One Thing Guitarists Must Know About Chords (But Most Probably Don't)

One Thing Guitarists Must Know About Chords (But Most Probably Don’t)

One Thing Guitarists Must Know About Chords (But Most Probably Don't)

Chords are the foundation of all of those guitar riffs you love so much. Here, guitar teacher Kirk R. walks you through the basics of guitar chords and the importance of knowing how they’re constructed…

Guitar is an amazing instrument, not only because of all that it can do, but also because of how great it can sound when not doing much at all. One of the ways that guitar is most often heard is by strumming the standard chords that beginner guitarists learn.

However, I often interact with guitarists who don’t realize how many other possibilities exist on the instrument. Today, we’re going to look at just one small idea that you can use to stretch basic chords and better understand why we play the chord shapes that we do.

What Does It Mean When We See a Chord Symbol?

Let’s start with a very basic question: what is a chord? A chord is three or more different notes played together. That means that technically a power chord is not a chord at all, because there are only two different notes…but they sound good, so let’s keep using them!

Notice that there was no mention of strings, frets, or guitar in that definition? That’s because when we play a G chord on the guitar, we’re playing the same three notes as when a G chord is played on a piano, by an orchestra, or in production software. 

Let’s take a look at this three note chord idea. If you play a G chord on your guitar like this:

1 G Chord

You’re playing (from low to high) G-B-D-G-B-G. Yes, despite all that stretching and playing all six strings, you end up with just three notes! So when the bass in a band plays a B, the lead singer sings a G, and the tuba player plays a D, what chord do you hear?

That’s right, a G chord!

What does that mean for us guitarists? If I’m noodling my way up the neck and then quickly have to play a G chord, jumping all the way down to the 3rd fret might not be an option. However, if I can find some combination of G, B, and D near where I’m already at, I don’t need to. How about something like this:

2 G Chord

There are tons of options that open up when you realize that every time you see a G printed over the lyrics, you don’t have to do the same chord. Of course, the usual G shape wouldn’t get used so much if we didn’t like the sound, so if it’s convenient to get to and you like the sound, use it by all means!

How to Build Guitar Chords

Now that you know a little bit about how a chord works, let’s talk about how we build chords from scratch. This can get a little complicated, but stick with me – I’ll keep it simple to begin with.

The usual major and minor chords (if it’s just a letter without an “m,” it’s major) are built of just three notes like we’ve seen. Notice that in the G chord they’re also just two letters apart:


Luckily, this pattern works for all chords within a key. Let’s take a look at the key of C, so we don’t have to worry about sharps or flats. So what notes would we use to build a C chord? Let’s take a look:


So we now have our three notes, C, E and G for the C chord that we can play anywhere on the guitar. If we want to play an Am chord along with it, we can use the same pattern:

C D E F G A C 

…uh oh, we ran out of letters. Let’s just rearrange a little bit:

F G A C E 

So now we end up with A, C, and E to play anywhere we like.

Here are a few examples of different sounds you can get from the Am chord:

A Chords

What Difference Does It Make?

Hopefully you can now add a little extra flair to some songs in which the guitar part might have seemed a little boring at first glance. Perhaps you’ve run into this chord progression before:

C G Am G C

Here are a few ways that I might have improvised the chord voicings (depending on style and context) if I were to see a progression like this. Some are faster than others, but they’re all fairly simple if you know the basics of how to build chords on the guitar.

Below are a few options for C and G chords that you could use in this progression. Remember the point isn’t so much to memorize all the shapes, but to understand how these chords work so that you can find the notes of the chord anywhere that you need them.

C Chords


Now it’s your turn to take a few minutes, go back to a song that you thought sounded too boring, and add some pizzazz! Chords are so easy and versatile that you can transform any song.

If you have questions after reading this, or you’re not sure where to go next, click on the “Ask A Question” button on my profile!


Kirk RPost Author: Kirk R.
Kirk is a classical, bass, and acoustic guitar instructor in Denver, CO. He earned a bachelors of music in Guitar performance at The College-Conservatory of Music in Cincinnati and he is currently pursuing a masters degree in performance.  Learn more about Kirk here!


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Tabs and Videos; How to play Acoustic Guitar like John Mayer

Video Lessons: How to play Acoustic Guitar like John Mayer

Tabs and Videos; How to play Acoustic Guitar like John Mayer

Learn how to play acoustic guitar like John Mayer in these video lessons from guitar teacher Jonathan B.

John Mayer has been called one of the new “Guitar Gods.” Claiming Stevie Ray Vaughn as one of his biggest childhood heroes, the blues and jazz influence on his pop style has given him more than just a niche in the radio market.

It’s also made him able to influence millions of guitarists with his playing style and techniques. He continues to release a steady stream of new music and fans continue to take interest in his songwriting as well as his guitar techniques.

John Mayer is equally well known for his electric and acoustic guitar styles; in this article we will focus more on the acoustic. There are several tricky picking hand techniques he uses which throw many would-be cover artists off the trail.

A few of his most popular songs in guitar circles are “Stop This Train”, “Who Says”, “Neon”, “The Heart of Life”, “Clarity”, and “Your Body is a Wonderland”. Although these songs have a few notable techniques in them, we’re going to focus on just one in this article.

The Pluck and Chuck/Pick and Flick Technique

Notorious for confusing guitarists for the last several decades, this technique involves a basic reversal of hand mechanics. You must learn to ‘flick’ the pointer or middle finger and ‘slap’ with the thumb at the same time.

