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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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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Rosita R.

The 7 Types of Learners & How to Find the Best Teacher For YOU

Rosita R.

No matter how far your education has taken you, you’ve likely had a lot of teachers over the course of your life.

Elementary school teachers, middle school teachers, high school teachers and beyond; each year brought one (or more) teachers and mentors into your life. Maybe you even had Little League coaches or camp counselors along the way.

When it comes to private lessons, though — whether you want to learn music, languages, fitness, or something else — it’s a whole new ballgame.

You select the teacher, tutor, or coach you want to learn from. And that can be a little overwhelming!

Fortunately, finding a good teacher for music lessons or otherwise — the perfect person to help you or your child — doesn’t have to be hard. But it does take some reflection and research.

Finding a Great Tutor or Teacher with TakeLessons

To begin, let’s pinpoint who you are, what you want, and what you need. Out of the options below, which do you identify with? Start your search at TakeLessons with the lesson type and your zip code, and we’ll help you find a tutor or teacher who’s the perfect fit.

Want to find your teacher faster? Call our team at 877-231-8505 and we can help!


The “Schedule-Challenged” Student


We get it: life can get busy! Whether you’re working around a 9-to-5 office job, or you’re a parent juggling your child’s extracurriculars, we know some students need a specific timeslot — no exceptions. On the flipside, if your schedule is constantly in flux, you may want a teacher who can offer you more flexibility.

Our search filters make it easy to find instructors with the availability you need. And if you have unique scheduling needs, remember that you have the option to ask instructors questions before booking — simply click the Ask a Question button to the right of a teacher’s profile picture to send them a message.

Tips to find a teacher:

  • After you’ve pulled up your initial search results, click on the “Availability” dropdown at the top. Select the day(s) you’re looking for, and then pull up individual profiles to see available timeslots. You can see this within the box to the right of the teacher’s information.
  • Consider our “Schedule As You Go” plan if you need flexibility.
  • Have a unique scheduling situation? Use the Ask a Question tool to message teachers before booking, or contact us for assistance.

The Location-Bound Student


What’s that, you say? You don’t want to spend two hours commuting to and from your lesson? We get it.

We’re lucky to work with instructors from all across the U.S. — you’ll find teachers from Seattle to St. Louis, and everywhere in between. You may even find teachers who will travel to your home for lessons.

Even if there’s not a teacher directly nearby, online lessons make it easy and convenient to connect with our top teachers on a regular basis. Not tech-savvy? We’ve created the TakeLessons Classroom just for you. It’s a video chat-based virtual classroom that requires no downloads, and you can get to it right from your Student Account.

Tips to find a teacher:

  • Looking for a teacher close by? After you’ve pulled up your initial search results, click on Sort by: Distance to see your closest options.
  • Want an instructor who will come to you? Pull up an individual profile, and look at the “Select a location” prompt in the right-hand box. If a bubble for “Your Home” shows, the teacher may be able to travel to you — click the blue prompt to enter your address and make sure you’re within his or her travel radius. (Or, contact us via phone or email for a quicker search!)
  • Prefer online lessons? After you’ve pulled up your initial search results, click on the “Location” dropdown, and select “Online.”

The Budget-Conscious Student


Private lessons can be expensive. But as many students can attest to, the personalized attention you get from them is priceless! Fortunately, if you’re operating on a budget, there are ways to make it work.

TakeLessons teachers set their own prices, which are shown prominently within search results. This is usually based on their specific location, their experience level, and how long they’ve been teaching.

Also, consider taking online lessons! Often these are a bit cheaper than in-person or in-home lessons, and you’ll be saving money (and time!) by not having to commute anywhere.

Tips to find a teacher:

  • After you’ve pulled up your initial search results, click on Sort By: Lowest Price to sort your options. Note that prices may be marked at 30-minute, 45-minute, or 60-minute lesson durations.
  • Consider online lessons to save money. After you’ve pulled up your initial search results, click on the “Location” dropdown, and select “Online”.

The Goal-Oriented Student


Are you an aspiring singer dreaming of being the next Adele? Are you learning French for an upcoming vacation, or so you can interact with clients at work?

If you have specific goals, it’s more important than ever to find the right teacher. So first, write down those goals: where do you want to be in one year? Five years? Ten years? Next, get to work: dedicate some time to browsing profiles, and look for instructors who have experience teaching the specific genres, techniques, or skills you want to learn. Look for the Student Favorite badge for our top teachers, and read the reviews from current and past students.

Still struggling? Use the Ask a Question tool to message teachers before booking, or give us a call for extra assistance in finding the right match.

