The Healing Powerof theUkulele

The Healing Power of the Ukulele | Personal Stories and Interviews

learn to play ukulele

Whether you just started ukulele lessons or you’ve been playing for years, there are a number of benefits that result from learning to play an instrument. From social perks to health benefits, it’s important to learn about your instrument and craft. Here, writer, speaker, and host Don Smith shares interviews with ukulele players on the big power of a small instrument and why you should learn to play ukulele…


Gone are the days when the ukulele was just an instrument for comical value. It was common to think of the ukulele as an instrument only played by men in flamboyantly printed shirts in a tropical setting.

Cristine DeLeon, a New Jersey based singer/songwriter, has seen an increase in the use of the ukulele.

“It really is a fun instrument to play,” she says. “My husband got me one about four years ago, when I said I was interested in learning to play.”

And what she has seen is the level of sophistication that musicians have brought to the ukulele. In fact, it can be compared to other trends in the artisan communities, where very basic items are refined into more complex works of creation.

Take macaroni-and-cheese, for example. One blogger writes, “it’s time to ditch the almost-instant stuff (complete with day-glow cheese) for a more sophisticated version.” It’s not uncommon to see higher-end restaurants with mac-and-cheese made with noodles made on premises with more exotic cheeses and other ingredients such as bacon and parsley.

Another example is the adult coloring book renaissance. In a recent article in The Guardian it states that “coloring has been said to be able to help [adults] achieve mindfulness, banish anxiety, and even deal with trauma.”

With that spirit, the last few years have seen a renaissance in the ukulele, and DeLeon is thrilled.

“There are performers like Victoria Vox and Lil Rev who are two of my favorite ukulele performers,” DeLeon says. Both of these performers are serious ukulele players who have made it their life’s work. ”

Another inspiration is the Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain,” DeLeon says. “They are fantastic!” The Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain formed in 1985 “as a bit of fun,” and since, has inspired other ukulele groups all over the world.

DeLeon took a different direction with her ukulele group. She and fellow musician Jeff Rantzer started a duo called BrassFedora and perform the music of Tin Pan Alley (i.e. “Won’t You Come Home, Bill Bailey?” and “My Blue Heaven”) and are able to capitalize on the trend.

DeLeon says that one of the reasons the ukulele has done so well is because the level of complexity of learning the instrument is not as detailed as other instruments, like the guitar.

“For most people, the ukulele is easier to learn,” she says. “Whereas the guitar has six strings, the ukulele has four.” She also feels that the nylon strings of the ukulele are easier on the fingers compared to the steel strings of the guitar. “It can take a while to develop the callouses on the fingers to play the steel string,” she says. “The ukulele is easier on the fingers.”

While it takes several piano lessons before a player can play the most basic songs, the ukulele is quick to learn and quick to play. “When playing it [ukulele], there’s an instant gratification,” she says.

More: 4 Reasons Why Ukulele is the Perfect Stringed Instrument for Beginners


These days, many people learn to play ukulele by watching YouTube. Back in the day, however, musicians learned from books. Justin A. Martell, Tiny Tim’s manager, said Tim learned to play from a book.

“[Tiny Tim] got a book called You Can Play the Ukulele by Don Ball,” Martell says.

Tiny Tim was born Herbert Khaury and made the song “Tiptoe from the Tulips” famous in the ’60s. He’s probably one of the most famous ukulele players who ever lived. Sadly, Tim passed away in 1996 from a heart attack.

Martell has been able to share details about Tim’s life; according to Martell, Tim found it easier to get into the ukulele because he played guitar beforehand.

Martell says that when Tim would audition for shows, he would use the ukulele because it was easier to carry. Martell says that if the performer failed the audition, it wouldn’t be awkward to ask for the sheet music back from the pianist. “[Should] I never make it, I wouldn’t have to hang my head in shame and ask for my sheet music back, I could get right out’,” Martell says, quoting Tiny Tim.

More: Music Lessons for Kids: Should My Child Learn Ukulele or Guitar?


Besides helping Tiny Tim save face, the ukulele has another benefit: health!

In Hawaii, the Roy Sakuma Studio offers a program called “Hands on Healing” which is free of charge for cancer survivors. According to the website, “[The studio] provides an environment where those facing cancer may explore and discover their creative resources to promote physical, mental, and spiritual healing.”

The program helps cancer patients “discover new personal expression in a non-medical setting. It’s a great way to quiet your mind while keeping your hands busy.”

One blogger who suffered from breast cancer, says the program helped her “forget about cancer for a little while.”

“The physical and mental scars are a daily reminder of what we’ve been through,” says cancer survivor Lori Nakamura. “But the [ukulele] program lets me focus on learning new songs, and I know the process is helping with my memory.”

“I’m not surprised to hear stories like this,” DeLeon says. “The ukulele is such a fun instrument and learning a musical instrument helps in all kinds of areas.”

In an article on Effective Music Teaching, some benefits to learning an instrument include better memory, improved coordination, better concentration, stress relief, a sense of achievement, and happiness.

“I have played the guitar for years,” says DeLeon, “and now learning the ukulele has just made my life so much richer.”

With resurgence and health benefits, there will always be the element of fun in the world of the ukulele. Going back to Tiny Tim, Martell wanted to make sure that Tim’s legacy and his place in the world of the ukulele were understood.

“I think he definitely would have liked [the resurgence],” said Martell. “Unfortunately, I think many of those involved in the resurgence – neo-ukers I call them – scoff at Tiny Tim. They overlook the fact, though, that Tiny saved the ukulele from extinction in the ’60s.”

