Use All of Your Voices

How to Have Stage Presence | 4 Areas to Improve Your Voice

Use All of Your Voices

Actors, your voice is one of the most powerful tools you have to make a character come to life. Next time you’re getting into a character, use these tips from Baltimore, MD acting teacher Larry P. for improving your stage presence…


Remember when your mother used to remind you to “use your indoor voice”? You have all sorts of indoor voices, and in order to best portray any character and improve your stage presence, be it in an audition, a rehearsal, or a production, you have to decide when and how to use those voices. Below are four areas to pay attention to your vocal choices to make your character come alive onstage.


(“I can’t HEEEEARRRR you”… or… “Why are you shouting at me?”)

Sometimes the choice to be loud is pretty obvious from the text (the word “shouts” or “yells” may be in the stage directions). But other times (far more frequently, in fact), it becomes a character trait. Is the character being emphatic about something? Is he or she repeating something? Is there an argument going on that is getting heated? The list can go on and on. You need to identify if and when a place in your character’s lines it would be appropriate, based on your own interpretation of the character (or your director’s, of course). And above all else, work on projecting your voice at all times – not yelling, but being clearly heard to the back of the house.


(“Stop talking so fast”… or… “Will… you… get… to… the… point?”)

A more subtle tool in your performance repertoire is how fast your character speaks. Whether it’s done all the time (think about many of actor Joe Pesci’s characters, like Leo in “Lethal Weapon” 2, 3, and 4, or Vinny in “My Cousin Vinny”) or selectively, speaking in a rapid-fire manner speaks volumes about a character. It puts the audience in a more alert state, heightens tension (when done appropriately), and quickens the pulse. On the other hand, a quieter, more methodical delivery (think Marlon Brando as the Godfather, or Charles Bronson in almost any role), makes the audience sit a little bit forward in their chairs and listen more intently, thus also increasing tension, but for a very different reason. These are also choices that need to be made based on the actor’s interpretation of the character.

Emphasis and Punctuation

(“Let’s eat, grandma”… or… “Let’s eat grandma”)

Commas and punctuation, while often the area of the playwright, can often be manipulated, at least a bit, by the actor and/or director. Take the sentence: “We are very secretive.” If you emphasize the word we in that sentence, it is implied that it means we are secretive as compared to you. If you emphasize the word very, then it can mean we are more secretive than you. This can be a subtle, but often important distinction. As an actor, you have many choices available to you in interpretation (subject of course to the director’s vision of the whole piece), and adding emphasis and even a beat (or taking one away) is a choice. Make it wisely.


(“Wait… what did he say?”)

While this might be a given, even enunciation might be an actor choice. Projection is always needed — you cannot expect an audience to get any sort of meaning out of something they can’t hear at all, but you can make them wonder about a specific line if you meant to muffle it. For example, a “stage whisper,” that is, a whisper loud enough to be heard by the audience (at least heard enough that they know it was meant to be a whisper) can be a character trait that an actor wants the audience to know. But please, please, please be aware: this does not relieve the burden of making the rest of your lines intelligible to the person in the last seat in the house. That person has presumably paid just as much as people right in the middle, so they deserve every bit of your acting as everyone else.

Using all of these voices will allow you to move toward learning how to have stage presence, as well as expressing a wider range of emotion. This not only shows off your skills as an actor, but your skills in developing a character. Use the expertise found here at Takelessons and sign up for classes with me or another acting teacher, whether in person or online, and expand your horizons onstage. The possibilities are endless!

LarryPLarry P. teaches and tutors in a variety of subjects in Baltimore, MD, as well as through online lessons. His tutoring business is geared toward middle, high school, and college students, with specialties in the Humanities, writing research papers, and drama. Learn more about Larry here!



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learning guitar without sheet music

The Surprising Benefit of Learning Guitar Without Sheet Music

learning guitar without sheet music

We’ve talked about how to read chords and tabs before on the blog — but what about a new approach of learning guitar without sheet music at all? Here, Austin, TX teacher Samuel B. explains his teaching technique…


During my college years, I was given a brief introduction to instructional methods common to Japan. Specifically, I was told that playing the shamisen or the koto (two native stringed instruments) is a skill learned by way of the student facing the teacher and playing what the teacher plays. I continue to use this teaching technique, and feel it has many little-known benefits.