The thumb does not play a note; it simply pushes the string into the fretboard and plants itself there. This creates a percussive effect that imitates the snare drum backbeat. Mayer’s sound is heavily influenced by music with a strong groove, so this technique lets you integrate softer fingerpicking with soulful rhythmic styles without any hitches.

This video has a detailed introduction to chuck/flick techniques, with the most detailed explanations starting at 4:33.

When you start to get the basic stroke to sound good, progress to the following exercises.

They are very simple but they contain the most essential set of motions needed for pluck and chuck songs. When you feel you need a variation or you want to explore a bit, try improvising with these patterns over some chords or making up a solo using the thumb to create a rhythmic drone and playing melodies with the finger plucks and chucks.

Chucks are a tricky technique that take some time to adjust to. It’s usually wise to start learning a song that doesn’t require too many flicks on top of the thumb slaps.

“Clarity” is a perfect example of this, and the main riff to the song is an excellent starting point as you tune your hand position to accommodate the new role of the thumb in your playing.

How to Play “Clarity” by John Mayer

The trickiest basic technique to learn is the ‘single chuck.’ John Mayer’s guitar style uses a lot of individually picked notes that coincide with thumb slaps, so this technique is very important. Aside from basic issues of hand position and accuracy, you have to also learn to mix different fingers into patterns of both plucking and chucking.

Mayer has a strong tendency to do all the flicking with just his index finger, although there are at least a few of his patterns that probably also need to be flicked with the middle finger since the string crossings would be very awkward otherwise.

A good pattern to start with is the opening riff to “Stop This Train.”

How to Play “Stop This Train” by John Mayer

As you start to get this down, it’s good to reach for something a little more adventurous. The opening riff to “The Heart of Life” requires you to pick out a specific melody, which requires you to cross a lot of strings and you chuck out individual notes. Here’s the tab for that passage.

How to Play “The Heart of Life” by John Mayer

Mastering this song is an excellent way to develop pluck and chuck technique. Once you’ve completed this song, you’re likely to find that you can improvise melodies over various bass notes, provided that you’ve already learned a little about improvisation.

One of the best ways to capitalize on your newfound skill is to try to write or improvise on your own changes in the style of “The Heart of Life” and “Stop This Train.”

The first time most guitarists attempt a John Mayer acoustic song they stumble on this technique. Most western string players learn to ‘pluck’ or ‘pick’ strings, where Chinese Pipa and Indian Sitar players prefer to ‘chuck’ or ‘flick’ the strings.

It’s a fundamentally different stroke than what most guitarists are used to, so learning it often makes players feel like a complete beginner.

Never fear, your guitar teacher will be happy to help you, and more and more guitarists are tackling this technique as time goes by, and the number of songs that use it has increased dramatically in recent years.


Jonathan BPost Author: Jonathan B.
Jonathan B. is a guitar instructor, Temple University Music Theory graduate, and YouTube creator living in State College, PA. Learn more about Jonathan here!

Photo by Do512

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How to Master the F Chord

Beginning Guitar Tips: How to Master the F Chord

How to Master the F Chord

You’ve already seen the best tips and tricks for learning guitar chords, but what about the playing the infamous F chord on guitar? Guitar teacher Kirk R. shows you how to approach the F chord and gives you some advice for making it easier…

Three Misconceptions About the F Chord

The six-string F chord is, in my opinion, the hardest standard chord shape to play on the guitar. Even similar shapes are often easier, such as the Bb minor, which is the same hand position, but one string higher and only five strings; or the same shape as the F chord, but played higher up the neck. Barres generally become easier as you move up the neck.

However, I’ve seen tons of people try to play the F chord on guitar (and often succeed!) but with far too much struggle and effort than is actually necessary.

Even extremely influential guitarists can have a hard time with barre chords. There are plenty of guitarists who can play the F chord without keeping the following points in mind, but for those of you who aren’t as fluent with guitar skills, here are a few things to watch out for as you practice your F (and many other six-string barre) chords.

11) Barre chords are too hard, can’t I just play a different F shape?

This is a good point, and to be honest, sometimes you shouldn’t bother with all six strings. Maybe three or four notes are plenty for the sound you’re looking for.

But there are other times that you really need a full six-string sound or perhaps you need the low F to keep the bassline across the chords shaped the way you want.

In case that you don’t want or need all six strings, below are a couple of other options. I’ve include the six-string F shape, two Fs with fewer strings, and a common chord that is often played when guitarists don’t want to play the full F chord.

Beware, this last example is actually an Fmaj7 chord (notice the open E on the first string). Often, it sounds great, but I think that us musicians should always know which guitar chords we’re playing.

F Chord 1 F Chord 2 F Chord 3 F Chord 4


2) I have to press down all six strings with one finger?

NO! This is where many people struggle when first learning the F chord. If you look carefully at the chart above, you should notice that there are only three strings with dots on the first fret.

This means that you can hold down the low F (first fret, sixth string) with the tip of your index, and curve your finger slightly above the center strings and press the two highest strings with the base of your curved index finger. This means that you only have to press down half the number of strings as most people think! It may take some time practicing but it will save you tons of energy, especially if playing barre chords for long.

Once this is mastered, it’s possible to actually cover all six strings gently, muting them all, and then while strumming, isolate specific strings to press down one at a time with the same finger muting the rest. It sounds impossible, I know. It can be done, but if you can’t get it right away, don’t worry. I still struggle to isolate all six strings one at a time!


3) If I can’t make all the notes play, I should just squeeze the neck more, right?

Another big misconception that I hear among guitarists is that barre chords require lots of pressure from the thumb pressing forward on the neck. This often works, but takes much more energy than players usually realize.

