French Grammar Passé Composé for Regular Verbs

French Grammar Rules: Passé Composé for Regular Verbs

French Grammar Passé Composé for Regular VerbsReady to try your hand at speaking about past events in French? Tutor Carol Beth L. shares the grammar you’ll need to know…

So perhaps you know now how to conjugate French verbs in the present tense. You can talk about things that are happening now. But what about what happened yesterday, last week, or last year?

The basic past tense in French, also known as the passé composé, is used to talk about events in the past. It is aptly named because it is composed (composé) of two parts: the auxiliary verb (le verbe auxiliaire), and the past participle (le participe passé).

1) The auxiliary verb is usually the verb “avoir” (to have) conjugated in the present tense:

J’ ai
Tu as
Il / elle / on a
Nous avons
Vous avez
Ils / Elles ont

The exception to this is reflexive verbs and verbs of motion, such as aller, venir, revenir, monter, descendre, etc. These verbs, in order, mean to go, to come, to come back, to go up or to enter, and to go down or exit. These verbs use the present tense of the verb être. (Learn the present tense conjugation of this verb, along with other irregular verbs) The past participle of verbs using the auxiliary verb être also vary depending on whether the subject is singular, plural, masculine, or feminine. For simplicity’s sake, we’ll stick to regular, non-reflexive verbs here, and avoid verbs of motion.

2) Like the present tense for most verbs, the past participle is formed in a regular fashion for regular verbs. For -er verbs, take off the -er ending and add é:

aimer (to like) → aimé
compter (to count) → compté

For -ir verbs, take off the -ir ending and add i:

finir (to finish) → fini
choisir (to choose) → choisi

For -re verbs, take off the -re ending and add u:

rendre (to give back) → rendu
perdre (to lose) → perdu

Put the two parts together and you have the complete past tense of the verb:

J’ai fini → I finished.
Il a perdu → He lost.
On a gagné → We won. (Note: This is a common chant for a winning team and its fans at sports events like soccer games. Note also: “on” literally translates to “one [person]” or “a person,” but is used here to imply “we.”)

Avid French students might notice that the sentences above literally translate to “I have finished,” “He has lost,” and “We have won” respectively. In English, this verbal form would be interpreted as present perfect tense, not past tense. The sentences above are translated into English as they are on the list above because the passé composé in French does not correspond to our present perfect tense. Its meaning corresponds most closely to our simple past tense. In fact, strictly speaking, there is no present perfect tense in French grammar; they are merely conjugated in a similar fashion.

Try putting together the past tense in the context of the following sentences by transforming the verb in parenthesis into the past tense. All verbs here conjugate in the past tense as regular -er, -ir, or -re verbs. Most will use the auxiliary verb avoir, but look out for verbs of motion or direction that might take the verb être. If in doubt, look at the list of motion verbs above.

1) Je (J’) ________________ (compter) jusqu’à cent. (I counted up to a hundred.)
2) Nous ________________ (perdre) nos devoirs. (We lost our homework.)
3) Ils ________________ (choisir) la feutre bleue. (They chose the blue marker.)
4) Vous ________________ (finir) vos devoirs. (You have finished your homework.)
5) Elle ________________ (nager) mille metres. (She swam a thousand meters.)
6) Tu ________________ (marcher) deux kilometres. (You walked two kilometers.)

So how do you think you did? Here are a the answers:

1) ai compté
2) avons perdu
3) ont choisi
4) avez fini
5) a nagé
6) as marché

Hope you did well! If not, keep practicing and checking yourself. If you did well, congratulations and keep practicing your French. You’ll be a natural in no time!

 For more help studying French grammar, try taking lessons with a private tutor. Tutors are available for lessons in person or online via Skype. Find your French tutor today!


Carol Beth L. teaches French lessons in San Francisco, CA. She has her Masters in French language education from the Sorbonne University in Paris and has been teaching since 2009. Learn more about Carol Beth here!




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Overlooked Parts of a Successful Vocal Performance

3 Often-Overlooked Parts of a Successful Vocal Performance

Overlooked Parts of a Successful Vocal PerformanceStage presence makes a huge difference in how your audience will respond to you. Take a look at these performance tips from NY music teacher Nadia B...


You’ve practiced, rehearsed, and it’s finally time to share your vocal arts with others. Sometimes, though, components of a successful performance can be overlooked after you’ve spent so much time mastering the music. Key elements of stage presence for singers include setting a unique musical intention, making use of physical space and gestures, and creating connection in the moments directly before and after you sing, all of which will guarantee that you create an unforgettable and enjoyable performance.