Martell adds, “If people perceive Tiny as a joke, that’s their problem, not his. He was very serious about his craft.”

While Tiny Tim was serious, DeLeon says there will always be a place of whimsy in the ukulele culture. When asked if she believes there will still be a place for the ukulele players with the flower print shirts, she laughed.

“Of course,” says DeLeon. “There will always be a place for fun in the world of the ukulele.”

For a primer on how to play the ukulele, check out at a video of Christine DeLeon (produced in coordination with this article) explaining the basics on how to play the ukulele.

The Basics of the Ukulele with Christine DeLeon from Don Smith on Vimeo.

Ready to reap the benefits of playing ukulele? Find a ukulele teacher near you! 


don smithGuest Post Author:
 Don Smith
Don writes comic books, graphic novels, books, and short stories. In addition to writing, he is also a speaker and a host.  Learn more about Don here!

Photo by Donald Judge

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violin jokes

20+ Violin Jokes Guaranteed to Make You Laugh out Loud

violin jokes

While it’s always important to practice violin scales and songs, sometimes you just need a little break to recharge your batteries and renew your motivation. Get ready to relax and laugh with this list of violin jokes (some original, some classics from around the web) from Lukas Stanley from Music Pick Up Lines (@CMCPickupLines)

You won’t need your violin or your bow, but make sure you have your sense of humor. Tickle your funny bone with these violin jokes, riddles, and puns!


Violin Riddles

Think learning violin is no laughing matter? When learning any new skill, it’s always important to be able to laugh at yourself.

Keep some of these violin riddles in your back pocket and see if you can stump your musical friends!

guaranteed

violin jokes


Q: How many first violinists does it take to screw in a light bulb?

A: One. They just hold it in place while the world revolves around them.

 

Q: How many second violinists does it take to screw in a light bulb?

A: It doesn’t matter, they can’t get up that high.

 

violin jokes


Q: What’s the difference between a violinist and a dog?

A: A dog can hear very high pitches.

 

Q: Which musicians are known for being very religious?

A: Violinists. They all think they’re gods.

 

violin jokes


Q: How can you tell if a violin is out of tune?

A: The bow is moving.

If you have experienced this problem (and we all have), check out this beginner’s guide: How to Tune a Violin [Instructional Video]

 

Q: What does the difference between C and B-sharp sound like on a violin?

A: Usually about a semitone.

Need help reading violin notes? Check out this easy-to-follow guide for beginners.

 

violin jokes


Q: What is the definition of a semitone?

A: Two violinists playing in unison.

 

Q: What’s the difference between the concertmaster and the back of the violin section?

A: About half a beat. And all of the bowings.

 

violin jokes


Q: What do a violinist’s fingers and lightning have in common?

A: They both move too fast and never hit the same spot twice.

 

Q: Why do violinists excel at pre-school but often flunk out of kindergarten?

A: They can’t figure out how to count past four.

 

Q: What do you call a violinist who shows up on time for rehearsal?

A: An anomaly.

 

violin jokes

But seriously, don’t throw away your violin! If you’re looking for a new one, check out this guide to the best violin brands!


Violin Jokes

“Did you hear the one about the violinist…” Here are a couple of long-form violin jokes to add to your arsenal.

Violinists are like perfect little snowflakes: no two are exactly alike. Especially when playing a unison melody. And when you put a bunch of them together, everything gets very icy, and everyone is generally pleased once they go away!

 


One day a conductor falls ill and the orchestra manager is in a pinch to find a replacement for the concert that night. Meekly, the last chair second violin raises his hand and says, “I studied conducting…” so he goes on that night and conducts a great concert. The next morning, in rehearsal, his stand partner asks him, “Where were you last night?”

 


Late one night, a violinist accidentally left his instrument in the trunk of his car. When he woke the next morning, he discovered that the car had been broken into, for there were not one, but TWO violins in his trunk.


Music Puns

Who doesn’t love a little play on words when it comes to music? Whether you’re a beginner or experienced musician, you can probably relate to some of these music puns!

It only leads to treble…

violin jokes


These jokes always fall flat….


I’ve been told I’m pretty sharp…

violin jokes


Hey — give it a rest…

violin jokes

 

violin jokes

 

Looking for more music fun? Check out these piano jokes, quotes, and puns.

Have you heard any other violin jokes or music puns? Share them with us in the comments below!

 

Guest Post Author: Lukas Stanley
Lukas is a student at Western Michigan University. He’s studying music composition and music education. He’s also the moderator of the popular Twitter account Classical Music Pickup Lines (@CMPickuplines), which has  been spotted in Buzzfeed and Classic FM articles. When he isn’t composing, teaching, or inventing Liszts of witty music puns, he can be spotted playing piano with his band Blarney Castle, a progressive Celtic band. Learn more about Lukas here.

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learning drums

Drummers Stick Together: Have Fun While You Play – With Henri Benard

learning drums

Every drummer starts out as a beginner. The ones you read about and see on stage stick with drumming and practice relentlessly to improve.  In our Drummers Stick Together series, veteran drummers share their personal stories of learning drums, developing their craft, and following their dreams!

Henri B. is a TakeLessons drum instructor in Phoenix, AZ and plays drums in the indie band, Dry River Yacht Club. Here, Henri shares his personal drumming journey as a student, teacher, and performer…

You describe yourself as a self-taught drummer, can you explain your process to teach yourself drums?

