Vocal coach Terry Wood (left) works with 2010 Operation Rising Star winner Melissa Gomez during recording session at Firehouse Recording Studios in Pasadena, Calif. U.S. Army photo by Tim Hipps, FMWRC Public Affairs

What If I’m Not Any Good? 4 Reasons We Put Off Learning New Skills

Vocal coach Terry Wood (left) works with 2010 Operation Rising Star winner Melissa Gomez during recording session at Firehouse Recording Studios in Pasadena, Calif. U.S. Army photo by Tim Hipps, FMWRC Public Affairs

Learning a new skill, exploring a new hobby, or working toward a big goal can be both exciting and nerve-wracking.

The cycle is all-too-common. Maybe you buy a brand new guitar or a bunch of books in another language, and you’re pumped up to start learning! You noodle away for a while or thumb through some pages… and then the doubts start to creep in.

What if I have no musical talent? What if — after months of practicing Spanish — I still get nervous talking to a native speaker?

Those self-doubts can get the best of you if you let them…

… but you’re stronger than that, right?

We recently surveyed our readers to find out some of the common worries when it comes to taking lessons. Is it nerves? Is it fear that you won’t be any good? Do you feel clueless about what instrument to buy, or which supplies to invest in?

Here’s what we found out, followed by advice straight from current students for overcoming the most common concerns.

1) I’m worried I won’t be talented at my instrument, target language, etc.

This was one of the most popular responses in our survey. And we totally get it.

But here’s the brutal truth: you probably won’t be any good… at first. So here’s what you need to keep in mind:

  • If you’re a total beginner, remember that teachers are used to this! As long as you’re motivated and excited about learning, that’s what your teacher wants to see.
  • Your teacher is also there to give you real-time feedback. If you’re trying to learn from prerecorded videos or books, you’ll miss out on that one-on-one help. With the right guidance and practice, you’re bound to improve your skills.
  • Learning just for fun? Even better! Try to think positively, and remember that even if you’re learning slowly, you’re still making progress.
  • Setting small and specific goals can help immensely. And don’t forget to celebrate when you reach them!


2) I’m worried formal lessons will make learning boring.

Did your parents force you to take piano lessons as a child? Did you take a language class in high school or college to fulfill a credit requirement?

Here’s a little secret: even if you disliked these lessons or classes back then, making the decision to learn something on your own is a totally different experience.

Now is your chance to set your own goals. Are you learning a language for an upcoming vacation? Do you want to learn an instrument for fun, to keep your mind sharp? Take some time to think about your motivations.

Next comes the fun part. The great thing about working with a private teacher is that your lessons will be customized exactly for you. If you’re clear about your goals, your teacher will work with you to keep you motivated — so if you’re feeling bored, speak up!


3) I’m worried I won’t have enough time to commit to learning, practicing, etc.

Ah, the common excuse: I don’t have time for lessons!

In reality, it’s just a matter of reorganizing your time to make room for your hobbies. We like to compare it to budgeting your money — and that starts with setting those specific (and realistic) goals, taking advantage of practice time you may be overlooking, and following the “pay-yourself-first” rule (learn more here).

Moreover, taking private lessons can actually keep you on track. Instead of wasting time on confusing online programs or watching tutorial videos out of order, your teacher will have a plan to ensure you’re making progress at the right pace.


4) I’m worried my teacher won’t be a good match for me.

Yup, we get this one too. Working with the right teacher can play a big part in your learning experience.

Maybe you need someone who’s great with kids, if you’re booking lessons for your son or daughter. Maybe you want to work with a teacher who specializes in a certain genre, dialect, or style. Thousands of private teachers have joined TakeLessons, so you’re bound to find a great one.

So take a look, browse around, and let us know if you need some help. And don’t worry — you’re always covered by our 100% Satisfaction Guarantee.

More tips here: The 7 Types of Learners & How to Find the Best Teacher For YOU



OK, ready to take the next step?

You might still feel nervous — that’s OK. Even our pro teachers were in your shoes once. Heck, even Kurt Cobain, Misty Copeland, Mark Zuckerberg, and anyone else who inspires you was once a beginner. And look where they are now.

For the aspiring musicians out there, we’ll share one last piece of advice from Belinda M., one of our guitar students:

Learning to become a great musician is like the lottery… You can’t win if you don’t play!

How can you argue with that?

Photo By U.S. Army

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An Introductory Guide to Becoming a Multi-Instrumentalist

Infographic: How Easy Is It To Switch Instruments? | Music Tips

Drummers, are you curious about the cello? Is it easy or hard to switch from guitar to piano? Learn the tips and tricks for switching instruments in this post by teacher Willy M

Have you been playing an instrument for a while now, but you’re beginning to realize that it doesn’t do everything you’d like to do musically? Did your parents spend a lot of money on an instrument (and you like it), but you’d also like to try something new?

If you answered yes to either of these questions, then this is the article for you!

Switching from one instrument to another — from guitar to piano, for example — doesn’t have to be difficult. Sure, you won’t master it overnight. But this article will dive into tips and tricks to make the transition easier.

How to Play Multiple Instruments


I am a multi-instrumentalist. I play keyboard instruments, and I play stringed instruments like the guitar, the banjo, and the mandolin. I also play wind instruments like the harmonica and the tin whistle, as well as percussion and drums for different bands.

People often come up to me when they see me perform with some kind of amazed wonder. Other musicians approach me as if I am some kind of superhuman to be able to play at a professional level on a wide variety of instruments.

But let me assure you, I am a normal person just like you.

What makes me different is that I’ve learned to understand that all instruments share some of the same fundamental principles. And once you understand the principles that apply to all instruments, you can figure out how to make music on these instruments.

But first, let’s break down the four main types of instruments:

  • Piano (including keyboards)
  • Stringed instruments (including guitar, banjo, mandolin, and violin)
  • Wind instruments (including flute, harmonica, brass instruments, and bagpipes)
  • Percussion instruments (including drum set, djembe, and cajon)

Understanding the Basics


There are a few things to keep in mind when transitioning from one instrument to another:

1) The basic notes will almost always be the same, no matter what instrument you switch to. (I say almost, because some world instruments do have extra notes, but for our discussion we will stick to well-known Western instruments.) A Major scale will always be A Major scale. A Minor scale will always be A Minor scale.

