What Great Writers Can Learn From Children’s Books


Most experts agree: when you’re learning how to write, reading as much as possible should be part of your daily life. And that means reading everything! Here, New Milford, NJ teacher Matthew H. explains what you can even learn from your favorite childhood books…


Children’s books are normally our first introduction to reading and writing. As kids, we listen to our parents, teachers, and other caregivers read aloud to us. Eventually, we read basic sentences on our own until we are capable of handling more difficult chapters and so on. But do not brush off children’s books as only suitable for children; even adults can learn how to write by reviewing children’s literature.

Regardless if your goals are academic or creative, adult- or child-oriented, children’s books contain useful tools that can help anyone when learning how to write better. This is due to the fact that children’s literature runs the gamut of more elementary pictorials to chapter books and covers all sorts of genres, as well. As such, a beginning writer can improve his or her structure as well as creative side from children’s books.

Improving Structure

See Spot Run is a common first read for children. While to adults (and even to more advanced children) the repetitive sentences may seem choppy and dull, they contain an essential truth in writing: not every sentence has to be particularly long. This example may be extreme, but good writing should have varied sentence structure, with occasional short sentences to break up longer passages. As boring as reading 20 short sentences in row can be, reading 20 long ones in a row is just as tedious.

Also, if you are able to express an idea with as few words as possible, chances are your audience will have an easier time understanding the principle. On the other end of the spectrum, if you start by writing a more challenging concept (whether fiction or otherwise) in short and simple sentences, you can always elaborate on the idea with more detail once you as the writer have a more concrete understanding of what point you are trying to get across. For example, “Linguistics is the scientific study of language” can become “Linguistics is the scientific study of language, with many subdisciplines concerning language production and use in different contexts.”

Improving Content

Children’s books are often considered to be fluff, but a closer examination of the big names in children’s literature would suggest otherwise: Roald Dahl, Louis Sachar, Judy Blume, J.K. Rowling, etc. Each of these authors is a master at creating their own universes with unique writing styles that can be fantastical, humorous, poignant, suggestive, and so on. The great thing about most children’s authors is that there are no real boundaries in what they choose to discuss. As a result, we can apply the same principle as we’re learning how to write in different styles, being fearless in choosing a topic to write about and committing to it wholeheartedly.

A good writing exercise is to read a children’s book and look for different ways the author expresses different concepts. How does he or she elicit certain emotions? If the theme of the story is more moralistic, how does the author get the reader to learn the lesson without coming across as too preachy? Take notes and consider what you could do differently.

Looking at children’s books, we can come to terms with unique writing styles, whether highly descriptive or more direct in structure. We can learn from them and apply that to whatever writing we have in front of us. So don’t be shy, pick up a children’s book today and you might be surprised at what you can learn about writing!

MatthewHMatthew H. teaches a variety of subjects both online and in New Milford, NJ. He recently received his MA from NYU with a background in Sociolinguistics and related research. Learn more about Matthew here! 



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The Actor’s Life for Me: How to Make a Living (and a Life!) as an Actor


What do you need to succeed in the arts? Is it possible to make a living with an actor/actress salary? Learn the ins and outs of the on-screen or on-stage life in this guest post by Saint Paul, MN acting teacher Emily B...


While you may not have chosen a traditional career path, pursuing the life of an actor does not mean you must be flung out into the abyss without a safety net, prepared only to fly or fall. There are many ways to build a life worth living as an actor. In my experience, these are a few of them.

Know what you want.

This may seem like an obvious first step when choosing a career path, but its importance cannot be underestimated. Be realistic about your desires without losing the passion and enthusiasm you have for your craft. Consider the city you live in. Would you be happy staying there, working locally? If your desire is to act in television, film, or larger theatres, your geographical options may be confined to areas better suited to those goals. Labor unions like the Screen Actors Guild-American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (SAG-AFTRA) and Actors Equity Association (AEA) are more active in certain parts of the country. They provide benefits and establish a standard actor and actress salary based on the type of project. No matter where you end up, remember everyone is different and despite the many opinions you may hear, there is no “right way” to start a career as an actor.

Create your own work.

