An Introductory Guide to Becoming a Multi-Instrumentalist

Infographic: How Easy Is It To Switch Instruments? | Music Tips

Drummers, are you curious about the cello? Is it easy or hard to switch from guitar to piano? Learn the tips and tricks for switching instruments in this post by teacher Willy M

Have you been playing an instrument for a while now, but you’re beginning to realize that it doesn’t do everything you’d like to do musically? Did your parents spend a lot of money on an instrument (and you like it), but you’d also like to try something new?

If you answered yes to either of these questions, then this is the article for you!

Switching from one instrument to another — from guitar to piano, for example — doesn’t have to be difficult. Sure, you won’t master it overnight. But this article will dive into tips and tricks to make the transition easier.

How to Play Multiple Instruments


I am a multi-instrumentalist. I play keyboard instruments, and I play stringed instruments like the guitar, the banjo, and the mandolin. I also play wind instruments like the harmonica and the tin whistle, as well as percussion and drums for different bands.

People often come up to me when they see me perform with some kind of amazed wonder. Other musicians approach me as if I am some kind of superhuman to be able to play at a professional level on a wide variety of instruments.

But let me assure you, I am a normal person just like you.

What makes me different is that I’ve learned to understand that all instruments share some of the same fundamental principles. And once you understand the principles that apply to all instruments, you can figure out how to make music on these instruments.

But first, let’s break down the four main types of instruments:

  • Piano (including keyboards)
  • Stringed instruments (including guitar, banjo, mandolin, and violin)
  • Wind instruments (including flute, harmonica, brass instruments, and bagpipes)
  • Percussion instruments (including drum set, djembe, and cajon)

Understanding the Basics


There are a few things to keep in mind when transitioning from one instrument to another:

1) The basic notes will almost always be the same, no matter what instrument you switch to. (I say almost, because some world instruments do have extra notes, but for our discussion we will stick to well-known Western instruments.) A Major scale will always be A Major scale. A Minor scale will always be A Minor scale.

2) There will be some muscle memory issues that need to be worked out with almost every transition you make. Sometimes you will be switching from predominately using your left hand to predominately using your right, or vice versa. Sometimes, you’ll need to build finger strength when you move over to an instrument that requires more than your first instrument. Posture muscles, lip and mouth muscles, finger calluses, arm muscles, and even leg muscles may need to be developed and conditioned.

3) You may find that the way you comfortably sit with one instrument is not the way you sit comfortably with another instrument. As an example: when I play the banjo, I sit with my knees tucked in to allow the banjo a place to rest while I play, whereas with the drums, my knees are wider apart to reach the hi-hat and kick pedals.

4) You may find that your fingers are already trained. For instance, a guitar uses the left-hand fingers for playing chords and lead lines. The Irish tin whistle uses the left hand to finger some of the holes, and the dexterity gained from playing the guitar can easily cross over to the tin whistle.

5) Depending on the instrument you begin with, some new musical techniques may need to be learned. If you started with an instrument that uses a particular clef, you might need to learn to read another clef. If you never read tablature before, you might need to learn.

How to Switch Instruments – Diving In Further

An Introductory Guide to Becoming a Multi-Instrumentalist

So now that we’ve covered some basic things that you need to look out for, let’s take a look at switching to and from certain instrument categories.

Jump to Sections:

Piano to Strings
Piano to Wind
Piano to Percussion
Strings to Piano
Strings to Wind
Strings to Percussion
Wind to Piano
Wind to Strings
Wind to Percussion
Percussion to Piano
Percussion to Wind
Percussion to String

  • Switching From Piano to a String Instrument

Switching from keyboards to stringed instruments can be tricky. If you are switching to a stringed instrument that primarily uses tablature (guitar, banjo, mandolin, lute) you might find that learning to read the TAB is confusing.

