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 habités-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 où des sœurs? Décrivez-les. / Est-ce que tu as des frères où des sœurs? Décrivez-les.
    Do you have brothers or sisters? Describe them.
  17. Quel est votre film préféré? Pourquoi? / Quel est votre 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 votre musicien préféré? / Qui est votre musicien préféré?
    Who is your favorite musician?
  21. Quel est votre endroit préféré? Décris-le. / Quel est ton endroit préféré? Décris-le.
    What is your favorite place? Describe it.
  22. Si vous pourriez vivre n’importe où, vous choisirais quel endroit? / Si tu pouvais vivre n’importe où, tu choisirais quel endroit?
    If you could live anywhere, where would you live?

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?

View Results

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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).

vocal warm-ups page divider

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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singing in the summer

Summer Bummer: 6 Warm-Weather Dangers for Singers

singing in the summer

Are you paying attention to your vocal health? The summer season presents some unique challenges when it comes to caring for your voice. Learn a few summer tips for singers in this guest post by vocal teacher Elaina R

 

Summer is in full-swing! The season of green grass, hot sun, pool parties, and BBQs is my favorite time of year. But as a singer, I also have to watch out for the special hazards that warmer weather brings.

While winter is definitely a singer’s roughest season (zero humidity and the flu are no fun), summer holds some unexpected dangers for your vocal cords. Check out my summer tips for singers below, and have a fantastic and vocally healthy summer!

1. Dehydration

Hotter weather often means sweat and more time outside, so you have to be extra careful to stay hydrated. Vocal cords are made out of the same soft, moist stuff as the inside of your cheek, and when they don’t get enough water, they become more brittle and susceptible to damage. So be sure to drink plenty of water, not just for your vocal cords, but for your whole body!

2. Allergies

Unfortunately, all of the living things that make summer so gorgeous — flowers, trees, grass — can also cause allergies. Allergy symptoms can include coughing, sneezing, congestion, and a bunch of other problems that inhibit breathing and irritate the throat.

One of these issues, post-nasal drip, is particularly damaging to singers because it involves mucus dripping from the sinuses onto the vocal cords, irritating and inflaming them. Many singers (myself included) use OTC medications, nasal sprays, and neti pots to deal with these problems.

3. Amusement Parks

Amusement parks can be lots of fun, but they also encourage lots of vocal abuse: loud talking, yelling, and, of course, SCREAMING on the roller coasters and other rides. Screaming involves slamming your vocal cords together rapidly, and as you might imagine, it isn’t good for you. If you’ve ever found yourself hoarse after visiting an amusement park, you know exactly what I mean.

Luckily, I have a sneaky trick that can completely eliminate vocal damage at amusement parks. When I ride roller coasters and other rides, I open my mouth — but I don’t actually make any noise. No one notices, I have just as much fun, and my voice feels great at the end of the day!

4. Smoke

I love BBQs and bonfires, but smoke can cause coughing, wheezing, and mucus buildup. Avoiding this one is easy — just sit downwind of bonfires, and be careful not to inhale too much smoke while BBQing. You can also volunteer to cut up the watermelon and leave the BBQ to someone else.

5. Concerts

Summer brings a wave of outdoor concerts and music festivals. While these events can be a blast, they often involve singing along (usually loudly and with bad technique) as well as yelling and screaming.

I bet you can guess my antidote for this one! Just like at amusement parks, I don’t actually make much noise at concerts. I mouth all the words and I look like I’m cheering along with everyone else, but I don’t actually use my voice. I have a great time AND my voice feels great the next day.

6. Air Conditioning

While summer air in many climates is nice and moist, air conditioning changes all that. Air conditioning removes moisture from the air, resulting in dry, wintery conditions. This can irritate the respiratory system and cause coughing just like winter air. Air conditioning and fans can also circulate dust, aggravating allergies.