Because of this, after a few measures of a barre, beginning guitarists often complain of pain or cramping in the thumb or wrist. I always compare this to running backwards while throwing a baseball when explaining this to my students.

If you’re moving in the opposite direction as you’re throwing the ball, it won’t go as far as if you threw it just as hard standing still or running forward.

The pressure you put on the back of the neck works against your fingers pressing on the strings. Because of our natural reflexes, our body then tells our fingers to press extra hard, so the notes tend to ring but with lots of extra work on our part.

In fact, I often play barres without my thumb touching the neck at all. In cases where I have a barre in combination with a large stretch (plus my small hands), I frequently can’t reach the back of the neck with my thumb at all!


Best of luck with your F chord practice! To be completely honest, it will take lots of time and effort to comfortably play the F chord without thinking about it too much.

Only practice as long as it takes before injuring your fingers. A good guitar teacher will show you every variation of the F chord, so if you have any problems with the normal F chord, have no fear! Let’s hear about your previous experiences with the F chord and other barre chords in the comments below!


Kirk RPost Author: Kirk R.
Kirk is a classical, bass, and acoustic guitar instructor in Denver, CO. He earned a bachelors of music in Guitar performance at The College-Conservatory of Music in Cincinnati and he is currently pursuing a masters degree in performance.  Learn more about Kirk here!


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How to Use Phrasing to Make Your Guitar Solos Amazing

One Simple Thing That Will Make Your Guitar Solos Amazing

How to Use Phrasing to Make Your Guitar Solos Amazing

It takes a lot of skill to stand out as a guitarist. Here, guitar teacher Bernard M. shows you exactly what it takes to pull off an amazing solo and how you should approach phrasing…

You may or may not be ready to play a guitar solo, but it’s good to know what elements go into one. What is it that makes a great guitar solo? While there are many ways to answer this question, there is one crucial element that often goes overlooked by even the most experienced players: phrasing.

Phrasing is the way in which a musician or composer combines notes to create a musical sentence, or phrase. Although it can be very subtle, it often makes the difference between a memorable solo and “note soup.” What does this mean for you guitarists? Play less, leave space.

Want to Impress? Play Less! How to Use Phrasing to Make Your Guitar Solos Amazing

Let your ears lead the way, not your fingers.

Many musicians suffer from the misconception that faster, more technical playing is somehow better and more “musical.” This can be very discouraging to new players, who have trouble competing with their more experienced peers. Never fear! Creativity and imagination are what make great music, and this is what phrasing is all about.

Check out these two samples to hear the difference between a busy solo and one that uses creative phrasing.

The Problem: A Run-On

Example B Full

Not bad at all, but can you hum a bar or two of that solo? Does any part of it stick in your memory? The problem with this solo is that it’s practically one long phrase. Like a run-on sentence, it’s difficult to follow and needs to be broken up!

In this next sample, I add space and punctuation to the previous solo, creating different musical phrases.

The Solution: Adding Space

Example A Full

By simply adding space to create distinct phrases, I have made the solo much more memorable and effective. Each phrase has room to breathe before moving on to the next. By playing less, the notes that are played gain much more power, adding strength to the solo as a whole.

Hopefully, by now I’ve convinced you to focus on your phrasing the next time you go to take a solo. This, however, is easier said than done. Phrasing is very elusive and intangible.

It has a closer link to creativity than technique, and therefore, is difficult to learn or teach methodically. Instead, it’s something that constantly develops as you grow more experienced and more tasteful. Here are few suggestions to help you develop your phrasing and taste.

Want to Impress? Play Less! How to Use Phrasing to Make Your Guitar Solos Amazing

Take your time.

This is perhaps one of simplest yet most profound suggestions on how to improve your soloing. Being comfortable and confident while playing allows you to sound your best. If you try to fill your solo with every last lick you can conjure up, you will very likely end up feeling rushed, nervous, and stumbling through the solo.

Slow down! Savor the solo and don’t overthink it. When you relax and give yourself plenty of time, it allows your creative instincts to take the wheel. Some great ways to leave yourself this room to breathe include long, expressive bends, sustained notes with some tasty vibrato, and even simple rests.

Want to Impress? Play Less! How to Use Phrasing to Make Your Guitar Solos Amazing

Break it up.

Even the most creative players can fall into the trap of putting their fingers on auto-pilot, aimlessly playing up and down familiar scales in monotonous eight notes or triplet lines. One of the best ways to combat this common ailment is to break up the patterns.

Playing a long descending eighth note line? Throw a rest or two in there to punctuate your phrase. This can be a very powerful move and make an otherwise boring lick fresh and interesting.

Want to Impress? Play Less! How to Use Phrasing to Make Your Guitar Solos Amazing

Think like a drummer.

We guitar players spend a lot of time thinking about chords, scales, arpeggios, and intervals. While there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that, we sometimes forget about something just as, if not more, important; rhythm.

Thinking about what you are playing rhythmically is at the core of phrasing. What are you doing on the third beat of the measure, or the “& of 2?” What beats do you want to highlight or downplay? Do you want to play along with the beat, or use syncopation to emphasize unexpected accents?

This might seem overwhelming to players who are not used to thinking this way, so I will refer to my advice above; take your time, play what you are comfortable playing and above all, follow your creative instincts.

Want to Impress? Play Less! How to Use Phrasing to Make Your Guitar Solos Amazing

Emulate the experts.

My final piece of advice is to study the players that inspire you the most. How do they use phrasing in their solos?

Learn your favorite guitar solos, note for note, and study them closely. This is a great way to pick up the playing habits of your heroes and start developing your own individual sound.