Another thing to look out for is this: when you play a keyboard instrument, it takes little to no muscle strength to push down on the keys to produce a note. But with most stringed instruments, you will need to build up finger strength, finger sensitivity (yes, you might start developing calluses on your fingers), and even arm strength when you transition. These things are normal.

  • Switching From Piano to a Wind Instrument

When you switch from playing the piano or keyboard to an air-blown instrument, you may find that you are much more conscious about your breath control. You may find that your ribs hurt, and you might feel lightheaded at first as you learn how to support your breath. Also, depending on the type of instrument (padded, valve, or open-holed) you may find that you develop thicker pads on your fingers if you are switching to an open-holed type of wind-blown instrument.

As far as reading music is concerned, though, most wind instruments use the same clefs that you have already memorized– so that will be easy for you!

  • Switching From Piano to Percussion/Drums

One of the nice things about switching from piano (where you are using pedals with one foot) or organ (where you are using pedals with two feet) to the drum kit is that you are already trained to use your feet as you play. This dexterity of your hands and feet will make this transition much easier.

Also, many piano parts in popular music and classical styles tend to be rhythmic and multi-rhythmic, respectively,  so mastering the multi-rhythms of the drums should feel like something you already know.

The tricky part of this switch is it might take you some time to develop finesse on the drums. It is all well and good to beat out a rhythm on a percussion instrument, but to do it smoothly and with subtlety will take some practice.

  • Switching From a String Instrument to Piano

It’s always easy for me to spot a performer who started out on a stringed instrument and then moved to the keyboard, because they tend to have what I call the “guitarist’s hiccup.” When you play guitar, you play left then right — the left hand forms the chord first and then the right hand strums. Even if this is done almost instantaneously, it is still something that you will hear when a guitarist-turned-pianist plays. There is always a ba-dum rhythm to their playing as the left hand lands on the keyboard slightly before the right hand. Musicians who successfully transition from guitar to piano learn how to get rid of this stutter.

Another thing for some string players to consider: if you’re switching from an instrument that is devoted to one clef, you might need to learn a new clef; if you are coming from a TAB-based instrument, you’ll need to learn how to read sheet music. Also, proper seated position at a keyboard might be a bit uncomfortable for some string players, but you’ll develop it with practice.

  • Switching From a String Instrument to a Wind Instrument

Many of the challenges here are the same as the ones I mentioned for switching from piano to wind instruments.

Additionally, if you’re a guitar player who has developed calluses on your fingers, you may have some trouble with open-holed instruments, as the calluses on your fingers may cause a gap. You’ll have to press down with extra strength to seal the hole.

Here’s the bonus: Some air-blown instruments can be played while you play your stringed instrument, like playing a harmonica with a guitar.

  • Switching From a String Instrument to Percussion

Moving from a stringed instrument to a percussion instrument, like from guitar to drums, is a relatively easy transition. Both use wider arm movements, and both tend to be used as rhythmic instruments. Percussion sheet music is similar to TAB, and often the rhythm string players are used to listening for the kick drum to help them keep time. The left-hand dexterity that is developed in many stringed instruments is also good for helping you play smoothly.

However, if you’re switching to a drum set that requires playing with both hands and feet, this is where you’ll need practice.

  • Switching From a Wind Instrument to Piano

This may be one of the more difficult transitions to master. Muscle memory will need to be re-learned, since your hands will transition from being in-line to side-by-side. You’ll be a pro at reading one clef — but with keyboard you’ll need to read two clefs (and up to 10 notes) at a time.

For this type of switch, I recommend approaching each finger on the keyboard as if you were looking at a separate wind instrument. Spend a lot of time learning how chords and harmony work, too.

  • Switching From a Wind Instrument to a String Instrument

This can also be a bit of a tough switch, as you’ll have a similar problem with the hand positions. You also may have a lot of pain as you develop calluses on your fingers, and as you develop muscles in the arms you are not used to using.

