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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Memorizers:

Pros:

  • 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.

Con:

  • 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!

Readers:

Pros:

  • 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!

Con:

  • 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.) 

Take-Lessons-US-Map-v1

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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easiest instruments to learn

The 5 Easiest Instruments Perfect for Adult Learners

easiest instrument for adults to learn

Interested in music, but nervous about getting started? Learn about some of the easiest instruments to learn in this guest by Christopher Sutton…

 

It’s a common misconception that learning to play a musical instrument as an adult is too difficult, if not impossible. The myth that you need to pursue music lessons seriously early in life in order to master the craft has kept many people from exploring their musical skills.

While it’s true that learning new things does get tougher with age, often the struggle is more about the fear of making mistakes. But it’s never too late to learn! In fact, there are many advantages to learning music as an adult.

For one, adults are much more independent and self-motivated than a child being forced to take music lessons. With the right help, guidance, and motivation, any adult can excel at playing a musical instrument.

If you’re not sure where to start, here are five of the easiest instruments for adults to learn.

1. Ukulele

Inexpensive to buy and super fun to play, the ukulele is one of the easiest instruments to learn. With just four nylon strings (instead of the guitar’s six), you can quickly pick up simple chords and play some of your favorite songs in just a few weeks. You’ll also be able to gain many fundamental skills that make it easier if you ever want to graduate from the ukulele to the guitar.

2. Harmonica

Be it blues, jazz, rock, folk, or country music, the harmonica (also known as the “Blues Harp”) is a great choice for adult beginners. You don’t need to know a lot in order to start playing and it has a big advantage that any note will be “in key” — it’s hard to sound bad on harmonica!

Plus, harmonicas are very portable — you can carry and practice it anywhere and any time.

3. Bongos

If you’re a fan of salsa, the bongos might be your calling. Bongos originated in Cuba and consist of two conjoined drums. It’s a simpler option than a full drum kit but can provide the same satisfying percussive experience. From there, you can move on to other types of drums and percussion instruments easily!

4. Piano

The piano may seem complicated — after all, you need to learn to coordinate both hands at once — but it’s actually one of the easiest instruments to learn for adults.

Because the notes are all laid out in front of you, it’s easier to understand than many other instruments. And although you can play wrong notes, you can’t ever play out of tune the way you can with other instruments. Moreover, due to its popularity, you’ll have no shortage of useful learning materials when you choose piano as your instrument!

5. Glockenspiel

You might recognize the glockenspiel (pronounced “glock-ench-peel”) from your elementary school music classes or if you were ever enrolled in a Kindermusik class. It looks a lot like a smaller version of a xylophone, but instead of having wooden bars, its bars are made of metal, producing a bright and cheery sound. The glockenspiel is a great way for you to get in touch with your inner child and your inner musician.

What Instrument Will You Choose?

Learning to play a musical instrument as an adult isn’t as intimidating as it sounds. There’s a plethora of instruments out there that are simple and easy to get started with.

And while the options listed above may be some of the easiest instruments to learn, there’s no need to limit yourself! Whichever instrument you choose, learning and excelling at music will eventually feel easy and natural, just as long as you’re genuinely engaged and nurturing your inner musicality along the way.


Christopher Sutton is the founder of Easy Ear Training and Musical U, where musicians can discover and develop their natural musicality. Born and raised in London, England, he lives with his wife, daughter, and far too many instruments.

 

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10 Essential Fitness Exercises for Musicians

Infographic: 10 Best Fitness Exercises & Stretches for Musicians

As musicians, it can be easy to forget that it’s not just our mind that matters — our body plays a role in learning music, too! And just as it’s important to find a great teacher to guide us toward reaching our goals, it’s also vital that we remember how to take care of ourselves.

Here are 10 fitness exercises, stretches, and activities you can do to stay in tip-top shape, for all types of musicians — from singers to guitarists to wind instrumentalists and more!

10 Essential Fitness Exercises for Musicians

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10 Fitness Exercises & Activities for Musicians

Power yoga

What it is: Fitness-oriented classes that focus on breathing, alignment, strength, balance, and opening up the body
Best for: Everyone
How to get started: Choose between heated and non-heated classes at a local studio or with a private yoga instructor; look for vinyasa-based classes that link breath to movement.

Learning how to properly and deeply breathe isn’t just important for singers! Taking full breaths is known to reduce stress and improve concentration. Breathing slowly and deeply, especially during challenging yoga poses, will help you to do so during stressful moments, calming both your mind and your body.