Establishing Your Musical Intention

What makes live performance enjoyable is the spontaneity created by the performer-audience connection. It can never be the same twice. You can take advantage of this fact by taking a moment before your performance, or in the rehearsals leading up to your performance, to set a unique musical intention. What is a desired feeling you want to convey in each piece, in this performance? You can take into account the audience makeup (is it children, friends and family, judges of a singing competition, or the general public?), and the personal significance of the music for you. Setting this intention will ensure that your performance is meaningful and spontaneous, since you are interacting with the aesthetic of the music in a current and engaged way.

Making Use of Physical Space

Another element that differentiates stage presence for singers from other musicians is that singers are in a unique position to make use of physical space, both within their own bodies and in the environment. For this reason, an important part of your performance as a singer is to consider the physical possibilities. Are there certain times that movement would emphasize the musical setting or mood? Also consider physical gestures as a way to underline the key musical characteristics of each piece. Sometimes simply becoming aware of the space around you is enough – even if you don’t incorporate movement or gestures, this awareness can allow you to fully expand into the space physically, energetically, and vocally.

Creating a Connection With Your Audience

Lastly, consider the first and last things you do in your singing performance: you greet and express your gratitude toward the audience for sharing your musical journey with you. These moments play a key part in creating a well-rounded performance. When you enter the stage, a sincere bow can establish an immediate connection with your listeners, and taking your time as you walk along the stage, bow, and prepare to begin singing can allow your audience to settle in and join your journey with ease. A rushed or nervous entrance can draw the attention away from the music and unsettle the audience.

At the end of the performance, a gracious bow allows the audience to fully savor and participate in your performance. They are thrilled that you have performed for them, and it is a sign of respect to acknowledge the pleasure and gratitude that they express with their applause. If you are unsure of how your stage presence is, try turning on an applause track on YouTube at home and working on entering and exiting the room. You can also watch performances of famous singers to see how they interact with the audience to get ideas.

Remember that your musical preparation and practice will help you have your best performance possible. Keeping in mind these other elements will only serve to showcase your hard work and skill, and developing a confident stage presence can make the difference between a good performance and an unforgettable performance, both for you and your listeners!

Don’t forget — a professional voice coach can also help you develop your tone and stage presence! Find a teacher near you here.

nadiaBNadia B. teaches flute and piano in New York, NY, as well as through online lessons. She acted as principal flutist of the orchestra and wind ensemble at California State University, Sacramento, and then went on to receive her degree in Music Performance from New York University. Learn more about Nadia here!



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Why you may feel tense when you sing and what to do about it

How Tension Affects Your Voice (And What to Do About It!)

Why you may feel tense when you sing and what to do about itAs a beginner singer, it’s important to understand how unnecessary tension affects your tone and your breath support. Here, NY teacher Nadia B. shares what to keep in mind and how to combat that tension…


Singing is, in many ways, a very natural activity. We all have a voice, and it is meant to be used to communicate in speech and in music. However, when one delves more into the art of singing through voice lessons, practice, and performance, tension sometimes creeps in. It can seem uncontrollable and the source unidentifiable. The reasons for tension are many, but with the following tips you should be able to better identify how to sing without tension and enjoy a singing practice that is full of expression and requires much less effort.

Understanding the Common Causes of Tension

To combat tension, the first step is to understand some of the common causes for tension while singing. The most common ones I encounter are a mix of psychological and physical. Trying to be right and using too much effort are two of the biggest factors in tension.

To identify whether these apply to you, notice as you’re singing if you’re always trying to “fix” something. Are you set on singing each passage perfectly, no matter what it takes? You might especially notice this in your singing lessons, when your teacher is observing you. While the intention is good, trying to sing something perfectly can lead to excess mental and physical tension. Using too much effort goes along with this idea. Although singing is a very natural activity, sometimes singers use too much effort in an attempt to sing loudly, more expressively, or faster.

So, What Can You Do?

Pay attention to your physical reaction and your thoughts as you approach a passage that calls for one of the above qualities. Do you notice an increase in tension, or of negative or panicky thoughts? If so, simply noticing these trends and taking steps to reduce your engagement with these unproductive methods can greatly reduce the amount of tension you’re using. Instead of placing your mental and physical energy in these methods, focus on staying open as you allow the expression to come up and out of you, connecting with the ground to sing louder, and using the breath as a means to propel a fast passage instead of muscular effort or unhelpful thoughts.