Also, if you play an open-holed wind instrument, keep in mind the same advice applies from transitioning from strings to air-blown instruments. Your calluses might get in the way of achieving a nice tone on the stringed instrument. You may also need to learn how to read tab, if you’re switching to guitar.

  • Switching From a Wind Instrument to Percussion

If you play a wind instrument, switching to percussion might seem like a bizarre transition. For some percussion instruments, you’ll need to get used to using both your hands and your feet!

Keep in mind, though, that rhythm doesn’t change from one instrument to the other, so the rhythmic principles will always apply. And the fact that you are used to playing left and right hands in various sequences will do you well when you switch over to the drums.

  • Switching From Percussion to Piano

Switching from drums to piano produces a lot of the same challenges as the other way around. On the plus side, it’s good that you can use both your hands and your feet. This will be useful, especially if you are going to be playing the organ.

But there are a lot of new musical principles that percussionists will need to learn. For example, you’ll have to learn chords, scales, how melodies work, how chord progressions work, how harmony works, and the differences between major and minor and modes. It’s a far greater learning curve than the other transitions that I mentioned above.

  • Switching From Percussion to a Wind Instrument

As a percussionist, you’ll likely have rhythm down pat — so that part will be easy for you. But for this transition, you’ll learn to focus on one note and one hand position at a time. While you might find this a bit constrictive, in the end it will give you another outlet for your musical expression. You’ll also need to practice breath control and support.

  • Switching From Percussion to a String Instrument

Like the transition from drums to piano, switching from drums to strings has a whole host of challenges. The foremost is probably development of finger strength, which is not something most percussionists spend a lot of time on (unless you play something like the djembe or cajon). Other issues include learning tab or sheet music, learning about chords and harmonies, learning about melody, and all of the other things that you would learn if you were to transition to the keyboard, as mentioned above.

On the plus side, you’ve probably built up your arm strength, which will carry over well.

Recap: Notes for Switching Instruments


Ready to Make the Musical Switch?

So this concludes my overview of the tips and techniques that will help you become a multi-instrumentalist. One last piece of encouragement: if you decide to delve into this exciting world, know that you will be greatly rewarded! You’ll learn about different aspects of music, as well as find your strengths. In the end, you’ll be a much better musician all around.

Readers, what instrument will you learn next? Are you currently switching from guitar to piano, piano to guitar, or another category? Leave a comment below and share your experience!


Willy MPost Author: Willy M.
Willy M. teaches guitar, ukulele, and mandolin lessons in Winston Salem, NC. Willy has been teaching for 20 years, and his students have ranged in age from young children to folks in their 80s. Learn more about Willy here!

Need Private Lessons?

Search thousands of teachers for local and live, online lessons. Sign up for convenient, affordable private lessons today!

Free TakeLessons Resource

How to Use Your Smartphone for Language Learning

10 Genius Ways to Use Your Smartphone to Learn a Language

How to Use Your Smartphone for Language Learning

Can your phone help you learn a language? Absolutely! Check out these tips and ideas from Spanish tutor Joan B. and start exploring…


You’re addicted to your phone (join the club) and love everything it offers you — access to friends, amazing deals through apps, and up-to-the-minute news. But did you know you can also use it to help you learn a language?

It’s true: your smartphone is one of the best tools you can use to strengthen your language skills — especially when you use your phone to supplement your learning in between regular language lessons with a tutor.

Ready to get started? Try these tips to transform your phone into a portable language-learning console!

1. Visit fun sites.

You now have permission to play games and fun apps as often as you’d like on your phone — as long as they’re in another language. Here are a few language-learning apps you can explore:

Tip: If you’re working toward a specific goal, ask your language tutor for their recommendation for an app to use or a game to play based on your strengths and challenges.

2. Watch YouTube videos.

Try watching music videos in your target language! Often you can find the lyrics in the notes below the video to read along if you need extra help. You can also watch how-to tutorials on any subject that interests you (chess, yoga, etc.), or you can even go for language-learning videos.