See also: 15 Yoga Poses with Powerful Benefits for Singers [Videos], Yoga for Musicians via Yoga Journal

Core strengthening

What it is: Exercises that strengthen the muscles in your torso, including your abdominals and back muscles
Best for: Vocalists, pianists, wind instrumentalists
How to get started: You can incorporate core work in many different workout formats, but especially in Pilates, yoga, and kickboxing classes. Or create a routine for yourself that includes planks, crunches, and oblique work.

Put simply, you need a strong core to hold yourself upright. It’s not just about having a six-pack; having a weak core can put strain on your back and ultimately cause chronic back pain. Core strength also helps improve your balance and stability — super important for all the sitting and standing we do!

See also: 8-minute Abs Workout, Beginner Pilates videos via Blogilates

Posture work

What it is: Exercises that help maintain proper alignment of your spine
Best for: Everyone
How to get started: This is usually incorporated heavily in barre and yoga; you can also try doing some simple exercises at home, such as wall sits or shoulder rolls — anything that encourages your shoulders back and down, your chin slightly tucked, and your feet parallel with each other.

Sitting at a computer all day, being hunched over our phones, and slouching in general can wreak havoc on our posture. Over time, our spine begins to morph into the wrong shape — chin jutting forward, shoulders hunched, feet forming a v-shape. Not to mention that a performer with poor posture just doesn’t look as confident or as professional!

See also: Posture and Breathing, via Brass Musician Magazine

Arm strengthening

What it is: Exercises that strengthen the biceps, triceps, and shoulder muscles
Best for: Percussionists, pianists, string instrumentalists, wind and brass instrumentalists
How to get started: Most common in weight training classes; create your own circuit at home or at the gym, including push-ups and different weight-lifting exercises.

No matter if you’re a singer or you play an instrument, chances are you’re going to be holding something up, whether it’s your music, your instrument, or your arms. Some instruments may even require using the strength of your arms for certain techniques. Strengthening your arm and shoulder muscles can help prevent injuries, especially to the joints that end up fatigued when they aren’t supported by strong enough muscles.

See also: Is weight training safe for pianists? via Tim Topham, How Weight Training Has Made Me a Better Musician via William James

Intense cardio

What it is: Exercises that increase your heart rate and keep it high or raise it in intervals
Best for: Everyone
How to get started: Try a spin class or do sprints, jumping-rope, or jumping jacks on your own.

Cardiovascular health is important for everyone, but musicians especially can benefit from the mind-over-matter mentality that it takes to push yourself past your limits. And increasing your heart rate during exercise can ease stress, relieve anxiety, and help you sleep better — all of which benefit both your practice and your performance.

See also: Burst Training for Beginners via Dr. Josh Axe

Dance classes

What it is: Classes (or videos) that include short snippets of choreography and a variety of genres of music
Best for: Vocalists, instrumentalists (especially those playing in any sort of ensemble or band)
How to get started: Try a Jazzercise, Zumba, or cardio hip-hop class. These classes are a great workout, and some formats include strength training, too.

Dance classes with choreography require you to stay present and focused, and to memorize moves in the context of the music. These skills come in handy when you need to memorize a piece of music, especially if you are singing or playing with others. They also require coordination and improve your rhythm by forcing your body to feel the beat. Lastly, dance classes can expose you to types of music you might not listen to on your own.

See also: 30-minute Aerobic Dance Workout via GoodHealth 24/7

Neck & shoulder stretches

What it is: Stretches that ease tension in your neck and shoulders and encourage them to stay relaxed, even after the stretch is over. These stretches also bring balance to your body
Best for: Pianists, wind instrumentalists, guitar players, string instrumentalists
How to get started: Do several stretches that include the front and sides of your neck and the fronts of your shoulders; do these several times a day, especially before and after practicing.

Keeping tension in your neck and shoulders while practicing can cause you to suffer more over time. Especially if you allow your shoulders to come up and forward, this can really weaken your posture and cause back pain, in addition to the neck pain already present. Tension can also inhibit your playing, since many techniques require your muscles to be controlled but in a relaxed way.

See also: 10 Essential Stretches for Musicians via Music Notes, 11 Stretching Exercises for Musicians via The Strad, 16 Simple Stretches for Tight Shoulders via Greatist

Hip flexor stretches & backbends

What it is: Stretches that open up the front of your body and counteract all the sitting and leaning forward we do
Best for: Vocalists, pianists, guitarists, drummers
How to get started: Many yoga postures are hip openers and backbends; take a yoga class, work with a private yoga teacher, or do a few stretches on your own at home.