Not only is creating your own work essential to your artistic development, with potential to grow your visibility and connections in the field, it can be incredibly fulfilling! As an actor, if you wait for opportunities to present themselves without putting forth any effort, you will be waiting for a very long time. Find out how to enter local fringe festivals or write a play and cast actors you want to work with for a workshop production.

I can personally attest to the value of creating your own work. I spent the summer after I left drama school adapting Richard Boleslavsky’s 1933 novel Acting: The First Six Lessons with my father. We developed it into a two-person play that we performed for free in workshop-form at a library, a community center, and finally as a full production at Theatre West in Los Angeles. Representatives from Samuel French saw the play and it was published in 2011. An effort that began as a purely creative endeavor became something I now continue to benefit from (personally, creatively, and financially) years later.

Make a financial plan.

If one thing is certain about an actress salary, it is that it’s never certain. While not exactly glamorous, a financial plan is necessary to navigate the feast and famine of an actor’s life and to avoid burning out when work is slow. This will not look the same for everyone. Some people work full-time jobs to save up money and then take six months to a year off to focus on auditions, while others may find temporary work that they are able to leave easily when they are cast.

In my own experience, a balance between these two is ideal. I currently work part-time for a nonprofit arts organization and teach private acting classes. This allows me to remain financially stable and still have time to audition and work as an actor in film, theatre, commercials, and television.

Important: Remember that a “financial plan” is not the same as a “backup plan.” In my opinion, the phrase “backup plan” was created to undermine the professionalism and dedication of those who work in the arts. While a small percentage of actors are able to work without the support of a second income, it is common (and encouraged!) to make your finances work with your chosen career path. Find what works best for you.

Use the resources available to you.

Did you know you can write off travel for auditions, acting classes, headshots, and mailing supplies on your taxes? Many cities have nonprofit organizations that offer financial and legal advice to artists at little to no cost. If you belong to SAG-AFTRA or AEA, there are programs that can help you with everything from housing to retirement planning and access to health clinics.

Be kind to yourself.

If being an actor were easy, more people would do it. You have chosen this path, so own that choice. Remember not to get down on yourself if you go a while without booking something good. Create your own opportunities to fill the spaces between new projects. Find a theatre company or group of actor friends to develop your ideas and practice your skills. Keep training. Cultivate a supportive network of friends, family, and fellow actors to navigate the ups and downs.

While your chosen path is often competitive and unpredictable, it can also be deeply rewarding. Remember that your options are not limited to anyone else’s idea of what an acting career should look like. Give yourself time, space, practice, and patience. The best goal is not to simply make a living, but to make a life!

EmilyBEmily B. teaches acting in Saint Paul, MN. She received her Bachelor of Arts in Theatre Performance from Fordham University, and her Masters in Arts and Cultural Leadership from the University of Minnesota. Learn more about Emily here!



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Ctrl, Alt, Delete Your Anger | 5 Anger Management Techniques


Are daily frustrations getting the best of you? Take a look at these 5 helpful anger management techniques from Odenton, MD Life Coach Vance L...


Having a bad day, week, or month? Things not working out the way you planned? It happens to the best of us. But the best of us make adjustments, and do not unleash our anger. Lets talk about Ctrl, Alt Deleting your anger.

Anger is not inherently bad. It is what we do with that anger that determines our future. I remember reading a study many years ago about anger. The basic point was that anger is a secondary emotion. Anger is preceded by frustration. What’s interesting about this is that the study said on average we have 20 frustrations a day. If that is true, why do some people lash out and others deal well with frustration?

When we get angry we expect a certain outcome. But expectations are future frustrations. In other words, are you operating with needs vs. wants thinking? How many frustrations could be avoided if we took the time to look at needs vs. wants?

Let’s say, for example, you got passed up for a promotion at work. Your current position allows you to make ends meet, plus a few luxuries from time to time. So the promotion is a “want” and not a need. Getting angry over it could in the long term damage your current job. You may become less sociable at work if you’re holding onto anger, and soon thereafter you subconsciously don’t work to your full potential. Next thing you know your work performance has been noted and you’re not considered for the next promotion. We use anger to punish people, but the person that carries the anger is the one who gets punished.

Instead, we must learn to use our anger for a constructive outlet. We are the gatekeepers to our happiness. Anger keeps that gate closed.