Tip: Browse through our recommendations for YouTube channels for learning German, learning Italian, and learning French.

3. Listen to foreign music on Spotify.

You can also discover new artists and reap the benefits that come with listening to music in your target language. You’ll get a feeling for the culture and sentiment in addition to learning new vocabulary and pronunciation.

Tip: Check out tutor Christopher S.’s recommendations for 5 New Musicians Who Can Improve Your Spanish.

4. Message friends on WhatsApp.

This is my favorite way to communicate with friends abroad, since it’s secure and free for everyone (no surprise fees here!). You can send each other jokes, ask how their day is, and get in a little language conversation practice all at the same time.

Tip: Choose from one of these conversation starters in Spanish and start chatting!

5. Snapchat in another language.

Create snaps with language from your target language to practice, or watch snaps from the country or language you’re interested in to get a taste of what’s happening locally.

Tip: Lindsay from Lindsay Does Languages offers some great tips for using Snapchat here.

6. Try the WordReference App.

This handy dictionary is actually way more than a dictionary. It also includes threads from native speakers who share the true meaning of confusing phrases and word usage. It’s exhaustive, and in the unlikely case that you can’t find what you’re looking for, you can start a new thread and receive helpful advice.

Tip: Word-a-day updates like the one from SpanishDict are another great way to continue learning.

7. Keep lists of new vocabulary using Google Keep or Evernote.

Retaining new vocabulary is key in language learning, and keeping it in a list on your phone will allow you to review it frequently. You can also share the lists with others, like your teacher or tutor, or other friends learning the same language.

Tip: Struggling with remembering the vocab you’re learned? Check out my advice for memorizing French words.

8. Talk to Siri (or Google).

Did you know that if you change your settings on your phone to your target language, you can have long, deep conversations with Siri? You can ask her various probing questions (“How was your day?”; “Tell me a story, please?”) that will provoke long answers. You can listen to her pronunciation and read her words. Even better, she will test your pronunciation. If it’s a little off, she won’t understand; you’ll become much more precise and accurate thanks to her insistence.

Tip: Here’s a cool post from author Mike Boyle about how iOS 7’s Siri can help you learn a language.

9. Change your language settings on a few apps.

If you don’t feel ready to switch your whole phone to your new language, try changing it on just a few apps, like Facebook. Spanish learners, for example, will intuitively understand that “me gusta” means “like,” even if you’re brand-new at Spanish language learning. And by switching languages, you’ll absorb all kinds of new vocabulary and key phrases.

Tip: Learn how to change your language settings on Facebook here.

10. Join communities to get more conversation practice.

The best way to learn a language and speak colloquially is to get in more conversation practice! Try browsing through Facebook, Instagram, and other social networks to see how native speakers interact casually. Or, join one of our live, online group classes to chat with tutors and other students at your level.

Tip: More ideas for using Facebook here, via AlwaysSpanish.

Feeling better about your smartphone addiction? With these tips, you can use your phone to improve your language skills and learn something new. There’s so much to explore! Get started today, and watch your skills grow and thrive.

Readers, how do you use your smartphone for language learning? Leave a comment and share your best tip.

Need Private Lessons?

Search thousands of teachers for local and live, online lessons. Sign up for convenient, affordable private lessons today!

Free TakeLessons Resource

side jobs for language lovers - teach abroad

10 Ways to Make Money as a Language Lover [Infographic]

Do you speak multiple languages? Maybe your linguistic love affair started in high school, when you took your first Spanish class. Maybe you were born into a bilingual family, exposed to the beauty of languages at an early age. Or maybe you even caught on later in life, after taking language classes just for fun.

Whatever the case, we applaud you! Being bilingual is an awesome skill, and one that can lead to higher-paying jobs, a sharper brain, and an expanded network of friends and colleagues. But beyond the pride and goal-achieving side of learning, did you know there are ways to make money with your skills?