What Else Causes Tension?

Two additional mindsets that lead to excess tension are over-focusing and anxiousness. As you sing, are you overly focused on the voice and the vocal mechanism? While the vocal mechanism is undoubtedly important, singers can forget the rest of the body, which is an important part of resonance, power, and connection. If you are fixated on the vocal mechanism, try to bring your awareness to the whole torso, and then include the legs, arms, head, and feet as well.

Similarly, feeling anxious or nervous while performing can create tension. To work with nerves while practicing or before a performance, give yourself a few breaths to notice what areas of your body are responding to the feelings of nerves, and see if you can mentally connect those areas to the whole of you. For example, while your neck might feel tight and tense, remembering that it is part of your whole spine and supported by all the buoyant connections within the spine and the ribcage can help you release the tension.

Don’t Let Tension Take Over!

Whatever the cause of tension, it always has a physical manifestation that can be very uncomfortable and can interfere greatly with singing naturally and beautifully. As you become more in tune with how to sing without tension, use your awareness of your body to release tension in the following areas:

  • The root of the tongue (it should be soft, not tight and hard)
  • The jaw (release the muscles of the jaw to free the whole vocal mechanism, including the throat, the back of the neck, the head and mask and the tops of the shoulders)
  • The soft palette (allowing it to rise up, or releasing any depression in the soft palette, can create more room for resonance)
  • The throat (not tightening or constricting the throat allows the air to move easily)
  • The mask (releasing any deadening in the sinuses, contraction in the eyes and forehead, and allowing the nose to be wide can create much more space for the sound)
  • The intercostal muscles (in between the ribs; allowing these muscles to release allows the breath to move easily in and out without excess effort)
  • The diaphragm and the back (the diaphragm’s connection to the ribs and back makes it essential for ease in singing, and the back is a wide and long swath of musculature that you can allow to expand to create more flexibility and freedom in your singing)
  • The back line (think of this as a line that extends from your sacrum down through the buttocks and legs and into your heels; allowing it to lengthen into the ground ensures that you are not over-contracting the buttocks, legs, and ankles)

With these tips, you can easily discover how to sing without tension! And in the process, you may also find even greater delight and enjoyment in exploring the craft of singing. Use these tips as a jumping off point for your own exploration of how your whole self — body, mind, and soul — acts as an open vessel for expressing everything a rich, meaningful voice has to offer.

nadiaBNadia B. teaches flute and piano in New York, NY, as well as through online lessons. She acted as principal flutist of the orchestra and wind ensemble at California State University, Sacramento, and then went on to receive her degree in Music Performance from New York University. Learn more about Nadia here!



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3 Exercises to Free Your Singing Voice

3 Exercises to Free Your Singing Voice

3 Exercises to Free Your Singing VoiceWant to learn how to sing better? You may have heard that controlling your breathing and your body can make a big difference. Here, NY teacher Nadia B. shares three exercises to try…


While you probably already have a familiar and effective warm-up for singing, the following exercises are helpful to expand your warm-up to continue throughout practice. Some of them can be incorporated into your singing practice time to make it more effective, and others can be a good way to focus on breath support, sustaining long notes, release of tension, and opening the vocal mechanism. All of them will help you learn how to sing better, expanding your understanding of and abilities in the components of singing technique, breathing, expression, and physical awareness.

Exercise 1: Focus on Breathing

The first exercise can be incorporated right before singing a phrase in practice, as a way to free the ribs and ensure that you are using your air well. As you reach the exhale, let the air flow in without sucking or gasping it in. Then, on the next exhale, make an ‘s’ sound or ‘f’ sound. These both place a demand on your breathing through resistance, and you can use up the air available to you making these sounds. As you make the sound, check if you are tightening unnecessarily in any part of the body.

This exercise can show you how to sustain a long note without running out of air or losing breath support, both of which lead to deterioration of the sound. Practicing these sounds is also a way to ‘reset’ the breathing mechanism, letting go of any extra tension you might have been holding on to and allowing for an easy, coordinated breath. You can also pause in between phrases to do one of these sounds and then pick up at the next phrase.

Exercise 2: Try Humming

Humming is another excellent way to warm up the vocal mechanism and release excess tension. As you finish an exhale, let the inhale occur naturally with the ribs springing open and the diaphragm dropping to make room for the air. On the next exhale, start to hum at a comfortable volume and pitch. See if you can feel the vibration all the way through the body, and allow the sound and sensation of humming to travel to any areas that feel tight or constricted. Notice especially that the humming can inhabit your whole head, freeing the mask and the soft palette.