It all kind of started for me the summer of 2002, when I was living in a house with a drum kit. I had been playing percussion with some friends in various bands, and I wanted to be a kit player. So I worked every day for six hours in a hot, sweaty garage that summer, giving myself a crash course on the instrument. I learned by ear and by watching videos. I taught myself to read drum notation, and I really fell in love with the drum kit. Eventually in 2004, I bought my first Ludwig set from Milano’s Music in Mesa, Arizona. I started playing kit in bands, and never looked back.

Almost 14 years later, I’m a professional, touring drummer and drum instructor, with a sound understanding of music theory. And I still work all the time to make sure I’m getting better, as a player and an educator. I do not, however, want to undermine the power of private lessons with an instructor you can connect with. I have had a few lessons in my life, and those have proven to be critical in helping me really learn proper technique, as there was just some stuff videos couldn’t teach me properly. Any time I get stuck in my “self-taught” world, lessons still help me bust through to the next level. And the journey continues…

What were some of the challenges you faced teaching yourself?

I played clarinet growing up, so I was always playing music, but I wasn’t playing drums, formally. I just always loved drums the most. My mom always reminds me I was a “pots and pans” baby, so it has been a passion all my life. However, because of that, I struggled early in my career. I didn’t have the years experience playing as some of my peers, and it would show in my technique.

It was honestly quite embarrassing when people thought I was better than I actually was. I was stuck in my own world, and I needed new ideas and techniques to work on. That’s when I decided to seek out lessons to improve my playing in specific areas where I wasn’t performing or improving. And this is what truly took me to the next level.

You talk about your “let’s have fun while we play attitude,” why is this important for both beginner and intermediate drummers? How can drummers balance having fun with working hard and constantly improving?

I truly believe if you’re not having fun, why play? Music is meant to be fun and challenging for the soul, mind, and body. In my opinion, it’s meant to take you away from your constant state, and move you into a different realm. It’s one of the deepest connections I have with myself and life in general. So I really think it’s important to have fun with the playing, not “goofing around.” It is exciting when you’re first learning, or even as a veteran player, to be able to play a beat that was tough, or play a song you love and make those breakthroughs. If you like to play, the music and learning will be fun.

The lessons will be fun because the people in the lesson want to be there to share an experience together. And if you work hard and keep a solid routine, all the tricks that seemed tough at first will become more focused and deliberate techniques that you will have in your toolbox as a player. And that is where is the fun begins, through improvement and self-confidence from hard work. But YOU have to want it 🙂

You have a lot of experience touring with different groups, how has this changed you as a drummer, did you have to learn to play different genres and styles, or adapt to different types of personalities, bandmates, etc.?

I have been touring with several groups across North America and Europe, and every tour is different, but oddly the same. The people change, the music changes, but the van, the jokes, and the road do not. Every drive, especially if you sit in the same seat of the van, almost starts to look the same. The side views change depending on the region, but the roads and the heads in front of you always look the same, no matter what band you’re traveling with. (I don’t know about Tour Busses…YET!) Balancing personalities can be a challenge unless you’re smart, and understand how to really read your tour mates energy. Being able to read people is a HUGE part of being successful in the music industry, especially as a touring drummer. You have to know when to be there, when to shine, when to pull back, and truly know how to be a team player while you’re working with any band.

I have a love for touring and the experiences that come along with being on the road. I have had some amazing experiences and some struggles. On the whole, I would definitely say touring has changed me not only as a drummer, but as a human being. It’s like in the studio, there’s just a mode drummers are expected to be in at a professional level. And that means delivering every note, every night, right on the money! I’m thankful for these experiences, they have shown me new grooves I wasn’t playing, and taught me how be comfortable with myself. For example, I couldn’t play a shuffle to save my life eight years ago. I went touring for a year with a band where I HAD to play the shuffle, and you better believe the first couple of shows didn’t go so well.

I forced myself to learn how to play it with confidence on every note and pushed through to become a more refined musician. I kept the gig for the duration of the record because I was able to adapt and wanted to be better. Overall, I wouldn’t trade the way the last 10 years of my life have been for anything, especially since I’m not bred from a family of musicians. I am proud to say I am self-made.

How has your experience as a musician affected your approach as a teacher? Do you think you have a different perspective since you were self-taught?

My experience as a musician has affected how I teach, but it’s even deeper than that, as I had a teacher who almost killed my vibe. She was always so mean and never seemed like she wanted to be there with us (the students). It made me want to quit playing, but my mom didn’t let me. And I’m so thankful she didn’t…I don’t think I would be where I am if my mom didn’t push me to keep playing and encourage me.

Because of this, I have decided to always be a fun and patient teacher who doesn’t ever want to kill someone’s vibe. This is also the reason I stress the “fun” aspect of our lessons. Pushy, rude teachers have no business teaching, in my opinion, at least not beginners. And I don’t think I have a super different perspective, being self-taught. I still demand the most out of my students, and I make sure they’re becoming well-rounded musicians and have very structured lesson plans; I just make sure we make it fun in the process. We all start somewhere.

What is your favorite thing about being a drummer? (if you can name just one)

My favorite thing about being a drummer is watching people dance to the music I play. Period. Even during sound check, just watching the heads nod and the feet tap when the bass drum comes through, it’s just amazing. Drums control so much of the vibe, and so much of a player’s personality goes into the instrument. You’re an energy creator at the drums; you’re pushing air into the room and creating an environment that goes deep into the soul.