So what are the best self-care measures or anger management techniques to use? I like to think of them as more of personal growth or healthy lifestyle acts. I embrace more of a holistic approach, as follows:

  1. Start with your diet. If you are someone who is angry all the time, I would suggest looking at your sugar and caffeine consumption. Then work on cutting that down. Why? Because they stimulate your heart, respiratory, and central nervous system. It’s not often we’re angry when we’re calm. But when our heart is pumping and our mind is racing, we’ve now set the table for anger.
  2. Make sure you’re getting adequate exercise. Knowing that stress can lead to frustration, and frustration can lead to anger, movement can counter that. Exercise can relieve stress. Lower stress levels in turn help control anger.
  3. Go to sleep. This is a no-brainer. When we have little to no sleep we tend to lose good judgement and become too sensitive. A good 7-8 hours is recommended, but it’s more about the quality and not the quaintly of sleep.
  4. Remove unrealistic expectations. There is nothing wrong with having a wish list or goals. Just be realistic about them. Using the earlier example of being turned down for a job promotion, your expectation is that you want more money. But what is the realistic expectation? Do you have the action items to help achieve that goal? Anger is the result of no action. You didn’t get the promotion, but what action are you taking to ensure you’re in line for the next one?
  5. Finally, a good tool for anger management is journaling. It’s a controlled response to stress, anxiety, and anger. It’s like doing a mental house cleaning. The other benefit is that you can go back and see what may have worked or what didn’t work as you were dealing with your anger. Putting pen to paper is very therapeutic.

When you’re dealing with anger, it would be nice to just Ctrl, Alt, Delete. Unfortunately, that is not possible. It’s more like defragging. By engaging in the anger management techniques listed above, you will create more space within your life. And by doing so, you will find that anger may no longer get the better of you.

VanceVance L. has been an educator, consultant, and Life Coach for 30 years. He currently sees clients and teaches on various subjects ranging from health and relationships to spirituality. Vance holds degrees in counseling and divinity and has worked on both local and national platforms. Book lessons with Vance here!



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makeup tips

Makeup Artist Tips for a Pristine, Luminous Complexion

Want to have a clear, luminous complexion? Learn the tricks of the trade with these makeup artist tips from NYC-based Rudy M...


As a makeup artist, having the technical ability to create a balance, even complexion is a must. Skin is the “foundation” fundamental for every makeup look that is created. Here are some easy tips to practice and perfect so that you can master beautiful skin every time.

1. Preparation

Preparation2Remember that beautiful makeup begins with beautiful skin; makeup is an accessory that enhances whatever is underneath it. Proper home maintenance skincare is essential, but we don’t always know if our client is taking proper care of their skin. For this reason, we must prepare the skin to guarantee an even, smooth application.

- Always begin with clean skin. Remove any eye makeup first with eye makeup remover. Remove all product from the upper lid, then the lower lash line. Be gentle in the delicate eye area.
- Though makeup wipes are effective, choose aroma free when possible. One of the main sensitivities that you will encounter is to highly perfumed or fragranced products. A gentle face cleanser can also be used and removed using a face wipe dampened with water.

- Toner is often omitted from skincare regimens, but is an essential step.Choose an alcohol-free toner to rehydrate and balance the freshly cleansed skin. Keep in mind that cleansing strips away not only dirt and debris but also essential natural oils.
- Apply eye creme high onto the cheekbones (orbital bone). Eye cremes are formulated specifically for the thin, delicate under-eye area whereas facial moisturizers are formulated for the rest of the face.
- Hydrate the skin. You will need both a lightweight, possibly oil-free moisturizer for oily to combination skin type and a more emollient moisturizer for normal to dry skin. SPF 15 or above is still recommended, even though many of the foundation products on the market today provide SPF protection as well. Keep in mind that SPF moisturizers may need five minutes to fully absorb into the skin before foundation application.