You can also experiment with turning the hum into a vowel sound mid-exhale, continuing to allow the sound to be alive and free. Humming can be used at any point in your practice time, but it’s especially helpful to awaken the body and senses at the beginning of the day or practice session.

Exercise 3: Count While You Sing

Counting is an exercise that takes you away from singing, but allows you to return to it with newfound information and ease. Much like instrumentalists work on their craft away from their instruments to remove the habitual stimulus of playing their instrument, using regular speech is a way to explore what habits you might be unconsciously using while singing.

An interesting theme to explore with counting is which direction you are going in, body-wise, as you count. Count in sequences of 10 (1-2-3-4-5-6-7-8-9-10 1-2-3-etc.), repeating the sequence as many times within each breath as is possible. Don’t push the breath and sound to the point that you are squeezing or collapsing. As you count on the exhale, notice whether you are going up or down. Is your spine sinking as you count? What about your chest? Or are you puffing yourself up as you count in an attempt to not sink down? The ideal is to allow the counting, or use of your voice, to send you upwards, without you making an effort for it to happen. As you count, send a thought of release to your spine so it can be springy and buoyant as it is meant to be. You may even notice a positive change in the quality and resonance of your voice as you allow this to happen.


These three exercises are wonderful ways to learn how to sing better, with a strong and flexible breath support, a coordinated body system, and ease and poise. Try them everyday to see incremental and significant progress in your singing! You can also work on them with your voice teacher, as an informed observer can offer invaluable and accurate feedback.

nadiaBNadia B. teaches flute and piano in New York, NY, as well as through online lessons. She acted as principal flutist of the orchestra and wind ensemble at California State University, Sacramento, and then went on to receive her degree in Music Performance from New York University. Learn more about Nadia here!



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Tips for Auditioning for Summer Stock Theatre

4 Must-Read Summer Stock Theatre Audition Tips for Singers

Tips for Auditioning for Summer Stock TheatreThinking of auditioning for summer stock theatre in your area? Here, voice and acting teacher Liz T. shares her tips for audition success…


Summer stock theatre is a tradition that started in the 1920s, in which talented actors, singers, and dancers from the big city would perform and work on their craft for an entire summer at a local theater, very common in New England and the Midwest. Today, summer stock is still alive and thriving, and is one of the most rewarding experiences as a performer. I encourage you all to pursue summer stock auditions! Here are some tips to help you have a successful summer stock audition.

1. Research theaters

So you’re interested in performing musical theater all summer long? Terrific! The first thing you should do is research summer stock opportunities all across the country, and what shows each theater will be producing in their season. Some may do one show for 12 weeks, and others may do six different shows in 12 weeks. Every theater is different.

Remember to audition for shows and roles that are appropriate for your vocal style, age, and so on. Keep a journal of all the shows that theaters are producing this summer — that way when you go to an audition, you’ll have already done your homework and will be familiar with their season. Perhaps a theater is doing your favorite musical of all time, “West Side Story”, and you want to audition for Maria — watch the movie, read the script, and study the music beforehand, so that if you receive a callback, you are already ahead of the game!

2. Prepare for your audition

Now that you’ve made a list of the summer stock theatre opportunities you want to audition for, I suggest killing two birds with one stone! Traveling across the country to auditions can be very expensive and time-consuming. You may be able to find open call auditions in Boston, NYC, and Chicago where you can audition in a room full of 25 different summer stock casting directors at once. Many college students first start auditioning at StrawHat in NYC, NETC in Boston, MWTA in St. Louis, and UPTA in Memphis. These are great starting grounds to get your feet wet in auditioning. I suggest researching these auditions as far as a year in advance to plan for them — so start now for 2016! You will have to submit an application and a small fee for an audition spot, and these spots fill up quickly!

3. Audition, audition, audition

Now that you have your audition lined up, it’s time to bring your “A Game” and practice, practice, practice. Not only will you have to be a strong singer, but you also need to be a strong actor and dancer. So if you are lacking in one of these areas, I suggest brushing up with some acting, dance, or voice lessons before the big day. Your audition will be very quick, and you will be competing with as many as 10,000 union and non-union actors for a limited number of roles for the summer. At these big cattle calls, you will be given 90 seconds to sing your best 16-32 bars, and do a short monologue.