I should begin by making it clear that I’m a kinesthetic learner — I learn by doing more naturally than I do by seeing or hearing. I didn’t even know that I was kinesthetic until I was in my early 30s. Up until that point, I knew of only two orientations (visual and auditory) and I had no idea which one I was.

I began learning guitar — the blues, specifically — by hearing the music of Delta artists such as Mississippi John Hurt and Robert Johnson while I was in my teens, and I began developing my adaptations of their techniques simply by building on basic first-position (first three frets) chord patterns, which most of my students master in fewer than five lessons. I picked out various riffs that now seem to me to have been more like tributes to these giants of the form than actual attempts to imitate them. In reality, I was just experimenting.

How I Teach My Students

These experiments have given way to effective instructional techniques based squarely on factors such as your coordination and the development of your left-hand muscles. ”F” in first position is a good example. Given that the chord involves holding down two strings with one finger, I taught my first student to play each half of the chord (the index finger holding the first and second strings, the third and fourth fingers holding down the third and fourth strings). Several go-arounds of playing each half of the chord solidified her understanding of it to the point of her now playing it as proficiently as I do.

Learning guitar doesn’t have to include sheet music. In fact, I’ve never actually taught with it, because I regard it as an emotionless third party to my very personal teaching style, which is tailored as closely as possible to your individual needs and rate of progress. I’m committed to focusing squarely on your gradual accumulation of knowledge, confidence, and personal initiative beginning literally on the very first note. I believe that sheet music widens the distance between you and I, producing weaker results that the ones achieved by imitation. As a former classroom teacher (who still retains a New Jersey-based K-8 certificate), I’m a veteran of alternative education that provides exactly this — fluid individualized instruction with minimal deadlines that develops your personal strengths rather than your ability and/or willingness to assimilate.

I’m remembering a scene in the film “Hoosiers” in which the coach reminds the team that the dimensions of the hoop and the backboard (width and distance from the floor) are EXACTLY the same on the state championship court as they are in the small-town gym back home. Similarly, I will remind you of the following:

  1. The progression of triads in the middle of the neck are the EXACT SAME chords you will have learned in first position during your introduction to the blues. As you are learning guitar with me, you will learn “Sweet Home Chicago” and “How Long Blues” (or similar tunes) involving the first-position versions E, A, and B7.  Afterward, the fifth-position triad version of “Mailbox Blues” will be taught.
  2. Any scale can be transposed to another key in another position. It’s easy to lose sight of the identical fingering of a scale in first position (which typically involves playing open strings) and its counterparts elsewhere, which involve using the left index finger to play the transposed versions of the open-stringed first-position notes. As you may have guessed, I will merely be teaching you different versions of the same thing and/or the same thing in different keys.

My body of musical knowledge is not exclusive to only one genre. I specialize in folk, rock, blues, and (some) jazz. I consider it fitting to create a space where you can explore your preferences of genres, playing styles, and hand-strengthening processes, in a space squarely conducive to the development of all three. “You cannot teach (a person) anything,” said Galileo. “You can only help (the person) find it within.”

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



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3 Knitted Scarves Perfect For Last-Minute Gifts


Not sure what to buy that special someone on your holiday list this year? Skip the stores and make a thoughtful, homemade gift they’re sure to love! Here, Woburn, MA teacher Belynda C. shares three scarf knitting patterns to try out… 


There’s nothing more thoughtful or appreciated than a hand-made gift at the holidays. If you feel like time is running out, don’t fret! Here are three quick and easy scarf knitting patterns that will ensure you have a beautiful gift in plenty of time for your gift exchange. These scarf knitting patterns are meant for the beginning knitter, so you can practice your skills while you work on your gift list!