2) There will be some muscle memory issues that need to be worked out with almost every transition you make. Sometimes you will be switching from predominately using your left hand to predominately using your right, or vice versa. Sometimes, you’ll need to build finger strength when you move over to an instrument that requires more than your first instrument. Posture muscles, lip and mouth muscles, finger calluses, arm muscles, and even leg muscles may need to be developed and conditioned.

3) You may find that the way you comfortably sit with one instrument is not the way you sit comfortably with another instrument. As an example: when I play the banjo, I sit with my knees tucked in to allow the banjo a place to rest while I play, whereas with the drums, my knees are wider apart to reach the hi-hat and kick pedals.

4) You may find that your fingers are already trained. For instance, a guitar uses the left-hand fingers for playing chords and lead lines. The Irish tin whistle uses the left hand to finger some of the holes, and the dexterity gained from playing the guitar can easily cross over to the tin whistle.

5) Depending on the instrument you begin with, some new musical techniques may need to be learned. If you started with an instrument that uses a particular clef, you might need to learn to read another clef. If you never read tablature before, you might need to learn.

How to Switch Instruments – Diving In Further

An Introductory Guide to Becoming a Multi-Instrumentalist

So now that we’ve covered some basic things that you need to look out for, let’s take a look at switching to and from certain instrument categories.

Jump to Sections:

Piano to Strings
Piano to Wind
Piano to Percussion
Strings to Piano
Strings to Wind
Strings to Percussion
Wind to Piano
Wind to Strings
Wind to Percussion
Percussion to Piano
Percussion to Wind
Percussion to String

  • Switching From Piano to a String Instrument

Switching from keyboards to stringed instruments can be tricky. If you are switching to a stringed instrument that primarily uses tablature (guitar, banjo, mandolin, lute) you might find that learning to read the TAB is confusing.

Another thing to look out for is this: when you play a keyboard instrument, it takes little to no muscle strength to push down on the keys to produce a note. But with most stringed instruments, you will need to build up finger strength, finger sensitivity (yes, you might start developing calluses on your fingers), and even arm strength when you transition. These things are normal.

  • Switching From Piano to a Wind Instrument

When you switch from playing the piano or keyboard to an air-blown instrument, you may find that you are much more conscious about your breath control. You may find that your ribs hurt, and you might feel lightheaded at first as you learn how to support your breath. Also, depending on the type of instrument (padded, valve, or open-holed) you may find that you develop thicker pads on your fingers if you are switching to an open-holed type of wind-blown instrument.

As far as reading music is concerned, though, most wind instruments use the same clefs that you have already memorized– so that will be easy for you!

  • Switching From Piano to Percussion/Drums

One of the nice things about switching from piano (where you are using pedals with one foot) or organ (where you are using pedals with two feet) to the drum kit is that you are already trained to use your feet as you play. This dexterity of your hands and feet will make this transition much easier.

Also, many piano parts in popular music and classical styles tend to be rhythmic and multi-rhythmic, respectively,  so mastering the multi-rhythms of the drums should feel like something you already know.

The tricky part of this switch is it might take you some time to develop finesse on the drums. It is all well and good to beat out a rhythm on a percussion instrument, but to do it smoothly and with subtlety will take some practice.

  • Switching From a String Instrument to Piano

It’s always easy for me to spot a performer who started out on a stringed instrument and then moved to the keyboard, because they tend to have what I call the “guitarist’s hiccup.” When you play guitar, you play left then right — the left hand forms the chord first and then the right hand strums. Even if this is done almost instantaneously, it is still something that you will hear when a guitarist-turned-pianist plays. There is always a ba-dum rhythm to their playing as the left hand lands on the keyboard slightly before the right hand. Musicians who successfully transition from guitar to piano learn how to get rid of this stutter.

Another thing for some string players to consider: if you’re switching from an instrument that is devoted to one clef, you might need to learn a new clef; if you are coming from a TAB-based instrument, you’ll need to learn how to read sheet music. Also, proper seated position at a keyboard might be a bit uncomfortable for some string players, but you’ll develop it with practice.

  • Switching From a String Instrument to a Wind Instrument

Many of the challenges here are the same as the ones I mentioned for switching from piano to wind instruments.

Additionally, if you’re a guitar player who has developed calluses on your fingers, you may have some trouble with open-holed instruments, as the calluses on your fingers may cause a gap. You’ll have to press down with extra strength to seal the hole.

Here’s the bonus: Some air-blown instruments can be played while you play your stringed instrument, like playing a harmonica with a guitar.

  • Switching From a String Instrument to Percussion

Moving from a stringed instrument to a percussion instrument, like from guitar to drums, is a relatively easy transition. Both use wider arm movements, and both tend to be used as rhythmic instruments. Percussion sheet music is similar to TAB, and often the rhythm string players are used to listening for the kick drum to help them keep time. The left-hand dexterity that is developed in many stringed instruments is also good for helping you play smoothly.

However, if you’re switching to a drum set that requires playing with both hands and feet, this is where you’ll need practice.

  • Switching From a Wind Instrument to Piano

This may be one of the more difficult transitions to master. Muscle memory will need to be re-learned, since your hands will transition from being in-line to side-by-side. You’ll be a pro at reading one clef — but with keyboard you’ll need to read two clefs (and up to 10 notes) at a time.

For this type of switch, I recommend approaching each finger on the keyboard as if you were looking at a separate wind instrument. Spend a lot of time learning how chords and harmony work, too.

  • Switching From a Wind Instrument to a String Instrument

This can also be a bit of a tough switch, as you’ll have a similar problem with the hand positions. You also may have a lot of pain as you develop calluses on your fingers, and as you develop muscles in the arms you are not used to using.

Also, if you play an open-holed wind instrument, keep in mind the same advice applies from transitioning from strings to air-blown instruments. Your calluses might get in the way of achieving a nice tone on the stringed instrument. You may also need to learn how to read tab, if you’re switching to guitar.

