piano room practice space

Musicians, Is Your Home Practice Space Holding You Back?

piano room practice space

You’ve got your instrument, your sheet music, and your books. You’ve found a great music teacher to guide you. But… let’s take a look at your home practice space. Could it be holding you back? Learn how to improve it with these tips from piano teacher Eric B

 

A few years ago I had a student who was struggling to improve. She was practicing more than I asked, but every week brought in mediocre versions of the songs I assigned. We tried different techniques for months with no success.

A few months passed and we did an online lesson when I was on tour. I was shocked to see where she was practicing: the piano was in a hallway, and her siblings were running back and forth by her while she tried to play. Because the space was too tight, she was squashed against the keys. The only light came from a bare bulb in the hallway, and there was a massive pile of toys on the piano.

This poor girl had one thing standing between her talent and becoming a great musician: a terrible practice space.

Having an amazing practice room that keeps you focused is essential to consistent improvement. Here are seven ways you can spice up your music practice space:

1. Get great lighting.

Make sure that the room you practice in is well-lit. I love practicing in naturally lit rooms, with a simple piano stand light on the piano so I can see my sheet music. If it’s too dark in the room you may fight fatigue sooner than if your room is brightly illuminated.

2. Have a cell phone shelf outside your practice room.

Get a cheap wall-mounted car key holder and place your phone on it each time you go into your practice room. This will keep you from getting distracted during practice sessions. If you place a charger by the wall holder, you’ll have the added reward of a fully charged phone when you leave.

3. Declutter.

The fewer items in the room, the less likely you’ll be to get distracted. Move all items that don’t relate to music to other rooms, and your mind will relax and focus on the task at hand.

4. Get a kitchen timer.

Now that you’ve decluttered your room, you’ll need to keep track of your practice time. Use a cheap kitchen timer to help you stay focused while you’re practicing. Take a look at bunch of great options here.

See also:

5. Get a metronome.

Metronomes are the least expensive way to improve your rhythm, and having one by your piano or keyboard will encourage you to use it daily. Here are a few inexpensive but quality metronomes to consider.

6. Bring a water bottle and a high-protein snack.

Most instrumentalists will burn calories while playing, so make sure you keep your energy levels high. I love snacking on nuts or a protein bar while I play, and a big 32 oz. bottle of water by the piano (cap on to prevent spills) helps me stay hydrated.

7. Put a practice calendar on your wall.

I recommend keeping track of your music practice on a calendar. This will give you a visual reminder of how consistent you’ve been with your practicing.

Then, set rewards for yourself after a certain number of consecutive practices. I love getting coffee, so I go out and get my favorite cappuccino after 10 days of practice. Get creative!

 

Fortunately, there’s a happy ending to my piano student struggling to learn in a hallway. After talking with my student’s parents, they made some big changes.

They converted part of the dining room in their house into a practice space, adding a special bookshelf and colorful music-themed decorations. She switched from struggling to excelling in a matter of weeks.

If you’re investing time and money into music lessons, give yourself the best shot at succeeding in the practice room. If you make the effort, it might just pay off in a lifetime love of playing music.

Editor’s Note: We also like these 12 tips from Piano Power, with additional ways to make your music practice space productive — like eliminating audio distractions, considering personality differences, and keeping acoustics in mind.

Photo by Joe Buckingham

EricBPost Author: Eric B.
Eric Barfield is a full-time keyboardist, producer, and piano teacher based in Nashville, TN. His career has included working with Dove-award winners Meredith Andrews (Vertical Church Band), and American Idol finalist Joe Banua. Learn more about Eric here!

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improve violin tone

5 Ways Your Bowing Technique Affects Your Violin Tone [Video]

improve violin tone

Dreaming about a smooth beautiful violin tone? For beginners, it’ll take some practice to perfect your bowing technique and stop the “squeak.” Here, violin teacher Naomi Cherie S. shares a few tips…

 

So you’ve learned the basics on your violin. You know how to hold the violin and the bow, you’ve learned where all the notes are, and you’re getting pretty good at reading notes and rhythms. But… your playing still isn’t sounding that great. It’s squeaky, inconsistent, and patchy-sounding, and you’re just not sure what to do to fix it.

If this sounds like you, we’ve whipped up a list of tips and tricks to perfect your bowing technique, which in turn will improve your tone. Just remember, these aren’t quick fixes. But if you stick with them and practice often, you’ll start to notice great improvements!

Bowing Technique Problem: Holding Your Bow Incorrectly

You may have had some basic training on how to hold your violin bow, or maybe you’re self-taught. Either way, it’s a good idea to go through your bow hold and make sure each finger is positioned correctly.

Even if you’ve perfected your bow hold from the start, over time your fingers can creep out of place and cause issues. It’s important to remember that the way you hold your bow has a great impact on your sound, so constantly check in to make sure you haven’t developed any bad habits. Here are the basics on proper bow hold:

  • Your thumb goes on the little rounded bump you see on the black part of the bow, and should be flush up against your thumbnail. Your thumb should be bent.
  • Your first finger wraps around the grip (the plastic or leather part that wraps around the stick near the frog) and should bend at the main knuckle to hook onto the bow stick firmly.
  • Your middle finger sits on the frog. Make sure your finger wraps around the frog and reaches down to the bottom edge of the frog where it squares off.
  • Your ring finger goes right next to your middle finger and should cover the white spot that’s on your frog. It should also wrap around the frog, along with your middle finger.
  • Last but not least — your pinky is very important for balance and sits right on top of the stick. Make sure to place it on the wood, not the metal screw at the end of the bow. Watch to make sure that your little finger, like all of your other fingers, is curved.

Visual learners, check out this guide to holding a violin bow for more details.

Bowing Technique Problem: Not Bowing Straight

Playing with a straight bow is the another major factor that will impact your sound. Watch some videos online of professionals in orchestras, or soloists. Are their bows straight, parallel with the end of the fingerboard and the line that the bridge makes? Or is it making a diagonal line? Odds are, it’s straight for the majority of their performance. This is a huge goal to master as a beginner.