Studying the solos of players like David Gilmour, Eric Clapton, or Derek Trucks, who have a keen sense of phrasing, will help you make even the simplest licks powerful, expressive and inspiring. Some of my favorite songs to play are classic rock guitar solos. They feel good and they sound incredible.

As always, make sure you set aside time for plenty of practice. Try to not go a day without playing for 15 minutes. You will start to see significant progress in just a couple of weeks!


Bernard M Teacher Post Author: Bernard M.
Bernard M. is a guitar and songwriting instructor in Philadelphia, PA. He teaches lessons online and will travel to his students. Learn more about Bernard here!


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best violin songs

Best Violin Songs and Tips for Wedding Performances

best violin songs

Violinists get ready because it’s wedding season! Below, violin teacher Julie P. shares the best violin songs for weddings as well as some helpful tips and tricks for preparing and performing…

Wedding season is both an exciting and stressful time for violinists. For much of the summer and fall, violinists are in high demand, as the violin is one of the most popular instruments requested for weddings.

If you’ve been asked to play solo or in a larger mixed-instrument ensemble, you might be feeling a bit stressed. After all, you want to make sure the bride and groom’s day goes off without a hitch.

To help you prepare, review this quick guide to playing the violin at weddings and list of the best violin songs.

Initial Meeting With The Couple

Typically, you’ll be asked to play the violin during the ceremony and/or the cocktail hour. Different kinds of music are appropriate for these events, and sometimes clients will even have specific requests.

When discussing the best violin songs to choose ahead of time, try to be as detailed as possible so you can get an accurate picture of what the couple wants.

It’s very helpful to have demo tracks of your violin playing to give to prospective clients. If you don’t have demo tracks, you can use YouTube clips to make sure you’re clear on the style of the music the client wants.

For example,”Signed, Sealed Delivered” by Stevie Wonder is typically played pretty funky, but maybe the client wants a version arranged for string quartet as seen in this video.


Some couples will have no idea what violin songs they want played or when they should even be played. In this case, it is very helpful for everyone involved if you have a standard list prepared that you can show them.

For a wedding ceremony, you’re list should include the following:

  • Prelude music
  • Entrance music for the mother-of-the-bride and groom
  • Entrance music for the bridesmaids
  • Entrance music for the bride
  • Special music for the middle of the ceremony (might be hymns that are sung, music played during a unity ceremony, or during communion)
  • Recessional music for the bridal party
  • Exit music for the guests

For a cocktail hour, you are much freer to choose whatever music you like playing. Just be sure to find out what style of music the couple wants you to play. Cocktail hours can run the gamut from classical to jazz to bluegrass to pop.


Once you’ve ironed out some of the details, it is always a good idea to prepare a contract that you can present to the couple.

Not only will having a contract make you look more professional, but it’s a great way to protect your time and make sure all parties are on the same page regarding the details of the gig.

If you’re not sure where to start in creating a contract, here’s an excellent example from Shaw Strings.


The way you and your ensemble dress is very important. Make sure you ask about the dress code, as every wedding is different. You want to fit in and not distract from the ceremony itself.

It’s also important to have promotional materials that reflect the level of professionalism of you or your group, as well as the range of styles and settings you can play.

These materials will often be the first contact prospective clients have with you, so you want to make sure that your pictures and recordings are as appealing as possible.

Playing Outside vs. Inside

If you’re playing outdoors, heavy music stands and music fasteners are crucial. Almost every violinist has played at a wedding in which their music blew away or their stand toppled over in the wind.

Sometimes such a music fail is inevitable, but be prepared as best you can. Sometimes photocopying the music to put in a binder is best, and clips like these can be lifesavers. Since your instrument is valuable, ensure that you will not have to play in rain or direct sunlight.

Building a Repertoire List

These days, wedding music can range from traditional classical music and hymns, to pop and rock songs. For whatever instrumentation you’re playing with, it’s good to have a wide variety of repertoire prepared.

The more diverse your repertoire list, the wider the range of customers you will attract. If you’re looking to build a great repertoire list, here are 10 of the best violin songs to play.


Pachelbel’s Canon

Ave Maria, Schubert

Bridal March, Wagner

Air on the G string, Bach

Jesu Joy of Man’s Desiring, Bach


All You Need is Love, Beatles

At Last, Etta James

Can’t Help Falling in Love, Elvis Presley

What a Wonderful World, Louis Armstrong

I’m Yours, Jason Mraz

Use these tips and the list of the best violin songs to help you prepare for your first wedding gig. Remember, weddings are joyous events so sit back and enjoy your time there!

Photo by Pbkwee

JuliePPost Author: Julie P.
Julie 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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The DIY Drummer 3 Ways to Build Your Own Drum Set

The DIY Drummer: 3 Ways to Build Your Own Drum Set

The DIY Drummer 3 Ways to Build Your Own Drum Set

When you’re learning to play drums, you may want to explore other options to practice your craft besides spending money on an expensive drum set. Here, San Diego, CA drum instructor Maegan W. shares some creative ideas to help you build your own drum set….

Have you ever thought about building your own drum set? Maybe you’d like to save a few bucks and build your own drums instead of shelling out money on an expensive drum kit. Or, maybe you’re super crafty and you would just like to create something unique and awesome!

Whether you want to build your own drums from household items or restore an old kit and make it your own, here are three simple ways to build your own drum set.

Build Your Own Drum Set Using Household Items

If air drumming isn’t cutting it, and you’re ready for the next level but not ready to invest in a new drum set, then take a look around your house.

Many of the most famous and successful drummers started out playing on pillows. Sounds crazy, right? Well actually, it sounds like nothing at all…  which is an added bonus because you can play any time — without disturbing anyone.