  • Switching From a Wind Instrument to Percussion

If you play a wind instrument, switching to percussion might seem like a bizarre transition. For some percussion instruments, you’ll need to get used to using both your hands and your feet!

Keep in mind, though, that rhythm doesn’t change from one instrument to the other, so the rhythmic principles will always apply. And the fact that you are used to playing left and right hands in various sequences will do you well when you switch over to the drums.

  • Switching From Percussion to Piano

Switching from drums to piano produces a lot of the same challenges as the other way around. On the plus side, it’s good that you can use both your hands and your feet. This will be useful, especially if you are going to be playing the organ.

But there are a lot of new musical principles that percussionists will need to learn. For example, you’ll have to learn chords, scales, how melodies work, how chord progressions work, how harmony works, and the differences between major and minor and modes. It’s a far greater learning curve than the other transitions that I mentioned above.

  • Switching From Percussion to a Wind Instrument

As a percussionist, you’ll likely have rhythm down pat — so that part will be easy for you. But for this transition, you’ll learn to focus on one note and one hand position at a time. While you might find this a bit constrictive, in the end it will give you another outlet for your musical expression. You’ll also need to practice breath control and support.

  • Switching From Percussion to a String Instrument

Like the transition from drums to piano, switching from drums to strings has a whole host of challenges. The foremost is probably development of finger strength, which is not something most percussionists spend a lot of time on (unless you play something like the djembe or cajon). Other issues include learning tab or sheet music, learning about chords and harmonies, learning about melody, and all of the other things that you would learn if you were to transition to the keyboard, as mentioned above.

On the plus side, you’ve probably built up your arm strength, which will carry over well.

Recap: Notes for Switching Instruments


Ready to Make the Musical Switch?

So this concludes my overview of the tips and techniques that will help you become a multi-instrumentalist. One last piece of encouragement: if you decide to delve into this exciting world, know that you will be greatly rewarded! You’ll learn about different aspects of music, as well as find your strengths. In the end, you’ll be a much better musician all around.

Readers, what instrument will you learn next? Are you currently switching from guitar to piano, piano to guitar, or another category? Leave a comment below and share your experience!


Willy MPost Author: Willy M.
Willy M. teaches guitar, ukulele, and mandolin lessons in Winston Salem, NC. Willy has been teaching for 20 years, and his students have ranged in age from young children to folks in their 80s. Learn more about Willy here!

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5 Lessons Adults Can Learn About Playing Music… From Kids

what adults can learn from kids how to play an instrument

Learning how to play an instrument as an adult can be daunting, from finding the right teacher to finding time to practice, and even maintaining your confidence. But fear not — just bring out your inner kid! Find out how in this guest post by John Gotsis from Vibe Music Academy…


I’ve always had a hard time being taught by teachers who are younger than I am. Call it pride, call it skepticism, whatever. It’s just tough for me.

I’m guessing most people can relate to the feeling; when we think of teacher-student relationships, we usually assume that the teacher is older than the student. And why wouldn’t we? People who are older have more life experience, and more life experience is better than less, right?

Well… not in every way.

I’ve been teaching music for about five years, and the majority of my students have been children. And though I wouldn’t have guessed it going into it, after all this time spent with these young music students, I’ve found myself learning from them even as they learn from me.

I consider myself a lifelong student of music, and many of my younger students have taught me valuable lessons about how to be the best student that I can be — regardless of my age. Today, I want to share five of those lessons that I’ve learned from those kids.

1. Learn from someone who’s better than you.

What’s with adults always thinking that we can conquer the world on our own? How does that “go-it-alone” mentality turn out in other areas of life? Music is no different. Kids tend to quickly recognize the need for guidance, and adults should too!

There’s tremendous growth that can happen when you learn from someone better than you, and there’s plenty of ways to do it. Private lessons, online classes, masterclass clinics, and simply seeking advice from musician friends can dramatically improve your progress as you learn how to play an instrument as an adult.

2. Bring it back to the basics.

I spend a lot of time going over the fundamentals with every young music student that I have. There are only so many ways to make a major scale interesting, but fundamentals are important for everything we play! This is an important takeaway for adult music students to remember: Even when we feel like the ground-level stuff is beneath us, a strong foundation actually helps us grow faster.

3. Find opportunities to play with real people.

Kids get involved in school music programs, group lessons, summer camps, garage bands, and so on. And adults… play along with YouTube videos.

Slight difference, eh?

Music is meant to be played with others, performed for audiences, and learned from and alongside fellow music lovers. Sure, there’s a ton that we can and should learn on our own, but that’s only skimming the surface of what music has to offer! Consider getting involved in an amateur performance workshop, finding a local jam session, or getting together with friends to play music.

4. Be teachable.

This goes along with point #1, but being teachable goes beyond simply finding a teacher. In fact, this life lesson even goes beyond the scope of music itself. Aldous Huxley (author of the book Brave New World) once said, “Experience teaches only the teachable.” How true is that! 

Kids learn by being taught. We can take after them by always remaining teachable.

5. Don’t believe the lie that “you’re too old.”

I’ve always had a tremendous amount of respect for those who learn how to play an instrument as an adult. They know it’s never too late to learn, making a mockery of the “old dog can’t learn new tricks” cliché.

There’s a great article in the New York Times about a woman in her sixties who decided to pick up the cello after having never played before. Eleven years later, she was performing with orchestras and string quartets and loving every minute of it.

If you’re like me — an adult music learner — then there are plenty of takeaways that we can grab simply by observing the way the best learners in the world (children) learn music. If we stay humble, enjoy ourselves, and don’t buy into to the accusation of being too old, then we will attain the satisfaction that comes from being able to call ourselves “musicians.”

John Gotsis, M.M., Owner and Music Instructor at Vibe Music Academy in Fishers, Indiana, is a full-time teacher and performer. He has worked with the likes of Rodney Whitaker, the Director of Jazz Studies at Michigan State University,  and Blue Note Records guitarist Peter Bernstein.