Here are some tips to ensure you’re bowing straight:

  • Practice in front of a mirror daily and watch to see whether you are playing from your shoulder or from your elbow. You should be playing from the elbow, opening and closing it like a hinge; leave your shoulder as still as you can.
  • Try the “wall trick”: Lean up against a flat wall so that the area on your arm from your shoulder to your elbow is flat up against the wall. This will force your shoulder and elbow to stay still. Once you get used to the feeling, back away from the wall and see if you can hold the position. Do this several times a day, and check a mirror to make sure you stay in that position.
  • Imagine you’re driving the bow hairs across the strings as if there were an invisible road laid out straight over a slightly curved hill. What would happen if the car tires went diagonally on a slippery road? You might hear a screech — same sound your violin makes when you play with a crooked bow!

Bowing Technique Problem: The “Bouncing Bow”

If you’re a beginner violinist, you know what I mean when I say “bow bouncing problems.” This is a common issue, even for people who’ve been playing for a while.

Here are some tips to combat it:

  • Think of your first finger as a hook that can dig the bow into the violin string to absorb bow bounciness. When the bow starts to bounce, lean your first finger into the stick to deaden the vibration and smooth out the stroke. (This is a good trick if you’re in the middle of a performance and you need an immediate fix when you feel your bow starting to bounce!)
  • Experiment with varying pressure from your first finger to the bow stick through to the violin string. You’ll notice that if you dig into the string too hard you’ll get a gritty abrasive tone, and if you press too light you’ll get a patchy, inconsistent tone. Look for the middle ground.

Bowing Technique Problem: Uncontrolled Bowing

If your bow strokes feel and sound out of control, take a step back and use small bow strokes instead. Consider starting with about five inches of bow. The area of bow near the frog is closest to your hand (the bow’s main power source) and can come off sounding too harsh or heavy-handed; the tip of your bow is farthest from the power source, so it can sound weak and be hard to control. The middle of the bow is the safest zone to play in.

Playing with tiny bow strokes may feel silly at first, but hearing your instrument sound a bit more under control can give the confidence boost you need. Once you feel like you’re sounding more stable, gradually increase your bow span. You may want to do this exercise over the course of a few days or weeks until you start to feel more comfortable.

Bowing Technique Problem: The Tipped Bow

Beginners sometimes tilt their bow forward or backward, so that only some of the hairs run across the strings. For a thick, even tone, flatten your bow so that all of the hairs are touching the strings. This will ensure that you get a full tone. This also helps the bow balance on the strings.


Video Recap: Fixing Your Bowing Technique For Beautiful Tone

Apply these five major tips to your everyday practice, and you will see and hear great results with time. Have fun exploring your violin, and be sure to check out my profile if you’re interested in online violin lessons with me!

Post Author: Naomi Cherie S.
Naomi teaches violin lessons online. She is a classically trained violinist with more than 20 years of experience and a diverse musical background. Learn more about Naomi Cherie S. here.

 

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Diana Krall jazz piano

9 Easy Jazz Piano Songs to Learn Today [Video Tutorials]

Diana Krall jazz piano

Interested in learning jazz? Try your hand at some of these easy jazz songs, recommended by piano teacher Heather L...

 

Like many other music styles, jazz has seen its phases. It’s gone from being the most popular genre in America, to the least popular, and now to something that almost everyone appreciates. And yet most piano students feel so intimidated by jazz that they don’t even try learning it.

I’m here to tell you: give it a shot! Below, I’ve compiled a list of nine easy jazz piano songs you can try, along with tips for playing jazz piano. Let’s start with the tips:

How to Play Jazz Piano

Jazz is a blast to play on the piano! If you’re used to playing classical piano styles, I recommend starting with these tips for transitioning to the jazz style. Next, you’ll want to review these jazz piano chords, and try out some of these helpful exercises. Beyond these articles, keep the following tips in mind:

  • Play eighth notes unevenly, so that four of them sound like this: “long – short – long – short”. This is called a swing pattern.
  • Play any accents lightly, not heavily as in a lot of other piano music.
  • Play in a slightly detached and clear tone, as if you were playing a Bach piece. Think of little bells!

Easy Jazz Songs to Try

Now that you know some of the basics, here are a few tunes to listen to and try your hand at. Of course, if you’re serious about playing jazz, you’ll want to work with a piano teacher who can show you the ropes — but these easy songs will certainly get you started!

1. “Summertime”

It sounds funny, but this celebrated jazz classic is actually the gem of the acclaimed opera “Porgy and Bess”. Take it slow; it is a lullaby, after all. Simply play the chords in the left hand in a very steady rhythm, and play the melody in a very off-beat way. The word for this is syncopation, which means unexpected rhythmic patterns. Don’t think too much about it; just be creative. Watch the video a few times, then start playing along!

Sheet Music Download — via Sheet Music Plus

2. “When the Saints Go Marching In”

If you can play “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star”, then you can play “When the Saints Go Marching In”. And because this song’s melody is so simple, it’s the perfect song to help you learn how to improvise! It’s often included in beginner piano books, and the following tutorial will teach you the melody.

This song is really easy and the video takes it very slowly. Once you learn the melody, you can find lots of versions of this song online — and you can play it in an even jazzier way by changing the rhythm of when and how you play the left-hand chords. For instance, you can play the same block chords in eighth notes instead of quarter notes (in other words, twice as fast).

Sheet Music Download — via Sheet Music Plus

3. “Fly Me to the Moon”

Classic crooner Frank Sinatra made this song famous, and now you can make it your own! First, though, watch the tutorial below. The keys highlighted in blue are played by the right hand; the keys highlighted in yellow are played by the left hand.

Play along with the video a few times with only your right hand, and then again with only your left hand, before playing with hands together.