Knit 2 Hours or LessThe Knit 2 Hours Or Less scarf is just as it reads (note: you’ll need to create an account on the Lion Brand website to see the pattern).This cuddly scarf is made with quick work-up and chilly winter winds in mind! The thick texture and pretty color combination is created by holding together three strands of aran-weight yarn. Choose traditional holiday colors, or three complementary colors your recipient will be sure to love.

To make this scarf, here are the skills you’ll need:

- Garter Stitch—Knit every row. There is no purling in this pattern, which means the work will fly by!
- Yarn Held Together—Work from three balls of yarn simultaneously, knitting them as though they were one (very chunky) yarn.
- Gauge Check—You’ll need to be sure your work will be the right size when it’s finished. If you’ve never checked gauge, here is a great overview.



RamstarThe Ramstar Falls Scarf (and hat!) is a traditional ribbed pattern that will give you plenty of practice alternating between knitting and purling. After all that good work, you’ll have a charming, chunky scarf and cap suitable for anyone on your list. This is a great project to tackle if you’re looking for a slightly more challenging scarf knitting pattern to improve on basic technique.

To make this scarf, you should know:

- Rib stitch—Combination knitting and purling within each row.
- Seaming (hat only)—The hat in this pattern is knitted flat, and seamed up the back to create a wearable item. Here’s a tutorial on seaming.



Mock CableThe Mock Cable Scarf is a fun patterned scarf to try out once you’ve mastered the skills above. This pattern is a little more advanced, but the challenge and the results will really make this pattern a favorite for you and the lucky recipient! The “mock” cables are achieved without using a cable needle, using a stitch called the “right twist” to give the illusion of crossed stitches.

To pull off this pretty design, you should be able to:

- Knit and Purl—This pattern requires knitting and purling in a pattern to create the texture of the design.
- Right Twist—The right twist is achieved by knitting two stitches together (k2tog) without pulling it off the left needle. You then knit the first stitch again. See this video to see how it works.
- Bind Off In Pattern—Binding off in pattern means binding off using both knit and purl (according to what stitch you are currently knitting). Click here for a guide.

Choose the pattern that works best for your skills, and you’ll be quickly on your way to a great gift that will be enjoyed this holiday season, and every season after!

Happy stitching!

BelyndaBelynda C. teaches knitting and writing in Woburn, MA. She earned her Bachelor of Science in English from Northeastern University. She has been knitting for over five years, and has taught children as young as 8. Learn more about Belynda here! 



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steps to writing an essay

5 Simple Ways To Self-Edit Your Writing

steps to writing an essay

Editing your work is one of the most important steps to writing an essay! Create your checklist using these tips from Woburn, MA teacher Belynda C...


Editing is not simply about typos. There are many steps to writing an essay between the initial preparation, research, writing, and finally editing and proofreading your finished work. While proper spelling and grammar are important, there are other aspects to polished prose that need your attention. Some of these items include repetitive words, commonly misused/confused words, missing words, and issues of style and formatting.

Your Personal Top 10 List

Variety is the spice of life; it’s also the spice of engaging essays. Despite this, every writer (including me!) has a list of words that seem to pop up more often than others. Singling out overused words is a great way to make your writing appear more finished. Look through your current essay as well as your past writing. Most writers can identify five to 10 words that appear too often in their work. One good way to spot them is to use the search function in your word processor. If you see an adjective or a verb more than twice while reading, pop it into your search field to see how many times it occurs throughout your document. You can do this for multiple documents, and keep a list of your heavy hitters. That way, you can search for this list of words in any new writing as a first step to your editing process.

Check Against A List Of Common Word Issues

Some grammatical errors just keep turning up. No matter how many times we see humorous posts on Facebook, errors like their/there/they’re and your/you’re continue to plague us. These kinds of mistakes can instantly detract from your essay and ding your credibility. To avoid this issue, build a check system into your editing for common mistakes, and you’ll catch far more than you would by just skimming over the page.