To combat this, try not to crank up the air conditioning too much at home. If you spend a lot of time in a highly air-conditioned environment (like an office), you can protect yourself by staying hydrated and using cough drops or a personal humidifier if your throat feels dry.


By working these tips for singers into your day, you can enjoy summer to the fullest without harming your vocal cords. Your body and your voice teacher will both thank you. Now get out there and enjoy the weather!

Learn more about this topic:

Photo by Roger Blackwell

Post Author: Elaina R.
Elaina R. teaches opera voice and singing in Ypsilanti, MI, as well as through online lessons. She received her Master of Music from the University of Michigan, and she has a B.M. from the University of Southern California. Learn more about Elaina here!

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learning a foreign language like a kid

4 Ways to Learn a Language Like a Kid (and Why It Works)

learning a foreign language like a kid

As an adult, learning a foreign language can be tough. But it’s certainly not impossible! Check out these tips from French teacher Carol Beth L. to bring out your inner kid and make learning easier…

 

Last week, we shared how learning a language as an adult is different from what you may have experienced as a high school student (or even earlier on, if you were raised bilingual).

While recognizing the challenges and advantages is a great first step, it’s also important to put things into action. If you’re interested in learning a foreign language, whether it’s just for fun or for career prospects, you’ll need to put in some time and effort — there’s no way around that! In this article, I’ll share a few actionable tips to try, but with a twist.

It’s time to let out your inner kid, and have a little fun!

How to Learn a Foreign Language Like a Kid

First, let’s address the common question: Is it really true that kids have an easier time learning languages?

Early on, it probably is. Many psychologists and educators speak of a critical window during a child’s life (usually between birth and age 12) when it is easier for them to learn a foreign language. Generally, the earlier the child learns the language, the better the chance at complete mastery.

So, why is that?

During the early stages of life, children are able to recognize and distinguish the sounds that make up their native language or languages, and their brain is primed to acquire new words and grammatical structures. In short, a large part of what contributes to a child’s ease in learning is developmental. Provided the opportunity for exposure to a second language, the child will learn to make sense of what they hear.

As we grow older, however, the brain develops and “weeds” itself out. It adjusts to use the knowledge we have within a certain framework, rather than to quickly intake knowledge as it did previously. The way in which many adults learn is thus in many ways fundamentally different from the way children learn.

We can still learn from children in their approach, however. Instead of getting frustrated, why not try out a child-like mindset? You may feel silly, but these strategies can really help. Here are my tips to make language-learning both easy and fun.

1) Incorporate humor.

Children love to laugh! And in fact, neuroscience research has shown that laughter and humor can help you remember things better. Learning a foreign language doesn’t need to be all serious; in fact, it’s often best if it’s not. Learn silly phrases in French, tongue twisters in Spanish, and funny songs in Japanese. Amuse yourself. Look for the bright and cheerful side of life!

2) Incorporate play.

When children play, they find a topic or activity that is relevant to them, including when they play make-believe. Adults may not typically play in the same way that children do, but we can imagine, and we do have activities we like to do.

So when you practice talking in your target language, imagine real-life situations that you might find yourself in. Or, take a class in something you enjoy — cooking, playing music, sailboarding, etc. — entirely in your target language. In some cases, this is easier to do abroad. In other cases, you may be able to find a teacher locally or online who speaks your target language and teaches the activity you enjoy. This type of “play” can even help stimulate your mind and boost creativity.

3) Immerse yourself in the language.

Children are surrounded by their native or target language. So for this strategy, you’ll need to create a similar environment of immersion. This could be through an immersion program, or a trip to a country that speaks your target language. It could also be by surrounding yourself with friends, classmates, colleagues, and acquaintances who also speak or are learning the language.

4) Learn with stories and songs.

Find children’s songs and books in your target language or that are bilingual. This could be something super simple, or even a series like Harry Potter, which has been translated in 74 different languages. If it’s something you’re familiar with, you’ll find it easier to pick up new words from context.