When picking your audition material, pick something you are comfortable with, and that you can do in your sleep (in case the nerves get the best of you!). This is not the place to try something risky. I suggest showing off your strengths, whether you are a belter, or can sing four octaves. Try not to sing a song that’s overdone; remember the directors will be tired after hearing so many people each day, so do something that’s a breath of fresh air!

Once you’ve nailed your 90-second audition, don’t go anywhere, because usually within the next hour the theater will post a long list of callbacks, which could be held that night after the dance call. The dance call can be a bit intimidating as well, but don’t stress, just do your best, and always smile!

4. Once you’ve landed the role

If you made it through your research, audition, callbacks, and have landed a role in summer stock, congratulations! Getting a role in summer stock is no easy task; many great singers audition, but it all comes down to who is right for which part. If you’re offered a role, I suggest you do some more research and ask questions like “Are housing or meals provided for singers?”, “Is there a weekly pay or just EMC Points?”, “Will I have to pay for travel?”, “How many shows a day?”, and “Will I have days off?” If you ever suspect something is not right in a contract, don’t take it, stick with your gut, and always try to contact a former singer who has worked with the theater/company before.

Finally, if you accept the role, you’ll probably have some time to prepare, so I suggest really working on your character before rehearsals begin. Summer stock rehearsals are very intense, usually six days a week, so it’s also very important that you stay healthy, including eating right and getting enough sleep.

Now go out there, do your research, audition, and land that role you want!

LizTLiz T. teaches singing, acting, and music lessons in Brooklyn, NY, as well as 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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Tips for Writing Lyrics to Your First Song

Songwriting Tips: How to Write Lyrics To Your First Song

Tips for Writing Lyrics to Your First SongAre  you learning to play guitar because you want to be able to write your own songs? Guitar teacher Samuel B. shares some tips to help you write lyrics to your first song…

Just as writing a song on guitar can seem like work for only a select few, so can writing the words to one. Once again, this assumption and the truth are completely unrelated. You don’t need to be Bob Dylan or Bernie Taupin to do it – you only need to have something to say.

I first began writing lyrics as teenager. My summer camp bunkmate frequently played me homemade recordings of his two-person band. He was likely the first person who introduced me to the idea that a song’s lyrics don’t have to make imminent and immediate sense – they need only come from inside you. Themes in his material ranged from Star Trek-esque imagery of ice skating on the surface of the moon to a song about someone’s bearskin rug. “I write my songs and then interpret them later,” he said.

With this in mind, I began doing the same. By the time I was in college, I’d become familiar enough with the process that I was finally able to add humor into it and create what effectively became a tribute to the famous children’s book Cloudy With A Chance of Meatballs about raining food:

I sat and stared at my linguine on my plate.
Its origin could be a matter of debate.
It looks like weather here.
Weather I hold dear.
Weather that does not show up here everyday.

Here’s where a thread to soloing is apparent – in writing lyrics it’s more important to feel than it is to think. Writing words and playing improvised notes are actually two different versions of the same thing – they’re intimate forms of expression clouded only by your internal resistance to playing (or writing) what you hear in your head. During a recent lesson about soloing, I told my student that the notes are already waiting there for you – you need only play them. The same applies to your lyrics.

If you find yourself perpetually wanting to write a song on guitar but aren’t sure how to begin writing lyrics, I strongly suggest writing blues stanzas. The blues follows a frequently predictable pattern (based on a call-and-response tradition) in which a line is presented, repeated, and followed with a relevant second line:

I hate to see evening sun go down.
I hate to see evening sun go down.
‘Cause it makes me think I’m on my last go-round.

I’m ready – ready as anybody can be.
I’m ready – ready as anybody can be.
I’m ready for you. I hope you’re ready for me.

The girl I’m loving she’s got great long curly hair.
The girl I’m loving she’s got great long curly hair.
And her mama and her papa well, they sure don’t allow me there.

You might try improvising stanzas while playing a twelve-bar chord progression (E-E-E-E-A-A-E-E-B7th-A-E-E/B7th) and seeing where that takes you. Making up spontaneous blues songs may prove an enjoyable (and often funny) first step for you as a songwriter that will begin to teach you to allow your imagery to flourish without red tape. Think of it as an advanced form of Mad Libs.

Finally, don’t worry about writing too many or too few songs. Arlo Guthrie has used a fishing metaphor to describe the process of “catching” a good one. Bruce Springsteen has traditionally written roughly seventy songs per album and picked out only the ten or twelve that aesthetically fit together best. Some of your songs will be better than others. Don’t let this discourage you at all. The good ones will always find you, more often than the reverse.