Read Out Loud

To best catch your mistakes, rely on your ears instead of your eyes. Reading your essay out loud is a great way to identify all manner of errors and omissions in your writing. The reason is simple: the human brain was doing auto-correct long before your iPhone made it popular. It achieves this trick by recognizing patterns that commonly occur in written language. It then irons out the kinks as you read. Unfortunately, this means you most likely won’t see the minor errors (or “nits”) in your work—but you will hear them. Reading out loud requires you to analyze and verbalize each word in the sentence—a far slower (but more thorough) process than reading it “in your head.” Some word processing programs will even read documents aloud, so you can truly check your work with fresh ears!

Use A Style Guide

Depending on your subject matter, your essay should adhere to one of several style guides issued by various publishers. These guides cover everything from hyphenation to proper citation of sources. Some of the most common style guides are the Modern Language Association (MLA), The Chicago Manual of Style (CMOS), The Associated Press (AP) Stylebook, and the American Psychological Association (APA) Stylebook.

A Fresh Set Of Eyes

When in doubt, hand it out. Find a sharp-eyed peer editor to read over your essay. This could be a writing tutor, or even a friend or family member. Outside readers take in written information more slowly because they are analyzing the material as they read. Thus, they will catch mistakes that you may have missed. The more important the essay, the more “guest editors” you should employ. Find a few people you trust, have them read the work, and ask them to mark up changes or suggestions to incorporate.

In making sure you cover the many steps to writing an essay, you can save a lot of time in revisions—and a lot of frustration by avoiding missed punctuation or skipped words.

Still need help? Find a tutor in your area, or check out these additional resources for improving your writing. Enjoy!

Belyndaelynda C. teaches writing and knitting in Woburn, MA. She earned her Bachelor of Science in English from Northeastern University. She holds a Bachelor of Science in English from Northeastern University, and has extensive experience in writing fiction, literary non-fiction, and freelance writing for clients. Learn more about Belynda here! 


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how to structure creative non fiction

3 Tips For Structuring Your Creative Nonfiction Piece

how to structure creative non fiction

Curious about writing creative nonfiction? Get started with these pro tips from Woburn, MA tutor Belynda C...


Creative nonfiction is a difficult genre in terms of development and writing, and yet it is one of the fastest-growing segments of the market in recent years. Memoir and personal essay were once limited to the rich and famous. These days, the Internet has made everyone a potential essayist. If you have a fascinating story to tell about your own life, you may feel daunted by the enormity of the task. Surprisingly, one of the best cures for writer’s block (in my experience) is good organization!

When I think about the structure of a manuscript or essay, I often consider the analogy of cleaning house. I’m not talking about a quick dust or vacuum. I’m talking the take-no-prisoners, deep-clean, three-trips-to-Goodwill type of house cleaning. Your work deserves the same treatment as your home—it should be free of clutter, have enough rooms for everyone, and be impeccably decorated. With this analogy in mind, here are three valuable tips to structuring your memoir or essay.

Keep, Throw Out, Donate

Sentimental attachment is tough, whether you’re cleaning up a house or editing a manuscript. You have to be in the right frame of mind to do the needful. With a house, the best approach is often to haul out the big cardboard boxes and decide what goes where, turning a critical eye to each item. The same is true for your writing. You only have so much square footage, and likewise have only so many words or pages to express your story. Pare down your story arc and your word count so that each anecdote, phrase, and plot progression truly moves the story to its ultimate conclusion. Aim to keep your story within the word count guidelines for its form. Be decisive, and you will be successful.

To begin this process, decide what you really want this memoir or personal essay to reflect. Are you writing about a difficult time in your life? A big lesson learned the hard way? Organize your thoughts around a central theme, and from there it becomes easy to determine what stays or goes. Keep the best elements of your story, and weed out the parts that don’t serve the central theme. Also, keep anything you love (but don’t love for this manuscript) in a separate document. You never know when those parts will become useful for your next project!

Only So Much Space for Guests

You wouldn’t try to sleep 15 people in your two-bedroom apartment. Likewise, your story only has room for so many characters. They have to serve the plot in a meaningful way. You might feel inclined to give Aunt Lila some space in your story, but unless she was a real catalyst for change or obstacle to success, she has to go. There is no hard-and-fast rule on how many characters to include in your story. Just be sure those you include are vital to the plot. If you can remove someone without impacting your narrative, they most likely weren’t a key player.