2. Foundation


Makeup should be customized for each face you work on; no one has the same eye shape, skin type/tone, or lifestyle. For that reason, choose the foundation that is best for the needs of the skin you are working on.
The market is booming today with every option of coverage, treatment, and finish. To simplify your options, think of these two things:

- Coverage: how much the product camouflages imperfections. If the skin is well cared for and needs minimal corrective work, sheer foundations like tinted moisturizers, BB and CC cremes, and the like are perfect to use. If there are obvious imperfection and challenges, you may choose the benefits of a liquid foundation or stick foundation.
- Finish: how the product looks and feels on the skin. Just as you choose the proper moisturizer for the skin, the finish of the foundation product is equally important. Dry skin needs hydration and luminosity, so the dewy and semi-matte finishes of tinted moisturizers, BB and CC cremes, and some stick foundations maintain a skin-like appearance when applied. People with oily skin tend to prefer shine and products to help control and minimize oiliness, so creme-to-powder and powder foundations are effective choices.

3. Application


The goal when applying foundation products is to improve upon the natural tone and texture of the skin. For this reason, the product should not sit on the surface of the face or look obviously thick and cakey.

Test for a color match where the most coverage is needed; for many this would be the rosy cheek areas and sometime the lighter interior of the face. Testing along the jawline is popular, too, but this is where you want the foundation to disappear to avoid the mask effect. Therefore, when you apply the product where needed most, you will have a sheer finish after blending to where the product is needed least.

Here are some additional tips:

- It helps to apply liquid and creme foundations products before concealer. This technique provides an emollient surface for the concealer to blend and helps minimize the amount of concealer used; this is because the foundation product begins to build coverage, therefore balancing the skin. Use a dampened sponge or a synthetic fiber brush to buff the foundation seamlessly into the skin. For powder foundation products, you will need to apply the concealer first and use the powder foundation to set the concealer and build your complexion look/finish.

- Because concealer is a full-coverage product, you will use it minimally to get the results you want. Start with very little product and add more if needed. For blemishes and spot-treating areas, use fine-tipped synthetic fiber brushes to dab on concealer. For longevity and to prevent creasing, apply a small amount of powder over concealer application.

- Powder can be used where needed to minimize excess shine. If you are excessively powdering the entire face, perhaps a powder foundation is a better product choice.

As makeup artists, we must study intensely or with intense intent. The fundamentals of makeup artistry are often lost in the illusion and glamour of our industry. I love offering my makeup artist tips to artists in training and women who want their makeup to look artist professional. Join me in a private lesson to transform your makeup application.

Makeup: Rudy Miles for redCHOCOLATE
Photographer: Robert Lobetta

RudyMRudy M. is an editorial makeup artist, licensed skin care therapist, and educator in New York, NY. His specialties include beauty, bridal, airbrush, runway, and editorial styles. Learn more about Rudy here! 




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Singing Tips for Seniors: Taking Voice Lessons Later in Life


Think it’s too late for you to learn how to sing? Here, Hayward, CA teacher Molly R. explains why it’s actually a fantastic time to start up lessons–as well as some helpful singing tips for making the most of them…


“I’m 70. Is it too late for me to learn how to sing?”

As a voice teacher, I get inquiries from singers of all walks of life. It’s actually pretty surprising to me that more people think it’s normal for a 3-year-old (!) to take private voice lessons, yet it’s completely out of the question for someone 60 or older.

Many older people may find themselves retired and looking for a new hobby, so singing lessons are a wonderful choice. One 72-year-old gentleman I work with is excited to finally have this time for himself, and has even joined a community chorus! Another senior lady tells me she loves her lessons because she gets a chance to revisit the songs she loved while growing up–including many by the “great crooners.”

Are you an older adult thinking of taking voice lessons? Good for you! Know that you are definitely NOT “too old” to sing. Here are some helpful singing tips for older vocalists:

- Keep a positive attitude, no matter what anyone else may say. There are plenty of super seniors out there who are still singing! Look at musicians like Sir Paul McCartney, Shirley Bassey, and Dolly Parton, to name but a few. They clearly love what they do! If you enjoy the process of creating music, that is really all that matters.

- Consider taking regular weekly lessons, even if you don’t have performance aspirations. Why? It’s good for your whole body!   Singing has been proven to fight depression, and even assists with certain ailments, like high blood pressure and asthma.

- Work with your teacher in finding the repertoire that is right for you NOW. Your voice may not be as strong as it was in your youth–but what is? All muscles lose some elasticity as we age, but please don’t let that hold you back. Men may find that their voices are higher, and women may find that their voices are now considerably lower, due to drastic changes in hormones. Embrace the changes. There is plenty of compelling music for you to sing!