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piano room practice space

Musicians, Is Your Home Practice Space Holding You Back?

piano room practice space

You’ve got your instrument, your sheet music, and your books. You’ve found a great music teacher to guide you. But… let’s take a look at your home practice space. Could it be holding you back? Learn how to improve it with these tips from piano teacher Eric B


A few years ago I had a student who was struggling to improve. She was practicing more than I asked, but every week brought in mediocre versions of the songs I assigned. We tried different techniques for months with no success.

A few months passed and we did an online lesson when I was on tour. I was shocked to see where she was practicing: the piano was in a hallway, and her siblings were running back and forth by her while she tried to play. Because the space was too tight, she was squashed against the keys. The only light came from a bare bulb in the hallway, and there was a massive pile of toys on the piano.

This poor girl had one thing standing between her talent and becoming a great musician: a terrible practice space.

Having an amazing practice room that keeps you focused is essential to consistent improvement. Here are seven ways you can spice up your music practice space:

1. Get great lighting.

Make sure that the room you practice in is well-lit. I love practicing in naturally lit rooms, with a simple piano stand light on the piano so I can see my sheet music. If it’s too dark in the room you may fight fatigue sooner than if your room is brightly illuminated.

2. Have a cell phone shelf outside your practice room.

Get a cheap wall-mounted car key holder and place your phone on it each time you go into your practice room. This will keep you from getting distracted during practice sessions. If you place a charger by the wall holder, you’ll have the added reward of a fully charged phone when you leave.

3. Declutter.

The fewer items in the room, the less likely you’ll be to get distracted. Move all items that don’t relate to music to other rooms, and your mind will relax and focus on the task at hand.

4. Get a kitchen timer.

Now that you’ve decluttered your room, you’ll need to keep track of your practice time. Use a cheap kitchen timer to help you stay focused while you’re practicing. Take a look at bunch of great options here.

See also:

5. Get a metronome.

Metronomes are the least expensive way to improve your rhythm, and having one by your piano or keyboard will encourage you to use it daily. Here are a few inexpensive but quality metronomes to consider.

6. Bring a water bottle and a high-protein snack.

Most instrumentalists will burn calories while playing, so make sure you keep your energy levels high. I love snacking on nuts or a protein bar while I play, and a big 32 oz. bottle of water by the piano (cap on to prevent spills) helps me stay hydrated.

7. Put a practice calendar on your wall.

I recommend keeping track of your music practice on a calendar. This will give you a visual reminder of how consistent you’ve been with your practicing.

Then, set rewards for yourself after a certain number of consecutive practices. I love getting coffee, so I go out and get my favorite cappuccino after 10 days of practice. Get creative!


Fortunately, there’s a happy ending to my piano student struggling to learn in a hallway. After talking with my student’s parents, they made some big changes.

They converted part of the dining room in their house into a practice space, adding a special bookshelf and colorful music-themed decorations. She switched from struggling to excelling in a matter of weeks.

If you’re investing time and money into music lessons, give yourself the best shot at succeeding in the practice room. If you make the effort, it might just pay off in a lifetime love of playing music.

Editor’s Note: We also like these 12 tips from Piano Power, with additional ways to make your music practice space productive — like eliminating audio distractions, considering personality differences, and keeping acoustics in mind.

Photo by Joe Buckingham

EricBPost Author: Eric B.
Eric Barfield is a full-time keyboardist, producer, and piano teacher based in Nashville, TN. His career has included working with Dove-award winners Meredith Andrews (Vertical Church Band), and American Idol finalist Joe Banua. Learn more about Eric here!

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Are you a memorizer or a reader

Music Student Face-Off: Memorizers vs. Readers

sight reading music

As you learn songs and work through your music books, do you memorize the notes? Or do you read along every time you play? In this post, music teacher Vanessa G. discusses the pros and cons to the approaches…


Imagine your teacher gives you a piece of music to study. What’s your process? Do you listen to a recording, memorizing the melody and the stylistic aspects before you begin, and then as you play? Or would you sit down and sight read the notes, and perfect it from that starting point?

When I started teaching, I saw a trend that my students had an affinity toward either memorizing or reading. And with each method, I saw both advantages and disadvantages.

Which approach do you lean toward? Mark your answer in the poll below, and then continue reading to find out the pros and cons.

Which approach do you lean toward?

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  • You’re great at performance! When you spend the extra time needed to memorize pieces, you’re better able to add the little details that make a piece musical.
  • You’re patient during practice! You’ve got to be patient to go through the same passages over and over… and over. The extra practice really strengthens your technique, which is such a gift to yourself.


  • Sight reading music is not your forte, and may be something that requires extra practice. It’s a great skill to have, and one that is often needed for auditions.

Challenge Yourself: If you’re a memorizer, I challenge you to sight read a single line of music a day for a month. I’ll bet your reading skills will soar!



  • You can sight read like a pro! Sight reading music is as easy as reading a book for you. When you look at the notes your fingers know exactly where to go. What a gift!
  • You’re good at improvising! The ability to sight read complex pieces requires a strong understanding of music theory. With all of your knowledge you know a lot about chord progressions and song structure. That gives you a wonderful foundation for improvising. Add a little creativity and voila! A new song is born!


  • Preparing for a performance can be daunting. It takes a lot of practice to get a musical piece ready for performance. The subtle differences in a crescendo or ritardando, for example, take a lot of time and coaching to get just right. But it’s worth it! Perfecting every expression of your piece helps you and your audience connect to the intent of the song.

Challenge Yourself: If you’re a sight reader, I challenge you to pick a piece you like to listen to (with the help of your music teacher, to make sure it’s the right level for you) and memorize a complete part or movement.

Which is Better?

So, is it better to be a reader or a memorizer? Well, the answer is: be both! To be a well-rounded musician, it’s worth it to hone in on what you might not do as naturally and learn a new skill. If you’re up for the challenge, I’d suggest finding a music teacher who can help you strengthen what you already do well and find ways to improve what you might not do naturally.

Most of all, whether you’re used to sight reading music or a memorizing it, have fun along the way!

VanessaPost Author: Vanessa G.
Vanessa G. teaches piano, singing, acting, and more in Burbank, CA, as well as online. She received her Bachelor’s in musical theater performance from Columbia College Chicago, and has been teaching audition prep (acting/singing) and vocal technique for clients since 2007. Learn more about Vanessa here!