Plus, you get the best view in the house. You get to see everyone and everything at all times. You can just unleash the beast and let it flow, and there’s no other instrument I have ever played that brings out the animal in me like the drums.

Do you still get nervous or excited for big shows, how do you keep yourself focused and grounded?

I do get nervous before big shows and I’m always excited to play. Big shows are the best, especially as a drummer, in my opinion. I stay focused by breathing and just having fun. It’s not that I don’t take my shows seriously, but music is meant to be a release. It’s a fun job, but I always remember it’s my job and I’m there to perform and deliver what people are expecting of me, and I am expecting of myself.

At the end of the day, the energy you put out is the energy you get back from an audience. Not every big crowd is always there for you, especially for newer bands, so you have to remember to play your best every time you step out on the stage, put out your vibe, and make the room yours. Whether it be in the practice room, for a crowd of 5 or 5,000, at a festival, or in a small club, I always just trust my abilities and play with the same level of intensity. Even though live the energy is

At the end of the day, the energy you put out is the energy you get back from an audience. Not every big crowd is always there for you, especially for newer bands, so you have to remember to play your best every time you step out on the stage. Put out your vibe and make the room yours. Whether it be in the practice room, for a crowd of five or 5,000, at a festival, or in a small club, I always just trust my abilities and play with the

Even though when you play live, the energy is insurmountably greater, I still find that space in my head in the practice room, even at the big shows. And anytime I get nervous, all I have to do is go right back there and trust that I am supposed to be here; I planned on this!

What advice do you have for a drummer who is discouraged or struggling?

Stick with it and work through your struggles. When I was 25, I joined a “big band” out of Joshua Tree, California called Gram Rabbit. At the time, I was super appreciative of the opportunity to play bigger shows with bigger bands at better venues, especially being just a little guy from Phoenix. My problem was, I was forced to play with a click live, and I had never done that before. With some encouragement, I was able to play to a click live, but I never felt comfortable with it during my time in that band.

Eventually, I got cut from the band because of my timing issues in the studio, and it really hurt my confidence. I almost gave up drums and questioned if I could even keep time. But I didn’t quit. I got back on my throne and hit the garage hard, like I did when I first started playing, making sure I was dialed into that click at any tempo.

Years later, I joined a band called Peachcake. This was a band that used tracks, so I was playing to a click there, but it never bothered me in my years in Peachcake. I loved it and it gave me more confidence. We even got to play a headlining slot at Slottsfjell Music Festival in Norway in 2012.

Instead of quitting, I worked on my weaknesses to improve my all-around playing, and that lead to many more amazing opportunities. It would have been so easy to quit, but I was never about that life. I just always remember there is someone better than me, and that keeps me motivated and focused to be the best drummer I can be.

 

 Looking for more inspiration? Check out the personal stories in our Drummers Stick Together series!

 

learning drums
Henri B. teaches drums, guitar, and songwriting in Phoenix, AZ. Henri has years of experience touring with Arizona-based groups like Dry River Yacht Club, Decker, and the Sun Punchers. Learn more about Henri here!

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spanish traditions

20 Spanish Traditions, Customs, and Superstitions

spanish traditions

One of the best ways to improve your understanding of the Spanish language is to learn more about Spanish traditions and culture. A major aspect of any culture is its traditions. Spain and other Spanish-speaking countries have distinct traditions that are fascinating to learn about and may inspire you to plan a visit.

No matter where you are in your Spanish lessons, you will love learning about these Spanish holidays, superstitions, customs, and Spanish traditions!


Spanish Traditions

Piñatas

PIÑATA

You have probably seen cardboard piñatas decorated in brightly-colored papier-mâché at childrens’ birthday parties. Blindfolded participants try to hit the piñata with a stick, to break it open and spill out fruits, candies, and other treats hidden inside. They’re made in various shapes, but the traditional piñata is the six-point star.

There’s a lot of speculation about the true origin of the piñata; some believe they originated in China, in animals shapes like cows and oxen. Other reports claim that piñatas originated in Mexico, with the Aztecs and Mayans, and were originally clay pots made in the shape of the gods. Breaking these pots to release the contents represented an offering from the gods.

When piñatas first came to Spain, the first Sunday of Lent was called the “Dance of the Piñata”. While the first piñatas in Spain were made of clay, decorations and bright colors were eventually added to the design. While the history of piñata has a religious, spiritual significance, modern-day piñatas are mainly used for games during parties and celebrations.

 Quince Años

spanish traditions

For girls in Hispanic countries, the 15th birthday signifies a coming of age. The family throws a big party, called a Quinceañera, which begins with a Misa de acción de gracias, or giving thanks for completing childhood

The festejada (birthday girl) where’s a formal dress and receives gifts from family members. Common Quinceañera gifts include tiaras, bracelets, and earrings.

A traditional Quinceañera begins with a church ceremony, followed by a party with food, music, and dancing

Carnival

Spanish traditions

In Spanish-speaking countries, Carnival celebrations are held between late January to early March, the time leading up to Lent.

Carnival is generally recognized as the final chance to celebrate before Lent and there are festivities, including dancing and music, throughout the day and night. Spanish traditions for carnival also include dressing up and wearing mask


Mexican Traditions

Día de la Virgen de Guadalupe

Spanish traditions

Devout Catholics in Mexico make a pilgrimage to the Basilica de Guadalupe in Mexico City every year on December 12th. The date commemorates the appearance of the Virgin Mary to the Indian Juan Diego in 1531.