Sheet Music Download — MusicNotes

4. “Autumn Leaves”

“Autumn Leaves” is one of the best easy jazz songs for beginners, because it introduces us to jazz harmony and the popular chord progression ii – V – I – IV. Unfamiliar with these symbols? It means that if you’re playing in the key of C, this chord progression would be D minor, then G, then C, and finally F. The tutorial below goes a little fast, so watch it a few times before you even begin to play along.

Sheet Music Download — MusicNotes

5. “Misty”

This tutorial is easy to follow, taking the right hand first, one note at a time. The second time through, the player shows us the left-hand three-note chords, or triads. Feel free to play the left hand alone, ignoring the right hand the first few times through, since the left-hand chords will become the steady “time-keeper” of your playing. Then, add the right-hand melody later after the left hand becomes almost automatic.

Sheet Music Download — Sheet Music Plus

6. “Someone to Watch Over Me”

George and Ira Gershwin wrote a musical in 1943 called “Oh, Kay!” and this song is perhaps its most famous. Lots of singers have covered it, and lots of pianists love to play it!

This arrangement is a little different, in that it has the left hand playing the melody, and the right hand playing chords. If it seems a little too difficult, it’s okay to simplify the rhythm. As always, take your time and practice hands separately at first.

Sheet Music Download — MusicNotes

7. “Take the A Train”

Kent Hewitt leads this fun video about Duke Ellington’s classic, “Take the A Train”. He may sound like he’s playing something really complicated in the left hand, but remember, he’s only playing the chords of the song in different ways. For example, instead of playing a D chord in a root position block, he’ll play the D way down low, and then the F# and A up in the middle of the keyboard. In this video he guides you all the way through his own version. Have fun!

Sheet Music Download — MusicNotes

8. “Satin Doll”

“Satin Doll” may be one of the most famous jazz songs of all time. This tutorial will teach you the famous introduction and explain the importance of triplets in swing music, and more importantly, how to play them!

Sheet Music Download — Sheet Music Plus

9. “So What”

Again, this version has the melody in the left hand and the chords in the right. For most of us, the left hand is just not as dextrous as the right. In other words, it’s not as easy to stretch and move. If you have a favorite exercise set, (like Hanon) practicing it daily will help you get ready to play this song.

Be warned: the piano player in the video below talks about some advanced stuff, like modes and modulations. But don’t feel intimidated! You can still play the song — stay patient, and take your time.

Sheet Music Download — Sheet Music Plus


This list of easy jazz songs is only the beginning. Jazz music is a gold mine of timeless standards and classic pieces to add to your repertoire!

Just remember, online tutorials are wonderful tools, but they’ll only take you so far. Progressing takes two first steps: listening to a lot of jazz piano music, and finding a great teacher! Chances are, there’s a quality instructor in your area or online who’s perfect for you. Don’t have one yet? Check out my profile, or find a piano teacher in your area!

Photo by Bruno Bollaert

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Are you a memorizer or a reader

Music Student Face-Off: Memorizers vs. Readers

sight reading music

As you learn songs and work through your music books, do you memorize the notes? Or do you read along every time you play? In this post, music teacher Vanessa G. discusses the pros and cons to the approaches…

 

Imagine your teacher gives you a piece of music to study. What’s your process? Do you listen to a recording, memorizing the melody and the stylistic aspects before you begin, and then as you play? Or would you sit down and sight read the notes, and perfect it from that starting point?

When I started teaching, I saw a trend that my students had an affinity toward either memorizing or reading. And with each method, I saw both advantages and disadvantages.

Which approach do you lean toward? Mark your answer in the poll below, and then continue reading to find out the pros and cons.

Which approach do you lean toward?

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Memorizers:

Pros:

  • You’re great at performance! When you spend the extra time needed to memorize pieces, you’re better able to add the little details that make a piece musical.
  • You’re patient during practice! You’ve got to be patient to go through the same passages over and over… and over. The extra practice really strengthens your technique, which is such a gift to yourself.

Con:

  • Sight reading music is not your forte, and may be something that requires extra practice. It’s a great skill to have, and one that is often needed for auditions.

Challenge Yourself: If you’re a memorizer, I challenge you to sight read a single line of music a day for a month. I’ll bet your reading skills will soar!

Readers:

Pros:

  • You can sight read like a pro! Sight reading music is as easy as reading a book for you. When you look at the notes your fingers know exactly where to go. What a gift!
  • You’re good at improvising! The ability to sight read complex pieces requires a strong understanding of music theory. With all of your knowledge you know a lot about chord progressions and song structure. That gives you a wonderful foundation for improvising. Add a little creativity and voila! A new song is born!

Con:

  • Preparing for a performance can be daunting. It takes a lot of practice to get a musical piece ready for performance. The subtle differences in a crescendo or ritardando, for example, take a lot of time and coaching to get just right. But it’s worth it! Perfecting every expression of your piece helps you and your audience connect to the intent of the song.

Challenge Yourself: If you’re a sight reader, I challenge you to pick a piece you like to listen to (with the help of your music teacher, to make sure it’s the right level for you) and memorize a complete part or movement.

Which is Better?

So, is it better to be a reader or a memorizer? Well, the answer is: be both! To be a well-rounded musician, it’s worth it to hone in on what you might not do as naturally and learn a new skill. If you’re up for the challenge, I’d suggest finding a music teacher who can help you strengthen what you already do well and find ways to improve what you might not do naturally.

Most of all, whether you’re used to sight reading music or a memorizing it, have fun along the way!

VanessaPost Author: Vanessa G.
Vanessa G. teaches piano, singing, acting, and more in Burbank, CA, as well as online. She received her Bachelor’s in musical theater performance from Columbia College Chicago, and has been teaching audition prep (acting/singing) and vocal technique for clients since 2007. Learn more about Vanessa here!

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books for language learning

Here’s Why Fall is the Perfect Time to Learn a New Language

Even if you’ve been out of school for many years, back-to-school season is the perfect time to pick up a new hobby and learn something new. If you’ve always wanted to learn a new language, why not start now? Read on for tips from tutor Joan B

 

Remember going back to school as a child? Or perhaps you have children now that you’re sending back to school? It’s an exciting time for all ages. And if you want to learn a new language or resume your study, the back-to-school season is an ideal time to do so!