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making time for hobbies

Here’s the Secret to Finding “Hidden” Time for Your Hobbies

making time for hobbies

“If you had an extra hour in your day, how would you spend your time?”

Your answer to that question can tell you a lot about yourself, and it’s fun to think about.

But the reality is: 24 hours is all you get. (Sorry!)

You can’t quit your job. You can’t ignore family commitments and responsibilities. If you want to learn a new skill, improve your current talents, or work toward a big learning goal, it’s up to you to make that happen. So how do you balance that with a busy schedule?

It’s simple: learn to budget your time the same way you budget your money.

Here are the steps you can take if you feel like you’re too busy to learn or take up a new hobby, proven to work by some of our top students.

1. Decide you WANT to learn.

find time to learn

The first step to financial success is deciding to have a budget. And that budget is often dictated by your short- and long-term goals. Maybe you want to pay off your student loans or mortgage within five years. Or maybe you just want that new jacket you saw at Nordstrom.

Now let’s translate that into learning: what are your goals there? Do you want to be able to sing confidently in front of a group? Play guitar at a friend’s wedding? Speak Spanish fluently on an upcoming vacation? Write these down, and put them somewhere you can see them every day.

Excuses will always come up. And heck, life will sometimes get in the way. But if you’re excited about improving your skills, that’s the first step.

2. Be realistic.

finding time in your schedule for music lessons

You wouldn’t set a $300 budget for going out to eat if you only had $50 discretionary cash per week. Similarly, be realistic about the time you can commit to practicing and taking lessons.

If you’re juggling a busy schedule, a 30-minute lesson once per week may be all you can find time for. Or maybe you can’t even commit to that — fortunately, you can find teachers who are more flexible week-to-week, and rescheduling is always an option if something comes up.

Once you have your lesson time penciled in, then it’s time to schedule your practice time. But be realistic about that, too! You may not be able to practice for hours every day, and that’s OK. Even a short practice session will help you stay on track, if you make it efficient.

3. Find the right hacks.

skype with language exchange partner

If you’re a super-budgeter, you probably know all the tricks. You hold out for great deals, look for coupons and discount codes, and so on.

Same goes for budgeting your time. If you break down your schedule, you may find you have extra time in your day for your hobbies. And yes, that may mean skipping the Netflix marathons, or cutting back on the time you spend browsing social media.

You were probably expecting that advice, right? But look: there are even more hacks you can try. Here are some ways TakeLessons students have made time for their hobbies:

  • Take online lessons. Ordering takeout for dinner is a great time saver. What if you could get music or language lessons delivered to the comfort of your home, too? Turn on your computer, pull up the TakeLessons Classroom, and you can meet with your teacher instantly — no travel time required.
  • Take advantage of your workspace. If your company allows it, consider taking your online lessons during your lunch break. If you prefer in-person lessons, find a teacher close by your work, so it’s not a hassle to get to. You can also use your time going to and from work. As a language learner, for example, you can practice listening to your target language during your commute!
  • Find a flexible teacher. If you need to reschedule a lesson every now and then, don’t stress. While a designated lesson time each week will help you stay accountable, we understand that things come up! If you have unique scheduling needs, feel free to use our Ask a Question feature before booking your lessons, to find a teacher who can accommodate.
  • Use your guilty pleasures to your advantage. Learning a new skill doesn’t have to be all work, no play! Musicians: jamming with community groups or going to karaoke is a fun way to add music to your day. Language students, consider changing the language settings when you’re watching TV, or pick a foreign movie with subtitles.

4. Adjust as needed.

practice guitar

Budgets ebb and flow — unplanned bills show up, salaries go up and down, and can’t-miss opportunities arise. The best financial advice is to stay flexible and adjust your budget often.

Similarly, sometimes the time you’ve budgeted doesn’t go as planned. We get it: life gets busy. So don’t beat yourself up if you need to reschedule a lesson or if you miss a practice session. Stay positive, and fit in what you can!

Planning ahead can help, as well. Work with your teacher to create a 15-minute practice routine, if you’re short on time one week. Or, make a list of ways to fit practice into your everyday life.

Even the most successful people have “off” days. Get back on track when you can, review your goals again, and envision where you’d like your skills to be in one year.

5. Pay yourself first.

pay yourself first

One of the best money tips out there is to pay yourself first.

What does that mean, exactly? In terms of finances, it means setting aside funds for your future self before anything else. (Think: emergency funds, retirement accounts, and so on.)

So, apply the same strategy to how you’re spending your free time. Want to stay sharp? Learning a musical instrument is linked to improved memory, concentration, and IQ. Want to get ahead in your career? In today’s job market, learning a second language will make you a more valuable employee, and may even lead to a higher salary.

Or maybe it’s a more personal goal. Many of the adult students we talk to mention they took music lessons as a kid, and wanted to bring that joy back into their lives.

So the question is… do you want to invest in yourself? When you think of it that way, making time for your hobbies seems like a no-brainer.

Readers, how do you make time for yourself? Have you ever felt like you were too busy to learn something new? Leave a comment below and share your experience! 

Photo by Will Foster

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save money on music lessons

Private Lessons Don’t Need to Be Expensive – Here’s How to Save

save money on music lessons

Want to learn how to play guitar? Speak a second language? Step up your selfie game with new photography skills?

These days, there are plenty of ways to get started and many routes to reaching your goals.

But if you want the best learning experience, there’s no question that hands-on lessons and classes are the way to go. Sure, you’ve got options for online programs and video series that cost next to nothing. But for most students, working with a teacher — one who will hold you accountable, correct your mistakes in real-time, and customize your lessons just for you — is well worth the price.

Worried about your budget? Here’s the good news: private lessons don’t need to cost an arm and a leg! Keep reading to find out some of the ways our budget-conscious students decrease their costs and make room for music lessons, language lessons, and more.

Opt for online.

save money on online music lessons - 1

Many TakeLessons teachers and tutors offer online lessons — and our research has shown that, on average, students taking online lessons spend 20% less than those taking in-studio lessons. It’s a convenient option for both student and teacher: there’s no need to commute anywhere, which saves you money on gas or public transportation.