- Take it easy on yourself, as far as practicing goes. Since you are doing this for your own personal enrichment, you don’t need to worry about daily practice sessions. And if you can’t commit to weekly lessons, you can easily make progress even if you attend two lessons a month, and vocalize three to four times a week.

And finally…

- Consider using your voice as a way to make friends, and even perform! Many older people may find themselves bored and a little lonely. A few of my older students have made community choruses a part of their lives, now that they finally have the time to pursue more of their passions. Some are even trying karaoke nights for the very first time! As a older adult, you have had more life experience, and that alone will make your performances that much more compelling. Isn’t that what great singing is about, anyway?

mollyrMolly R. teaches online and in-person singing lessons in Hayward, CA. Her specialties include teaching beginner vocalists, shy singers, children, teens, lapsed singers, and older beginners. She joined TakeLessons in November 2013. Learn more about Molly here!



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How to Translate Guitar Tabs to Piano Chords (and Learn All Your Favorite Songs!)

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Curious about how guitar tabs translate to piano chords? Learn how to convert your favorite songs in this guest post by Greeley, CO teacher Andy W...


Why should guitarists have all the fun playing classics like “Stairway to Heaven” and “Hotel California”? Just because a song is written in TABS doesn’t mean that piano players can’t read it also. So, here’s how to translate guitar tabs so you can play piano chords!

First, let’s establish a basic understanding of the guitar. The notes of the open strings from thickest to thinnest are E, A, D, G, B, and E. Also, each fret on guitar is a half step. This means that you can find any note by starting from the open string that the note is played on and count up in half steps, one fret at a time, until you arrive at the desired note.

What you need to know about TABS is that there are six lines that represent the six guitar strings. The bottom line represents the thickest string, while the top represents the thinnest. The numbers you’ll see on each line indicate the number of fret that is played on that string. As far as reading rhythms, TABS usually only approximate rhythms. But as you read the fret numbers from left to right, more or less spaces between numbers indicate note values and rests. So, more space between two numbers means that you’ll either hold the note or rest until the next one is played. If numbers are stacked on top of each other vertically, that means those notes are played at the same time.

Alright piano players, let’s finally sink our teeth into one of the most wonderfully cliché guitar-based songs ever made, “Stairway to Heaven” by Led Zeppelin. Take a look at the video below that provides the TABS:

Now it’s time to figure out the right piano notes, and from there the appropriate piano chords to play! We’ll just focus on the first measure for now. To find the first note, we look at which string it’s played on. The number 7 is on the third line from the bottom, which indicates the D string. Since the fret number is 7, we’re going to count up 7 half steps from the open D string. Feel free to use your piano to help you do this. When we count up we get these notes: D, D#, E, F, F#, G, G#, A. So, A is the first note.

Next, let’s look at the second note. It’s played on the third thinnest string, which is a G. Since the number is 5, we count up 5 half steps from the open G string, giving us these notes: G, G#, A, A#, B, C. So, our second note is C. Keep using this same process to find the next notes.

When we get to beat 3 of this measure, there is a 7 and a 6 stacked on top of each other. This means that both notes are played at the same time. The 7 is on the thinnest string, E, while the 6 is on the third from the bottom string, D. Starting with the thinnest string, E, let’s count up 7 half steps: E, F, F#, G, G#, A, A#, B. Now, count up 6 half steps from D: D, D#, E, F, F#, G, G#. So you’ll play B and G# at the same time.

And that’s the basic idea for translating guitar tabs to piano! Using this method of counting up in half steps from an open string, you can effectively steal all the guitarists’ favorite songs!

AndyWAndy W. teaches guitar, singing, piano, and more in Greeley, CO. He specializes in jazz, and has played guitar for 12 years. Learn more about Andy here!



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10 Best Things About Being a Piano Player


What do you love about playing the piano? Here, New Paltz, NY teacher Cheryl E. shares her top 10 list… do you agree?


I have to stop myself sometimes, and call my parents to thank them for the piano lessons they made me endure when I was a kid. I hated them for a while, loved them for a while, and then, lo and behold, I turned into a composer, performer, and songwriter. Who knew? Looking back, I can see so much value in learning the piano. Here are the 10 best things about playing the piano, though I’m sure I could have written about 100!