Here’s how to make the most of this time of year:

1. Use the season change to set a new schedule or routine.

language learning in the fall

Now that you’re well-rested from lazy summer days, you can focus and choose a new routine for the fall. Learning a new language requires consistent practice, so you’ll need to carve out time for it in your new routine. Commit to a minimum amount of practice or study time (it doesn’t have to be a lot – just make it doable), and then get to it! As you work toward your goal, you’ll feel energized, capable, and efficient.

2. Motivate yourself by creating your own syllabus.

Back-to-School the Best Time to Start Learning a Language!

This tip is especially effective if you studied the language in high school, or if you have some previous experience with it. You probably have some goals in mind, whether you’re learning for business opportunities, an upcoming vacation, or just for fun. Work with your language tutor to write up a simple syllabus, based on those goals. Taking control of your learning will keep you motivated and excited to learn. (Struggling to stay on track? Check out these tips for a busy schedule.)

3. Search for back-to-school specials for supplies you need.

french dictionaries

Most stores have back-to-school sales around this time, so take advantage of the specials. Remember how you used to love picking out erasers and pencils, and notebooks with cool covers? You can still enjoy the back-to-school frenzy by shopping for any supplies you need or keeping your eye out for money-saving deals on lessons and classes.

4. Make studying fun.

conversation partner for language

Just like children form friendships and find study buddies at school, adults need to form a community for learning. Working with a private language tutor ensures you’ll get weekly conversation practice, but practicing beyond that lesson time is also important! If you don’t have a conversation partner already, try attending an online class to e-meet other students.

And if you have kids who are in school, study alongside them! As they complete their homework, you can catch up on your language learning time. Not only will it be effective, you’ll be an inspirational model of hard work and integrity for your child(ren).

5. Check out your local library.

Harry Potter in Spanish

Did you enjoy the smell of books as a child, or the hours in the library with a cup of coffee as a college student? You can relive that nostalgia by going to your local library to study or check out new materials. Libraries are an incredible source of information and materials for foreign language learners! You might find CDs with audio, foreign music and films on DVD, online resources, and much more. Using the library is a frugal and enjoyable way to learn your new language.

6. Plan a trip.

travel to learn a language

Fall doesn’t have to be the end to vacation time! Consider taking a trip to jumpstart your language learning. Scheduling it midway through the fall will allow you time to learn conversational phrases, so you can speak to the locals. Fares are often cheaper in the fall, too, after the summer rush. Examples of convenient trips include Mexico, Cuba, or Puerto Rico for Spanish learners, and Quebec for French learners. Practicing with native speakers is only a skip, hop, and a plane ride away!

I hope these tips will inspire and motivate you to get started today. May the fall be a rich time of learning, growth, and improvement for you in the language of your dreams!

Photos by Tim GreenKatie Armstrongjpmatth

Joan BPost Author: Joan B.
Joan B. lives in Carmichael, CA and has been teaching high school Spanish for more than 18 years. A lover of language, she’s studied French, Arabic, and Italian and spent time living in Spain. Learn more about Joan here!

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french conversation starters

22 MORE Useful French Phrases for Striking Up a Conversation

french conversation starters

Casual conversations with French speakers are a great way to practice your language skills! Here, tutor Beth L. shares 22 useful French phrases that will come in handy…

 

When learning a new language, it’s important to keep on talking — and listening — to practice your new skills. If you’ve already learned basic conversational phrases, now it’s time to move on to some more interesting conversation topics!

To help you practice and prompt your new French-speaking friends, below are some useful French phrases to use. In each case, the first version is formal, while the second is informal.

  1. Qu’est-ce que vous faites ce weekend? / Qu’est-ce que tu fais ce weekend?
    What are you doing this weekend?
  2. Que’est-ce que vous avez fait le week-end dernier? / Qu’est-ce que tu as fait le week-end dernier?
    What did you do last weekend?
  3. Comment est-ce que vous allez passer vos vacances? / Comment est-ce que tu vas passer tes vacances?
    How are you going to spend your vacation?
  4. Quelles autres langues est-ce que vous parlez? / Quelles autres langues est-ce que tu parles?
    What other languages do you speak?
  5. De quelle nationalité êtes-vous? / De quelle nationalité es-tu?
    What is your nationality?
  6. Qu’est-ce que vous faites dans votre temps libre? / Qu’est-ce que tu fais dans ton temps libre?
    What do you do in your spare time?
  7. Quelles sont vos sports préférés? / Quelles sont tes sports préférés?
    What are you favorite sports?
  8. Quelles sont vos chansons préférées? / Quelles sont tes chansons préférées?
    What are your favorite songs?
  9. Où est-ce que vous avez voyagé? / Où est-ce que tu as voyagé?
    Where have you traveled?
  10. Où est-ce que vous voudriez voyager? / Où est-ce que tu voudrais voyager?
    Where would you like to travel?
  11. Qu’est-ce que vous aimez manger? / Qu’est-ce que tu aimes manger?
    What do you like to eat?
  12. Où habitez-vous? / Où habites-tu?
    Where do you live?
  13. Qu’est-ce que vous faites comme travail? / Qu’est-ce que tu fais comme travail?
    What kind of work do you do?
  14. Quelle est votre matière préférée à l’école / au collège / au lycée / à l’université? / Quelle est ta matière préférée à l’école / au collège / au lycée / à l’université?
    What is your favorite subject matter in school / middle school / high school / university?
  15. Est-ce que vous avez un chien / un animal de compagnie? / Est-ce que tu as un chien / un animal de compagnie?
    Do you have a dog / pet?
  16. Est-ce que vous avez des frères ou des sœurs? Décrivez-le. / Est-ce que tu as des frères ou des sœurs? Décris-le.
    Do you have brothers or sisters? Describe them.
  17. Quel est ton film préféré? Pourquoi? / Quel est ton film préféré? Pourquoi?
    What is your favorite film? Why?
  18. Quel est votre livre préféré? / Quel est ton livre préféré?
    What is your favorite book?
  19. Qui es votre acteur / actrice préféré(e)? Pourquoi? / Qui es ton acteur / actrice préféré(e)? Pourquoi?
    Who is your favorite actor? Why?
  20. Qui est ton musicien préféré? / Qui est ton musicien préféré?
    Who is your favorite musician?
  21. Quel est votre endroit préféré? Décrivez-le. / Quel est ton endroit préféré? Décris-le.
    What is your favorite place? Describe it.
  22. Si vous pourriez vivre n’importe où, vous choisiriez quel endroit? / Si tu pourrais vivre n’importe où, tu choisirais quel endroit?
    If you could live anywhere, where would you live?

