spanish immersion programs

How to Make the Most of Your Spanish Immersion Program

spanish immersion programsExcited about an upcoming study abroad trip? Spanish immersion programs are fantastic if you want to learn about a new culture and improve your Spanish-speaking skills! Here, Seattle, WA tutor Paola E. shares some must-read tips for making the most of your experience…


One of the ultimate goals of Spanish learners who are committed to becoming fluent is to take the biggest leap and join a Spanish immersion program in a country where Spanish is spoken. Al fin! (At last!) The Spanish they are learning comes to life; they can see it, hear it, and interact in the target language wherever they go.

An immersion program is incredibly enriching, however, it is not uncommon for teachers to receive students who, after months (or years) of traveling or even living in a Spanish-speaking country, aren’t able to speak the language. The good news is that with dedication and a little planning, this can be avoided, and learners can take their conversational skills to the next level.

Below, I share 12 no-brainer tips for those who are committed to making the most of their experience abroad.

Before Your Trip

1) Take some Spanish lessons to learn the basics. The more knowledge you have, the faster you’ll improve when you’re abroad. It will allow you to interact with locals from the moment you arrive (and therefore learn more Spanish!). You want to be extremely comfortable with numbers and the alphabet. You’ll be glad you are when you need someone to spell that ridiculously long address for you.

2) Get exposed to the language every day. You can listen to something in Spanish during your commute, as you’re doing chores, or even while taking a shower. Make it a point to discover new awesome songs, movies, TV shows, podcasts, and learning apps (Duolingo is great!).

3) Take a Spanish pronunciation class or at least one private pronunciation lesson. This will save you tons of frustration by learning good pronunciation early on. This will also improve your listening skills.

4) Find a Spanish Meetup group in your area and attend at least a couple of times, and practice with native Spanish speakers and other learners. Consider this a warm-up before the real immersion.

While Abroad

5) Get out of the Spanish closet, and use it at ALL times! Yes, at first, it WILL be exhausting, but do your best to stick with it. It’ll pay off BIG time!

6) Write down new words you want to remember when possible. You can take a picture, write a note on your phone, or go old-school and keep a pocket notebook at hand.

7) Try to surround yourself with as many native Spanish speakers as possible. Some ways of doing so are:

  • Staying with a host family.
  • Signing up for a group physical activity like yoga or dance lessons (yes, even if it’s just for native Spanish speakers). These are great for meeting people aside from your Spanish classmates, and the lessons are fairly easy to follow. You’ll be surprised how body language compensates for the words lost in translation.
  • Arrange an intercambio de español/Inglés (exchange) with a local Spanish speaker. This is a great chance to discuss the words you have been writing down (see tip #6).

8) Avoid the number-one enemy of every learner abroad: Do NOT use any language other than Spanish. If people you need to talk to can’t speak Spanish, minimize the use of English. I can’t emphasize enough that this is the best thing you can do for your Spanish. Every minute you spend speaking in another language is time stolen from your investment in learning in a Spanish immersion program.

9) Keep your part of the interaction in Spanish even if people respond to you in English. Some locals really want to help you feel more comfortable, and others enjoy practicing their English with foreigners. Resist the urge to switch to English. For instance, instead of asking “Cómo se dice ‘to have dinner’ en español?”, you can ask “Cuál es la palabra para comer en la noche?”

10) Limit yourself to a small travel dictionary or phrase book/phone app, and use it only if extremely necessary.

Returning Home

11) Don’t let your Spanish get rusty! Practice every day, continue with your Spanish lessons, and try to arrange an intercambio. If you can’t do it in person, you can do so online.

12) Let your Spanish-speaking friends, family members, or coworkers know that you’re learning Spanish, and ask them if you can use Spanish with them sometimes. Then, take the initiative, and ask a specific question in Spanish here and there when you both have the time.

Paola picture

Enjoy yourself no matter what during the entire learning process! Spanish immersion programs can be an incredibly memorable and valuable experience. You do want people to help you by correcting you, so don’t feel bad. Remember, a learner’s goal, at first, is not so much to have correct grammar, but rather to make oneself understood and to be persistent.

Happy learning, amigos!

(Special thanks to Layton from Seattle for the picture!)