Pillows are great, not only because they’re quiet, but they also offer little bounce (pretty much none), which means you will need to work twice as hard.

Why is this a good thing? Let’s look at an analogy: A baseball player uses a doughnut to add weight to his bat when he warms up. Then, when he goes up to bat, he removes the doughnut and the bat seems light and swift. The same thing happens when you move from pillows to drums; your hands feel lighter and faster.

Check out some of the drummers who were raised playing gospel music, like Tony Royster Jr. and Arron Spears. They have what’s called “gospel chops,” and they’re blazing fast. This is because most of them couldn’t have drum sets, so they practiced on pillows.

You can also build your own drum set with plastic bottles. Use smaller bottles (12 or 16 ounce bottles),  and arrange them in the shape of a drum set. Fill each bottle with a different amount of water, for different pitches of sound.

Now, take some heavy tape (like masking tape) and tape the bottles to a wood or cardboard surface. The surface can be cut out in a way that makes it easy to reach the bottles and mimics a real drum set.

Lastly, you can use pots and pans to build your won drums. Make sure to get your parents’ permission first. Remember, if you hit a pot our pan with a drum stick, it will be REALLY loud, so make sure to tape the ends of your sticks, or tape a paper towel onto the pot.

Lay the pots and pans out like a drum set and have at it! If you think this sounds lame, just watch some STOMP videos. I was in a similar group that played on pots and pans. Not only did we sound great, we had a lot of fun!

Build Your Own Drum Set With Old Parts

I have personal experience building a drum set this way. I was raised playing on my grandfather’s kit, which he passed down to my dad. It was an old Slingerland kit. Once that one started to fall apart, I invested in my first drum set — a deep blue five-piece Pearl Export Series kit, and I was in love.

I kept the kit in the garage. After 10 years, the hardware rusted and the final wrap warped and began to fall off, so I decided to clean them up myself. This was a very tedious process. Although there was something zen about scrubbing each and every washer, screw, and lugnut with WD-40 and an SOS Steel wool pad, I got the worst headaches and lost about two months of time I could have been practicing. I stripped the shells, sanded and painted them, and scrubbed, sanded, and painted the hoops, too.

In the end, the parts looked great, but this is a project for someone who loves crafts (long, time-consuming crafts). If you’re super crafty, here’s an in-depth look at building your own drums. If you try this, let us know how it goes!

If you’re like me, however, and you’d rather not devote this much time to restoring old parts, you can find decent drums for a fair price — if you look. Some people will even give their drums away if they don’t use them or are unable to store them.

Want to buy a quality used drum kit? Check out this guide!

Build an On-the-Go Drum Set

These days, it’s rare that I get to practice on my full drum set, which of course is what I prefer. If you’re constantly on the go or if you don’t have a drum set, an on-the-go drum set will be your best friend.

Using practice pads is a great way to get the feel and response of a real drum set. Plus, practice pads are portable, inexpensive, and quiet.

There are several different practice pad options. I personally like firm, rubber pads, as opposed to jelly or soft rubber. I bring my drum pads with me wherever I go. If someone else is driving, you can bet I’m drumming in the car!

DW drums makes a pad set that comes with a stand, and is great to learn proper spacing and movement. This set even has a pad for a drum pedal.

When it comes to mobile, DIY drums, you can also do what the “buskers” (street drummers) do; use buckets. This is a great way to get a full set feel and play different sounds (you may even be able to make some money). Keep in mind that buckets can add up in cost and are really loud, but they can help you work on chops and patterns.

Play on Whatever You Can Find

Last but not least, play on whatever you can find. Maybe it’s the ground, your shoe, your annoying little brother (just kidding), but I have played on the grass, dirt, carpet, table (at a park, not in the house), and even the rubber sole of my shoe.

The main thing is just to practice as much as possible. Keep running rudiments, and keep your arms and wrists, hands and fingers warmed up and ready to go.

As a drummer, you need to accept and adapt to imperfect practice conditions. This just comes with territory when you play a large, loud, expensive instrument.

Be creative, and have fun finding new, fun ways to practice!

Do you have some other ideas to build your own drum set? Let us know in the comments below!


Post Author:
 Maegan W.
Maegan 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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Japanese vocabulary

Back-to-School Vocabulary: 10 School Supplies in Japanese

Japanese vocabulary

Ready to go back to school? As you and your family prepare for the upcoming school year, continue your Japanese lessons and learn back-to-school vocabulary with language teacher Carol Beth L... 

As the school year starts, it’s time brush up on your vocabulary to talk about school supplies! Here are some Japanese vocabulary words that may prove useful as you head back to class.

1) Empitsu – Pencil

Hiragana: えんぴつ Kanji: 鉛筆

Because you’ll definitely need a pencil when you go back to school!

Use empitsu the same way you would use other nouns, especially tools.

  • Kanji: 鉛筆と 宿題を 書きました
  • Hiragana: えんぴつと しゅくだいを かきました
  • Romaji: Empitsu to shukudai o kakimashita
  • English: I wrote my homework with a pencil

2) Pen – Pen

Katakana: ペン

Although the word for pencil is a native Japanese word, the common word for “pen” is borrowed from English, and is therefore written using katakana.

You can use it similarly to the way you use pencil:

  • Kanji: ペンと 名前を 書いて下ださい
  • Hiragana / Katakana: ペンと なまえを かいてください
  • Romaji: Pen to namae o kaite kudasai
  • English: Please write your name with a pen

3) Kami – Paper

Hiragana: かみ Kanji: 紙

Paper-making has been in Japan for hundreds of years. It was brought over from the Asian mainland, and has traditionally been used by students, even before pens and pencils were used for writing.