Moreover, online lessons allow you to work with teachers from all across the U.S., giving you more options for finding the right teacher, at a lesson price that works for you.

Money-Saving Example: If you’re in a major city and want to find cheap lessons, you might see a teacher charging $35 for a 30-minute lesson, while an online teacher in another location might charge $25 for the same duration. If you take lessons once per week, this saves you $520 over the course of a year.

Here are some example prices from TakeLessons teachers:

juliaTeacher: Julia H.
Lesson location: In studio — Seattle, WA
Price: $35 for a 30-minute lesson
kevinTeacher: Kevin M.
Lesson location: Online
Price: $25 for a 30-minute lesson

Choose your teacher based on price.

find a cheap teacher for music lessons or language lessons

For some students, finding a teacher who offers the right availability is important. For others, price is the most important. That’s why we leave it up to you: we let our teachers set their own prices, so you can find the one that best suits your needs.

And with our handy search filters, finding those teachers is easier than ever. Once you run your initial teacher search, you’ll be able to see their starting price for lessons immediately; click into their profile to see how their rates change by location and duration.

Money-Saving Example: If budget is a concern, even a $5 difference will add up over time. In fact, if you’re taking weekly lessons, this saves you $260 over the course of a year.

Keep in mind, though: the price a teacher sets doesn’t indicate whether one is better than the other. Your specific needs and goals should also influence your decision. Aiming to be the next breakout singer? Working with a vocal teacher in Los Angeles or New York with experience in the industry might be non-negotiable for you. For others, you might work best with a teacher who doesn’t have 20+ years of experience, but is still enthusiastic and knowledgeable.

Here are some examples of how violin lesson prices can vary by teacher:

leannaTeacher: Leanna L.
Lesson location: In-studio — Austin, TX
Price: $35 for a 30-minute lesson
meganTeacher: Megan C.
Lesson location: In-studio — Austin, TX
Price: $25 for a 30-minute lesson

Adjust lesson length & frequency.

save money on music lessons and language lessons

Yes, learning a new skill takes time. But that doesn’t mean you need to cram it in as a beginner!

While some students can certainly benefit from an hour (or longer!) lesson, most teachers agree that starting with a 30-minute lesson, once per week, is perfectly fine. (You can always bump it up when you’re ready!)

A shorter lesson time gives you the opportunity to really gauge your interest in the subject, without overwhelming yourself or overcommitting. It’s also ideal for younger students, who have a shorter attention span and tend to get antsy during lessons.

Another option, although risky, is to switch your weekly lessons to every other week. Here’s the kicker: if you must go this route, most teachers will recommend upping your commitment to practicing outside of the lessons. To stay on track, you’ll need to supplement your lessons with other learning methods, such as online classes or apps.

Money-Saving Example: If you’re looking for cheap lessons, consider booking a 30-minute timeslot to start. You’ll likely see a $10-$15 difference in price compared to the 60-minute timeslot, which saves you $780 over the course of a year.

Here is an example of guitar lesson prices based on lesson length:

brianTeacher Brian P.
Lesson Location: In-studio — Culver City, CA
Price: $40 for a 30-minute lesson
$45 for a 45-minute lesson
$55 for a 60-minute lesson

Shop around for your materials and gear.

saving money on music lessons materials and gear

Most hobbies require some additional purchases: instruments and books for music students, cameras and software for photography students, mats and workout gear for yoga students, and so on.

And those materials can add a good chunk of change to your learning expenses, there’s no doubt about it.

The good news is, it’s totally OK to start out slow and postpone the pricey purchases until later, after you’ve been learning for a while.

As a beginner music student, for example, it’s not necessary to buy a brand new top-of-the-line instrument. Used instruments can be just as good as new ones, depending on how well the previous owner cared for it. Younger students can also rent instruments from local music shops. Ask your friends or family if they have extra instruments they aren’t using, or look on eBay, Craigslist, or Amazon for used instruments at heavily discounted prices.

Your teacher can also be a great resource for this; before you book your lessons, feel free to use our Ask a Question feature to get their insight and recommendations.

Hold yourself accountable.

save money on lessons

The best way to save money on lessons is to avoid wasting your money. We’ve shared how to stop wasting money on language lessons, specifically, and that also applies to music lessons, art lessons, and everything else!

Hold yourself accountable and commit to practicing in between your lessons. As you practice, take notes of what you’re struggling with, so you can review it with your teacher. And during your lessons, stay focused! You’re paying for your teacher’s time and expertise, so make the most of it.

Mastering a new skill can be a fantastic experience. And when you’re speaking Spanish fluently, performing a killer guitar solo in front of a crowd, or simply feeling confident at karaoke night, you’ll realize those lessons were money well spent.

Thousands of students have started new hobbies and reached their goals with TakeLessons teachers — will you be next?

Photo by Andrea Rose

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music theory games and exercises

The Practice Decathlon: 10 Music Theory Games & Exercises to Try

music theory games and exercises

Are you in a practice rut? Mix things up with these ear training exercises and music theory games for kids and beyond, compiled by music teacher Alicia B...


It’s no secret that professional athletes have to train rigorously to reach the top of the medal podium. The path of music is similar, and you’d be surprised how your training is no different! Learning to play an instrument takes dedicated practice, mental stamina, and an organized plan for success. But don’t worry — it doesn’t have to be just scales and etudes over and over.

Music games can be effective for all ages, and are worth incorporating in your practice time — especially if you feel like you’re in a rut! So adults, it’s time to bring out your inner kid. And parents, it’s time to grab the kids and have some fun as a family!

Here’s a set of music theory games and ear training exercises that you can play all summer long.

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Mastering The Staff

Age group: Kids to adults
Players needed: 1

One of the first building blocks of music is learning the musical staff (or staves). You may recall the first mnemonic device in order to learn your lines of the treble clef, “Every Good Boy Does Fine.” For this music theory exercise, let’s take this idea one step further with a memory game.