Paola E. teaches in-person Spanish lessons in Seattle, WA. She is a certified Paola E.Spanish interpreter, has traveled extensively throughout Spanish-speaking countries, and can speak three other languages in addition to Spanish and English! Learn more about Paola here!



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How to Measure the Success of Your Child’s Piano Lessons


Piano lessons for kids are an investment — so how do you know your investment is worthwhile? Here are some tips for checking in and making sure your child is learning piano at the right pace, courtesy of Brooklyn, NY teacher Liz T


If your child has recently started taking private lessons, there are certain benchmarks you can follow to assess musical progress as he or she is learning piano. Many parents are unaware of how to track and measure their child’s musical abilities. These guidelines will help you understand what level of theory comprehension and performance standards your child and his or her teacher should be striving for in the first year of piano lessons.

First Month

Students should begin learning piano by focusing on the right and the left hands, with their correlating numbers for each finger (1-5). Students should begin reading music with these numbers only. This will help train them how to read music and play the piano comfortably at the same time. Students should practice both the left and right hands, starting with 1-3, their thumbs on middle C, playing the white notes on the keyboard, and then using their 4th and 5th fingers.

Three Months

Now that your child is comfortable with identifying their fingers with numbers, they should be moving on to learning the actual note names on the staff paper. They should be familiar with the lines (Every Good Boy Deserves Fudge) and spaces (FACE) in treble clef and the lines (Good Boys Deserve Fudge Always) and spaces (All Cows Eat Grass) in bass clef, to quickly identify the notes. Students will also start to interpret simple rhythms, such as half notes, whole notes, quarter notes, and so on.

Six Months

At this time students will be introduced to scales, starting with the easier scales (C, G, F). Learning these scales will also help your child become familiar with the accidentals (sharps and flats). The combination of analyzing the correct note names and rhythms will help students learn simple songs to play.

One Year

At this time, students should be comfortable with reading the notes on the page and practicing their scales. This is also a good time to introduce chords, playing multiple notes in the chord triad in the right and left hand. It may take a while for your child to learn chords, depending the size of their hands. Some students love hammering down on the piano playing chords, while others can be intimidated!


All students have different learning styles and paces. Depending on the age of your child, these timelines could vary. Some students may hit these target goals months before the average student is expected to comprehend these subjects, while others may need a few more weeks or months to develop their skills. I wish your student all the success, and if you want to make sure your student is on the right track in their piano lessons, find a great teacher today at TakeLessons!

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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Dolly Parton - "Shine"

6 Awesome, Unexpected Cover Songs You Need to Hear

Singers, why limit yourself to one genre? Many artists have produced amazing cover songs to put their own spin on tunes, even those not in their particular genre. Here, St. Augustine, FL voice teacher Heather L. shares six covers worth a listen…


How amazingly awesome is it to hear a song re-sung by a singer in a way that’s totally unlike the original version? The correct answer? Really amazingly awesome! Sometimes it can change the way we hear the lyrics completely, sometimes it’ll make us laugh or cry, and sometimes, it’s just plain mind-blowing! Some songs might just showcase another artist, while others bend genres and provide a whole new sound and feel. If you’ve ever heard metal covers of pop songs, you know what we mean!

Below are some of the best cover songs ever — enjoy!

“I Will Survive”
Originally performed by Gloria Gaynor, covered by CAKE

This may be the weirdest, most unexpected cover song of all time. Gloria Gaynor sang the original survivor ballad with elegance and soaring melody, and CAKE pretty much just reads the lyrics. And it couldn’t be cooler!

Originally performed by Collective Soul, covered by Dolly Parton and Nickel Creek

Post-grunge band Collective Soul had a big hit with “Shine”. But in this cool cover song, iconic country singer Dolly Parton jams with progressive bluegrass band Nickel Creek and takes it to another planet. And she’s smart enough to cut out a couple of the superfluous “yeahs” that Collective Soul’s lead singer belts before the chorus.

“Rather Be”
Originally performed by Clean Bandit, covered by Pentatonix

The British electronic group Clean Bandit got their first number one hit in the U.K. just last year with “Rather Be”.  And the a cappella supergroup Pentatonix has already covered it and made it a hit of their own by using their voices in amazing ways to create the electronic sounds of the original.  Listen and try to hear how the vocalists make the drum, scratch, and bass noises!