Expertly Decorated

Once you know the scope of events and the cast of characters, you must return to the idea that creative nonfiction succeeds by evoking emotion. Memoir is not autobiography. Emotional investment is achieved through great narrative, exquisite prose, and deep, unselfconscious examination of the theme you set out to explore. Those who enjoy memoir and personal essay want to be transported, just as they would when reading a work of fiction. The major difference in creative nonfiction is that your story actually happened.

Once you have worked out your cleaning and organizing, decorate with abandon. Write your heart out, make it beautiful, and take your reader with you on an emotional journey. Use the devices found in fiction writing to create a setting for your real-life experience. Lastly, leave your reader with a sense of longing that stays with them beyond the final page. Like handsome decorations in an ordinary home, transformative prose can turn a humble story into an irresistible escape.

For more help starting (or finishing) your memoir, here are some resources:

BelyndaBelynda C. teaches writing and knitting in Woburn, MA. She earned her Bachelor of Science in English from Northeastern University. She holds a Bachelor of Science in English from Northeastern University, and has extensive experience in writing fiction, literary non-fiction, and freelance writing for clients. Learn more about Belynda here! 



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5 Excellent Goals for Kids’ Music Lessons | A Guide for Parents & Teachers


As teachers, what should you keep in mind as you create music lesson plans for kids? And as parents, how should we be encouraging our children as they’re taking lessons? Here, Brooklyn, NY teacher Julie P. shares her ideas…


Music lessons are a great opportunity for any child, no matter what their musical goals are. In fact, goals for music lessons don’t have to be entirely musical. Most children who take music lessons will not grow up to be professional musicians, so it’s great to focus on some of the big picture skills when investing time and money into lessons. When it comes to music lesson plans for kids, here are five great goals for parents and teachers alike to keep in mind:

1. Enjoy Playing and Making Music

This most important goal for any child’s music lessons is for the child to have fun. Yes, there is a fair amount of hard work that goes into creating music lesson plans for kids, but if the student isn’t enjoying the process, then he or she probably won’t continue to play music for very long. Every student is different and not all students will enjoy the same music or teaching styles. Parents, if your child isn’t having fun learning to play music, consider approaching your teacher about it to come up with some ways to engage your child better. This might include the student composing his or her own songs, performing duets with other students, or learning a pop song.

2. Improve Listening Skills

Learning how to play an instrument is a long and challenging process that requires the ability to take directions and follow them accurately. In music there are many rules and parameters governing the skills being acquired, all of which will be new to the student. Teachers help students acquire the necessary skills using appropriate music lesson plans, including exercises and practice techniques that help the student approach the new skills from multiple angles. This is a great opportunity to hone listening skills, as the students will need to listen carefully to the teacher’s directions and examples in order to progress.

3. Develop Perseverance

Kids who take music lessons have an opportunity to develop perseverance. Not only are kids challenged to maintain a consistent practice schedule, but they will also come across skills that are difficult for them to grasp. Children who learn how to keep working on those skills even when it gets difficult will carry those perseverance skills into all other areas of life.

4. Develop Confidence

Studying music is a great way for kids to increase their confidence. Kids are often proud of the new musical skills they develop, especially when they’ve worked hard for a certain skill. They learn that the key to developing confidence is careful and thorough preparation. There are many performance opportunities available, from band and orchestra concerts to recitals and community concerts, such as at nursing homes or places of worship. Kids also have weekly opportunities at lessons to perform for their teacher in a low-stress environment. Some kids who study music are hesitant to perform in front of people, but there are many group performance opportunities than can bolster their confidence, even if they choose to not perform a solo.

5. Develop an Appreciation for Music

Music will continue to be a part of kids’ lives as they grow up, even if they don’t continue with music lessons. If they learn to appreciate different kinds of music they will end up as a supportive member of the musical community. Many adults who took music lessons when they were young find great enjoyment in going to concerts of all genres (classical, folk, rock, blues, etc.). Often I will hear them say that they appreciate the work the musicians put into their craft, having experienced when they were young the kind of hard work it took to learn an instrument. Kids who develop this appreciation through music lessons will open up many doors for enjoying music in the future.