According to the story, no one believed that Juan Diego had seen the Virgin and asked him to return with proof. The Virgin reappeared and told Juan Diego to collect flowers in his coat. He returned to see the archbishop of Mexico City and dropped the flowers. A miraculous picture of the Virgin had formed on the material, which today is displayed in the Basilica.

Día de la Independencia

spanish traditions

Dia de la Independencia (Mexican Independence Day) falls on September 16th, but begins the night before when the President of Mexico rings the bell at the National Palace in Mexico City, and shouts “Viva México!”

There is a national military parade ever year on September 16th, and to celebrate Mexico’s independence from Spanish rule, people decorate their homes, dress in the colors of the flag, throw confetti, and hold parties where they feast on traditional foods.

San Judas Tadeo

spanish traditions

San Judas Tadeo (St. Jude Thaddeus) is known as the Saint of Lost Causes. On the 28th day of every month, people gather at San Hipólito Church, the church dedicated to St. Jude in downtown Mexico City.

People bring icons and statues of St. Jude, and ask for his blessing and help in difficult circumstances.

October 28th is known as his saint’s day, and again, thousands of people flock to the church in Mexico City.


Spanish Christmas Traditions

Posadas

spanish traditions

Originally Spanish Christmas traditions, Posadas are now commonly held in Mexico and Guatemala. In Spanish, posada means “inn,” and in Mexico, people hold candles and sing songs as they reenact Mary and Joseph’s search for shelter in Bethlem.

Christmas Posadas last from December 16th until Christmas Eve.

Nochebuena

spanish traditions

Nochebuena (“the Good Night”/Christmas Eve) is a family event, celebrated with a feast. Traditionally, families would have lechón (pork) for dinner on Nochebuena, but in more recent times, the meal varies depending on the region.

Dinner generally incorporates music and gifts, and many families also attend Misa del Gall0 (Midnight Mass) on Nochebuena.

 Misa del Gallo

spanish traditions

Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve is called Misa del Gallo (The Mass of the Rooster). This event is known as The Mass of the Rooster because it’s believed that a rooster crowed at midnight the day that Jesus was born.

In Spain, attendees first light small oil lamps in their home before setting out to the church. In Bolivia, people only eat after mass, usually a traditional dish of picana de pollo, a chicken stew with carrots, peas, and potatoes. In Puerto Rico, the Misa del Gallo is just one of a series of nine.

Reyes Magos

spanish traditions

Reyes Magos (Three Kings Day) starts on January 5th with a reenactment of the arrival of the Three Kings. The Spanish Christmas tradition features a parade, Cabalgata de los Reyes, where the Three Kings arrive on horseback or on decorated floats, and throw treats and presents to the children.

Before bed that evening, children leave goodies for The Kings, and leave their shoes out for The Kings to fill with present


Spanish Holidays

Día de los Muertos

spanish traditions

In Hispanic cultures, it’s important to remember family members and friends who have passed. Día de los Muertos is a particularly significant holiday in Mexico, where it’s observed on November 1st and 2nd.

Celebrations combine Catholic elements with Aztec rituals. People create altars in their homes with photos, foods, and other objects that have some link to the deceased. They also visit the graves of their loved ones, where they may spend hours or even the entire day. Art related to the holiday depicts skeletons enjoying life on the other side.

Semana Santa

spanish traditions

Semana Santa (Holy Week) runs from Palm Sunday to Easter Sunday, and is one of the most important events of the year in Catholic countries.

While all of Mexico celebrates Semana Santa, different regions have different events and celebrations. Many Semana Santa celebrations include cascarones (colored egg shells), church services, and the Passion Play, the reenactment of the “Passion of the Christ”.


Spanish Customs

Las Serenatas

spanish traditions

This Spanish custom involves hiring a band of mariachis, or arriving with a group of friends, to play music below a lover’s window. Traditionally, the recipient of the serenata keeps the light off during the first song, turns the light on for the second, and comes out to the balcony (or at least opens the window) for the third song.

“Provecho”

spanish traditions

This is the Spanish custom of wishing someone a good meal. It’s similar to “bon appétit” in French, but it’s not restricted to fine dining.

You can say “provecho” when you sit down to a meal with family or friends, or you can use it in passing, if you see someone you know who is about to eat.

Siestas

spanish traditions

A siesta, or afternoon nap/rest (between 2 p.m. and 5 p.m.) is one of the classic Spanish traditions in Hispanic countries.

The three-hour siesta doesn’t necessarily mean nap time for everyone. Some people will take a long lunch, while others will use the  break to spend time with their family.

“La Mordida”

spanish traditions

La Mordida is a Mexican birthday tradition.

While friends and family sing “La Mordida” (the bribe), the birthday boy or girl must take a bite of birthday cake without the use of his or her hands. This generally results in a face full of cake.


Spanish Superstitions

Mal de Ojo

spanish traditions

There’s a great fear of the mal de ojo (evil eye) in some Hispanic cultures. The superstition dates back to medieval Europe, and the belief that a look can curse people, or cause children to become ill.

There are different remedies, like amulets and bracelets, for mal de ojo, and some specific cures in different regions. For example in Central America, people believe that mal de ojo can be cured by rubbing around the eye socket with an umbilical cord.

La Mal Sal

spanish traditions

La mal sal means the bad salt or bad luck. Many people refuse to take a saltshaker, when it’s handed to them, as this is seen as receiving someone’s bad luck. Instead, you must place the salt shaker on the table, within reach of the person who wants it.