Originally performed by Dolly Parton, covered by The White Stripes

Jack White is a huge fan of classic country, and his cover of “Jolene” is a real tribute — sung and played with love. Dolly’s original is sweetly sung in her honey-coated voice, and Jack pretty much yells it. At least he plays the guitar intro the same way.

“Take Me Home, Country Roads”
Originally performed by John Denver, covered by Toots and the Maytals

Even the most die-hard fans of John Denver, arguably the most popular country/folk singer of the 1970s, have probably never heard his music played by a reggae band. It’s even more happy-go-lucky and smiley than the first one.

“Nothing Else Matters”
Originally performed by Metallica, covered by Tori Amos

Metallica is the ultimate metal band of the 1990s, and Tori Amos is the ultimate girl-on-a-piano. What happens when she covers them? Cover magic! The words really shine through when you’re singing them at half the tempo. And listen, she does.

If nothing else, awesome genre-bending covers teach us that anything is possible in our craft and your creativity is only limited by your imagination. Einstein taught us that imagination is more important than knowledge. Well, here’s hoping he was right!

Readers, what do you think? What’s on your list for the best cover songs ever? Leave your favorites in the comment section below! 

HeatherLHeather L. teaches singing, piano, acting, and more in St. Augustine, FL, as well as through online lessons. She is a graduate of the prestigious Westminster Choir College in Princeton, New Jersey, and has performed with the New York and Royal Philharmonics, the New Jersey and Virginia Symphonies, the American Boy Choir, and the internationally renowned opera star Andrea Bocelli. Learn more about Heather here!


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French Vocabulary 5 False Cognates to Watch Out For

French Vocabulary: 5 False Cognates to Watch Out For

French Vocabulary 5 False Cognates to Watch Out ForCognates are words that sound similar and can mean the same thing across different languages. However, in French, there are some tricky cognates that don’t mean what you might think they mean. French tutor Carol Beth L. shares five common French false cognates…

Due to their similar roots, French and English share some vocabulary and grammar. La table is table, la geographie is geography, and un film is a film – otherwise known as a movie. Similar word pairs between two languages are known as cognates.

Not all such similar words mean the same thing, however, so watch out, or some pairs may trick you! These false cognates – also known as “false friends” – sound alike but don’t actually mean the same thing. Here are a few notable examples.

1) Une librarie

Would you normally expect to pay to use the books in une librarie? In France, yes. Une librarie is a bookstore, while a library is une bibliothèque.

2) Football

Football sounds a lot like the American sport “football.” Like football, football is also in fact quite popular in France. But when the French play football, there are no yardage lines on the field, and the field goals have nets and no poles – because in fact the French word football actually refers to “soccer.” Our version of football is called le football américain, or American football.

3) Attendre

Attendre sounds like the English verb “to attend.” Logically, “j’attends le concert” would mean “I’m attending the concert,” right? Well, not quite. Attendre actually means to wait, so, “j’attends le concert” actually means “I’m waiting for the concert.”

So if attendre doesn’t mean to attend, how do you say to attend in French? The French verb is assister. If you want to say you are attending the concert, say “j’assiste au concert.”

“But wait,” you say. “That sounds like the English verb ‘to assist’ meaning ‘to help.’” Not quite.

So then what about to assist or to help? This one actually makes some sense. The French verb is aider, and you can actually see the word “aid” (also meaning to help) in its root. “Je t’aide dans ton jeu de football,” translates to “I’ll help you in your soccer game.”

4) Actuellement

“Actuellement, je fais mes devoirs.” Of course you’ve probably guessed by now that this sentence doesn’t mean you’re actually doing your homework – except it kind of actually does, indirectly.

This sentence quite simply says that you’re doing your homework right now, because actuellement means currently or right now. After all, if you’re doing them now, you are actually doing them, right? At any rate, both meanings make sense in many situations, so someone who doesn’t realize the distinction might not catch on to their mistake in conversation. If you really want to say actually and truly that you’re doing something, try using en faite (actually) or véritablement (really / truly).