There are many benefits to music lessons, and many different goals to pursue. These are five great goals for kids’ music lessons that will benefit children for the rest of their lives. If you’d like your child to start taking music lessons, find a TakeLessons teacher near you here!

JuliePJulie P. teaches flute, clarinet, music theory, and saxophone lessons in Brooklyn, NY. She received her Bachelor’s degree in Music Education from Ithaca College and her Masters in Music Performance from New Jersey City University. Learn more about Julie here!



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food plating techniques

3 Easy Food Plating Techniques to Wow Your Dinner Guests

food plating techniques

Want to make a great impression on your dinner guests? Here, Staten Island, NY teacher Justin V. shares some of the tricks of the trade for plating like the pros…


One of the best feelings is after a long wait at a restaurant the waitress finally comes to your table with a plate of food so presentable you can’t help but smile. Whether you are having some guests over or want to do something special for your dinner date, here are some food plating techniques, tips, and reminders to wow your guests into thinking you have been doing this sort of thing for decades!

Use the right plate

That plate with the picture of the kitten in the center is a keeper! Just… keep it somewhere else. Ditch the floral-designed circular plates and cream-colored bowls for some classic white square plates. Chefs use bright flat square plates because it resembles a blank canvas for their form of artwork.

Use bright colors whenever possible

Always remember to use fresh ingredients! Think of the beautiful, plump, bright red of a raspberry next to an older, dark, soft one. This does not give permission to use ingredients you wouldn’t normally use just for the sake of color. But wouldn’t you agree mixing yellow, orange, and red bell peppers certainly pops rather than one color bell pepper? A simple mint leaf atop an otherwise dark dessert can really go a long way to make that dish pop. Contrasting colors are often used in restaurants and bakeries to heighten other senses… think of it like eating with your eyes.

Center your food

I cannot stress this enough — this is the easiest way to make your dish look like it is coming out of a restaurant kitchen rather than a Stouffer’s frozen lasagna tin. If you have made a delicious pasta dish, for example, use two forks to scoop a portion onto the center of the plate, then cup your hands and push the pasta together to make a small dome of food directly in the center. Now you can pour sauce over the dome, and garnish with a basil leaf or such. Use a wet napkin to clean the smears you have made pushing to the center. For a dessert, technique will leave the rim of the plate open for dusting with cocoa powder or powdered sugar.

Use these food plating techniques to liven up the look of your dish. Purchasing cheap utensils such as a squeeze bottle can really go a long way. Think of how much more “wow factor” a slice of cake will have with a simple squiggle of strawberry or chocolate sauce underneath it, or droplets of red wine reduction lightly placed near a steak. Use these simple reminders and you never know… you might catch your guest taking a selfie with your food.

Want to learn more about food preparation, baking, mixology or another cooking subject? Find a culinary teacher near you here!

Justin VJustin V. teaches baking and cake decorating in Staten Island, NY. He holds a degree in Pastry/Culinary and has worked for several restaurants and bakeries. Learn more about Justin here!



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4 Surefire Signs You’ve Chosen the Right Piano Teacher


Want to learn how to play the piano? Not all piano teachers are equal — and different students need different things when it comes to guidance. So how do you know if you’ve found the right teacher? Find out in this guest post by San Antonio, TX teacher Andrew F… 


When you go about your search for a piano teacher, what things do you consider? A few important things to consider could be location, experience, and affordability. I could not and would not argue against their certainties, but I think you should also consider something else, if you are not already doing so: connection!

Success at learning to play the piano is not entirely reliant on how good a piano teacher you have. Aside from providing guidance for you while you learn to play the piano, your teacher is also there to help you maintain a desire to keep on practicing.