To begin, make a set of flashcards with a certain line or space (e.g. “first line” or “second space”) on the front, and the correct answer (e.g., “E” or “A,” respectively) on the back. Start a timer and see how many correct answers you can get in 30 seconds.

Making these cards without drawing an actual staff allows you to visualize it in your head, which jump-starts your recall abilities. Of course, you also have the option of using the staff. These note name flashcards are commonly available for purchase or you can search for printable versions.

Musictheory.net has a great online version of this game where you can set the range of notes, including all your ledger lines above and below the staff.

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Get Into The Rhythm

Age group: Kids to adults
Players needed: 1

We can all clap along to a beat, but how well can you tap it? This series of exercises focuses on separating your instrument from your rhythm reading, so all you’re required to do is tap your finger!

One way to practice is to take any line from the method book you use. Try to see if you can tap the correct rhythm along with a slow metronome. Can you get it right in one try?

There are a few apps that create this as a game where you tap along to a randomly generated notated rhythm. Some apps, like Rhythm Tap, also allow you to adjust the note values (so if you haven’t seen a triplet or sixteenth note just yet, don’t stress, you don’t have to include it).

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The Hot Potato Staff Game

Age group: Kids
Players needed: 2+

This is one of the music theory games I use with my own students! Parents, you can easily play it with your kids.

Gather players in a circle and start with your “potato” (in my case, it’s a stuffed frog named Mr. Hoppers). The game begins with you tossing the potato and immediately posing a question (e.g.,“What’s the letter name of the third line in treble clef?” or “Third line treble clef!” for short); the child who catches the potato responds and tosses it back.

This is a great game for students of all levels because it asks you to imagine the staff in your head, bridging a recall gap from just memorizing ‘Every Good Boy Does Fine.’

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Become Your Ear’s Personal Trainer

Age group: Teens to adults
Players needed: 1

It’s a common misconception that you either have a good musical ear or you don’t; with the right ear training exercises, you can definitely improve!

For this exercise, all you need is a keyboard and some Post-It Notes. Number your keys one through eight and close your eyes. With your left hand on key 1, randomly play a different numbered key with the right hand. Try to figure out what interval you heard. Open your eyes and check if you were right.

There are also a few apps for interval training; here’s one I like from Musictheory.net.

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Mission Transposition

Age group: Teens to adults
Players needed: 1

If you’ve learned a little bit about your key signatures, a fun way to revisit old material while improving your key signature knowledge is transposition! This music theory exercise is simple: take a song you know well (and have memorized) and start it on a different note. If it sounds funny, correct each note as you go along, and you’ll notice you’re actually following the key change that occurred.

A great way to start is with “Twinkle, Twinkle” in the key of C major, then moving it to G major (don’t forget your F sharp!), then F major (B flat city).

You can also give a twist to a “happy” song in C major by moving it three steps down to the more “sad” A minor.

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Music Marathon

Age group: Kids to adults
Players needed: 1

It’s surprising how often new students have actually never heard the different genres of music their instrument can offer. We often hear about binge-watching movies, but have you ever listened to an entire symphony? Sat through an opera or musical? What about a full album start to finish?

To be a gold-medal musician, you need to be a gold-medal music appreciator. Take the plunge and dedicate a block of time to listening without distraction. Take notes of what interested you or how it made you feel. These are the doors you open to yourself as you walk down the figurative music hallway. You may find a new genre and re-inspire yourself to pick up your instrument and start practicing!

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Pitch Detective

Age group: Teens to adults
Players needed: 2+

Similar to identifying intervals, recognizing pitches is a vital part of ear training. For this exercise, pick a major or minor key, and have another person play the root note (first note of the scale), and any other note in the scale. It’s your challenge to name not only the interval that was played, but the name of the note. This game gets particularly difficult when the flats and sharps increase. The more you play this game, the stronger your ear will become.

Once you master finding the pitch, ask a partner to play four notes in the scale (starting with the root), and see if you can write the notes down on staff paper.

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Rhythm Jumpers

Age group: Kids
Players needed: 2+

These next two music theory games are for kids again. This one takes elements from “Mother, May I?” to create a slow-moving race while jumping to correct rhythms. To play, the “mother” thinks of a note (or rhythm pattern) and asks each player to jump the rhythm (e.g. a single whole note would be one jump and holding four counts, while a half note/quarter/quarter pattern would be a jump lasting two counts followed by two more jumps). Whoever gets to the finish line (first) wins!

Kids love to utilize their whole bodies to learn. It’s a great break from sitting, and by the end, everyone will have learned note duration in a fun, physical way!

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Tempo Light

Age group: Kids
Players needed: 2+

All you need for this game is a finish line. Have the child(ren) line up and get ready to listen. To start, choose four tempos to shout out, all of which mean different speeds (similar to red light, green light). For example, shouting out “andante” means everyone goes at a walking pace, but “allegro” means go fast! See if they match the tempos correctly. If they don’t, it’s back to the starting line. Use your “red light” by shouting, “fermata!” and see how they freeze in their tracks.

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Performance Time

Age group: All ages
Players needed: 1

Last but not least, performing for others is a great way to get out of a practice rut — for all ages. Think of it as similar to the gymnastics’ floor routine: impressive, creative, stylistic, and acts as the culmination of other events.

For kids, a more casual performance, even if it’s for friends or family in the living room, can take the edge off of more formal performances. And for adults, you may not have the same recital opportunities as kids, so you’ll have to make your own. It may be nerve-wracking, but performing in front of others and overcoming stage fright is an important part of learning.

Remember, to become a “gold medal” musician, you have to play to win!

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More Music Theory Games for Kids & Beyond

AliciaBPost Author: Alicia B.
Alicia B. teaches piano, violin, music theory, and more in Miami, FL. She has 15+ years training in violin technique, and almost 10 years of classical piano experience. Learn more about Alicia here!

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road trip songs by state maps

3 Maps to Help You Pick the BEST Road Trip Songs [2016 update]

road trip songs by state maps

Bad news: It’s August, and summer is halfway over. Good news: There’s still plenty of time for a summer road trip!

And of course, no road trip is complete without a playlist. The best road trip playlist includes songs to sing along with, songs to keep you energized, and songs that will appeal to everyone in the car (no easy feat!).