SamuelBSamuel B. teaches beginner guitar lessons in Austin, TX. He teaches lessons face-to-face without sheet music, which is his adaptation of Japanese instruction (involving a call-and-response method). Learn more about Samuel here!



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Learn Bass Guitar How to Play a Walking Bass Line

Learn Bass Guitar: How to Play a Walking Bass Line in 3 Steps

Learn Bass Guitar How to Play a Walking Bass LineLooking for a way to make your bass lines move? Bass guitar teacher Miller W. shares his three step plan to creating walking bass lines…

The walking bass line is one of the most fundamental parts of American music. It is found most commonly in blues and jazz, but as you learn bass guitar, you will hear its influence in almost any style of music. A walking bass line provides a strong rhythmic and harmonic foundation by smoothly moving from each chord to the next using four quarter notes per bar, or three quarter notes per bar in 3/4 time.

Many bass players have based their entire careers on their creative and innovative walking lines. Upright bass players like Jimmy Blanton, Ray Brown, Ron Carter, and Paul Chambers were some of the first musicians to make the walking bass line an art form all its own, and that tradition is so widespread that some of the best electric bass players like Victor Wooten, Jaco Pastorius, Christian McBride, and John Pattituci cite those walking lines as major influences in their musical development.

Playing a walking bass line is fun and easy if you follow these three simple steps:

1. Learn the Chord Changes

Familiarize yourself with the chord changes and when they occur in a song. Play through the changes a few times using only the root note of each chord (e.g. a Bb for a Bb7 chord).

2. Add Arpeggios

Now that you’re familiar with the chord changes, play through them again, but this time arpeggiate each chord (e.g. play Bb – D – F – Ab for a Bb7 chord). The most enjoyable and creative part of playing walking bass lines is finding new and interesting ways to outline each chord, so make sure you practice as many variations of arpeggiating the chord as possible.

3. Add Passing Tones

One of the most important and essential features of a walking bass line is that every chord, or at least the vast majority, is approached by a half-step above or below. This means that if the chord changes move from Bb to F, on the last quarter note before the F, you would play either an E or an F#. This is particularly important in jazz due to the very chromatic nature of the music. In more advanced walking lines, you can employ a similar technique within the chord by putting one or two “chromatic passing tones” between the notes of the chord (e.g. Bb – D – Ab – A – Bb for a Bb7 chord).

One of the most common places to find walking bass lines is in blues music. Walking bass is so instrinsic to the blues that you would be hard pressed to find a better example. Here is a sample bass tab over a Bb 12-Bar Blues:

Walking Bass Line Tab and Music

Notice that in Bar 2 the line moves Ab – A – Bb instead of fully outlining the Eb7. This is a common substitution used to make the line flow more smoothly. Similarly, notice that in Bar 6, the note immediately preceding the Bb in bar 7 is a G, which does not follow the rule of approaching the new chord by half-step. This is done so often that it would almost sound wrong if the line did follow the half-step rule. The beauty of walking bass lines is that there are exceptions to every rule, and those exceptions are what allow you to be creative and make the lines your own.

Now you have all the tools you need for creating your own walking bass lines. Good luck and have fun!

Learn more guitar and bass guitar techniques by taking lessons with a private instructor. Search for a guitar teacher today! 

NuerMiller W. teaches acoustic guitar, bass guitar, music theory and upright bass in Orange, CA. He received his Bachelor of Arts in Music at Santa Barbara and has been teaching students since 2008. Learn more about Miller W. here!




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Mexico- 5 Perfect Travel Destinations for Beginner Spanish Speakers

5 Perfect Travel Destinations for Beginner Spanish Speakers

Traveling to a Spanish-speaking country can be intimidating for a beginning Spanish speaker. Here, language tutor Jackie A. shares her recommendations for beginner-friendly travel destinations…


So you’ve finished your first couple of Spanish lessons and you’re ready to practice your new skills. Traveling and experiencing a new culture is a great way to learn Spanish for beginners. Here are five travel destinations that are perfect for beginning Spanish speakers.

1. Costa Rica

If you feel nervous about your Spanish, you can rest assured, the “Ticos” will embrace you and teach you how to live la Pura Vida! In Costa Rica, you can explore the Caribbean, the rain forest, and the Pacific. Although the country has its own currency (the Colon), many stores advertise with USD.