5) Blesser

In French, blesser means to wound or hurt someone, not to bless them. So be careful; if you want to look out for their physical and spiritual well-being, it might be wiser to ask a priest, rabbi, monk, or other spiritual leader for a bénédiction (a blessing). Or you can use the verb bénir (to bless) to express what you’d like him to do.

These are only a few examples, but nonetheless take heed! French can be easier than some languages because it has some similarities with English, but it can also be tricky. When in doubt, look it up, and don’t let any of its false friends trick you!

For more insider tips and tricks to learning French, try working with a French tutor. French tutors are available to work with you online via Skype or in-person, depending on your location. 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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guitar for kids

5 Best Guitar Books for Kids

guitar for kidsGuitar books can be a great help for kids who are interested in guitar lessons. Guitar teacher Matthew K. shares five of his favorite guitar books for younger students…

The guitar is an instrument that has to be learned by doing. During my experience as a guitar teacher, I’ve found it essential to use a book for kids ages six to ten. Books can keep the student on track, but should not be the only teaching method used. It’s important to keep lessons fun and interesting with songs and riffs that the child can connect with.

A child won’t learn everything about the guitar from a book, but books can provide a great visual aid during your child’s learning experience. Below, I’ve compiled a list of five of my favorite children’s guitar books (in no particular order) for kids to use during lessons.

1) Guitar for Kids for Ages 5-9 by Bob Morris and Jeff Schroedl - Hal Leonard Guitar Method (Songbooks)

Hal Leonard makes great books for learning the guitar. This particular book is one I’ve used on many occasions when teaching younger kids. It introduces each string individually with fun songs and exercises. It includes popular songs such as “Yellow Submarine,” “Hokey Pokey,” “I’m a Believer,” “Surfin’ U.S.A.,” “This Land is Your Land,” and “Hound Dog.” There’s also a CD included to aid the learning process when your child’s guitar teacher is not around. The only drawback to this book is the lack of stimulating illustrations that many other children’s books use.

2) Children’s Guitar Method by William Bay – Mel Bay Publications

Mel Bay is another popular name when it comes to instructional books for guitar. I like this one because it introduces guitar chords early, in an easy and fun way. It is also a great introduction to note reading, music theory, and introduces strumming patterns before getting into the individual notes. There are two drawbacks to this book. First, it has out-of-date visuals. The book was authored in 1982, and it shows. The other drawback is the lack of introduction to tablature. Tablature is the most popular form of notation on the guitar, and it is completely ignored in this book.

3) Kasey’s Guitar Jams for Kids: A Play-Along Guitar Book for Young Beginners (Volume 1) by Kelly Gordon Weeks – Kelly’s Music Books

I really like this book! It was published in 2012, and it’s primarily for very young, beginning guitar players. The visuals are great, and the author immediately introduces pick-holding technique and chords with fun new songs. The songs are original, very funny, and will keep your child interested. The only drawback is that this book doesn’t have any popular songs included. However, as a teacher, this doesn’t bother me, as I would introduce popular songs through my own method and would only use the book as an aid for chords and notation.

4) Alfred’s Kid’s Guitar Course, Book 1 (Book and Enhanced CD) (Kid’s Courses!) by Ron Manus and L.C. Harnsberger – Alfred Publishing Co.

This is the ‘best-of-both-worlds’ book. It’s 48 pages full of colorful illustrations that draws children in immediately. It introduces partial chords and rhythm immediately, and contains a CD to show your child how the songs are supposed to be played. I prefer guitar books for kids to contain a CD, because it’s important for a child to hear how he or she is supposed to sound when playing the guitar. This book is great because it introduces blues, jazz, and classical through colorful cartoon characters. It gives kids a great introduction to the roots of music.

5) Beginning Rock Guitar for Kids: A Fun, Easy Approach to Playing Today’s Rock Guitar Styles by Jimmy Brown – Hal Leonard

Some kids just want to rock! This is the perfect book for those kids. It doesn’t bog the student down with too much theory and history but instead jumps right into proper technique and fun, modern rock songs. I really enjoy the comic-book-style illustrations. This one also has a CD included and is probably the best of the bunch to really get the student excited about learning the guitar.

If your child doesn’t have a guitar teacher yet, what are you waiting for? Find a great guitar teacher and book lessons today!