You might use this Japanese vocabulary word as follows:

  • Kanji: 紙 と 鉛筆を 出して ノートを 取って下ださい
  • Katakana: かみと えんぴつを だして ノート を とってください
  • Romaji: Kami to empitsu o (take out), no-to o totte-kudasai
  • English: Please take out a piece of paper and take notes.

4) Hon – Book

Hiragana: ほん kanji: 本

The kanji for this word is, interestingly enough, also used in the Japanese word for Japan: 日本 (Nihon). In the context of school, however, it just means a book.

For example:

  • Kanji: 日本語の 本を 取りました
  • Katakana: にほんごの ほんを とりました。
  • Romaji: Nihongo no hon o torimashita
  • English: I took a Japanese book
  • Kanji: この本を 読みます
  • Katakana: このほんを よみます
  • Romaji: Kono hon o yomimasu
  • English: I’m reading this book

5) Tsukue – Desk

Hiragana: つくえ Kanji: 机

  • Kanji: 貴方の 机を 友達の 隣に あります
  • Katakana: あなたの つくえを ともだちの となりに あります
  • Romaji: Anata no tsukue wa tomodachi no tonari ni arimasu
  • English: Your desk is next to your friend

6) Teeburu – Table

Katakana: テーブル

Unlike desk, for which the native Japanese is usually used, the English word, written in katakana and pronounced with Japanese phonetics, is commonly adopted for table.

For example:

Kanji: 英語のクラスで 机が ありません。テーブルが あります
Hiragana / Katakana: えいごのクラスで つくえが ありません。 テーブルが あります
Romaji: Eigo no kurasu de tsukue ga arimasen. Teeburu ga arimasu.
English: In English class, there are no desks. There are tables.

7) Keshigomu – Eraser

Hiragana / Katakana: けしゴム  Kanji: 消しゴム

The written form of this Japanese vocabulary word is interesting because it contains both hiragana and katakana for the kana only form, and kanji and katakana for the kanji form.

Since hiragana and kanji are used for native words and katakana is used for foreign words, we can conclude that this word contains elements of both origins.

Here’s an example of how it might be used:

Kanji: 良く書きませんでした!消しゴムを 使います
Hiragana: よくかきませんでした!けしゴムを つかいます
Romaji: Yoku kakimasen deshita! Keshigomu o tsukaimasu
English: I didn’t write well! I’m using an eraser

8. Fukuro – Bag / Sack

Hiragana: ふくろ; Kanji:

This word means “bag” or “sack.” So if you’re looking for a native Japanese word to describe what you use to carry books, this is one option.

Don’t jump to any conclusions about the most appropriate word, however, until you read number nine.

9. Randoseru – Backpack

Katakana: ランドセル

This word came from Dutch, and is commonly used to describe the sturdy little backpacks that have been used by Japanese school children since about the 19th century.
Backpacks in other parts of the world are similar, and you could probably use this word for your own backpack, also.
Some people specifically use it to describe the particular style of Japanese backpack.
Kanji: クラスの前に ランドセルを 買います
Hiragana/Katakana: クラスのまいに ランドセルを かいます
Romaji: Kurasu no mai ni randoseru o kaimasu
English: I will buy a backpack before classes

10. Shukudai – Homework

Hiragana: しゅくだい Kanji: 宿題

As the school year starts, you may receive some assignments!
  • Kanji: 今年は 宿題をしてください
  • Hiragana: きょねんは しゅくだいを してく下ださい
  • Romaji: Kyonen shukudai o shite kudasai
  • English: This year, please do your homework!

Japanese Vocabulary

Good luck as you head back to class. Make use of your new Japanese vocabulary, practice regularly, and がんばります (do your best)!

Carol BethPost Author: Carol Beth L.
Carol Beth L. teaches French lessons in San Francisco, CA. She also studied Japanese in high school and college.  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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useful italian phrases

La Famiglia: Useful Italian Phrases and Words for Family

useful italian phrases

Family plays a big role in the Italian culture. Below, Italian teacher Nadia B. shares some useful Italian phrases and words for describing family.

Italians are all about la famiglia or family. In fact, it’s common for family members to gather for weekly dinners and multiple family members to live under the same roof or neighborhood.

As you continue to learn the Italian language and culture, you’ll start to understand the importance of family. And soon you’ll be asked to describe your family dynamic to others.

Review the useful Italian phrases and words below, so you’ll be able to hold an Italian conversation about your family.

First, let’s learn the various different members of the family. Notice that the article changes depending on the gender of the noun.

Next up, a common question when learning about someone’s family is who’s the oldest and who’s the youngest. Below are some useful Italian phrases and words to correctly answer this question.

  • maggiore or più grande (the oldest)
  • minore or più piccolo (the youngest)
  • di mezzo (the middle)

Below are some additional useful Italian phrases and words that will come in handy as your family grows.

  • il marito (husband)
  • la moglie (wife)
  • il fidanzato (fiancé)
  • la fidanzata (fiancée)
  • il cognato (brother-in-law)
  • la cognata (sister-in-law)
  • il suocero (father-in-law)
  • la suocera (mother-in-law)

If you need to describe your marital status, you can use the following terms.

  • sposato/a (married)
  • nubile (single)
  • dicorziato/a (divorced)
  • separato/a (separated)
  • vedovo/a (widowed)

Important Italian Grammar Tips

When having an Italian conversation about your family there are some important grammar tips you must keep in mind. For example, i parenti in Italian means relatives, not parents.

It’s a false cognate that’s often misused by second language speakers. The correct word for parents is i genitori. A more casual way to refer to your parents is to say ‘i miei’ (literally meaning mine).