Tips to find a teacher:

  • Dedicate some time browsing profiles to find someone who has the experience you need.
  • Use the Ask a Question tool for specific inquiries before booking.
  • Look for the Student Favorite badge (a red heart icon) in search results for our top teachers.
  • Read other students’ feedback! After you’ve pulled up your initial search results, click on Sort By: Reviews to see teachers with the most reviews.

The Picky Parents


OK, maybe you’re not picky. Moms and Dads, we know you just want the best for your child!

And for kids, the “right” teacher isn’t always the most qualified — often it’s the person your child feels the most comfortable with. You’ll want to find a tutor or teacher who is patient, encouraging, and friendly, with (successful) experience with other children.

If safety is important to you, you may want to start your search by marking the option for “Background Check Verified” — this indicates the instructor has opted in and passed a thorough background check.

From there, filter your results by clicking on “Student Age” and selecting from the dropdown. Many teachers will also list their experience and what age groups they enjoy working with in the “Overview” section of their profile. Feel free to use the Ask a Question tool to send a message to the teacher, too.

Beyond that, sometimes it just comes down to a personality match. And the best way to test that is to just try out a lesson — if for any reason it’s not working out, our 100% Satisfaction Guarantee protects you.

Tips to find a teacher:

  • After you’ve pulled up your initial search results, check the box for Background Check Verified.
  • Click on the “Student Age” dropdown, and indicate child or teen.
  • Pull up individual profiles and look at the ages taught in the “About” section.
  • Browse through profiles to get a feel for the teacher’s personality.
  • Use the Ask a Question tool to message teachers before booking.
  • Call us for extra assistance to find that perfect teacher for your child!

The Hobbyist (or, the “Bucketlister”)


If you’re a casual learner who just wants to have fun — or to check off your bucket list — you’re in luck! Most of our teachers are well-equipped to help you with the basics. As you search for your teacher, spend some time browsing profiles and see who catches your eye. Most teachers will speak to their experience, interests, and teaching style in the “Overview” section of their profile. Feel free to give us a call and we can help you sort through your options.

And for older adults, it’s never too late to start learning! Many of our instructors enjoy teaching retirees and above, and will cater your lessons to your learning style and interests. Filter search results by clicking on the “Student Age” dropdown, and use the Ask a Question tool to message teachers if you have a specific inquiry.

Tips to find a teacher:

  • Dedicate some time browsing profiles.
  • Look for the Student Favorite badge (a red heart icon) in search results for our top teachers.
  • Read other students’ feedback! After you’ve pulled up your initial search results, click on Sort By: Reviews to see teachers with the most reviews.
  • Seniors: Find instructors who teach older adults by using the “Student Age” dropdown.

The Worrywart (and Everybody Else)


With our search tools, you can filter your results to find a music teacher, tutor, or coach based on what matters to you, whether that’s price, location, availability, or ages taught. If you’re still not sure, use the Ask a Question tool to message any teachers you’re curious about.

But all said and done, we know that an online profile will only take you so far. So if you’re still not sure, give us a call at 877-231-8505! Our staff includes Student Counselors who regularly talk to our teachers across the U.S., and have experience matching students and families with the best teachers.

Beyond that, there’s no need to worry. You always have the option of booking a smaller lesson package to try things out. Not quite what you expected? Our 100% Satisfaction Guarantee protects you. (Read more here.)

So what are you waiting for? When you’re ready to take that first step toward your goals, we’ll be here.

Special shout-out to music teacher Rosita R., featured in the photo! Learn more about Rosita here.

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best movie scores

Quiz: Which Well-Known Symphonic Movie Score Represents You?

best movie scores

Summertime is a prime time for blockbuster movies, and 2016 is no exception!

But even with all the new movies on the way, there’s nothing quite like the classics. Think about the movies that took you on great adventures, pulled at your heartstrings, and got your adrenaline racing. Which ones top your list?

Now think: can you recall the movie score? For many of the acclaimed films from the last few decades, the music behind it is integral. After all, where would Jaws be without the iconic two-note theme? Would Star Wars be the same without its epic intro?

Although not all movie-goers recognize it, it’s the music that leads you on the journey and coaxes your emotions out.

So, let’s have a little fun. Out of the best movie scores, which one represents you? Is your personality more adventurous… or more romantic?

Find out with this fun quiz from Connolly Music:

What’s YOUR soundtrack? Leave a comment below and share your results!

Want to learn more about the best movie scores, and how to get started composing your own? Continue exploring with these links:

Photo by Andrés Nieto Porras

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john legend pre-show routine

10 Pre-Show & Stage Fright Rituals of Famous Musicians [Infographic]

Do you get butterflies before you’re about to perform, even for a small audience? Imagine singing or playing your instrument at sold-out arenas!