Sweeping Over Somone’s Feet

spanish superstitions

Some superstitious people believe that if you sweep over someone’s feet, that person will never marry.

Also, leaving an upside down broom behind your door can ward off unwanted visitors.

Cutting Babies’ Hair


haircut

You may want to think twice before cutting your baby’s hair. According to Spanish superstitions, cutting a baby’s hair before he or she learns to walk, will prevent him or her from learning to do so (learning will be delayed). Also, if you want your son or daugther to learn to talk, do not cut his or her hair before they turn one.


Whether you want to prepare for a trip to experience these Spanish traditions, or you want to improve your language skills, the best way to learn Spanish is with a private language teacher. One-on-one lessons will help you grasp the vocabulary and comprehension skills you need to fully appreciate Spanish traditions and culture.

Do you know any other Spanish traditions or superstitions? Share them with us in the comments below! 

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DIY Halloween Costumes

13 Cheap and Easy DIY Halloween Costumes That Rock

DIY Halloween Costumes

So, what are you going to be for Halloween this year?

Not sure yet? You’re not alone.

To help you find the perfect costume this year, we put together 13 cheap and easy rockstar DIY’s. Rockstars always turn heads wherever they go, and with one of these rockin’ costumes you’re sure to do the same.

Let’s get this party started!

DIY Rockstar Halloween Costumes

Solo Artists

These are great easy DIY Halloween costumes you can wear all on your own or with a backing band.

1. Paul Stanley

Mastering the facepaint is key to getting the KISS frontman’s iconic look. Once you have your face right, you’ll be instantly recognizable.

Pair your perfectly painted face with black clothes for an easy look, or for a twist add a striped shirt and a beret – voilà, French KISS.

2. Bruce Springsteen

It’s easy to be the boss for Halloween. All you need to get this look is blue jeans, a white t-shirt, and a red bandana.

Break the ice with a cutie at the party by inviting them to dance on stage with you, just like Bruce’s “Dancing in the Dark” video.

3. Madonna

Making a DIY Madonna costume couldn’t be simpler. Head to your local thrift store and pick up a short 80s style dress, lace gloves, and lots of bracelets and pearls.

For an added bonus, carry a microphone (or make one out of a paper towel roll).

4. 90s Grunge Look

Depending on your lifestyle, this look might not be much of a stretch. But if you tend to be more polished and dressy, the grunge look could be a great change of pace for you.

Channel your favorite alt rock stars of the 90s with oversized shirts and jeans, and of course lots of flannel.

5. Joan Jett

Be one of the baddest women in rock and roll this Halloween with this simple, classic look. Pair tight jeans with a leather jacket, add a lot of attitude, and you’ve got this DIY Halloween costume down.

Carry a guitar with you, and you’re sure to be a runaway hit at the Halloween party.

6. 80s Glam Rocker

Big hair and tight pants are what this costume is all about. Tease your hair or find a wig at the Halloween store, and don’t forget to wear lots of eyeliner.

Wear an old loose tank top or cut up a t-shirt to get this glam look on a budget.

7. Stevie Nicks

Stevie’s signature style includes scarves, hats, and anything long and flowing. Wear your hair long and wavy and unleash your inner mystical wild child.

If you have an old witch costume with a long skirt, you might even be able to repurpose it into a Stevie Nicks look.

Dynamic Duos

These DIY couples costumes are sure to make a splash. Pair up with your partner or a good friend and get to work!

8. Justin and Britney

Bring some early 2000s nostalgia to the party and make a grand entrance with your partner in Justin and Britney inspired head-to-toe denim.

9. Weezer’s “Buddy Holly”

Sick of homies dissing your girl? Show the world that you don’t care what they say about you anyway with this easy DIY Halloween couples costume.

All you need to do is pull together a couple of squeaky clean preppy outfits. One of you will need glasses like Buddy Holly, and for the other flipped hair like Mary Tyler Moore.

10. Hall and Oates

Make your Halloween dreams come true with this easy DIY costume perfect for a fun-loving twosome. Head to a thrift store for 80s-style blazers and feather your hair.

To make it a little more obvious, you can write “Hall” and “Oates” on your t-shirts.

11. Taylor Swift’s 1989 Vs. Ryan Adams’ 1989

Got bad blood? Bring your rivalry out on Halloween with this timely costume.

Get the polaroid look of the album cover by cutting frames out of large pieces of cardboard, and be ready to sing songs from 1989 all night long!

12. David Bowie and David Bowie

Did someone say David Bowie? From Ziggy Stardust to Jareth the Goblin King, David Bowie has had more iconic looks than you can shake a spandex jumpsuit at.

Celebrate Halloween in style with your best friend or partner by dressing as some of David Bowie’s different looks throughout the years.

13. John and Yoko

Dress as the original iconic rock and roll couple and make a statement this year. All you need is long hair, white clothing, and love.

Or you can ditch the costumes and stay in bed for peace!

 

So, what will you be? Tell us your favorite costume idea in the comments below!

 

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japanese holidays

12 Japanese Holidays and Celebrations [Infographic]

japanese holidays

From January through December, there are many ways to participate in Japan’s special occasions. So if you’re taking Japanese lessons, make sure you get in on the fun! Mark your calendar, here are 12 Japanese holidays you should remember.

Ganjitsu – New Year’s Day

January 1st

People around the world celebrate New Year’s Eve and New Year’s Day. In Japan, many businesses remain closed until the 3rd, and there are all types of parties and traditions.