1) Sitting behind a piano feels like the safest place in the world–especially if you’ve taken lessons from a young age. Whether you hated it or not, when you were practicing, no one would bug you to do anything else. It was just “you time.” Ironically, studies have shown that children and adults who learn the piano are actually more socially well-adapted.

2) Pianos are everywhere, and sitting down at one and playing unexpectedly can be an impressive and joyful experience. I remember being 10 years old walking through a hotel lobby and sitting down to play the Boogie Woogie my dad taught me. Not only was he surprised and overjoyed, the small crowd that gathered had a little treat that day as well! You can liven up any old party that has a piano lying around and easily entertain by playing a few of your favorite songs!

3) You can use scissors with both hands. Playing the piano works the part of the brain that allows your hands and fingers to work independently of each other. Even as a left-hander, I find that I have a few ambidextrous tendencies, which I am sure come from playing the piano.

4) Focus. Practice. Patience. Repeat. I’ve taken these skills to all other areas of my life, including within my own music creation business. To know that the process of building a business is like learning a Beethoven concerto–slow and painful at first, but with a beautiful result at the end of the tunnel–is extremely calming and reassuring for me.

5) Self-Expression. Even if you are performing someone else’s music, playing the piano is such a raw expression of your creativity, your emotional state, and yourself. You can pour your heart and soul into the music and even if you’re feeling down in the dumps, you can create something beautiful. It’s almost an out-of-body experience. I can’t tell you how many tears I’ve spilled on my piano keys, with the piano catching every one and turning it into something else. Something I created.

6) Collaboration. While the piano can tend to be a lonely instrument, especially while learning it, there is a great deal of collaboration that can come with being a pianist. Jazz bands, orchestras, musical theater, dance schools, and teaching music all can utilize a piano. Becoming part of an ensemble, group, band, or orchestra as a pianist is a great honor and challenge!

7) So many notes! You can play both melody and harmony, unlike many other instruments that allow only one note at at time. You can play nearly any song from any genre easily.

8) Pianos know no age. You can start as early as two and play all the way up into your 100s.

9) Because the pitches are set, you can make cohesive sounds from the beginning (versus, say, learning the clarinet, which squeaks for the first two months, especially if you were me in 4th grade). This makes learning new songs a more pleasurable experience.

10) The piano is like a mini-orchestra. Its range is huge, covering the range of all orchestral instruments, which means that composing for any group of instruments is literally at your fingertips.

Having played the piano since I was a small child, I know that I could probably list another 100 best things about being a piano player! But for now, I’ll start with these 10. If you are a piano player, you know what I mean. And if you’re not…. now’s as good a time as any to get started!

CherylECheryl is a film and TV commercial composer and singer/songwriter with multiple tours, records, and TV placements under her belt. If you turned on your television this year, you’ve definitely heard her music. She teaches piano and voice in addition to composition and arrangement in New Paltz, NY. Learn more about Cheryl here!



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piano scores

Crafting Piano Scores | 3 Tips to Get Started

piano scores

Want to learn about writing your own piano scores? Find out how to get started in this guest post by New Paltz, NY teacher Cheryl E...


Being a pianist comes in very handy–and not just at family holiday parties when your in-laws are bellowing “Deck The Halls” in your ear as you try to keep some sense of rhythm. The piano is a versatile instrument that allows even the most novice composers to explore a full spectrum of dynamics, textures, and pitch range.

No matter what you’re composing for, the foundation is always based in enhancing the experience. Piano scores, for example, are pieces of music that are written to enhance a moving image, whether that’s a film, a commercial, or any other type of video. To get started, we’ll take a look at a few key elements that will shape your process:

1) Do you have video to work with, or just a concept? If you have the video in its final version, then you have some limitations regarding the tempo. You may need to emphasize a brand’s logo as it appears, or you may want to pause for a punch line. Working backwards and timing your piece from key moments is often the easiest way to set your tempo. If you do not have a video to work with, you have a bit more freedom to write a piece of music that will fit the creative direction your client has given you.