Tension in the front of your body causes it to be imbalanced and ends up pulling on the back of your body. This takes a toll on your posture and can cause muscle and joint pain. Some say that we carry our stress in our hips, so opening them up would naturally help relieve that stress. Backbending opens your chest and lungs and can help you breathe more deeply.

See also: 4 Hip Flexor Stretches to Relive Tight Hips via Stack

Outdoor hobbies

What it is: Any outdoor activity that forces you to breathe and/or sweat!
Best for: Everyone
How to get started: Go hiking, biking, or swimming; do a marathon or mud run; take a surfing or stand-up paddleboarding class.

In his piece “For Poets”, Al Young advises “Come on out into the sunlight/ Breathe in Trees/…Don’t forget to fly”. The message rings true for all artists — the best inspiration comes from being out in nature and experiencing life. Many musicians spend so much time holed up in studios and practice rooms, so it’s even more important to remind ourselves to get out there and have those one-of-a-kind experiences.

See also: 5 Things That Smart Musicians Do Every Day, via SonicBids

Meditation

What it is: Sitting in stillness, calming your mind, and focusing on your breath for a certain amount of time
Best for: Performers
How to get started: Take a meditation class or listen to a guided meditation.

Meditation not only reduces stress and anxiety, it also improves focus and memory. And when you have the skills to calm your mind anywhere, anytime, you can handle anything! For performers especially, practicing meditation will connect your mind and body and allow you to keep calm, no matter how many people are in the audience.

See also: Free Guided Meditations via UCLA Health, How Musicians Can Really Benefit From Meditation via GuitarHabits


Try these fitness exercises, get healthy, and give your music the strong, vibrant musician it deserves! And don’t forget one of the most important aspects of growing as a musician: a great teacher who will guide you and encourage you to be the best you can be. Good luck!

JasmineTPost Author: Jasmine T.
Jasmine T. teaches piano, academics, yoga, and more in San Diego, CA. She has her Power Yoga Level 1 200-Hour Certification, as well as a Certificate of Merit for Piano and Theory from the Music Teachers’ Association of California. Learn more about Jasmine here!

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learning music

Are You Taking the Right Approach to Learning Music?

learning music

Can you learn to sing on your own? Can you learn piano with online videos? Find out what works — and what doesn’t — when it comes to learning music, in this post by guitar teacher Kirk R...

 

Dreaming of playing an instrument, or learning to sing? These days, there are many different ways to get started with music.

You could take private lessons. You could play in groups, whether that’s in school, group classes, or just jamming with friends. You could even start learning on your own through observation, or search for prerecorded video or audio lessons.

But what’s the most effective way to learn? You might be surprised to learn that it’s NOT the options listed above.

That is, not on their own.

Let’s take a look at each one, and the benefits and drawbacks they present.

Learning On Your Own

Spending time with your instrument on your own is essential to getting better. Anyone you ask about learning music will surely support your own private practicing and desire to learn new things outside of classes, lessons, and rehearsals.

I recommend reading books and blog posts (like you’re doing now, good job!) and listening to other musicians, even those from other instruments or styles. Doing so will help you recognize what you like and what you don’t like.

However, if you’re not around other musicians regularly, it becomes very easy to let your playing get way off track. Your brain can trick you into thinking the sound you’re making or hearing is the same as the sound you tried to create, even if it’s not. And if this goes unchecked, it can lead down a long path of mistakes until one day you play for someone and they don’t recognize the song at all!

It’s important to have a regular “check-up” for your playing. Even professional musicians get together regularly to play for someone else! As a beginner, working with a private music teacher is key.


Consider This: Is it Possible to Teach Yourself to Sing?

While learning notes or chords on your own on the guitar can be a great starting point, singers trying to learn on their own tend to struggle.

Why’s that? Learning how to use your instrument (your voice!) is a whole-body experience, which often requires the instruction of a teacher, whether online or in-person, who can easily identify the root issues — whether that’s poor posture, unsupported breathing, or something else.


“Canned” Music Lessons

The internet is a huge part of our society now and I think it is a huge advantage to musicians everywhere. You can find tons of videos and online courses, and these types of lessons are a great way to gain some knowledge.