Matthew K

Matthew K. teaches guitar, piano, and music theory lessons in Brooklyn, NY. He studied music composition at Mercyhurst University, and he has been teaching lessons for four years. Matthew is available to teach in-person lessons as well as online via Skype. Learn more about Matthew here!


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beginning guitar

3 Things Nobody Told Me About Beginning Guitar

beginning guitarWhat are the secrets guitarists might not tell you about beginning guitar? Guitar teacher Matthew K. shares his discoveries about the guitar from early in his musical journey…

I remember the day I went to the store with my father and picked up my first guitar. It was an Ibenez Stagestar with a tiny 10 watt Crate amp, and I couldn’t have been more excited to get home and try it out. Dreams of being on stage in front of thousands filled my mind, but I knew it would be hard work just to get comfortable with the guitar.

This was before the Internet and YouTube, so I couldn’t even check out the most basic instruction on what to do. I strummed each string, trying to figure out how to put these sounds together to make a chord, but it was too difficult. After my first guitar lesson, my whole world blew wide open, but there were still a few difficulties I had to get over in order to play my first song. Like any difficulty, these can be overcome. The following are the three things no one told me about beginning guitar.

1) Your Fingers Will Hurt

Initially our fingers are, believe it or not, not accustomed to pressing down slim metal strings to a piece of wood. It can be painful for a while. Your fingers will harden and eventually develop calluses, but until then, it can be a slightly painful and annoying process. But don’t give up! Everybody goes through this.

Chords can also be a challenge. Forming your hand into what looks like a lobster claw can hurt at first. (I refuse to teach guitar to children under the age of 6 because of this very reason. We do not want to push kids away from learning an instrument because it’s too hard on them physically). If your hands start cramping up, step back from the guitar and stretch them. It isn’t worth hurting yourself, and with practice, these difficult hand positions will become extremely easy. 

2) You Have to Practice… a Lot!

I had a guitar student a few years ago who never practiced. We would go through the basics, while also keeping it interesting with a simple riff. This method has worked countless times for all of my students, but for some reason it wasn’t getting through. I would try different songs and different methods to gain his interest, but each lesson was similar to the last. No practice, no progress.

I came to find out that he really had no interest in the guitar; it was his mother that was really pushing him to learn. The passion for an instrument has to come from within, or for a younger child, there have to be designated practice times. If you don’t practice, each lesson’s progress will be like a tire stuck in the mud.

3) You Must Learn How to String a Guitar

After a few lessons, make sure to ask your guitar teacher how to string the guitar. It can get expensive and time consuming to take the guitar to a shop every time, and you should have new strings almost every month. Over time, strings will get dirty and could get rusty, depending on where you keep the guitar. You will need to buy a string winder and wire snips (or a combo package) and a set of strings; but once you do it a few times, it will be a much easier process.

Don’t rely on others to change your guitar strings for you. It is an easy process, and there are plenty of YouTube videos with different methods to get you through it. I usually change my strings while watching a TV show or movie to pass the time.

Ready to learn even more secrets about beginning guitar? Find a guitar teacher today and set out on your own musical journey!

Matthew K

Matthew K. teaches guitar, piano, and music theory lessons in Brooklyn, NY. He studied music composition at Mercyhurst University, and he has been teaching lessons for four years. Matthew is available to teach in-person lessons as well as online via Skype. Learn more about Matthew here!



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Tips for Parents The 5 Best Guitars for Kids

Tips for Parents: The 5 Best Guitars for Kids

Tips for Parents The 5 Best Guitars for KidsFiguring out how to find a great first-time guitar can be a challenge in itself, but what to do when you’re looking for a child? Have no fear, guitar instructor Matthew K. is here! Read on for some professional insight, purchase recommendations, and how to find the best guitars for kids…

Learning to play the guitar can be the most exciting time in a child’s life so it’s important to choose a guitar that fits!  Full-size guitars can be too big and bulky for a child’s small hands to work around, which can be extremely frustrating and result in aggravation directed at the parents or the teacher.  Nobody wants that frustration!

To help your child love playing guitar, I have selected a list of five guitars that, in my eyes, are the best five guitars for kids. The list includes both acoustic and electric guitars. Just keep in mind if you go with an electric guitar, you will have to buy an amp to accompany it. The following are in no particular order since it’s most important to try guitars out in the store and see what works for your child. Let’s get started!