Children also love to read or listen to stories again and again… and again! Doing the same as adults allows us the opportunity to reinforce what we’ve learned, so we can better understand the story and remember new vocabulary with each repetition.

 

Children are natural learners, but given the right tools, adults can be, too. Some of the most accomplished people are life-long learners, continually seeking out new knowledge. Learning a foreign language later on may sometimes be more difficult, but age certainly never puts it out of reach.

Photo by woodleywonderworks

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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how to be a successful musician

Do Perfectionists or Free Spirits Make Better Musicians?

how to be a successful musician

When it comes to practicing and playing music, are you a perfectionist? Or more of a free spirit? Learn how to be a successful musician using your strengths and weaknesses in this guest post by guitar teacher Wes F...

 

If you’ve ever taken a personality test, you may be aware that most traits are thought to inhabit a continuum — for example, if you’re thinking about the traits of introversion and extroversion, you either lean toward a solitary (introverted) or a more socially adventurous (extroverted) disposition. In my years of teaching guitar, I’ve noticed that students also tend to favor one of two extremes when approaching practice.

Some students will be perfectionists when it comes to practicing music. Others will be more of the free-spirited type.

Each of these extremes comes with its own set of strengths and weaknesses. One isn’t better than the other, but there are things you can learn from both sides to become a better musician. Below, I’ll describe each personality type, and offer tips for how to get out of your comfort zone.

Free Spirit Musicians

Most people take up an instrument in the hopes that it will be fun, perhaps inspired by a virtuoso player seen at a concert or online. They make it look so easy! It must be such a fun, free feeling to do what they do!

It is, but that freedom has to be paid for with time spent practicing and improving; nobody starts out on guitar playing Eric Johnson’s “Cliffs of Dover” as their first song!

For free spirits, this can wind up being a real problem. Sure, there’s a part of them that knows that becoming a successful musician is going to take time and work, but knowing that and experiencing it are two different things. Free spirits tend to lose focus if they don’t see results quickly. What happens most often is that they settle for “good enough” and convince themselves that they’re nailing a song when in fact they’re just not noticing where they can improve.

How to succeed if you’re a free spirit:

  1. Be hard on yourself.
    Pay attention to what you’re playing. Make sure each note sounds really good. Focus on looking for where things are wrong rather than where they are right. You won’t be able to improve if you don’t perceive a problem. (Working with a private music teacher can also help with this.)
  2. Narrow your focus.
    Don’t simply play through the whole song and call it done; find sections that are causing you problems and play them multiple times (more slowly than you want to!). Too many mistakes to count? Chop that section in half and narrow your focus even more.
  3. Expand your attention span.
    If you’re bored or frustrated, you should take a break — but don’t stop what you’re doing immediately! Push through the discomfort for a few more minutes. Making this a habit will help you adjust to the more difficult aspects of learning your instrument. You may even someday find yourself enjoying things you never thought you would.

Perfectionist Musicians

Perfectionists have the opposite problem of free spirits. They can’t see past the mistakes they’re making — sometimes to the point that they struggle to have any fun. They suffer from a high degree of burnout, and spend a lot of time doing menial work that seems necessary to them, but is often counterproductive.

How to succeed if you’re a perfectionist:

  1. Vary the difficulty.
    Something that often goes along with perfectionism is a disdain for songs that are “too easy.” This can lead to a lot of needless frustration. It’s a good idea to designate songs as easy, medium, or hard, and make sure you’re always working on one of each. (Free spirits can probably benefit from this advice as well!)
  2. Goof off.
    You can actually learn quite a bit from simply playing with the sounds your instrument makes — as long as you are doing so in a mindful way. Feel free to sound like a screeching mutant ferret trying to sing opera, but make sure you’re aware of how you got it to sound that way and see if you can reproduce it! Your music teacher can also help you explore and connect with your instrument.
  3. Make time for play.
    Put a limit on the amount of repetition in your practice time. It’s a good idea to spend time playing all the way through your song without stopping to correct everything you don’t like. This will give you a new perspective and help you see what all that repetition is for. You should find that letting go and having fun is very motivating. (Tip: Check out these musician resources for finding people to jam with, too!)