Check out the infographic below for 10 perfect side jobs for language lovers…

10 Ways to Make Money as a Language Lover

Share this Image On Your Site

For a deep-dive into these tips, check out our guest post on FluentU, 10 Ways for Savvy Language Learners to Make Money on the Side (While Keeping the 9-to-5).

How to Make Money With Your Language Skills

1. Become a tutor.

Teaching part-time is one of the easiest side jobs for language lovers. Some companies may have you sign on as an hourly contractor, working specific hours at a specific location. Other companies offer more flexibility — with TakeLessons, for example, you can set your own prices and availability, as well as offer convenient online tutoring.

2. Work as a freelance translator.

Another popular option for language lovers is working as a freelance translator. Online translator jobs are plentiful and can be found through marketplaces like Upwork.

3. Grade/score standardized language examinations.

Many universities and testing centers outsource their grading for tests like the AP Spanish Exam. You can search for these jobs on the ETS website and HigherEdJobs.

4. Do some freelance writing.

If you’re a strong writer, why not combine that with your love for languages? Consider creating your own language-learning blog (you can then monetize it with ads or affiliate links once you’ve established an audience), or get paid on a per-article basis through Upwork or Zerys. (Tip: If you’re already a TakeLessons tutor, you can also get paid to write blog articles for us!)

5. Create language videos on YouTube.

If you’re a natural on camera, creating a YouTube channel might be right up your alley! Similar to monetizing a personal blog, once you’ve built your audience you can make money through ads that play before each video. This is a really flexible side job, since you can create videos in bulk and then release them whenever you want.

6. Sell your (original) content.

Many schools and companies will pay tutors to create quizzes, worksheets, posters, and other course materials. Check out sites like Teachers Pay Teachers and TeacherLingo. See also: 15 Platforms to Publish and Sell Online Courses via Learning Revolution.

7. Create a language app or game.

Are you tech-savvy? Creating a language app or game can end up being one of the most lucrative side jobs for language lovers — if you have a great idea, that is. Make sure to do your research, since your app will need to be better than the competitors (and there’s a lot of them!). See also: How Much Money Can You Earn With an App? via Fueled.

8. Teach at a museum, library, or community college.

Museums and libraries are sometimes open to hosting events, talks, and even mini-courses, if you know how to market yourself well. Or if you’re willing to commit more time, consider looking into community colleges in your area — some hire instructors for language courses based on expertise, not credentials.

9. Lead a trip to a foreign country.

Did you study abroad in high school or college? Most people look back on their experience fondly; immersion truly is one of the best ways to learn a language! Many study abroad programs hire trip leaders and coordinators, if you have the time to spare. Look for programs that fit your availability, whether that’s leading a short-term excursion or a longer trip.

10. Teach English abroad (great for a gap year!)

Teaching English abroad is another very popular option, if you’ve got the time! Programs include a range of locations, contract lengths, and pay. Check out sites like TeachAway and GoAbroad for opportunities. See also: Teaching English Abroad: Are You Qualified? via GoOverseas.

Additional Resources – Do Bilingual Workers Earn More?

If a side hustle isn’t your thing, consider using your language skills within your 9-to-5. Although it’s yet to be determined whether bilingualism increases income on its own, there are tons of benefits that come from learning a second (or third) language. Here are some additional resources:

Readers, how else have you made money using your language skills? What other side jobs for language lovers do you recommend? Leave a comment below and let us know!

JasonNPost Contributor: Jason N. offers online tutoring for English and Spanish. 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! 

Photo by teflheaven

Interested in Private Lessons?

Search thousands of teachers for local and live, online lessons. Sign up for convenient, affordable private lessons today!

Free TakeLessons Resource

learning a language as an introvert

How to Survive (and Thrive) as an Introvert Learning a Language

learning a language as an introvert

Are extroverts better at learning languages? Au contraire! Learn how to survive (and thrive) as an introvert with these tips from Alexandria, VA tutor Elisha O...



