How to prepare for graded music exams


If you’re preparing to take a music exam, your nerves may be starting to kick in. Most students, whether they’re adults or kids, have a niggling fear of failure as the date of these assessments draws closer. To help you avoid an all-out panic as your exam approaches, it’s worth bearing the following tips in mind.

Choose the right pieces

It’s really important that you choose pieces for your exam that you enjoy and feel confident playing. If you don’t already have one, you can get set exam music books and recommended repertoires for both exam boards from music specialists such as Caswell’s Strings. When you’re practising your selected pieces, get into the habit of playing right through to the end without stopping, even if you make mistakes. Also, as soon as you feel confident enough, start performing the pieces in front of your friends or family. This will help to build up your confidence ahead of the big day.

Practise your page turns too and try to memorise the first few bars of the next pages so that you don’t hesitate during your exam. Also, if you’re taking an exam in a string or wind instrument or you’re a singing candidate, try to rehearse with your accompanist. At the very least, make sure you’re familiar with the accompaniment, especially any introduction.

Practise your scales

As well as your chosen pieces, you’ll need to spend time working on your scale and arpeggios. You should do this daily until they become second nature. By the time you enter your exam, you should be able to do your scales almost without thinking about them. This will mean you have one less thing to worry about during your test.

Get stuck into sight-reading

Pay attention to your sight-reading too. By the date of your test, you should have built up plenty of sight-reading experience. When you’re playing pieces for the first time, get used to carrying on until the end keeping a basic pulse, rather than stopping to correct any mistakes.

Prepare for your aural test

Then there’s your aural test to consider. Your teacher will be able to recommend exercises during your lessons, but it also helps to listen to as much music as possible in the run up to your exam. Download mock aural tests too so that you know exactly what to expect and practise clapping the rhythm of music excerpts you’re unfamiliar with. Also, sing back parts of tunes that you have heard for the first time, keeping the intervals in mind.

When the day of your test arrives, you’re bound to feel a little nervous, but as long as you’ve followed tips like these and done plenty of practise, you should be able to shine even when the pressure’s on.

Thanks to Caswell’s Strings for contributing this post. For details of how I work with brands, see my Work With Me page. Image: Shutterstock

What to expect when you stop smoking



You’ve finally made the decision to stop smoking, and soon enough you and your family will be enjoying some of the benefits in terms of your health and lifestyle. Whether you’re thinking about kicking the habit or you’re in the initial stages of giving up, you may find yourself wondering what happens next. If you want to find out more about what you can expect once you’ve quit smoking, here’s what you need to know:


Immediate effects

As soon as 20 minutes after your final cigarette, your heart rate will begin to return to normal. In the next few hours, your blood pressure will also begin to decrease to normal levels. Carbon monoxide levels will fall too and your blood oxygen levels will rise to normal in around eight to 12 hours. Senses that have been suppressed by nicotine, such as smell and taste, will also begin to become enhanced.

After two hours, you’ll probably start to experience some nicotine withdrawal symptoms. These can include anything from strong cravings to anxiety, tiredness, sleep problems and an increase in appetite.

A few days later

Two to three days later, the nicotine will no longer be in your body. However, withdrawal symptoms will usually begin to reach their peak around this time. You may experience headaches, cramps and nausea, as well as emotional symptoms such as anxiety and frustration. If you’re struggling to cope with your symptoms, there are a variety of medicines you can take to help increase your chances of beating the habit. Visit your GP or head to specailist healthcare sites such as to find out more about the types of treatments available.

A few weeks later

After a few weeks, your body will start to undergo several regenerative processes. Due to your improved lung function and circulation, you should be able to exercise and do other physical activities more easily without experiencing a shortness of breath. For most smokers, symptoms start to disappear around two weeks after quitting.

Months and years later

Your lungs will begin the healing process a few months later, meaning you experience a reduction in coughing, wheezing and shortness of breath. Symptoms should be almost non-existent at this point, even if you smoked heavily in the past.

Once you’ve quit smoking for more than a year, your risk of heart disease will drop by 50 per cent. After five to 15 years, your risk of having a stroke will be the same as a non-smoker, and after 10 years, your chance of getting lung cancer will be reduced by half.

There’s no denying that quitting smoking can be difficult, but it’s well worth it in the end. With some dedication and the right support, you’ll be able to reap the long term benefits and live a longer and healthier life.

Thanks to Lloyd Pharmacy for contributing this post to Not Another Mummy Blog. For details of how I work with brands, see my Work With Me page. Image: Shutterstock


The Baby Show & Why You Really Need To Pay It A Visit


Have you been the The Baby Show before? For anyone who’s pregnant or a new mum (heck, any kind of mum) it’s a must-visit event. I’ve been *counts on fingers* four times and I’d happily go again, despite not having a baby myself, anymore.

So what’s there?

Only hundreds of brands showcasing thousands of products – many of which will make your life easier and some just look darned cool and pretty, so you’ll want them too. You can spend the day browsing the many stands, chatting to the brands and meeting fellow mums or mums-to-be. There are lots of bargains to be had too – lots of the stands will have exclusive Baby Show offers so it’s a great chance to stock up on the things you like!