Costa Rica- 5 Perfect Travel Destinations for Beginner Spanish Speakers

Photo by Jane Boles

2. Panama

This country has become an expat haven with many settling in the capital, Panama city. It’s the only country where you can see the sun rise on the Pacific and set on the Atlantic. The official currency is Balboa, but you can find a lot in USD as well. Bonus for you introverts, it’s not overpopulated, so you can truly get away from the hustle and bustle.

3. Dominican Republic

This beautiful country on the island of Hispaniola is a popular tourist destination. You’ll be able to find plenty of English speakers, but you’ll still have a great opportunity to practice your Spanish. Should you get stuck, the locals can switch languages for you. The Dominican Republic has an interesting history, and lively culture filled with food, music, and dancing.

4. Mexico

Visit our friendly neighbors to the south to explore the country and practice your new language skills. Tourism is a big industry, so you’ll find lots of English speakers. There’s so much to do in Mexico; you can explore the beaches, rain forest, cities, and ruins. There’s not a beginner Spanish speaker that can’t find something they’d like to do here.

Mexico- 5 Perfect Travel Destinations for Beginner Spanish Speakers

Photo by ruimc77

Y finalmente… (and finally)

5. Puerto Rico

Passports are optional for this Caribbean island that’s filled with friendly Spanish speakers to help you with your new language. Many Puerto Ricans learn English in school, so the locals may be able to help you if you get stuck. Enjoy the culture, food, dance, music, art, and breathtaking views.

Puerto Rico- 5 Perfect Travel Destinations for Beginner Spanish Speakers

Photo by Giuseppe Milo

No matter where you are in your Spanish learning journey, there are so many wonderful places that you can visit and practice your skills. While traveling can be a great way to learn Spanish for beginners, you can also look for cultural events in your area that may lead you to a new Spanish-speaking amigo/a or two.

Want to work on your Spanish-speaking skills without leaving home? Find a Spanish language tutor in your area!

Jackie A

Jackie A. is an acting, English, French, and Spanish instructor in Essington, PA. She taught English as she studied abroad in Geneva, Switzerland and is an active member of her local improv troupe. Learn more about Jackie here!



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Why Pentatonic Scales Are Essential for All Guitarists

Why Pentatonic Scales Are Essential for All Guitarists

Why Pentatonic Scales Are Essential for All Guitarists Want to learn scales on guitar but not sure where to start? Guitar teacher Joey I. explains why pentatonic is the way to go…

The title of this article says it all: Why pentaonic scales are essential for guitarists. Learning these scales is an absolute necessity.

Now is it really necessary to know pentatonic scales to be able to play the guitar? No! A lot of guitarists go their whole career learning riffs, songs, and making up licks based off of the knowledge that they have while enjoying every minute of it. However, a lot of these guitarists know in the back of their mind that they should learn their scales.

If you have been a guitarist for a little while, you have probably heard about it from other guitarists, musicians, teachers, and Internet articles that you should know your scales. And most guitarists have the desire to learn scales, but become overwhelmed because of how many scales there are to learn, and let’s be frank: there are a lot to learn and when you learn them, they are not easy to immediately apply to your playing.

Well, I’m here to tell you that the pentatonic scale is the easiest and most useful scale to learn. The pentatonic scale can be used in almost every single song. Even if the song you are playing to uses a scale other than the pentatonic, you can play pentatonic over it and it will sound amazing. The pentatonic scale gets more miles per gallon than any other scale, and the fuel is recyclable. You can just keep using it and using it, and it never gets old. It is truly the bread and butter of guitar soloing, and song writing. Most songs that you love that sound “complicated” are actually using pentatonic guitar scales.

G Major Pentatonic Guitar Scale 5 Positions

Let’s look at what makes the pentatonic scale so easy:

  • To start, the pentatonic scale has fewer notes than other scales.  The word pentatonic literally translates to 5 tones. Pent, meaning five. And tonic, meaning tone.
  • “Our brains are inherently wired to know the pentatonic scale,” says famous musician Bobby McFerrin.  Check out this Ted Talk video where Bobby uses the audience to show how we all naturally know the pentatonic scale:
  • Finally, you can play this scale over virtually every song, so this makes practicing a lot easier.