Japanese people view each year as a fresh start—so you should leave your worries and troubles behind, and start the new year with joy, happiness, and a new perspective.

Kenkoku Kinen no Hi – National Foundation Day

February 11th

National Foundation Day is a historical holiday on the 11th of February. The holiday commemorates the formation of the nation. The National Flag is raised and the prime minister gives a speech; Japanese people show their national pride by waving their flags.

Hina Matsuri – Girl’s Festival

March 3rd

Parents wish their daughters success and happiness. Dolls and peach blossoms are displayed in many houses throughout Japan.

Shunbun No Hi – Spring / Vernal Equinox

March 20th / 21st

This national holiday welcomes the end of winter and the beginning of spring. It’s also a time to visit graves and honor your ancestors. It’s a favored holiday for farmers, who pray for an abundant harvest.

Showa No Hi – Showa Day

April 29th

Part of Golden Week, Showa Day takes place on April 29th. Once known as the Emperor’s Birthday, then Greenery Day (which is now May 4th), it commemorates the Showa Era (1926 – 1989).

Golden Week

April 29th – May 8th

Golden week combines four national holidays in Japan. May 3rd is Kenpo kinenbi (Constitution Day), and commemorates the new constitution which was put in place in 1947. May 4th is Midori no hi (Greenery Day), which celebrates nature and the environment. Kodomo no Hi (Children’s Day) is the last Golden Week holiday, and families pray for their son’s health and future success.

Summer Solstice

June 20th – 21st

It’s not an official national holiday, but chances are you can find a celebration to attend. The summer solstice recognizes the longest day of the year—a tradition honored in Japan and around the world.

Umi no Hi (Marine Day / Ocean Day)

Third Monday in July

Ocean Day is a holiday to give thanks for the ocean’s bounty and its importance to Japan as an Island nation.

Mountain Day

August 11th

Mountain Day will become an official holiday on August 11th, 2016. It will not only give people a day off from work, but also will provide an opportunity to appreciate and study the benefits of mountains.

Keiro no Hi (Respect-for-the-Aged Day)

Third Monday in September

This holiday is all about celebrating and showing respect for elderly people in the community, and expressing gratitude for their contributions.

Taiku no Hi (Health and Sports Day)

Second Monday in October

Health and Sports Day is a national holiday that commemorates the opening of the 1964 Olympics in Tokyo. The holiday also encourages a healthy and active lifestyle.

Kinrō Kansha no Hi (Labor Thanksgiving Day)

November 23rd

As the name implies, Japan’s Thanksgiving celebrates workers, and honors the labor and production in the country.

Tennō Tanjōbi (The Emperor’s Birthday)

December 23rd

The emperor’s birthday is always a national holiday in Japan. Akihito, the current Japanese emperor, was born on December 23rd, so the holiday coincides with his birthday.

japanese holidays

As you take Japanese lessons, learn as much as you can about these special Japanese holidays. Learning about holidays and traditions makes learning Japanese that much more fun!

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Photo by David Chau

facts about japan

Bet You Didn’t Know: 45 Fun Facts About Japan [In Pictures]

facts about japanEvery culture has its own set of perks, quirks, and interesting facts, and Japan is no exception.

So whether you’re planning a trip, taking language lessons, or you just want to learn some facts about Japan, check out this fun, interactive slideshow.

From facts about food to the lifestyle and the land, here are 45 things you probably didn’t know about Japan.

 



 

Now that you’ve learned some interesting facts about Japan, is there anything you found shocking or surprising? Let us know in the comments below!

 

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Halloween in Japan

Get in the Spirit: Celebrate Halloween in Japan

Halloween in Japan

Have you ever wondered how other cultures celebrate your favorite haunted holiday? Here, Japanese teacher Taro T. explains how Japanese people get in the spirit and add their own twist to Halloween…

Japan may be far away from the United States where Halloween is widely celebrated, but wearing costumes has become a tradition in Japan. In the land of anime and video games, wearing costumes, or cosplay, has been a part of Japanese sub-culture for decades.

Despite the increased popularity of Halloween in Japan (ハロウィーン), in the past, dressing up in costume usually meant attending cosplay conventions. Tens of thousands of people attend such events every year. This part of Japanese culture has also become popular in Western countries. In fact, in 2014, over 33,000 people attended Otakon, a cosplay event in Baltimore, Maryland.

Thanks to the cosplay culture, Halloween has become increasingly popular in Japan as young people continue to embrace American culture. Last year in the Shibuya District in Tokyo, throngs of people took to the streets to celebrate Halloween in Japan.

If you happen to be in Tokyo on Halloween, you’ll be impressed by the costumes and makeup. When I first experienced Halloween, in high school in the U.S., I remember seeing a kid dressed as Bob Marley. I was amazed by the work kids put into their costumes. In Japan, you’ll see the same type of elaborate, high-quality costumes.

The obsession with Halloween in Japan may also be due to Obon, a period in August in which Japanese people celebrate their ancestors’ spirits. It’s an annual Buddhist holiday where people visit their relatives and honor their ancestors.

A yurei is a karmic ghost that’s associated with Obon and Halloween in Japan. A yurei is terrifying, like something you would see in a horror movie.

On the other hand, an obake is a cute, anime-like ghost which is also associated with Obon and Halloween in Japan. For Japanese people, Halloween is a time to have fun and show off their costumes.