When all that shopping gets tiring (is that a thing? Doesn’t happen to me very often) there are cafes where you can get a coffee and a sandwich and The Baby Show Stage where you can watch various experts, from Annabel Karmel to Jo Tantum, give advice to the audience. Mothercare have a fashion show where you can see their latest maternity and kidswear collections brought to life on stage. There are even practical sessions run by The Natal Family which give you tips on caring for your little one.

As well as all of this, there’s a Tommee Tippee feeding area, baby change facilities and a creche too.

How to get there

The next Baby Show takes place at Olympia in London, on 23rd-25th October 2015. Olympia is right next to Olympia overground station and West Kensington tube (on the District line) is a short bus ride away.

Need to stay overnight?

The Holiday Inn Kensington Forum Hotel is nearby, on Cromwell Road and perfectly placed to lug all of your bargain buys back to after you’ve been to The Baby Show. It’s also close to the Natural History Museum and Science Museum so great if you want to sneak in a little museum fun too.

Buy tickets

Tickets for The Baby Show cost £20 each but if you hurry, you can catch an early bird special with 40% off! Buy them over at


This post was commissioned by Holiday Inn – to see how I work with brands, see my Work With Me page.

Top Tips On Paying Off Debt

Piggy bank

I’ve spoken before about how I ran up debt when I was a student – mainly by buying too many pairs of jeans in Topshop and ‘going out tops’ in Oasis. Never mind the Bacardi Breezers from the local Wetherspoons (stay classy, Al). And it can be pretty tough to pay off debt – it can feel overwhelming when you work out how much you need to put aside each week or month to start chipping away at it.

Here are some top tips:

  • Sit down and make a proper budget. Work out what your outgoings are – and include everything – and what your income is.
  • Look at your outgoings. What can you cut? Martin Lewis always says your finances must lead your lifestyle rather than the other way around. Look at whether there are lots of little things adding up – do you have a £2.19 coffee three times a week? Are you spending on bus fares when you could probably walk?
  • With the things that you really can’t do without (food, for example), look at ways you can spend less. Shop in a cheaper supermarket, look for deals and if you can, pop in late afternoon when food is being marked down. On family days out, take packed lunches with you rather than forking out on pricey lunches. Look for vouchers – there are lots of websites that have deals and money off coupons for restaurants and days out. Start saying no to things – it might seem like no fun, but if you can’t afford that night out at Pizza Express with your friend, you probably shouldn’t be going.
  • If you have any savings, use them to pay off your debt (or part of it). The interest you make on savings is far less than the interest you’ll be paying on your debt.
  • Look into whether you’re entitled to any benefits (any family with income under £73,000 may be entitled to some form of benefit) or help with your mortgage.
  • Check whether you have been mis-sold any payment protection on your debts – if so, claim back the money. It’ll all help to pay off your debts.
  • Look into whether you can transfer your debt balance to a cheaper credit card. When done wisely, transferring a balance can save you money on interest.
  • Don’t panic! It might feel like you’ll never pay off your debt, but to use a cliché, Rome wasn’t built in a day! Keep going and you will do it.

Do you have any other tips on budgeting to pay off a debt?

Thanks to TSB for commissioning this post – to see how I work with brands, see my Work With Me page. Photo: Shutterstock

Your child’s financial future


I can’t believe that my little one is four already – doesn’t time fly when you are having fun! It seems only a matter of minutes ago that she was born, and now she’s already turning into a proper little human. In no time at all she’ll be flying the nest, maybe going to university, and starting a family of her own – it’s scary!

With children growing up so quickly, it’s so important that you think about their financial futures sooner rather than later.

Whether it’s to cover the cost of driving lessons, their first car, university fees, or even their first home, saving for their future and teaching them good financial habits now, will give your little ones a head start.  Oh, what a wonderful gift to give!

Save for their future

When you have a child it can be an incredibly expensive time and you might find that you don’t have too much money to save. This is why parents often put off saving for things such as university, driving lessons and all the expenses that are sure to come as your child grows.

From the moment they are born, or even before, it’s really good to get in the habit of putting money aside each month for your child’s future. It doesn’t have to be a huge amount, every penny counts and it will all build up over the years.

A friend of mine saved every 5p she acquired from the day her daughter was born. By the time she reached the age of 18, there was enough money in her 5p savings account to buy her a car!

There are a wealth of savings accounts, trust funds, bonds and share plans that are specifically designed to enable you to save for your little one. It’s worth having a read around and getting as much advice as you can when deciding which will be the best option for you.

Build their credit

It may seem bizarre, but it’s important to start building your child’s credit rating nice and early to set them in good stead for the future. Obviously, I don’t mean when they’re five or six, but when they reach their mid teens, it’s definitely time to start teaching them about their credit rating and the impact it can have on their opportunities in the future. You can find plenty of information about credit ratings here:

A good place to start building some positive credit for them is by setting up their mobile phone contract in their own name and having the monthly payment come out of their own bank account.

Teach them good financial habits

It’s never too early to start teaching your little one some good financial habits. From teaching them the value of money to the importance of saving, the sooner you begin, the better.

When it comes to pocket money, however much you decide to give your child, it presents a great opportunity to teach them valuable lessons about saving.  A lot of my friends encourage their children to split their pocket money in three ways – 1/3 for spending now, 1/3 for saving for something they want to buy in the future and 1/3 to give to charity. This is definitely something I’ll be trying with my own little one as soon as she is old enough for pocket money.

Thanks to Experian Credit Expert for this guest post. For details of how I work with brands, see my Work With Me page.