How to Be a Successful Musician – Try Something New!

If you feel like you’ve stalled in your progress on your instrument, give these suggestions a try. Doing the same things over and over and expecting different results doesn’t usually work out too well. Everyone has strengths and weaknesses; the most successful musicians recognize these and adjust their practice accordingly to improve. Good luck!

Photo by oh_debby

WesFPost Author: Wes F.
Wes F. teaches bass guitar, guitar, songwriting, and more in Atlanta, GA. He studied classical guitar and composition at Asbury College and later more in-depth guitar studies at the Atlanta Institute of Music. Learn more about Wes here!

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10 Essential Fitness Exercises for Musicians

Infographic: 10 Best Fitness Exercises & Stretches for Musicians

As musicians, it can be easy to forget that it’s not just our mind that matters — our body plays a role in learning music, too! And just as it’s important to find a great teacher to guide us toward reaching our goals, it’s also vital that we remember how to take care of ourselves.

Here are 10 fitness exercises, stretches, and activities you can do to stay in tip-top shape, for all types of musicians — from singers to guitarists to wind instrumentalists and more!

10 Essential Fitness Exercises for Musicians

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10 Fitness Exercises & Activities for Musicians

Power yoga

What it is: Fitness-oriented classes that focus on breathing, alignment, strength, balance, and opening up the body
Best for: Everyone
How to get started: Choose between heated and non-heated classes at a local studio or with a private yoga instructor; look for vinyasa-based classes that link breath to movement.

Learning how to properly and deeply breathe isn’t just important for singers! Taking full breaths is known to reduce stress and improve concentration. Breathing slowly and deeply, especially during challenging yoga poses, will help you to do so during stressful moments, calming both your mind and your body.

See also: 15 Yoga Poses with Powerful Benefits for Singers [Videos], Yoga for Musicians via Yoga Journal

Core strengthening

What it is: Exercises that strengthen the muscles in your torso, including your abdominals and back muscles
Best for: Vocalists, pianists, wind instrumentalists
How to get started: You can incorporate core work in many different workout formats, but especially in Pilates, yoga, and kickboxing classes. Or create a routine for yourself that includes planks, crunches, and oblique work.

Put simply, you need a strong core to hold yourself upright. It’s not just about having a six-pack; having a weak core can put strain on your back and ultimately cause chronic back pain. Core strength also helps improve your balance and stability — super important for all the sitting and standing we do!

See also: 8-minute Abs Workout, Beginner Pilates videos via Blogilates

Posture work

What it is: Exercises that help maintain proper alignment of your spine
Best for: Everyone
How to get started: This is usually incorporated heavily in barre and yoga; you can also try doing some simple exercises at home, such as wall sits or shoulder rolls — anything that encourages your shoulders back and down, your chin slightly tucked, and your feet parallel with each other.

Sitting at a computer all day, being hunched over our phones, and slouching in general can wreak havoc on our posture. Over time, our spine begins to morph into the wrong shape — chin jutting forward, shoulders hunched, feet forming a v-shape. Not to mention that a performer with poor posture just doesn’t look as confident or as professional!

See also: Posture and Breathing, via Brass Musician Magazine

Arm strengthening

What it is: Exercises that strengthen the biceps, triceps, and shoulder muscles
Best for: Percussionists, pianists, string instrumentalists, wind and brass instrumentalists
How to get started: Most common in weight training classes; create your own circuit at home or at the gym, including push-ups and different weight-lifting exercises.

No matter if you’re a singer or you play an instrument, chances are you’re going to be holding something up, whether it’s your music, your instrument, or your arms. Some instruments may even require using the strength of your arms for certain techniques. Strengthening your arm and shoulder muscles can help prevent injuries, especially to the joints that end up fatigued when they aren’t supported by strong enough muscles.