Knowing whether you have a good connection with your piano teacher only requires self-awareness. The following are some questions I suggest you ask yourself when searching for a piano teacher:

  • Do you look forward to each meeting? Unless it is your chosen reason (for whatever… reason) to receive piano lessons, you should not be feeling reluctance about your next meeting with the teacher. The experience should be inspiring and worthwhile. If you are not looking forward to your meetings you will likely not keep up with assignments given to you, jeopardizing the whole experience! Not looking forward to your meetings with your piano teacher could affect the next important concern I will mention.
  • How has your desire to play piano changed since prior to your first meeting with your piano teacher? As I have mentioned, your piano teacher should help you maintain a desire to play the piano. I believe we piano teachers play various roles, including motivator, coach, inspirer, etc. Playing these roles, we help provide nourishment toward completing your goals as a piano player. It is likely that if you are seeing a negative shift in your desire to play, it is (likely) at least partly due to a lack of a good connection with your piano teacher.
  • Do you feel your teacher is giving you enough insight? Part of what you should look for in a piano teacher is insight. You will want to know such things as how to shape your hands while playing, correct fingering when playing scales, and what pieces best suit you.
  • What is your overall contentment with the experience? If you decide there is no connection, it is nothing to feel bad about nor is it something your teacher should take personally. Just like any other person-centered situation, the alliance between student and teacher is so important to improving your piano playing.

You want to get the most out of each meeting with your teacher. You will know if you have a connection with your piano teacher if the above concerns are really not concerns at all for you. Just remember to be invariably mindful of your experience, because it will benefit both you and your piano teacher. As with every situation in which two-plus entities are working together, communication is important. Ask yourself questions such as the ones mentioned above and get connected!

AndrewFAndrew F. teaches piano, guitar, singing, songwriting, and more in San Antonio, TX. He also tutors in a variety of subjects, with experience working with individuals individually and in groups. Learn more about Andrew here!



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band practice

The Real Secret to Improving Your Band’s Sound

band practice

Do you want your band to sound even better? (Who doesn’t?!) Here, San Diego, CA teacher Maegan W. shares her secret for improving the group’s sound as well as your individual musical skills…


Do you think a metronome is just a personal preference for some musicians? Are you one of those musicians who KNOWS your time is perfect and unmatched? Well I’ve got news for you — it probably isn’t as spot-on as you think.

Most fights in bands are due to someone being off-time, and unable to accept that it is them. The truth is that most people honestly believe they are on time. As a drummer, I learned a long time ago the only way to know for sure how good your timing really is, is to use a metronome.

I’m not suggesting that you always play, practice, and perform with your metronome — not all music calls for that. What I am suggesting is that you take your musicianship to a whole other level, and take your power back! There is no greater feeling than knowing 100% where each note, beat, lick, and fill fits in the time and space of the song.

Singer-songwriters and guitar players… I’m calling you out. I challenge you to use a metronome when practicing and learning songs. I have played with so many amazingly talented musicians, guitar-playing singer-songwriters who performed and sounded fantastic alone, but when it came to a band setting, they were like complete beginners. Don’t let this be you.

Here are some ideas on how to get comfortable with the metronome as you’re singing or playing guitar with your band:

1) Listen to your songs against the “click.” This will help you to see where everything really lines up, and how much time you actually have to do whatever you want to do or play.

2) Devote at least 10% of your practice routine to practicing with the metronome. I recommend more like 50-90% but baby steps are fine for people not used to practicing with the metronome.

3) If you’re in a band, have “The Talk.” This will hold everyone equally accountable for doing what they can to improve their personal timing, which will improve the band’s time as a whole. Also having a group practice where the drummer listens to a click is helpful too. It instantly builds trust and competence. (If there is a problem member that can’t admit or see their faults, it may be helpful to have some practices where everyone can hear the click through the speakers, to shine light on what needs extra attention.)

4) Be humble. Learning that your timing sucks can be a hard realization, especially for sensitive musicians. This can bruise the ego and come out as anger. Remember the point is not to be “right” or make someone feel defeated. The point is to improve your band’s sound, as well as individual sound. The metronome is the Truth, and sometimes the Truth hurts.