There’s been a lot of hype lately about introverts and extroverts. And no matter which side you identify with (or if you’re a little of both!) there are definitely advantages and strengths on both sides of the spectrum.

As an introvert myself, my most productive and creative time is the time I spend alone. However, I’ve found that there are also many skills that simply cannot be done alone — and learning a new language is one of them.

Sure, you can stay home and read, study, and watch movies in your target language. But in order to really improve, communicating with others needs to be part of your learning strategy. While some extroverts jump at the opportunity to go out and socialize in a foreign language, the same idea leaves many introverts shaking in their boots.

So, does that mean that extroverts are better at learning languages? Not at all. But introverts may need to try different strategies along the way.

Here is a list of the most common obstacles introverts face when learning a language and how to solve them.

Problem: The thought of a “language meetup group” makes you cringe
Solution: Ease into learning from the comfort of your home

If you’ve never felt like your best self at networking events or mixers, your instinct will probably be to avoid group language meetups. Walking into a building and breaking the ice with one person after another in your first language is scary enough, let alone doing it in your second or third!

Well, there’s good news for us introverts. These days, the internet offers opportunities to connect with others no matter where you are — even from your own home. This makes a lot of students feel more comfortable, since you’re not in an unfamiliar location. Technology provides just the right amount of distance to feel comfortable and secure. 

I recommend easing into a new language with online, private language lessons with a tutor, and then progressing to online group classes to get conversation practice.

Problem: You’re good at reading, writing, and listening, but struggle with speaking
Solution: Practice speaking without people around

While this may affect introverts and extroverts alike, introverts are less likely to seek out speaking opportunities and get out of their comfort zones, which furthers the gap.

Before you delve into a new language (whether for the first time or after a long hiatus), try listening to music in your target language and singing along as best you can. You’ll get a feel for vocabulary as well as how to pronounce the words, which can help you feel a lot more confident the next time you speak out loud.

You can also try talking to yourself throughout the day in your target language. For example, try narrating what you’re doing as you get ready for work or school in the morning. The trick to overcoming your nerves is often just practicing speaking more!

Problem: Breaking the ice is not your forte
Solution: Prep yourself with conversation starters

“You mean I have to… think of stuff to say?”

No! Not necessarily. As introverts, we often prefer for others to set the tone and pace of the conversation, at least at first! If starting conversations isn’t your cup of tea, and talking to strangers makes you queasy, consider requesting more structured classes from your teacher.

My ESL students also enjoy the seasonal book clubs that I coordinate. With this format, students don’t have the pressure of responding to small talk questions or improvising. The book provides a context in which they can frame the conversation, and they can even prepare responses to discussion questions ahead of time.

Problem: You’re afraid of looking “dumb”
Solution: Find a tutor you feel comfortable with

If there’s one thing I hear from students the most, it’s this. Sure, learning would be so much easier if we could travel back in time and return to being children, when our brains are like sponges and our pride could never be hurt! But learning a language as an adult can be a totally different experience. We often fear that we will appear less intelligent and articulate than we really are when we speak another language.

My advice for these students is to find a tutor who has actually learned a second language or lived in a foreign country. These teachers get it. They know first-hand the courage it takes to learn a new language, and will support and encourage you every step of the way!

Introverts, what other tips have you found helpful for learning a new language? Leave a comment below and share it with us!

Photo by uoeducation

ElishaOPost Author: Elisha O.
Elisha teaches English, ESL, Essay Writing, and Grammar in Alexandria, VA, as well as online. She earned her degrees in Psychology and Spanish from Western Washington University. Learn more about Elisha here!

Interested in Private Lessons?

Search thousands of teachers for local and live, online lessons. Sign up for convenient, affordable private lessons today!