See also: Is weight training safe for pianists? via Tim Topham, How Weight Training Has Made Me a Better Musician via William James

Intense cardio

What it is: Exercises that increase your heart rate and keep it high or raise it in intervals
Best for: Everyone
How to get started: Try a spin class or do sprints, jumping-rope, or jumping jacks on your own.

Cardiovascular health is important for everyone, but musicians especially can benefit from the mind-over-matter mentality that it takes to push yourself past your limits. And increasing your heart rate during exercise can ease stress, relieve anxiety, and help you sleep better — all of which benefit both your practice and your performance.

See also: Burst Training for Beginners via Dr. Josh Axe

Dance classes

What it is: Classes (or videos) that include short snippets of choreography and a variety of genres of music
Best for: Vocalists, instrumentalists (especially those playing in any sort of ensemble or band)
How to get started: Try a Jazzercise, Zumba, or cardio hip-hop class. These classes are a great workout, and some formats include strength training, too.

Dance classes with choreography require you to stay present and focused, and to memorize moves in the context of the music. These skills come in handy when you need to memorize a piece of music, especially if you are singing or playing with others. They also require coordination and improve your rhythm by forcing your body to feel the beat. Lastly, dance classes can expose you to types of music you might not listen to on your own.

See also: 30-minute Aerobic Dance Workout via GoodHealth 24/7

Neck & shoulder stretches

What it is: Stretches that ease tension in your neck and shoulders and encourage them to stay relaxed, even after the stretch is over. These stretches also bring balance to your body
Best for: Pianists, wind instrumentalists, guitar players, string instrumentalists
How to get started: Do several stretches that include the front and sides of your neck and the fronts of your shoulders; do these several times a day, especially before and after practicing.

Keeping tension in your neck and shoulders while practicing can cause you to suffer more over time. Especially if you allow your shoulders to come up and forward, this can really weaken your posture and cause back pain, in addition to the neck pain already present. Tension can also inhibit your playing, since many techniques require your muscles to be controlled but in a relaxed way.

See also: 10 Essential Stretches for Musicians via Music Notes, 11 Stretching Exercises for Musicians via The Strad, 16 Simple Stretches for Tight Shoulders via Greatist

Hip flexor stretches & backbends

What it is: Stretches that open up the front of your body and counteract all the sitting and leaning forward we do
Best for: Vocalists, pianists, guitarists, drummers
How to get started: Many yoga postures are hip openers and backbends; take a yoga class, work with a private yoga teacher, or do a few stretches on your own at home.

Tension in the front of your body causes it to be imbalanced and ends up pulling on the back of your body. This takes a toll on your posture and can cause muscle and joint pain. Some say that we carry our stress in our hips, so opening them up would naturally help relieve that stress. Backbending opens your chest and lungs and can help you breathe more deeply.

See also: 4 Hip Flexor Stretches to Relive Tight Hips via Stack

Outdoor hobbies

What it is: Any outdoor activity that forces you to breathe and/or sweat!
Best for: Everyone
How to get started: Go hiking, biking, or swimming; do a marathon or mud run; take a surfing or stand-up paddleboarding class.

In his piece “For Poets”, Al Young advises “Come on out into the sunlight/ Breathe in Trees/…Don’t forget to fly”. The message rings true for all artists — the best inspiration comes from being out in nature and experiencing life. Many musicians spend so much time holed up in studios and practice rooms, so it’s even more important to remind ourselves to get out there and have those one-of-a-kind experiences.

See also: 5 Things That Smart Musicians Do Every Day, via SonicBids

Meditation

What it is: Sitting in stillness, calming your mind, and focusing on your breath for a certain amount of time
Best for: Performers
How to get started: Take a meditation class or listen to a guided meditation.