5) Slow down! The best way to really lock down any song, riff, groove, fill, or solo is to slow way down. Take the tempo down to half or 3/4′s of the original tempo and practice in slow motion, to let your brain and muscles learn exactly where everything fits. Do this until your muscle memory learns the movement of the piece. Then when you speed back up, do it gradually in increments of 5 or 10 bpms until you arrive back at the original tempo. Then push past 10 or 20 bpms so you truly have it mastered. You never know when you will need to play it faster or slower, but with this practice, you will be prepared no matter what the speed.

These are just a few ways to incorporate the metronome as you’re playing guitar, singing, or whatever part you play in your band. I hope this is helpful — and remember, it’s about taking baby steps. This is not something you just want to brush off. Being a master at time will make you a more valuable musician, and more confident in your skills too. It may be tough at first, but anything worth learning is.

Go easy on yourself and/or your band. It is challenging, but I know you can do it!

Maegan WMaegan W. teaches drums, songwriting, and more in San Diego, CA. She earned a degree in Percussion from the Musician’s Institute, and has been teaching private lessons since 2004.  Learn more about Maegan here!



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argument essay

How to Analyze an Argument in an Essay | 4 Easy Steps

argument essay

At some point in your academic career, you’ll need to know how to analyze an argument properly. Here, tutor Andrew P. shares his guide to success…


As a college student, you’ll be expected at some point to understand, restate, comment on, or discuss someone’s assertion (strongly stated position).

An argument is a reason(s) for a conclusion.

  • He is dense (reason); therefore, I won’t talk with him (conclusion).
  • I won’t talk with him (conclusion) because he is dense (reason).

When asked to analyze an argument, you are expected to explain how and why something works or does not work.

  • My car will not start. I realize that I left the interior lights on overnight (“you stupid idiot”)—no analysis necessary.
  • My car will not start. The battery is fairly new, and the engine started right up yesterday. So, I open the hood. As soon as I begin probing to search for the reason, I am analyzing (whether or not I find the answer).

To analyze an author’s argument, take it one step at a time:

  • Briefly note the main assertion (what does the writer want me to believe or do?)
  • Make a note of the first reason the author makes to support his/her conclusion
  • Write down every other reason
  • Underline the most important reason

Here’s an example, with the analysis of the argument following:

Reasonable Risk-taking

Part of my philosophy is that a life worth living involves taking reasonable risks, whatever that may mean to a person. Without that openness, responsiveness, a person sees very little possibility for change and can sink into a rut of routines. I have known many who define themselves by their routines–and little else. These are the people an American educator spoke of when he said, “Many people should have written on their tombstones: ‘Died at 30, buried at 60.’” How sad! I think that one of the most horrible feelings a person must have is to be on the deathbed, regretting the many things never tried, and many things done that cannot be undone. I live my life to minimize possibilities of regrets, as I hope you do. Did you ever see the Sandra Bullock movie 28 Days? She plays an alcoholic in a destructive relationship with a guy who wants only to have fun. A staff person at the clinic where she is sentenced to spend 28 days for rehab explained: “Insanity is repeating the same behavior over and over and expecting different results.” Maybe more people should watch that movie.  The world may not go out of its way to help you–the world does not owe us fairness–but the world is there with more possibilities than most of us imagine. If we are responsible to ourselves–and response-able, we can continue growing in directions that are good for us. We do not need to understand the future, which, after all, does not exist, has not yet been created.

Main assertion: Worthwhile life = taking reasonable risks


  • Being open to possibilities vs rut of routines
  • Dying with regrets for actions and inactions is horrible
  • Repeating same behaviors will prevent change
  • Ability to respond to new possibilities, including risks, results in growth

You can now summarize the author’s position and, if required, agree or disagree in part or in whole, offering examples from your own experiences.

Complicated, huh? Yes, it is, until you get used to developing such a reaction paper. A writing tutor can be very helpful in guiding you through this process of how to analyze an argument, step by step, until you feel confident working with this important college skill.

AndyCAndrew P. teaches English and writing in Milton, VT, as well as through online lessons. He taught English courses at colleges and universities in five states for 35 years before retiring in 2013. Learn more about Andrew here!



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