with others.  
  6. 15. Inspiration  – the joy of music can be an inspiration for the creator as well as the listener
  7. 16. Versatility of being able to play solo and with others
  8. 17. Patience – allowing yourself and others to make progress at their own pace
  9. 18. Time Management – planning, practicing, organising thinking
  10. 19. Listening & Focusing – hearing yourself and others and reflecting on what is heard for self-improvement.
  11. 20. Community Engagement – connection with others around us, linking with people from all walks of life