Meditation not only reduces stress and anxiety, it also improves focus and memory. And when you have the skills to calm your mind anywhere, anytime, you can handle anything! For performers especially, practicing meditation will connect your mind and body and allow you to keep calm, no matter how many people are in the audience.

See also: Free Guided Meditations via UCLA Health, How Musicians Can Really Benefit From Meditation via GuitarHabits


Try these fitness exercises, get healthy, and give your music the strong, vibrant musician it deserves! And don’t forget one of the most important aspects of growing as a musician: a great teacher who will guide you and encourage you to be the best you can be. Good luck!

JasmineTPost Author: Jasmine T.
Jasmine T. teaches piano, academics, yoga, and more in San Diego, CA. She has her Power Yoga Level 1 200-Hour Certification, as well as a Certificate of Merit for Piano and Theory from the Music Teachers’ Association of California. Learn more about Jasmine here!

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left hand piano exercises

Videos: 4 Super-Effective Left-Hand Piano Exercises

left hand piano exercises

Struggling with your left-hand piano technique? Don’t worry — it’s a common challenge for beginners. Follow along with the videos in this post as teacher Liz T. shares a few helpful exercises… 

 

One of the hardest parts about playing the piano is coordinating your two hands. Often your left hand and your right hand will be playing different notes and rhythms, and it can be really frustrating for beginners!

You might also find you have one hand that is stronger than the other, which makes it even harder when you need to play difficult or fast patterns with your non-dominant hand.

Luckily, with time (and practice, of course), it gets easier. The trick is to isolate each hand, and spend extra time and practice with whichever hand is your weakest. For many, that’s the left-hand piano technique.

Since the left hand usually highlights the bass line and drives the song forward, it’s important not to neglect it! If you are having trouble, I’ll show you a few exercises that will help. Follow along with the videos and let’s strengthen that left hand!

4 Left-Handed Piano Exercises

 

1) Simple Blues Pattern

This pattern is often heard in blues progressions, and it’s great for practicing arpeggios and scales with your left hand. For this exercise, start in the key of C and play 1-3-5-6-b7 (C, E, G, A, Bflat). Once you’ve got that down, try out different keys and work your way to a blues progression. For instance, try the chords of I-IV-V-IV-I (C-F-G-F-C). Once you’ve mastered this exercise, you will feel much more confident improvising!

2) Simple Blues Chords

Use the same I-IV-V-IV-I structure from the first exercise, but this time you will be playing triads. Let’s look at the key of C: first start out in root position, then 1-4-6, then last 1-5-flat 7. This is a common chord progression found in blues, jazz, musical theater, and country music. This is great for practicing navigating your way around chords and strengthening your little fingers!

3) Easy Classical Pattern

This bright, uplifting pattern is a great warm-up for the left hand, and it’s also fantastic for strengthening your pinky finger. You will often come across this style and accompaniment in the left hand in classical music. Let’s start with the key of C: start your pinky on C, then play the chord EG (1, 5), then move to the low G with the pinky. You can use the same fingering as you move through other keys, too.

4) Easy Blues Pattern

Now use a 1-3-5-6-5 pattern with the left hand with a bit of a swing feel! This is a common pattern you’ll hear in blues and jazz, and even some early rock (omitting the flat 7). As with the other left-hand exercises, try this in all keys that you’re comfortable with.

I recommend incorporating these four exercises into your daily practice. If you take time each day, and little by little, you will start to see major improvements in your left-hand piano playing!

And of course, if you’d like to learn even more piano exercises and really improve your skills, working with a private piano teacher is key. I’m available for online piano lessons, or you can search for a local teacher with TakeLessons!

LizTPost Author: Liz T.
Liz T. teaches piano, singing, and other music subjects online. She is a graduate of the Berklee College of Music with a B.M in Vocal performance and currently performs/teaches all styles of music including Musical Theater, Classical, Jazz, Rock, Pop, R&B, and Country. Learn more about Liz here!

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