Yamaha JR1

yamaha jr

Photo via Alto Music

Yamaha has a reputation of making great affordable acoustic guitars. Their ¾ size JR1 is no exception. This one is modeled after Yamaha’s famous FG folk guitar series, and has a great tone for such a small-bodied guitar.

It’s listed at $129.99 on


Ibanez PF2MH Performance 3/4 Size Acoustic Guitar


Photo via Reverb

I actually own this guitar and love it.  Personally, I use it as my travel guitar, but it’s also a great guitar for beginners. The neck is very easy to maneuver, and the sound it produces is almost of full size quality.

It too is listed at $129.99 on


Squier Bullet Stratocaster HSS Electric Guitar with Tremolo



Photo via Squier Guitars

If the electric guitar is more your kid’s style, the Squier Fender Bullet Stratocaster HSS is an excellent choice. Modeled after the American Series Fender Stratocaster, the Squier Bullet is the perfect electric guitar to get your child excited about music.

It can be found for $129.99 on


4) Epiphone Les Paul 100


Photo via musicradar

This guitar is slightly more expensive, but tonally superior. If you’re more of a Gibson than a Fender person, this is the guitar. The Epiphone Les Paul 100 is a slimmer guitar, so it is perfect for a beginner with smaller hands. It is a little more expensive, but this is a guitar that will remain in their collection for some time.

It can be found on for $269.00.  The bag and amp are sold separately.

5) Martin LXM Little Martin


Photo via Martin & Co.

This little guitar was just made famous by Ed Sheeran. Extremely playable, it sounds like a full-size Martin. It may be a bit more expensive than the rest, but this is a guitar that should last your child a lifetime. has it listed for $299.99.

There are many guitars for kids out there, so hopefully this list will help to narrow your search. Remember that it’s important to try before you buy- especially for beginners, so don’t just buy online! Once you’re all set with an instrument, you’ll be ready to find your child the right guitar teacher and get rocking!

Matthew K

Matthew K. teaches guitar, piano, and music theory lessons in Brooklyn, NY. He studied music composition at Mercyhurst University, and he has been teaching lessons for four years. Matthew is available to teach in-person lessons as well as online via Skype. Learn more about Matthew here!



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drum lessons for kids

Drum Lessons for Kids: 4 Simple Ways to Help Your Child Succeed

drum lessons for kids

Parents play an important role in drum lessons for kids. Help your child be successful with these tips from music teacher James W

If you’re lucky enough to have a child who is blessed with a gift for music, then you should do what you can to nurture that talent. What’s most important for kids, however, is interest. If your child expresses an interest in drum lessons, do what you can to help him or her follow this passion.

The Best Time to Start

What’s the best time to start drum lessons for kids? While this answer may vary, children have an amazing capacity to learn when they’re young. A child’s mind is like a sponge, and even at a young age, your child has the ability to absorb a lot of information. Age five and up is generally a great time to begin drum lessons for kids. Regardless of your child’s age, however, if he or she is interested in drums, the best time for him or her to start may be right now!

Find the Right Teacher

Find a teacher who has experience teaching drum lessons for kids. You can search for registered teachers through TakeLessons. You may have to try a couple of teachers before you find the right one, but it’s important to make sure your child has a good rapport with his or her teacher.

Encourage Your Child

It’s very important to encourage your drum student. Allow your son or daughter to learn at his or her own pace. Praise your child, and do your best to inspire him or her to keep working hard. Make your child feel good about playing drums—this will keep your son or daughter from getting discouraged, and motivate him or her to practice.

Start Slow to Build Confidence

Starting off slow will help your child develop self-esteem, and keep him or her from getting discouraged. Encourage your child to learn four beats, or one or two bars of music at a time.

Once your son or daughter masters this initial lesson, it’s on to the next bar of music, and so on. Remember to praise him or her along the way. Your child is now ready to tackle some simple beats, and can eventually move on to more complex rhythms.

Most importantly, make sure your child is having fun! Check in with your son or daughter to gauge his or her level of enjoyment. If your child is having fun, he or she is much more likely to practice and continue playing.