2) Do you have a creative direction? The creative brief is often the most important conversation you can have as a composer with a new client. I look at being a composer as a way to help the director, producer, or agency tell their story. Here are my three key questions that I always ask a collaborator if they don’t have a specific idea of what they want:

  • What are 5-10 words that you would use to describe the story, the video, the feel, and the vibe of the piece? As the composer, you can then act as translators, taking their words and sculpting them into the final piano score.
  • What do you want your viewer to feel or do? Feel inspired? Be so excited they go out and buy something? Feel nostalgic? Your score can help lead to these desired results.
  • Are there any songs or genres of music that have been in the back of the creators’ minds that could work? Anything that would definitely NOT work?

3) Will your score be for piano only, will it be written for other live instruments, or will you be using computer software to create most of the body of the music? (My favorite composing software, and an advertising and film industry standard, is Logic X.) Here are a few considerations for each of these options:

  • Writing for piano only, you will want to see how much dialogue or voice-over is in the video. If there is quite a lot of talking, you won’t want the middle range of the piano (the typical range of a speaking voice is from about middle C to A 440) to compete. You can also use an equalizer in the mix to mitigate any competing frequencies, but that’s a whole other article.
  • If you are writing on the piano initially, with the knowledge that you will be arranging your piece for other instruments, make sure you know the range of each instrument you’re writing for. It’s always a drag to get to a live session, pass out your sheet music (I use Finale to transcribe my pieces) and have the cellist tell you their instrument can’t play the notes you wrote.
  • Writing “in the box,” as in, using mostly or all software instruments, is the option I use most often. It is the fastest way to get a track completed from start to finish. When working with piano in a software system, you can play in all your parts, and then assign each part to a software instrument of your choosing. This process has the added task of mixing so that it sounds authentic and “non-synthy.” Giving each instrument space (by panning, EQ-ing and working with reverb and compression) is key to writing ear-pleasing piano scores. (Again, I could go on for days about this.)

Once you have a strong grasp on the video’s concept and story, the musical creative direction, and your choice of instrumentation, you get to start the fun part: composing! It’s a privilege to provide a creative service that also allows someone else to express their story, their brand, or their ideas, all while crafting a purely enjoyable experience for future viewers and listeners.

CherylECheryl is a film and TV commercial composer and singer/songwriter with multiple tours, records, and TV placements under her belt. If you turned on your television this year, you’ve definitely heard her music. She teaches piano and voice in addition to composition and arrangement in New Paltz, NY. Learn more about Cheryl here!



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beginning piano accessories

5 Tips to Accessorize Your First Piano | Beginning Piano Lessons

beginning piano accessories

Before you can start beginning piano lessons, you’ll need to have the right equipment–yes, that means more than just a piano or keyboard! Here, New Paltz, NY teacher Cheryl E. shares five helpful tips to keep in mind… 


Getting your first piano is an exciting time! It’s like meeting your first pet, finding a new roommate, or buying the most amazing piece of furniture you’ll ever own. My first piano was a 1950s Henry Miller upright I bought for $200 in Manhattan. It sits in my Harlem apartment against a living room wall. I was also given a family friend’s 1980 baby grand Steinway when they were downsizing and it is placed in a separate “parlor” room where I teach lessons.

If you’re wondering how to set up your piano and what supplies you’ll need, I’ve found these five tips helpful:

1) Your biggest “accessory” is the piano’s location: Ideally, the piano should be placed close to an inside wall to keep changes in temperature and humidity to a minimum. This will not only keep the piano in tune longer but also help lengthen its life. You will want it to look natural with the room, and most likely have it be the focal point of the room. Upright pianos tend to go up against a wall, though you can also use it as a room divider. Grand pianos are generally placed so that the player has some line of sight to people sitting in the rest of the room. Visit my Pinterest board on piano rooms for some inspiration!

Also, resist the temptation to put your piano centered on a carpet or rug (unless you live in an apartment building and need to dampen sound). The natural way to listen to orchestral instruments, including a piano, is on hard floor. The ear simply wants to hear the reverberation off hard surfaces–this dates back to the baroque and romantic eras of classical music where all concerts were payed on ballroom floors and large stages, all with bare floors around them.