Newsletter Sign Up

piano room practice space

Musicians, Is Your Home Practice Space Holding You Back?

piano room practice space

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


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

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

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

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

1. Get great lighting.

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

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

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

3. Declutter.

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

4. Get a kitchen timer.

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

See also:

5. Get a metronome.

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

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

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

7. Put a practice calendar on your wall.

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

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


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

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

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

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

Photo by Joe Buckingham

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

Interested in Private Lessons?

Search thousands of teachers for local and live, online lessons. Sign up for convenient, affordable private lessons today!

Newsletter Sign Up

improve violin tone

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

improve violin tone

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


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

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

Bowing Technique Problem: Holding Your Bow Incorrectly

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

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

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

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

Bowing Technique Problem: Not Bowing Straight

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

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

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

Bowing Technique Problem: The “Bouncing Bow”

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

Here are some tips to combat it:

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

Bowing Technique Problem: Uncontrolled Bowing

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

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

Bowing Technique Problem: The Tipped Bow

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

Video Recap: Fixing Your Bowing Technique For Beautiful Tone

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

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


Need Private Lessons?

Search thousands of teachers for local and live, online lessons. Sign up for convenient, affordable private lessons today!

Free TakeLessons Resource

Diana Krall jazz piano

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

Diana Krall jazz piano

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


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

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

How to Play Jazz Piano

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

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

Easy Jazz Songs to Try

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

1. “Summertime”

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

Sheet Music Download — via Sheet Music Plus

2. “When the Saints Go Marching In”

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

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

Sheet Music Download — via Sheet Music Plus

3. “Fly Me to the Moon”

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

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

Sheet Music Download — MusicNotes

4. “Autumn Leaves”

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

Sheet Music Download — MusicNotes

5. “Misty”

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

Sheet Music Download — Sheet Music Plus

6. “Someone to Watch Over Me”

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

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

Sheet Music Download — MusicNotes

7. “Take the A Train”

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

Sheet Music Download — MusicNotes

8. “Satin Doll”

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

Sheet Music Download — Sheet Music Plus

9. “So What”

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

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

Sheet Music Download — Sheet Music Plus

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

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

Photo by Bruno Bollaert

Interested in Private Lessons?

Search thousands of teachers for local and live, online lessons. Sign up for convenient, affordable private lessons today!

Newsletter Sign Up

Are you a memorizer or a reader

Music Student Face-Off: Memorizers vs. Readers

sight reading music

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


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

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

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

Which approach do you lean toward?

View Results

Loading ... Loading ...



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


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

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



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


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

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

Which is Better?

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

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

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

Interested in Private Lessons?

Search thousands of teachers for local and live, online lessons. Sign up for convenient, affordable private lessons today!

Newsletter Sign Up

books for language learning

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

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


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

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

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

language learning in the fall

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

2. Motivate yourself by creating your own syllabus.

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

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

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

french dictionaries

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

4. Make studying fun.

conversation partner for language

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

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

5. Check out your local library.

Harry Potter in Spanish

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

6. Plan a trip.

travel to learn a language

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

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

Photos by Tim GreenKatie Armstrongjpmatth

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

Interested in Private Lessons?

Search thousands of teachers for local and live, online lessons. Sign up for convenient, affordable private lessons today!

Free TakeLessons Resource

french conversation starters

22 MORE Useful French Phrases for Striking Up a Conversation

french conversation starters

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


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

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

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

French Conversation Starters – Printable List

useful French phrases for conversations

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

Photo by Pedro Ribeiro Simões

CarolPost Author: Carol Beth L.
Carol Beth L. teaches French lessons in San Francisco, CA. She has her Masters in French language education from the Sorbonne University in Paris and has been teaching since 2009. Learn more about Carol Beth here!

Need Private Lessons?

Search thousands of teachers for local and live, online lessons. Sign up for convenient, affordable private lessons today!

Free TakeLessons Resource