Make practice more fun for your son or daughter with these easy drum songs for kids!



James W. started playing drums when he was 12 years old. He teaches guitar, singing, and acting lessons in Jacksonville, FL. He specializes in teaching pop, rock, and modern country styles. James has been teaching for 10 years and joined the TakeLessons team in 2010. Learn more about James here!


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What's the Best Way to Study Japanese

The Best Way to Learn Japanese: 11 Proven Study Methods That Work

What's the Best Way to Study Japanese

If you’re taking Japanese lessons, you probably want to know how to study smarter, not harder. Maximize your learning with these study tips from language teacher Elaina R

Japan has a lot to offer: great food, interesting culture, and wonderful sightseeing. As a result, lots of English speakers want to learn Japanese. Unfortunately, Japanese isn’t always easy to learn. Not only are there new phonetics and grammar; the written language consists of thousands of intricate characters.

So, what’s the best way to learn Japanese? The best way to learn is through practice, repetition, and dedication. If you put in the time and follow these tips, you will be well on your way to mastering the language.

1. Take a Class or Computer Course

If you don’t know any Japanese, a structured class is the best way to start. Find teachers in your area, or sign up for Japanese classes at a local community college or university.

If taking a class isn’t an option, you can buy a language learning program. Rosetta Stone is the most popular option. Pimsleur, an audio language program, is also great to learn the basics.

2. Listen to Language Podcasts

I love language podcasts. When I was in Germany, I listened to podcasts on the way to and from school each day. It helped me learn much faster than my classmates.

There are lots of Japanese podcasts available online. They range from beginner to advanced. For best results, make listening to podcasts part of your routine (listen during your commute or while you do chores).

3. Watch Japanese TV With English Subtitles

I once met an American girl in Japan who spoke impeccable Japanese. She told me that she had been bedridden with a serious illness for almost a year. During this time, she watched anime in Japanese with English subtitles. She never took a class, but her Japanese was phenomenal.

Watch anime (or Japanese movies) with English subtitles. Write down any words you don’t know, and say them into a translation app, like Google Translate, to find out what they mean.

4. Learn Hiragana and Katakana

Hiragana and Katakana are two basic 30-letter Japanese alphabets. They provide two ways of writing the same sounds (the sound ah is あin Hiragana and ア in Katakana). Hiragana is the general alphabet, and Katakana is used for foreign-derived words. Learn these two alphabets before you learn the Kanji characters.

5. Read Manga or Children’s Books

Children’s books and Manga, Japanese comics, usually include Furigana, which are little Hiragana or Katakana characters next to each Kanji character. Stories with Furigana can help you learn common Kanji.

6. Get a Workbook

Kanji workbooks can help you learn to write Kanji characters and understand their meaning. Get a workbook and dedicate a short amount of time to practice each day, even if it’s only 20 minutes.

7. Use Flashcards

Use flashcards to help you memorize Kanji. You can make your own, or use a website to help. Wanikani is a great flashcard site for Kanji memorization.

8. Sing Japanese Karaoke Songs

Learn some Japanese songs, and focus on pronunciation and meaning. It helps to listen to the songs multiple times. Then make your way to a Japanese-style karaoke joint and watch the subtitles as you sing. Japanese karaoke places usually have private rooms for small groups to rent, so you can practice without feeling embarrassed.

9. Use Japanese Subtitles

As you get better at Japanese, try switching the English subtitles to Japanese while you watch TV. My spoken Japanese is very good, but I can’t read well. When I watch TV with Japanese subtitles, I can mentally connect the spoken words with the Japanese characters. If this is challenging at first, try switching between English and Japanese subtitles.

10. Get a Tutor

You can’t get better at speaking Japanese if you don’t practice. A Japanese tutor can help you learn to speak in practical situations.

11. Join a Group

Many cities have groups for Japanese speakers. Even if you’re just starting out, it can help to join a group and listen to other Japanese speakers.

What’s the best way to learn Japanese? Become somewhat proficient, and then make friends with people who speak the language. If you go to a language group once a week, you will get better. The more you practice, the faster you’ll improve. Make some new friends and have fun learning. Your new Japanese friends might even be willing to sing karaoke with you!