French Conversation Starters – Printable List

useful French phrases for conversations

Not sure where to bring up these French phrases? Check out some ideas for practicing conversational French here. And of course, these phrases will come in handy when you’re working with your French tutor, as well! The more speaking and listening practice you get, the faster you’ll learn.

Photo by Pedro Ribeiro Simões

CarolPost Author: Carol Beth L.
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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efficient language learners

8 Characteristics of Successful Language Learners | Language Tips

efficient language learners

What do the most successful language learners have in common? Find out eight common traits in this post from Spanish tutor Jason N

 

When you first start learning a new language, it might seem frustrating. There are tons of new vocabulary words and new grammar rules to learn, and listening to native speakers may make your head spin.

But don’t give up! You successfully learned one language well so far (or you wouldn’t be understanding this post!), so you can clearly learn another. And the fact that you’re even reading this article shows me another important factor — that you’re motivated to learn!

Outside of that, though, some people seem to learn languages faster than others. More often than not, it’s because they possess certain traits and characteristics that help them along the way. I’ve been tutoring for a while now, so I started thinking about what these traits are.

Here are the characteristics I see in my most successful language students:

1) Observant

The most effective language learners spend time and energy outside of classes and lessons trying to understand the language’s clues, patterns, structure, and organization. Along with this, you should keep notes to monitor what you’ve learned, and come prepared with questions for your tutor, teacher, or professor.

Learning Tip: As you learn, immediately apply new words and grammatical concepts/rules by writing or speaking. You’ll likely already be doing this with your tutor, but continue practicing in between your lessons, too. Pay attention to contextual clues as you speak with others, and write down any patterns you notice.

2) Pragmatic

My best students know what works and what doesn’t for their personal learning style. This includes an active approach in tailoring your personal preferences and needs in all learning situations, so you don’t waste time on what is ineffective for you.

This characteristic also involves thoughtfulness, including picking up on the objective of a given in-class exercise and why it’s important to your overall language learning.

Learning Tip: Figure out your learning style, and make sure your tutor knows it too.

3) Dedicated

Super-learners believe they can always learn something, even if they dislike or struggle with a given concept, topic, or rule. They steadfastly seek learning environments that facilitate their unique needs and goals.

They also know there are no shortcuts when it comes to learning! Efficient language learning requires a combination of a great teacher or tutor, the right learning resources, and a commitment to practicing on your own time.

Learning Tip: Supplement your lessons with other ways of interacting and learning. This could include taking an online group class, playing a language-learning game, or listening to a podcast during your commute to and from work or school.

4) Fearless

My best students frequently seek out opportunities to chat with native or experienced speakers, with the aim of communicating and understanding before accurateness. Down the road, while temporarily prioritizing communication, super-learners know they will learn to balance communicating with accuracy as they improve.

Learning Tip: Don’t be afraid to leave your comfort zone! Seek out opportunities to chat with others, whether they’re native speakers or another student learning the same language. If you get nervous, check out these conversation tips.

5) Patient and centered

Research has shown the best way to learn is with a relaxed, yet alert inner-posture. In my five years of experience as a tutor and 12 years as a Spanish language learner, I have seen that one’s attitude, including patience with the process, can be more important than your initial skill level and intelligence!

Learning Tip: If  you’re feeling frustrated with your progress, take a step back. Learning a new language takes time, and some concepts and rules may seem easier than others. Let your tutor know if you’re struggling with something, and spend extra time on that.

6) Realistic

Most languages are highly complex. Efficient language learners are realistic, systematic, and goal-oriented in their approach. The involves an active long-term commitment, effective organization, and knowing that it’s unrealistic to aim for perfection.

Learning Tip: Think about your short- and long-term goals, and write them down. Make sure they’re realistic and reachable! If you have a busy schedule, you may not have a ton of time to set aside — and that’s OK. Just make sure you’re noticing consistent progress, no matter how small.

7) Personable

As trait #4 mentioned, consistent contact with experienced and/or native speakers is key. Super-learners have the social support needed to continually practice the language, in all types of settings.

Learning Tip: Get as much practice as you can speaking in your target language! Chat with other students online, find a language exchange partner, or teach a family member what you’ve learned so far.

8) Worldly

Lastly and most importantly, efficient language learning requires embracing the culture of the new language! They know that a language is much more than vocab and grammar; it’s an entirely new way of conceptualizing and seeing the world.

Learning Tip: If you have the resources, consider traveling to a country where the language is spoken. Immersion is proven to help you learn faster, as you’ll get real-life practice.

Recap – 8 Characteristics You Need for Effective Language Learning

8 characteristics of effective language learners

As you can see, there’s nothing inherently special about these students — these traits can all be mastered throughout the learning process.

Getting started is the first step. Find a language tutor today and you’ll be on your way to speaking a new language!

Photo by Nazareth College

JasonNPost Author: Jason N.
Jason N. tutors in English and Spanish in Athens, GA. He majored in Spanish at UC Davis, lived in Mexico for 3 years where he completed a Master’s degree in Counseling, and studied Spanish Literature and Psychology at the University of Costa Rica. Learn more about Jason here!  

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Gibson vs Fender best guitar brand

Gibson vs. Fender: Which Brand Do Pro Guitar Players Prefer?