So let’s get to work. Grab a map, and mark the states you’ll be driving in. Then, check out our maps below: just for kicks, the first map lists the official (and some unofficial) state songs for all 50 US states. In case you don’t want to be blasting those songs, you have two more maps to choose from. The second map offers road trip songs based on famous musicians from each state; the third map features OUR new picks for state songs.

If you want to go the extra mile (pun intended), upload all three road trip playlists and hit Shuffle. You may even discover some new favorite songs!

Don’t agree with our picks? Think we should replace one song with another? Sound off in the comments — we want to hear your thoughts!

State Songs Across the US

What’s your state’s official song? If you want to start with some patriotic spirit, add these tunes to your playlist. (Note: some states have multiple state songs, both official and unofficial.) 


50 Famous Musicians From Each US State

Next up, we handpicked a famous musician with ties to each state, and a well-known song from that artist. This one’s a mixed bag: depending on your route, you may be blasting a country crooner or boy band pop!

famous musicians from US states

State Songs for 2016 (Our New Picks!)

We all know about “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” So in our final map of road trip songs, we’re taking some creative liberties. If WE were choosing the official state songs across the US, here’s what we would recommend. And again, you’ll get a nice mix of genres and styles with this playlist!

US State Songs for 2016 road trip


What’s On YOUR Road Trip Mix?

Whether your wanderlust takes you to the golden beaches of the West Coast, the rolling plains of the Midwest, or even back in time to the battlefields of the South or colonial settlements of the Northeast, nothing says good times like scenic drives with your favorite people.

And from country to hip-hop and jazz to rock, there’s something in these road trip playlists for every type of music-lover.

Now, it’s your turn. Do you agree with our road trip songs? What famous musicians did we miss for your state? Let us know your thoughts by leaving a comment below!

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how to be a successful musician

Do Perfectionists or Free Spirits Make Better Musicians?

how to be a successful musician

When it comes to practicing and playing music, are you a perfectionist? Or more of a free spirit? Learn how to be a successful musician using your strengths and weaknesses in this guest post by guitar teacher Wes F...


If you’ve ever taken a personality test, you may be aware that most traits are thought to inhabit a continuum — for example, if you’re thinking about the traits of introversion and extroversion, you either lean toward a solitary (introverted) or a more socially adventurous (extroverted) disposition. In my years of teaching guitar, I’ve noticed that students also tend to favor one of two extremes when approaching practice.

Some students will be perfectionists when it comes to practicing music. Others will be more of the free-spirited type.

Each of these extremes comes with its own set of strengths and weaknesses. One isn’t better than the other, but there are things you can learn from both sides to become a better musician. Below, I’ll describe each personality type, and offer tips for how to get out of your comfort zone.

Free Spirit Musicians

Most people take up an instrument in the hopes that it will be fun, perhaps inspired by a virtuoso player seen at a concert or online. They make it look so easy! It must be such a fun, free feeling to do what they do!

It is, but that freedom has to be paid for with time spent practicing and improving; nobody starts out on guitar playing Eric Johnson’s “Cliffs of Dover” as their first song!

For free spirits, this can wind up being a real problem. Sure, there’s a part of them that knows that becoming a successful musician is going to take time and work, but knowing that and experiencing it are two different things. Free spirits tend to lose focus if they don’t see results quickly. What happens most often is that they settle for “good enough” and convince themselves that they’re nailing a song when in fact they’re just not noticing where they can improve.

How to succeed if you’re a free spirit:

  1. Be hard on yourself.
    Pay attention to what you’re playing. Make sure each note sounds really good. Focus on looking for where things are wrong rather than where they are right. You won’t be able to improve if you don’t perceive a problem. (Working with a private music teacher can also help with this.)
  2. Narrow your focus.
    Don’t simply play through the whole song and call it done; find sections that are causing you problems and play them multiple times (more slowly than you want to!). Too many mistakes to count? Chop that section in half and narrow your focus even more.
  3. Expand your attention span.
    If you’re bored or frustrated, you should take a break — but don’t stop what you’re doing immediately! Push through the discomfort for a few more minutes. Making this a habit will help you adjust to the more difficult aspects of learning your instrument. You may even someday find yourself enjoying things you never thought you would.

Perfectionist Musicians

Perfectionists have the opposite problem of free spirits. They can’t see past the mistakes they’re making — sometimes to the point that they struggle to have any fun. They suffer from a high degree of burnout, and spend a lot of time doing menial work that seems necessary to them, but is often counterproductive.

How to succeed if you’re a perfectionist:

  1. Vary the difficulty.
    Something that often goes along with perfectionism is a disdain for songs that are “too easy.” This can lead to a lot of needless frustration. It’s a good idea to designate songs as easy, medium, or hard, and make sure you’re always working on one of each. (Free spirits can probably benefit from this advice as well!)
  2. Goof off.
    You can actually learn quite a bit from simply playing with the sounds your instrument makes — as long as you are doing so in a mindful way. Feel free to sound like a screeching mutant ferret trying to sing opera, but make sure you’re aware of how you got it to sound that way and see if you can reproduce it! Your music teacher can also help you explore and connect with your instrument.
  3. Make time for play.
    Put a limit on the amount of repetition in your practice time. It’s a good idea to spend time playing all the way through your song without stopping to correct everything you don’t like. This will give you a new perspective and help you see what all that repetition is for. You should find that letting go and having fun is very motivating. (Tip: Check out these musician resources for finding people to jam with, too!)

How to Be a Successful Musician – Try Something New!

If you feel like you’ve stalled in your progress on your instrument, give these suggestions a try. Doing the same things over and over and expecting different results doesn’t usually work out too well. Everyone has strengths and weaknesses; the most successful musicians recognize these and adjust their practice accordingly to improve. Good luck!

Photo by oh_debby

WesFPost Author: Wes F.
Wes F. teaches bass guitar, guitar, songwriting, and more in Atlanta, GA. He studied classical guitar and composition at Asbury College and later more in-depth guitar studies at the Atlanta Institute of Music. Learn more about Wes here!

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