Performing for screaming fans can be nerve-wracking even for the most seasoned musicians. To combat the nerves, many rely on pre-show rituals to center themselves. Continue reading to find out what some of your favorite famous musicians do behind-the-scenes…

stage fright in famous musicians - pre-show rituals

How 10 Famous Musicians Battle Stage Fright

Learn about the pre-show rituals of your favorite musicians.

  • Alice Cooper

Alice Cooper eats Skittles as a pre-show snack and watches kung-fu movies before he takes the stage.

  • Beyoncé

Beyoncé has a pretty specific pre-show ritual: she gathers the members of the band to say a prayer and do a stretch. After that, she sits in a massage chair while she gets her hair and makeup done. She also enjoys an hour of peace before her show and has a special playlist that she listens to every day.

  • Keith Richards

The Rolling Stones rocker is very specific about his pre-show meal. He always eats a Shepherd’s pie, and he must be the one who breaks the crust.

  • Justin Bieber

When Justin Bieber was a young star, he enjoyed Sour Patch Kids and gummy worms before his show. We’re not sure if he still eats these snacks before he performs for sold-out arenas, but whatever he’s doing, it’s working!

  • Rihanna

Like Beyoncé, Rihanna grabs her musicians and backup dancers together for a prayer circle. Also, right before they take the stage, they put their hands in the middle and raise them as they yell a rallying cry.

  • Eminem

The fit rapper requests 25-pound dumbbells and six Lunchables Snack Packs (three turkey and three ham and cheese) for his dressing room.

  • Coldplay

The British rock band enjoys a little bit of quiet time before their shows and always makes sure to do a group hug.

  • John Legend

John Legend knows it’s important to eat a good meal before a performance. The singer eats roasted chicken before his shows.

How to Battle Anxiety and Stage Fright

While the musicians listed above have a lot of performance experience, it doesn’t mean they’re immune to feeling some pre-show jitters. In fact, many famous musicians — including Adele, Barbra Streisand, and more recently Zayn Malik –have shared their personal stories of anxiety and stage fright.

In reality, stage fright is nothing to be afraid of. In fact, you can even use that energy to your advantage — check out our Ultimate Guide to Stage Fright to learn the strategies. So get out there and enjoy yourself! The rush you’ll feel is worth it, we promise.

Readers, do you have your own pre-performance rituals? How do you battle stage fright and anxiety? Leave a comment below and let us know!

Sources: MusicNotes, Mental Floss, EMGNHuffington Post, Photo by Benny Chandra

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5 Insider Tips for a Successful Music Career

MO - 5 Insider Tips for a Successful Music CareerBreaking into the music industry is tough, but it’s a lot easier when you have some help along the way. In this article, professional singer and music teacher Liz T. will show you 5 valuable tips you can use to make it the music industry…

 

Based on my performing experience in the music industry, I’ve observed many fellow (and talented) musicians struggle. Having a successful music career isn’t easy, but you don’t have to be the next Beyoncé or Hunter Hayes to be considered a “success.”

There are many independent musicians out there who perform in front of sold-out crowds each night, run their own marketing campaigns, and promote their music in the media — all while making money!

Here are some tips from my personal experience that will help you have a successful music career, no matter which instrument or genre you choose!

How to Make It in the Music Industry


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1. Choose Your Band/Co-Writers Wisely

I’ve seen many leaders fail when they don’t have reliable members in their band. Here’s my advice: Choose musicians you know you can depend on, both on and off the stage. In other words, choose musicians who you can trust to show up to all rehearsals, recordings, and act professional in a music environment.

Don’t Choose on a Whim

More often than not, because of the lack of effort, support, and preparation from the band, the leader may fail. Audition your band mates, try a few gigs with them, and if it’s not working, move on — just like in the dating world! There’s no sense in keeping bad relationships.

The same goes for songwriting: Choose members you want on your team wisely, and consider choosing members who have strengths that you don’t. The bottom line is that you should never feel at competition with your band mates or co-writers; it’s completely a team effort!

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2. Research the Music Industry

As a musician, you should always be listening and watching the charts. It’s important to keep your finger on the pulse — find out what’s popular, what’s performing well, and what’s dying in the industry. From knowing current artists to knowing music-sharing trends, you’ve got to be current with the times!