When referring to a single member of the family, don’t use the definite article. For instance, tua sorella is correct; and la tua sorella is incorrect. If there is more than one member, you should use the definite article as you would normally. For example, le tue sorelle.

This rule, however, becomes null if the single family member you are referring to is modified in some way (for example, with an adjective, a prefix, suffix or if the possessive is loro). In these cases, use the definite article. See examples below:

  • il mio caro cugino (cugino is modified by the adjective caro)
  • la mia bisnonna (nonna is modified with the prefix –bis)
  • il mio fratellino (fratello is modified with the suffix -ino)
  • la loro sorella (sorella is used with the possessive loro)

One additional fine point of the definite article concerns affectionate terms for family members. When using terms such as mamma and papà, if you use the article (i.e. la mia mamma / il mio papa) it possesses an additional affectionate meaning. Whereas if you use it without the article (mia mamma / mio papà) it simply expresses the relationship as your mom or dad.

Try It Out Yourself

Now that you know several useful Italian phrases and words for family, try to develop a sentence using the vocabulary above. Use the example below to help get you started.

“La mia famiglia è molto grande. Mia madre ha sette fratelli, e ho molti cugini. Non ho sorelle, ma ho due fratelli minori. I miei genitori sono sposati da 1979. Adesso ho anche due cognate. Non ho ancora nipoti.”

(My family is very large. My mother has seven siblings, and I have lots of cousins. I don’t have sisters, but I have two younger brothers. My parents have been married since 1979. Now I also have two sister-in-laws. I still don’t have nephews or nieces.)

With these useful Italian phrases and words, you should be well-equipped to describe your family in Italian. Keep working with your Italian tutor on these useful Italian words and phrases for family so that when the topic comes up, you’ll be ready!

nadiaBPost Author:
 Nadia B.
Nadia B. teaches Italian in New York, NY. She graduated summa cum laude from New York University, with a double degree in Italian Language and Literature and Classical Music Performance. Learn more about Nadia here!

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10 AppsforDrummers

11 More Awesome Music Apps for Drummers

10 AppsforDrummers

When you’re learning drums, it’s important to find fun and easy ways to practice on the go. Grab your smartphone because here, Edmond, OK drum instructor Tracy D. shares her picks for the best mobile apps for drummers…

App developers have certainly made great tools available for musicians, and a few fantastic apps for drummers. So whether you’re a beginner or an intermediate drummer, here are 11 smartphone apps you should download, now!

Drum Set apps

These smartphone apps are entertaining, easy to use, and they can help you execute ideas when you’re away from your kit (or don’t have one yet). Many of these apps can also help beginners learn to read music.

apps for drummersDrums!

Drums! has a built-in music player and single and double kick features.

The app gives you the ability to jam along to pre-recorded tracks and play different sounds. Download additional in-app features like the percussion pack for an additional cost.

You can download this app from the iTunes store.

apps for drummersDrum set

This app has multi-touch functionality, low latency, and allows you to choose from a variety of setups.

The play-along feature let’s you practice to your favorite songs, or use the “Song Player” feature to play your own songs.

Drum set is available to download on Android devices.

apps for drummersDrumKit

This Windows-compatible app is like a virtual drum set.

DrumKit includes sounds from a variety of drums in addition to cymbals, toms, and kick drums.

The movable components make this app ideal for left-handed drummers.


Metronome apps

Let’s face it: if you want to play with solid time, you need a metronome. Apps make some feature-rich timekeepers that are powerful and inexpensive.

apps for drummersTempo

This feature-rich app has 35 different time signatures (simple, compound, and complex). The app will continue to run even when your device locks, which makes it great to use during practice. It also has setlist functionality, which will take you from the shed to the stage.

Want to demo this app for free? Download the lite version and give it a try.

apps for drummersMetronome Beats Pro

Create a setlist of songs and play through them continuously.

With a range of different sounds, and beat and bar counters, Metronome Beats Pro is great to use during practice, and even effective for live shows.


apps for drummers


Metronomy includes sound recording and fine tempo tuning (from 40 to 238 BPM).

The visual beat counter will help you learn to keep time on drums. Download this app and use it next time you practice!



Drum Machine and Loop apps

If you’re a drummer or a multi-instrumentalist, you will find these apps useful and fun. Use these to fuel your creativity and provide a backdrop for your technical work.

apps for drummersDrum Beats+

Drum Beats+ has over 100 built-in drum loops, but don’t worry, if that’s not enough, you can always download more!

The easy tempo changer (from 60 to 190 BPM) makes this app ideal for both beginner and advanced drummers.


apps for drummers


Use the drum machine/loop station to create your own beats. Or play-along to one of 91 samples.

You can also change the tempo from 40-250 beats per minute.

Download RaveIT for your Windows device here.


Drum Lesson apps

Learn some chops and licks from some legends of the industry.

apps for drummersDrum Guru

Download Drum Guru to access short lessons from world-renowned drummers.

This beginner-friendly app also features videos with notations.



Notation and Composition Apps

As you progress you will likely have ideas that you will want to jot down, and these apps for drummers have quite a few handy features. Plus, if you get into larger-scale compositions, you will still find them useful.

apps for drummersReflow Score Writer

Reflow Score Writer is iCloud and Dropbox ready, so you can make changes on the fly that will be   saved across your devices.

With several options to import and play files, and lots of fun features, you will definitely get more   bang for your buck with this app.

apps for drummersEnsemble Composer Pro

Import and export files in MusicXML formats so you can exchange sheets with other software   programs.