Gibson vs Fender best guitar brand

In the Gibson vs. Fender debate, where do you stand? Here, professional musician Michael L. shares his thoughts on the two brands…  

 

There’s nothing like being a guitar player, am I right?

You’ve got your pick of genres to explore, from jazz to country to metal. You have amazing guitarists to look up to and learn from. And when it comes to gear, you have your pick of some of the coolest innovations to make your sound rock.

If you’re like most guitarists,  you like to talk about your gear, too. You’ll find heated debates online about the best guitar amps, strings, pedals, and more. And if you’re in the market for your first guitar, you’ll likely get a lot of (unsolicited) advice about the best guitar brands and models.

One of the biggest rivalries in the world of electric guitars is Gibson vs. Fender. Many guitar players have allegiances to their favorite company, although both produce professional-grade guitars.

So, which brand is better? To start, let’s review the history of both companies, as well as a general breakdown of the types of guitars offered. Then, I’ll share my personal preference between the guitar manufacturers.

All About Gibson Guitars

Gibson dates back to the late 1800s, when Orville Gibson patented a mandolin design that was much more durable than other instruments at that time. He sold these instruments out of a one-room workshop in Kalamazoo, MI, until his death in 1918. The designs lived on, however, as the company hired designer Lloyd Lear to continue creating new instruments.

In 1936, the company invented the first commercially successful Spanish-style electric guitar, the ES 150 (ES stands for Electric Spanish). Next came the P-90 pickup in 1946 and the Les Paul in 1952.

The Les Paul, perhaps the most iconic model from the company, was Gibson’s first solid body electric guitar. In 1958 Gibson also introduced semi-hollow body guitars with the ES-335. Afterward came the Gibson SG and Firebird in the 1960s.

Since then Gibson has stayed on top of the list of premier instrument manufacturers.

All About Fender Guitars

Leo Fender started Fender Guitars in 1946, and his first innovation was the production of solid body guitars. Up until then, electric guitars were made with hollow bodies, meaning that they were somewhat fragile and somewhat complicated in design. Leo Fender’s guitars offered a more straightforward design; the were bodies made from one solid block of wood and the bridges were simply attached to the body, removing the need for extra calibration of elevated bridges.

The first commercially available guitar from Fender was the Telecaster, originally called the Tele, in 1951. That same year Leo Fender also invented the electric bass. Until then, bassists had to use an upright bass, making it difficult to hear the bass while electric guitars and drums were being played.

Next, the Stratocaster hit the market in 1954, introducing a tremolo bridge (or whammy bar) to the world. Fender kept the amazing innovations coming, introducing the Jaguar, Jazzmaster, Jazz Bass, and Twin Reverb amp over the next decade.

Gibson vs. Fender: Style & Adaptability

When choosing between Fender or Gibson, there are many factors to consider. The main factor for me is style adaptability. Both Fender and Gibson have different models for different musical styles and tastes.

Gibson vs Fender

The Gibson Style

Gibson’s electric guitars generally sport humbucker pickups, known for their thicker, rounder tone. You also get less feedback, which limits the types of delay and overdrive tones you can experiment with, but ensures a cleaner and more consistent sound. Gibson mainly uses mahogany for their guitar bodies, which is what gives it that slightly darker sound.

Another feature that affects a Gibson guitar’s sound is the scale length. Gibson typically uses a 24.75″ scale length, producing warmer, muddy overtones.

Outside of the sound created, Gibson guitars also feel different to players. Gibsons typically have a longer fingerboard radius, at 12″, which means a fatter neck. With a fatter neck, the strings are at a more even height, which may help you play faster.

Gibson Guitars

Gibson Les Paul

Les Paul guitars in particular boast a full tone that can serve as an entire rhythm section if need be. With a switch of pickups, you can also find a lead tone that cuts through, while still maintaining low-end frequencies. Jimmy Page, Joe Perry, and Zakk Wylde are known for playing Les Pauls.

A Gibson SG, another example, is a straight rock-n-roll or punk rocker guitar. It’s shrill with big low frequencies, which is great for blues. Sister Rosetta Tharpe, Angus Young, and Tony Iommi favor the SG.

The Fender Style

Fender guitars have a bit of a different sound, again because of the way they’re made. Fenders are usually made with alder and ash, producing a brighter tone and offering a lighter feel.

Fender typically uses a 25.5″ scale length, which provides a rich, almost bell-like tone.

And for its fingerboard, Fender typically uses a shorter radius (7.25-9.5″), offering a thinner, curved neck. Beginners and players with small hands might find these thinner necks more comfortable.

Fender Guitars

Fender Stratocaster

The single coil pickups of a Stratocaster, in particular, may be your preference if you like lots of treble in your tone and want to make lead lines pop.

Some famous Stratocaster players are Jimi Hendrix, Stevie Ray Vaughan, John Frusciante, and Jeff Beck.

Telecaster tone, on the other hand, has a bit of a flat thud to it. The notes generally don’t have a full sustain and the lipstick pickup promotes more mid to low frequencies.

Players like Joe Strummer, Keith Richards, and Prince favor telecasters.

Who Wins?

For me, it’s difficult to take a personal side in the Fender vs. Gibson debate. Both companies have produced legendary instruments that have shaped music around the world. Both have helped define electric guitar tone.

However, I will have to side with Fender in this arena. I love the feel of Fender instruments, particularly Jazzmaster and Telecasters. Both have broad, flat necks that fit my fingers and a tone that sounds divine. The Telecaster has an honest thud to its sound and the Jazzmaster gives you a full range of tonal experimental possibilities.

What Other Opinions Are Out There?

Search through any guitar forum or blog, and you’ll find tons of information about Fender, Gibson, and other guitar brands. If you’d like to research some more before casting your vote, here are some articles and posts to check out:

Your Turn

Which guitar brand is best? Cast your vote here:

 

Which guitar brand is better?

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Don’t have an opinion yet? If you’re trying to decide which guitar to buy, don’t just trust the poll results. Try out different guitar brands, models, and styles, and you’ll find what you like best.