You Don’t Need to Research Everything

Even if you’re an “old school” person, you don’t necessarily have to download every music app or listen to every artist, but you need to be familiar with what’s happening in the industry. In my experience, a surprising amount of people don’t do their research. Those who don’t do their research might send their music demos on CDs, even when the publisher clearly says “only MP3s” via email. If you do that, you’re only going to upset the publisher.

Keep Up With the Trends

With that being said, read directions carefully and do your homework — you don’t want to make enemies in the industry by making bad impressions! The trends in the industry are always changing, so be sure to read books, blog articles, and ask your friends how they listen to (or even buy) music; who are they going to see in concert, what are their favorite music videos?

Don’t be behind the times — be ahead!

3

3. Be Your Own Booking Agent

I’ve often found this very frustrating in the music industry: trying to get the booker or promoter’s attention. Oftentimes, you’ll hear no response, or they’ll have incredibly high demands (and want you to play at less-than-appealing venues). I challenge you to start booking your own gigs when you feel your music is ready to be performed in front of live audiences.

You Can Do It All

I started booking my own gigs first in Boston, then to the New York scene, which eventually lead to Europe! I’ve booked 100+ gigs entirely on my own, without the help of a booking agent. Of course, it takes a lot of time to do this research, along with negotiating contracts and figuring out logistics, such as backline equipment (like amplifiers) and transportation.

There’s no reason you can’t start booking your gigs right away. Focus your attention on one region, then figure out the venues in that market. Indie on the Move is a great resource for this sort of thing!

4

4. Keep Plugging Away

Rejection is a common theme in the music industry. You’ll often go to tons of auditions, submit your song, and hear “no,” more than you’ll hear “yes.” With thousands of musicians vying for their shot at fame and fortune, along with few opportunities out there, the competition is fierce.

Rejections Eventually Lead to Success

I encourage you to keep performing and submitting your music. I’ve felt extremely discouraged after going to 100 auditions, but then after the 101st audition, I would land the gig! Moreover, I would submit my music to publishers and record labels over and over, hearing no response, only to finally hear an answer a couple years later!

Don’t let rejection tear you down and stop you from doing what you love. Continue to work on your craft — practice, compose, and write like there’s no tomorrow. You can even create your own opportunities. For example, if you’re still having trouble getting signed, release an album independently! Or, be your own social media manager and promoter.

Remember to always stay positive and believe in yourself!

5

5. Pick the Right Songs

Whether you decide to write your own music or be in a cover band, the decision is up to you! Many bands become successful by writing new material, and other bands find their first success by creating new interpretations of original songs.

With YouTube, you can easily upload your songs, promoting them for people all over the world to explore and enjoy! But first, it’s best to decide if you’re going to be an artist that focuses on just making videos, or if you’re more interested in booking live shows. Allocate your resources accordingly.

How to Choose The Right Songs

When choosing your song material, you’ll want to make sure you’re completely comfortable performing these songs. You don’t have to sing an Adele song just because it’s popular and challenging, or write material if you stink at writing lyrics. Instead, find out what your strengths are and which songs showcase your voice or musical instrument the best!

It’s important to find your musical niche. To do this, I encourage you to listen and watch other bands perform in order to see what repertoire they have in their sets or albums. Don’t outright copy other bands or artists, but instead use them as a source of inspiration.

The End Goal is the Audience

Visualize your album or set in advance; the flow, the rhythm, and the melodic content is important to keep in mind. You don’t want to do a show that’s entirely made up of slow rock ballads — your audience will be asleep in no time! It’s vital that you keep them engaged, even if you’re singing about serious subject matter.

The end goal is really to grab and hold the audience’s attention the entire time you’re performing. The same goes for an album; make sure the songs you record transition nicely into each other. The last thing you want is for the listener to skip tracks!

Use Sheet Music to Choose Songs

If you’re still stuck on which songs to choose, you can always browse through sheet music. You can find sheet music for thousands of popular songs, namely by big-name publishers like Alfred and Hal Leonard. There are also a couple of dedicated sheet music websites. Check them out here:

If you’re looking for more than just sheet music, check out this all-encompassing resource guide for musicians:


Conclusion

I hope these tips help you on your way to a successful music career! Remember, you don’t need to be the hottest celebrity in L.A. to have a successful music career. Many musicians find their musical success right in their own backyard (or garage)!

If you ever need one-on-one advice for how to get into the music industry, schedule a meeting with a professional musician on TakeLessons today!

LizTPost Author: Liz T.
Liz T. teaches singing, acting, and music lessons online. She is a graduate of the Berklee College of Music with a B.M in Vocal performance and currently performs/teaches all styles of music including Musical Theater, Classical, Jazz, Rock, Pop, R&B, and Country. Learn more about Liz here!

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