In addition, Halloween in Japan is very marketable. Businesses take advantage of the opportunity to sell candy, costumes, and Halloween-related goods. Growing up in Japan as a kid, I remember getting candies that came in a Jack-o’-lantern case. My mother put the case by the front door, and I would avoid passing that area at night because I was afraid of the Jack-o’-lantern.

Halloween may be a relatively new holiday in Japan, but Japanese people love to put their own twist on this American tradition. If you have a chance to visit Japan on Halloween, I’m sure you’ll have just as much fun as the locals.

Here are some Japanese vocabulary  words to help you get in the spirit… ハッピーハロウィン (happy Halloween)!

 

halloween in Japan


 

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Taro TPost Author: Taro T.
Taro T. teaches Japanese and ESL in Washington, D.C. He is a language acquisition specialist and mentors students from the United States, Thailand, Italy, Korea, Turkey, and El Salvador. Born and raised in Japan, Taro came to the United States when he was 16 to learn English and American culture. He gained fluency in both English and Spanish. Learn more about Taro here!

Photo by Hideya HAMANO

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Japanese martial arts

The Ultimate Guide to Japanese Martial Arts

Japanese martial arts

There’s no better way to learn Japanese than exploring important aspects of the culture. Martial arts play a significant role in both Japanese history and Japanese culture.

So whether you’re taking Japanese lessons or you’re interested in learning martial arts, here is your guide to the most popular Japanese fighting styles.

Sumo

Japanese martial arts

Photo by T toes

Sumo is Japan’s national sport. The rules are simple: each rikishi (wrestler) tries to push his opponent out of the elevated, clay dohyo (ring).

A sumo match ends when a wrestler steps out of the ring, or touches the ground with anything other than the soles of his feet. Matches usually take just a few seconds, but can last up to a minute or longer.

Unlike American wrestling, there are no weight classes in sumo, so a smaller wrestler could find himself face to face with a much larger opponent.

There are six annual 15-day sumo tournaments in Japan. Higher-ranked wrestlers will compete in one match per day during the tournament. At the end of each tournament, the wrestlers receive an updated ranking based on their record. The ranking system consists of six classifications: Makuuchi (top division), Juryo (2nd division), Makushita (third division), Sandanme (4th division), Jonidan (fifth division), and Jonokuchi (6th division). Yokozuna (grand champion) is the highest level a sumo can achieve.

Sumo has roots in the Shinto religion, and some of the original rituals remain today, like purifying the ring with salt. Sumo wrestlers must live and train in a heya (sumo training stable) and adhere to strict rules that dictate when they sleep, what they eat, and how they dress.

Judo

Japanese martial arts

Photo courtesy judoinfo.com

Judo is a modern martial art and Olympic sport created by Jigoro Kano in 1882. Judo translates to “the gentle way,” and the sport is a combination of jujitsu and wrestling.

Judo does not involve punching, kicking, or striking. Instead, participants use throws to take an opponent to the ground.
Kata (pre-arranged movement) is part of Judo and many other Japanese martial arts. Because the opponent knows the moves, kata also allows hitting, kicking, and the use of weapons, but these movements are not permitted in competition and free practice.

Karate

Japanese martial arts

Photo by David Vega

Karate translates literally to “open or empty hand” which is fitting since it was developed during a time when a ban was placed on weapons. The three basic movements in karate are thrusts, kicks, and arm strikes.

There are several theories about the history of karate, but many of them are difficult to verify. While karate was developed initially as a method of self-defense, participants also learn and practice Zen and Bushido principles in their search for spiritual enlightenment.

Karate is a blend of indigenous martial arts from the Ryukyu Islands (now Okinawa) and Chinese martial arts like, kenpo. A large number of karate styles are practiced in Japan and across the world, differing from one another in fighting technique and kata.

Kendo

In kendo (the way of the sword), opponents use shinai (bamboo sowrds) and wear bogu (protective armor) that covers the face, chest, and arms. Participants must master techniques and timing to strike an opponent and score a point.

Like other Japanese martial arts, kendo is about much more than just the physical fighting. Kendo participants seek physical and mental strength along with spiritual enlightenment.

According to the Southern California Kendo Organization, “the concept of kendo is to discipline the human character through the application of the principles of the Katana (sword).”

Iaido

Another form of Japanese sword fighting, iaido is the art of drawing and attacking with a sword. Unlike kendo, iaido is mainly practiced solo using a series of movements called waza. A participant uses techniques and movements against an imaginary opponent, and there is more focus on striking from the draw.

Iaido practitioners develop not only their technique and physical strength, but also their mental capacity. There is no direct sparring in iaido, but partner practice is permitted with a bokuto (wooden sword).

Hayashizaki Jinsuke Minamoto Shigenobu, who lived in Japan from 1546 to 1621, is credited with creating iaido. Almost 100 years prior, however, Lizasa Lenao developed iaijutsu, the precursor to iaido.

japanese martial arts

 

Japanese martial arts aren’t simply physical activities, but means of seeking spiritual enlightenment. Which martial arts form would you like to try? Let us know in the comments below!

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animals in Japanese

QUIZ: Which Japanese Animal Are You?

There are certain animals that are significant in Japanese culture and history. Some animals are feared because of their supernatural powers, while others are loved and trusted by the Japanese people.

So whether you’re taking Japanese lessons or you’re just an animal lover, learn some vocabulary and find out if you’re a friend or foe with this quiz!

 


Learn how to say more animals in Japanese with this infographic!

 

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