Elaina RElaina R. teaches singing in Ann Arbor, MI. She is acquainted with many languages and speaks English, Japanese, Italian, and German. As a singer, she pays particular attention to pronunciation. She earned a Bachelor of Music from the University of Southern California, and she is currently working on her Master of Music from the University of Michigan. Learn more about Elaina here!



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how to restore a piano

How to Tell if Your Old Piano is Worth Restoring

how to restore a pianoAre you curious about how to restore a piano that’s been sitting in your basement or storage unit unused? Was an old piano passed down to you, and you’re not quite sure how to make it playable? Here, Katy, TX music teacher Zachary A. shares his advice…


A piano is not only a part of the art of music, it is also a work of art itself. The machine is extremely complex and has thousands of moving parts. The piano is also one of the few instruments out there that has stood the test of time. It has a beautiful framework and a sound board supporting tremendous string tension, all concealed by a beautiful finished cabinetry. The piano is not as fragile as other instruments, but it is still subject to deterioration over time. The felt wears, strings break, wooden structures weaken and crack, and the beautiful exterior cabinet loses its finish and elegance.

So what should you do if you have an old, used piano that needs some TLC, and you’re interested in starting to play it?

When discussing how to restore a piano, experts generally use two terms, reconditioning and rebuilding.


The easier of the two, reconditioning is done by cleaning, adjusting, repairing, and replacing parts when absolutely necessary. Reconditioning only focuses on the parts of the piano that are highly damaged and in high need of repair for the best or desired performance.


Rebuilding, for the most part, involves a completely disassembling inspection — repairing parts that are in need of repairing, including the replacement of ALL worn, damaged, or deteriorated parts! Rebuilding focuses on the entire structure, including the sound board, bridge, pinblock, and strings, as well as the action, ivory keys, and case refinishing. Rebuilding is a total overhaul of the piano, completely restoring it to its original state, or better! Rebuilding a piano is usually most practical for high-quality instruments, where maximum performance and longevity is required.

How to Know When to Recondition or Rebuild Your Piano

Most pianos can go years without needing to be reconditioned or repaired, although the quality of the tone, touch, and outer appearance of the piano will continue to decline with age. This can be really agitating to someone trying to learn the piano. But ultimately, when regular maintenance that you perform on your piano (such as cleaning, regulating voicing, and tuning) can no longer provide a satisfactory performance, then it might be time for your piano to be reconditioned or rebuilt.

Now, whether your piano is in need of a little reconditioning or a total overhaul of rebuilding depends on its original quality, its surrounding climate, and its usage and performance requirements. One piano may need rebuilding after 20 years of use, but another may last over 50 years. Maybe the most important factor to some will be whether or not the piano has sentimental and personal value. If the instrument has historical value, this can be a key factor in deciding whether a piano should be rebuilt or repaired.

How to Restore a Piano With a Professional

The best thing that you can do is seek out a professional piano restorer — one who has the judgment, experience, and expertise to advise you when making such an expensive and important decision. Remember, when seeking out a professional, always ask for referrals and get a handful of opinions. Do not accept the first opinion of one professional and make up your mind from there!

The key decision: when are major repairs appropriate? When you are seeking out a professional, keep in mind a few important factors:

  • The overall condition of the piano. Pianos that are subject to severe fire, flood, or moving damage may not be repairable, depending on the damage to the instrument.
  • The quality, size, and type of the piano. In general, low-priced, smaller pianos of a poorer quality and design have limited potential. It might be more viable to buy a new piano of better quality and design.
  • Does the cost of repairs exceed the price of replacement? This usually depends on the quality and size of the instrument. Smaller, lower-quality pianos may exceed the replacement price, but high-quality, large pianos may only cost half of the price to replace the instrument.

These guidelines should aid you in trying to decide whether or not a piano is worth rebuilding or reconditioning. Again, always seek out advice from several professionals if you are considering rebuilding; they have the experience and expertise that will help you make your decision. Ultimately, this could help you save money in the long run, not needing to repair your piano again if it’s done right the first time.

Zachary A

Zachary A. teaches guitar lessons in Katy, TX. He is currently working on his Bachelor’s degree in music theory, and has also been playing piano for four years. Learn more about Zachary here!



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