And once you have that perfect guitar, it’s time to improve your skills! Search for guitar teachers in your area and get help with playing chords, songs, and much more. Good luck!

Photo by Larry Ziffle

Willy MPost Author: Michael L.
Michael teaches ukulele, guitar, drums, and music theory in Austin, TX. In addition to private lessons, Michael teaches music to special education students and foster children with Kids in a New GrooveLearn more about Michael here!

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are language lessons worth it

How to Stop Wasting Your Money & Time on Language Lessons

are language lessons worth it

Are language lessons worth the money, or should you learn another way? French tutor Jinky B.  shares her tips here… 

 

Thinking about taking a language class or working individually with a language tutor for French, Spanish, or another language? With so many resources available these days, it can be a daunting task to pick the right way to learn. And it’s no secret that signing up for private language tutoring is usually one of the pricier options.

Aspiring learners often ask, “Are language lessons worth it, or are they a waste of money? Do they even work?”

Here’s the thing: while private lessons can be more expensive than using a free app online, the benefits of individual lessons can pay back tenfold.

Yes, those language lessons can be a waste of money — if you’re not taking learning seriously.

Language lessons and classes work — if you put in the effort.

In order to reach your language learning goals, here are five things you can do to better maximize your progress and not waste your money.

1. Determine your objectives and goals.

Let’s take a French student, for example. Why do you want to learn French? Do you have an upcoming ski trip to the French Alps? Are you moving to the south of France for graduate school? Do you want to perfect the French accent?

Decide the reason for your language lessons. Saying that you want to become fluent is too broad of an objective. Narrow down the specifics. When you’re on the ski trip, would you like to be able to talk to the ski instructors about une piste (a ski trail)? For your move for graduate school, would you like to be able to carry on a 30-minute conversation with a colleague about the lesson?

With your final objective in mind, this is why private lessons are so much more effective than other learning methods. Together with your tutor, you can break your objective down into manageable (and measurable) goals. Then, he or she will know exactly how to organize your time together. Reaching your goals and seeing the direct outcome of the money you’ve spent will help you understand that your lessons were worth it!

2. Practice every day.

Most students take language lessons once a week, but you’ll also need to commit to practicing on your own — every day. Fortunately, it doesn’t need to take up a ton of time, and you can even incorporate it into your daily life. If you like to drink a cup of coffee every morning, for example, use that 15 to 20 minutes while drinking your coffee to go over any new words or phrases that your teacher introduced that week.

If you’re not setting aside this time each day, you risk forgetting the information you’ve learned, which can set you back. Make the most of your money by committing yourself to at least 15 minutes every day. At your next lesson, your tutor will review your progress — and you’ll get direct feedback and corrections so you stay on track.

3. Make that practice time efficient.

Many students balance language lessons with work and other responsibilities — so the trick is to make sure the time you are spending on practice is efficient! For vocabulary in particular, the best way to learn is through rote memorization. Flashcards are a great way to do this: each week, create new flashcards using the new vocabulary words you’ve learned, with a picture on one side and the word on the other side. With this method, it’s best to not write out the English translation on the card, so that you’re training yourself to recognize your target language. Here’s an example for a French vocabulary word:

Apple Flashcard - French vocab

4. Talk out loud.

Another one of the biggest benefits to working with a tutor is having someone to talk to in your target language, who can also correct any mistakes you’re making. Staring at vocabulary words alone isn’t going to make you fluent. Instead, you need real-time conversation practice, and that’s what your language lessons and classes are for.

However, you should also be talking out loud when you’re practicing on your own. Pronounce each word as you review your flashcards, and with longer words, tap each syllable out. The more you actually speak the language, the better progress you’ll make.

Also, try to start conversations in your target language when you’re out and about! Here are 20 conversational Spanish phrases, and 25 conversational French phrases to get you started. If you want to go the extra mile, you can also find a local or online language learning group to practice with!

5. Review and prepare for your lessons.

Lastly, to really make the most of your language lessons, make a habit of properly preparing for them. During the week as you’re reviewing what you’ve learned, note items that you have difficulty mastering (pronunciation, grammar rules, translations, etc.). This way, you’ll have a list handy to go over with your tutor during the next lesson — which is exactly what they’re there for!

Your tutor will prepare lesson plans with your objectives and goals in mind, however, it’s important to communicate any obstacles that may be hindering the learning process. In the end, you’re the one in charge.


So there you have it: five tips for NOT wasting your time and money on language lessons. And in the future when you’re speaking in your target language with others — whether you’re on vacation, at your job, or meeting with new friends and family — you’ll realize that was money well-spent!

Make the move and commit to learning with a trained and experienced tutor who not only speaks another language, but wants to share their love for languages. Good luck!

Photo by Luka Knezevic – Strika

Post Author: Jinky B.
Jinky B. teaches French and ESL in Jacksonville, FL. She has her Bachelor’s of Arts in French, French Literature and Psychology from Florida State University and has over five years of teaching experience. Learn more about Jinky B. here!

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music theory games and exercises

The Practice Decathlon: 10 Music Theory Games & Exercises to Try

music theory games and exercises

Are you in a practice rut? Mix things up with these ear training exercises and music theory games for kids and beyond, compiled by music teacher Alicia B...

 

It’s no secret that professional athletes have to train rigorously to reach the top of the medal podium. The path of music is similar, and you’d be surprised how your training is no different! Learning to play an instrument takes dedicated practice, mental stamina, and an organized plan for success. But don’t worry — it doesn’t have to be just scales and etudes over and over.

Music games can be effective for all ages, and are worth incorporating in your practice time — especially if you feel like you’re in a rut! So adults, it’s time to bring out your inner kid. And parents, it’s time to grab the kids and have some fun as a family!

Here’s a set of music theory games and ear training exercises that you can play all summer long.

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Mastering The Staff

Age group: Kids to adults
Players needed: 1

One of the first building blocks of music is learning the musical staff (or staves). You may recall the first mnemonic device in order to learn your lines of the treble clef, “Every Good Boy Does Fine.” For this music theory exercise, let’s take this idea one step further with a memory game.