Now let’s look at the benefits of learning the pentatonic guitar scales:

  • Learning the scale shapes allows you to improvise over virtually any song or backing track. Once you unlock this ability, practicing becomes easier and far more enjoyable. Just put on a track and play.
  • The pentatonic scale is the foundation for almost every other scale there is. Learning this foundation will set you up to easily play the other scales. Especially the blues scale, natural minor scale, harmonic minor scale, and the melodic minor scale.
  • It will increase your confidence in playing dramatically. No more feelings of being overwhelmed by scales or the guitar. Your skill level will increase two fold because of this.
  • Finally, it will allow you to seamlessly improvise with other musicians in a real live setting. Your friends will be thoroughly impressed and your confidence will soar.

Lastly, a few tips when practicing this scale:

  • Practice slowly.
  • Make sure each note rings out and sounds good.

Once you have become comfortable with this, try applying it by improvising over a backing track or your favorite song. Change the speed and rhythm, but most importantly, HAVE FUN!

joey i

Joey I. teaches guitar, bass guitar, and drum lessons in Aurora, CO. He studied music production and recording arts at Berklee School of Music and he has been teaching music lessons for seven years. Learn more about Joey!



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how to sing well without lessons

Is It Possible to Sing Well Without Taking Lessons?

how to sing well without lessonsIf you’re wondering how to sing well without lessons, you’ll want to check out this guest post. Here, Washington, DC voice teacher Jacqueline E. shares her thoughts…


Is it possible to sing well without taking voice lessons?

In a nutshell, my answer to this is a firm “no.”

So, what does it look like for someone who genuinely wants to learn how to sing well, but can’t take lessons, for whatever reason, and just commits to self-teaching through various methods? The different opportunities to learn how to sing well, then, are observing famous singers of the preferred genre on YouTube or in concerts, listening to recordings, and reading books/articles on vocal pedagogy.

While all of these can be great tools, I’d like to address the problems associated with self-teaching in singing.

Understanding Your Voice

First, when a student watches a good singer, there are so many things about that singer’s body to observe: the jaw, mouth, lips, cheeks, neck/throat, chest, shoulders, abdominal area, etc. But the voice is not an instrument that you can see. The vocal cords and the other parts of the internal vocal mechanism demand an experienced, knowledgeable teacher who can give you immediate feedback based on what he or she hears about the sound you produce in relation to what physical sensations you experience when you sing.

Developing Your Unique Sound

If you learn how to sing by imitating what you hear, no matter how good your ears are, you will most likely end up sounding like the singers you listen to — not yourself. Furthermore, because of the structure of our skeletons and heads, we cannot hear ourselves the way others hear us, which is again another reason to have another set of ears assess your singing. A good voice teacher will bring out YOUR authentic voice, which is beautifully unrepeatable.

Correcting Bad Vocal Habits

Books on vocal pedagogy can certainly be helpful if you want to go in depth about the vocal mechanism. Listening to good singers is a great habit to get in to. But then, how will you know if you are picking up the correct vocal habits? What if you ingrain bad vocal habits over a long period of time? If you have never had lessons at all, you cannot know by yourself if something you watch or hear a singer do is going to be the right way to sing for YOU or if the way that “famous singer” is singing is actually the healthiest way to sing. (One should not equate “fame” with “sings in the healthiest way.”)

Developing Correct Vocal Habits

By all means, I do support the use of YouTube and vocal pedagogy books to help you discover the truth on what healthy singing is (and by contrast, what unhealthy singing is), but ultimately, it cannot be the only route you take. If you gather and synthesize all of this information by yourself, you will direct yourself toward developing bad habits because a live person did not give you feedback. Neither a book nor the Internet can teach you how to identify certain physical sensations while singing (because singing is more about feeling and less about listening), how to develop strong, healthy technical habits, and how to help you get rid of bad ones. A good teacher can.

When you do find a good teacher, my advice is to make sure that person is an accomplished singer who knows not only how to sing, but also how to teach about the vocal mechanism. Being accomplished means having had a lot of professional performing experience (not paying to perform) and if that teacher is old enough, even having students who have had a lot of success. Knowing how to teach means showing you they have a deep understanding of how the vocal mechanism works and can give you a clear cognitive and physical understanding of your instrument.

Vocal technique is inherited from a teacher and develops over long-term study. In short, if you’re wondering how to sing well without lessons, consider this advice. If you truly want to be a good singer with healthy habits, I highly recommend working with a singing teacher — and not just any teacher, but one with good ears and who meets your individual needs!

Jacqueline E Jacqueline E. teaches singing, music performance, and music theory in Washington, DC. She is a classically trained lyric-coloratura soprano, currently working on her Bachelor of Music degree in General-Choral Music Education from The Catholic University of America in Washington, DC in May 2015. Learn more about Jacqueline here!



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