Want to show off the cool new beat you just recorded? Ensemble Composer Pro allows you to export songs as ringtones.



These 11 apps are personal favorites of mine. If you use these apps regularly and with great focus, you will become a well-rounded drummer and musician. Your practice with these apps should be consistent.

These are just a few of many apps for drummers available online. Try these out and let us know what you think! 


TracyDPost Author: Tracy D.
Tracy D. teaches percussion and drum lessons in Edmond, OK, as well as online. She has been playing the drums with various bands for more than 13 years. Tracy earned her Bachelor’s in Music Education from Oklahoma Christian University and has played with the OKC Community Orchestra since 2009.  Learn more about Tracy here!

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4 Biggest French Hits of Summer 2015 (1)

French Music Countdown: 4 Biggest French Hits of Summer 2015

4 Biggest French Hits of Summer 2015 (1)

Summer is a perfect time for learning French, but it’s also a great time for letting loose! In this article, French teacher Seth N. takes you on a short tour of the top summer hits in France for 2015…

Let the Tour Begin!

Featuring a strong mix of international and local hits, the French pop charts for summer 2015 display an astounding diversity of French pop music. Everything from Norwegian producer Kygo’s club banger “Stole the Show,” to Jamaican sensation OMI’s catchy hit “Cheerleader,” is charting high on French airwaves this summer.

Still, the highest levels of mainstream success were reserved almost exclusively for native French artists, with a number of local acts either establishing or reaffirming their status as pop superstars in their home market. The following were the four biggest songs to come out of the French music industry from May through August 2015. Allow me to be your tour guide – let’s begin!

1) Feder ft. Lyse – “Goodbye”

Despite being a far cry from the standard summer jam, the seductive deep house grooves of Nice-born Feder’s “Goodbye” nonetheless cast a major spell over French listeners during the latter half of summer. It held the number one spot on the French charts for a longer period of time (five weeks) than any other track across the May through August window.

This song’s heady combination of underground rhythms, Balkan-tinged strings, and luscious pop vocals allowed it to claim its crown as France’s unquestioned tube de l’été (French for “hit of the summer”). Listening to this type of music is a good way to practice your French listening skills.


2) David Guetta ft. Nicki Minaj, Bebe Rehxa and Afrojack – “Hey Mama”

For American audiences, this is a song that obviously needs no introduction. Still, it would be remiss of me to compile a list of this summer’s biggest French songs without including a track that not only tore up the legendary DJ’s home market of France, but also found international success with which Mr. Guetta has become familiar with over the last few years.


3) Fréro Delavega and Skydancer – “Le Chant des Sirènes – Remix” (The Sirens’ Song – Remix)

Fréro Delavega is a French duo made up of 25-year-old Jeremy Fréro and 28-year-old Flo Delavega. They first rose to prominence via their participation in the French reality show The Voice: La Plus Belle Voix.

Le Chant des Sirènes” was the biggest hit to come from the pair’s self-titled 2014 debut album, and following the 2015 release of this remix from producer Sky Dancer, the new version of the track began its own climb up the charts.

Sky Dancer’s take on “Le Chant des Sirènes” combines the downbeat beauty of the original with a tastefully handled house beat and atmospheric synths that amplify the charms of the original song without transforming it.

One of the benefits of this approach is that the eloquent poetry of the original’s lyrics is left intact and accessible to the listener, allowing lines like, “Les années passent, l’écho s’évade sur la Dune du Pilat/ Au gré des saisons, des photomatons, je m’abandonne à ces lueurs d’autrefois” – or –

“The years pass, the echo escapes across the Dune of Pilat/At the mercy of the seasons, of photo booths, I give myself over to gleams of former times” – to add a tangible sense of place and longing to the track’s melancholic rhythms and melodies.

Be sure to take note of how the lyrics in this song are sung. Trying to get French pronunciation down can be difficult, but as always with anything new, keep practicing!


4) Maître Gims – “Est-ce que tu m’aimes?” (Do You Love Me?)

After first making a name for himself as a member of hip-hop group Sexion d’Assaut, Maître Gims embarked on a solo career in 2013 with the release of his hugely successful debut album Subliminal. “Est-ce que tu m’aimes?”, the first single to be released from forthcoming follow-up M.C.A.R., finds Maître Gims sliding right back into his hit-making ways without missing a beat.

The French MC’s West African heritage (Maître was born in Zaire but immigrated to France when he was only two years old) heavily influences the track.

It has bustling tribal drums underpinning a group of half-sung/half-rapped hooks that are almost guaranteed to have wormed their way into the most distant reaches of your eardrums, even if some of the lines themselves seem designed specifically to cause a bit of cringing.

For example, “J’étais prêt à graver ton image a l’encre noire sous mes paupières/ Afin de te voir même dans un sommeil éternel” – or – “I was ready to engrave your image in black ink under my eyelids/ So that I would be able to see you even in the midst of an eternal slumber.”

Most importantly, this song functions as a thrilling pouring-out-my-heart-and-soul power ballad. At the same time, it provides a small window into the great diversity of cultural experiences and aesthetic tendencies that are currently shaping the style and substance of 21st century French pop.

End of the Tour

That concludes our French summer music tour – I hope you had fun! It’s fun listening to songs when you don’t know the language. Although, learning French could make your listening experience all the better! Try listening to some contemporary French singers if you’d like more. I’ll see you at the next tour!


Post Author: Seth N.
Seth N. is fluent in French and teaches in Maylene, AL. He recently graduated from Yale University with a bachelor’s degree in East Asian Languages and Literature. Seth plans on returning to school this Fall to earn a law degree. Learn more about Seth here!

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