To begin, make a set of flashcards with a certain line or space (e.g. “first line” or “second space”) on the front, and the correct answer (e.g., “E” or “A,” respectively) on the back. Start a timer and see how many correct answers you can get in 30 seconds.

Making these cards without drawing an actual staff allows you to visualize it in your head, which jump-starts your recall abilities. Of course, you also have the option of using the staff. These note name flashcards are commonly available for purchase or you can search for printable versions.

Musictheory.net has a great online version of this game where you can set the range of notes, including all your ledger lines above and below the staff.

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Get Into The Rhythm

Age group: Kids to adults
Players needed: 1

We can all clap along to a beat, but how well can you tap it? This series of exercises focuses on separating your instrument from your rhythm reading, so all you’re required to do is tap your finger!

One way to practice is to take any line from the method book you use. Try to see if you can tap the correct rhythm along with a slow metronome. Can you get it right in one try?

There are a few apps that create this as a game where you tap along to a randomly generated notated rhythm. Some apps, like Rhythm Tap, also allow you to adjust the note values (so if you haven’t seen a triplet or sixteenth note just yet, don’t stress, you don’t have to include it).

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The Hot Potato Staff Game

Age group: Kids
Players needed: 2+

This is one of the music theory games I use with my own students! Parents, you can easily play it with your kids.

Gather players in a circle and start with your “potato” (in my case, it’s a stuffed frog named Mr. Hoppers). The game begins with you tossing the potato and immediately posing a question (e.g.,“What’s the letter name of the third line in treble clef?” or “Third line treble clef!” for short); the child who catches the potato responds and tosses it back.

This is a great game for students of all levels because it asks you to imagine the staff in your head, bridging a recall gap from just memorizing ‘Every Good Boy Does Fine.’

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Become Your Ear’s Personal Trainer

Age group: Teens to adults
Players needed: 1

It’s a common misconception that you either have a good musical ear or you don’t; with the right ear training exercises, you can definitely improve!

For this exercise, all you need is a keyboard and some Post-It Notes. Number your keys one through eight and close your eyes. With your left hand on key 1, randomly play a different numbered key with the right hand. Try to figure out what interval you heard. Open your eyes and check if you were right.

There are also a few apps for interval training; here’s one I like from Musictheory.net.

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Mission Transposition

Age group: Teens to adults
Players needed: 1

If you’ve learned a little bit about your key signatures, a fun way to revisit old material while improving your key signature knowledge is transposition! This music theory exercise is simple: take a song you know well (and have memorized) and start it on a different note. If it sounds funny, correct each note as you go along, and you’ll notice you’re actually following the key change that occurred.

A great way to start is with “Twinkle, Twinkle” in the key of C major, then moving it to G major (don’t forget your F sharp!), then F major (B flat city).

You can also give a twist to a “happy” song in C major by moving it three steps down to the more “sad” A minor.

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Music Marathon

Age group: Kids to adults
Players needed: 1

It’s surprising how often new students have actually never heard the different genres of music their instrument can offer. We often hear about binge-watching movies, but have you ever listened to an entire symphony? Sat through an opera or musical? What about a full album start to finish?

To be a gold-medal musician, you need to be a gold-medal music appreciator. Take the plunge and dedicate a block of time to listening without distraction. Take notes of what interested you or how it made you feel. These are the doors you open to yourself as you walk down the figurative music hallway. You may find a new genre and re-inspire yourself to pick up your instrument and start practicing!

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Pitch Detective

Age group: Teens to adults
Players needed: 2+

Similar to identifying intervals, recognizing pitches is a vital part of ear training. For this exercise, pick a major or minor key, and have another person play the root note (first note of the scale), and any other note in the scale. It’s your challenge to name not only the interval that was played, but the name of the note. This game gets particularly difficult when the flats and sharps increase. The more you play this game, the stronger your ear will become.

Once you master finding the pitch, ask a partner to play four notes in the scale (starting with the root), and see if you can write the notes down on staff paper.

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Rhythm Jumpers

Age group: Kids
Players needed: 2+

These next two music theory games are for kids again. This one takes elements from “Mother, May I?” to create a slow-moving race while jumping to correct rhythms. To play, the “mother” thinks of a note (or rhythm pattern) and asks each player to jump the rhythm (e.g. a single whole note would be one jump and holding four counts, while a half note/quarter/quarter pattern would be a jump lasting two counts followed by two more jumps). Whoever gets to the finish line (first) wins!

Kids love to utilize their whole bodies to learn. It’s a great break from sitting, and by the end, everyone will have learned note duration in a fun, physical way!

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Tempo Light

Age group: Kids
Players needed: 2+

All you need for this game is a finish line. Have the child(ren) line up and get ready to listen. To start, choose four tempos to shout out, all of which mean different speeds (similar to red light, green light). For example, shouting out “andante” means everyone goes at a walking pace, but “allegro” means go fast! See if they match the tempos correctly. If they don’t, it’s back to the starting line. Use your “red light” by shouting, “fermata!” and see how they freeze in their tracks.

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Performance Time

Age group: All ages
Players needed: 1

Last but not least, performing for others is a great way to get out of a practice rut — for all ages. Think of it as similar to the gymnastics’ floor routine: impressive, creative, stylistic, and acts as the culmination of other events.

For kids, a more casual performance, even if it’s for friends or family in the living room, can take the edge off of more formal performances. And for adults, you may not have the same recital opportunities as kids, so you’ll have to make your own. It may be nerve-wracking, but performing in front of others and overcoming stage fright is an important part of learning.

Remember, to become a “gold medal” musician, you have to play to win!

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More Music Theory Games for Kids & Beyond

AliciaBPost Author: Alicia B.
Alicia B. teaches piano, violin, music theory, and more in Miami, FL. She has 15+ years training in violin technique, and almost 10 years of classical piano experience. Learn more about Alicia here!

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