However, it’s important to keep in mind that prerecorded videos don’t tell you if you’re doing something wrong, let alone what it is. Similar to learning on your own, mistakes can easily become habits. I have had guitar students who learned chords on their own, and in their first lesson actually played all the chords upside down. Needless to say, it didn’t sound great, but they were used to hearing it and didn’t even notice the mistake.

If you want to learn the notes or chords for a specific song, YouTube is a great option. But if you’re looking for lessons with substance, steer clear of prerecorded lessons. The reason? These videos assume your prior knowledge of music, which isn’t always effective.

Learning music is not a linear process; in fact, teachers don’t always agree on the order certain things should be taught. Often, it depends on the particular student and their goals. This is why working with a teacher — who can create personalized lesson plans for you — makes a huge difference.


Consider This: Can you Really Learn Piano Online?

Many students are leery of online piano lessons. After all, how can a teacher properly see what you’re doing with your fingers and if you’re placing your hands correctly?

Fortunately, the answer is yes — and online lessons are a great option for many students. Experienced teachers know how to angle their camera so you can see their hands clearly, and will direct you to adjust yours so they can provide feedback. Just remember the advice above: don’t rely on canned video tutorials alone!


Group Music Classes

Learning to play music with others is essential for any musician of any style. Collaborating with other musicians will force you to pay attention to details, like precise rhythms and a careful balance in volume, which may sneak past you when playing on your own.

Many beginner students get their start in band or orchestra, and many adult students, too, flock to group classes because it’s less daunting than private lessons. However, I don’t recommend relying on group sessions alone if you really want to improve. The reason behind this is that with group classes, you will receive little, if any, individual help.

Likewise, more advanced musicians shouldn’t rely on jamming with friends to improve their skills. Other musicians may be able to share some skills, but even good players often make terrible teachers! Learn from them, but be cautious not to pick up bad habits or get frustrated if you’re not able to pick up something right away; perhaps your friend took a subtle skill for granted and didn’t think to explain it as an experienced teacher might.


Consider This: How to Find Musicians Near You

If you’re taking private lessons, but missing the group component, don’t fret!

Younger students, consider attending band or orchestra camps in the summer to get ensemble practice. Older students, try asking your teacher to put together jam groups, or search through the myriad websites for finding musicians near you to jam with. We like Jamseek, Bandmix, and MeetUp!


Private Music Lessons

Individual lessons are a great starting place (and continuing place!) for almost any musician. Since your teacher is right there observing you, you’ll get feedback in real-time. And that can save you a lot of time searching on your own. In the midst of trying to get the right pitches, rhythms, and articulations, identifying when something is going wrong on your own can be nearly impossible, even for more advanced players.

The only drawback to individual lessons, however, is that you only receive one perspective on your playing: your teacher’s. However good the teacher is, as a musician and a teacher, they have only one perspective of many.


Consider This: How Do I Find the Best Music Teacher?

A simple search on TakeLessons can pull up tons of teachers for guitar lessons, piano lessons, and more. But how do you find the right teacher for your needs, goals, and schedule? We’ve got you covered. Check out our tips here.


So, How SHOULD You Be Learning Music?

Now that we’ve reviewed these four options for learning music, here’s my point: to really improve your skills, you need to combine all of the methods above. Here’s what I recommend:

  • If you’re a part of a group class at school or in the community, sign up for private lessons as well to get individual help.
  • Same goes for if you’re working your way through a prerecorded course or relying on videos. Take some time each week to meet with a teacher, to make sure you’re on the right track. With online music lessons, you don’t even need to leave your house! Review what you’ve learned in your course, and get their feedback on your technique.
  • If you’re already taking private lessons, see if your teacher can connect you with other students to get some group experience. Most teachers will be thrilled to hear that you’re interested in collaborating with other students!
  • Keep practicing and learning on your own, too. Treat practice like a lesson that you give yourself. If you’re not sure what to do to improve something, try searching online, or simply experiment! Ask yourself, “What if I use this finger? Or if I breathe here, instead?”

Have you been playing music for a while now? We’d love to hear what ways you went about learning. Leave a comment below and share your story! 

Photo by Daniel Davis

Kirk RPost Author: Kirk R.
Kirk is a classical, bass, and acoustic guitar instructor in Denver, CO. He earned a bachelor’s degree in guitar performance at The College-Conservatory of Music in Cincinnati and is currently pursuing a masters degree in performance.  Learn more about Kirk here!

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