2) Lighting: Table lamps on pianos often cause glare and get in the player’s eyes. I’ve found that a standing light to the side or slightly behind the player is ideal for seeing the keys without casting shadows. Natural light is always a favorite, and overhead lights can also be pleasant for the player and others in the room. Resist the urge to put (and light) candles on your piano! Even if you never light them, the wax is NOT your piano’s friend.

3) Other accessories: I tend to keep my piano clutter-free. No vases, picture frames, or other things on the piano, especially the grand. I like the option to open and close the top for both pianos. Upright pianos are easier to accessorize, though, since they tend to have more flat surface to play with and you are less likely to open the top.

4) Walls: Putting art on the wall, centered above the piano, brings attention to the area and can inspire the player. Choose something you will enjoy looking at as you sit and practice! You can also paint the piano wall a bold color, making it an accent wall within the room and drawing the eye to it.

5) Bench: The bench can be a part of the piano’s style and your design expression. Reupholstering it to add a colorful cushion or painting the top can add a burst of character to the piano room without altering the piano itself.

Whether you’re taking beginning piano lessons or you’re playing at a professional level, trust yourself in what feels right when you are sitting at the piano. If the placement, accessories, lighting, and bench inspire you to play more, than you’ve done the perfect job placing and accessorizing your piano!

CherylECheryl is a film and TV commercial composer and singer/songwriter with multiple tours, records, and TV placements under her belt. If you turned on your television this year, you’ve definitely heard her music. She teaches piano and voice in addition to composition and arrangement in New Paltz, NY. Learn more about Cheryl here!

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Learning by Doing: Ways to Study as a Kinesthetic Learner


Do you learn best with a hands-on approach? Learn about the most effective kinesthetic learning strategies in this guest post by New Milford, NJ teacher Matthew H...


In a previous post on study skills for high school students, I discussed some of the different learning styles that work best for different people. Sometimes, a student can even be a mixture of two or more types of learner. As a result, the way you approach studying should reflect the way that your body and mind process information best. Before you can start studying, find out what type of learner you are.

Determining That You Are a Kinesthetic Learner

You most likely are a kinesthetic learner if you have ever said that you learn best by doing something yourself. Occasionally called tactile learners, kinesthetic learning strategies need to incorporate a “hands-on” approach to whatever subject you are studying. What separates each learning style from the other is when and how that “a-ha” moment happens. For kinesthetic learners, the light bulb often goes off in the middle of using their body in motion to subsequently understand a new concept.

Ways to Incorporate Kinesthetic Learning into Your Studying

  • Intense Approach

When studying, anyone with kinesthetic tendencies should use his or her body and movement to the fullest potential. This doesn’t have to be super intense, but incorporating diverse muscle groups is useful because then the whole body is working together in helping your mind discover a new way of thinking. For example, if you have a history test and need to remember different country names, get up and envision the floor as an enlarged flattened globe. Walk to where each location would roughly correspond with each other. In doing so, you are allowing yourself to learn the information based on a spatial relationship with your body in motion. Using a transparency to project a map on the ground might be useful if you have the resources available.

  • Moderate Approach

But a kinesthetic learner doesn’t have to go to such extreme measures to incorporate more of this style into his or her study habits. Even smaller movements, like synchronizing hand gestures to trigonometry formulas can be useful. In this case, a closed fist could represent sin, open palm cos and an extended index finger tan. Use these different hand signals in conjunction with reviewing the formulas while preparing for an exam. These types of gestures will help a kinesthetic learner retain information because the body will be reinforcing the mathematical concepts based on the relationship of the subtle to exaggerated movements with the mind’s thought process.

As always, everybody is different and every body is different. You have to figure out what works best for your own body based on your unique experiences. The best kinesthetic learning strategies are those that keep you active. Staying still will not get you anywhere. If you recognize that you are not only a kinesthetic learner, but also do well aurally, incorporate playing music or dancing into your study sessions. Maybe you’re a mix of kinesthetic and visual, in that case, draw or paint or shape clay to help you learn the material. In any case, by incorporating more movement into your preparation, the learning process will become more fun, and you will have much more productive study sessions.

MatthewHMatthew H. teaches a variety of subjects both online and in New Milford, NJ. He recently received his MA from NYU with a background in Sociolinguistics and related research. Learn more about Matthew here! 



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