Tips for Traveling with Your Instrument

travel with instrumentsWith the holidays approaching, many musicians, music students, and music teachers are starting to make their travel plans. Sure, you’ve got plane tickets and turkey on your mind, but don’t forget about your practice time! Most musicians can easily travel with their instruments with just a little extra preparation, so there’s no need for the holidays to disrupt your music-making.

Can you bring a guitar on a plane? What about a flute? Does your violin need any extra care while traveling? Read on for answers to these questions and more… Read more

Teaching Tips: Help Students Learn Smarter

Teachers, when your student asks a question do you immediately give them the answer? Music teacher Peggy J. shares her teaching tips for guiding students to solutions instead of handing them an easy answer. Read on and discover the importance of teaching your students problem-solving skills… Read more

Teaching Tips: The Power of Positive Language

Teaching can be tough work sometimes, especially if your students lose steam when they run into difficulties. Luckily, there is a simple linguistic trick you can learn to turn “mistakes” into “learning opportunities”. TakeLessons teacher Leena K. shares her teaching tips on using positive language to keep students motivated… Read more

Teaching Tips: The Ultimate Recital Survival Guide

music recitalWhether you’re a brand new music teacher planning your first recital or a seasoned veteran, you know music recitals are important to help your students learn to perform and share their talents. You probably also know (or you’re discovering) that putting on a recital is a lot of work!

If you’re feeling overwhelmed, don’t fret; we’ve reached out to some of our expert TakeLessons teachers for their teaching tips on how to put on the best recital ever! Read more

Using Audiation as a Key to Learning Music

ipodWe know what you’re thinking: what the heck is audiation? Most musicians use the skill every day, even if you have no idea what it is. Read on and Boulder teacher Will S. will explain what it means, how it works, and how to use it to your advantage…




As a young man my father taught me an important lesson that has stuck with me ever since. He said, “Think before you speak.” These words were simply my dad’s way of preparing me for the real world. Lucky for us musicians a parallel exists in the music world so I can share with you a derivative of my dad’s advice. It’s more like: “Think before you play.” In this article, I’ll expand on a concept called audiation to help you do just that.

Audiation is a musical tactic often overlooked by a vast majority of musicians, even though they use it subconsciously every day. Let me clear things up for you! Audiation is defined as a high level thought process involving mentally hearing and comprehending music even when no physical sound is present. Let’s give it a shot together: sing in your head, without making any physical sounds, the song “Mary Had a Little Lamb.” Amazing! You have just used audiation.

So what does this mean to us as music educators?

1) We should first acknowledge the pioneer of audiation, Edwin E. Gordon, who identified the key concepts behind the process and encouraged the adoption of this process into every music educator’s tool belt. Gordon suggests that in order to audiate while performing music through imitation, you must be able to do the following: sing what you have played; play a variation of the originally melody; play the melody in a different key, tonality, or with alternative fingerings; or demonstrate with body movements the phrases of the melody.

2) We should incorporate these strategies into our lessons even if at a minimal level to help our students become stronger musicians. I like to use the old elementary P.E. basketball example: “Imagine the basketball going into the hoop when you let go of it.” This is exactly audiation in sports form. Tell your students to think the first phrase through from m.1 to m.9, for example, then play exactly what they were able to audiate. I promise you will notice an immediate difference in the confidence a student has in their ability to play that certain phrase.

3) We should use this process as a key for improvisation skills. As a music educator, I am always striving to teach my students to think on their own and on their feet! Improvisation is a great strategy to use with students especially when accompanied by audiation. Using audiation helps the students get to a level of achievement where they feel comfortable looking away from sheet music. Remind them that the sheet music also exists in their mind, and audiation can unlock that musical manuscript.

I’ll conclude with a note from Gordon’s website ( “Through development of audiation students learn to understand music. Understanding is the foundation of music appreciation, the ultimate goal of music teaching.”


Will S.

Will S. teaches drum, clarinet, music performance, music theory, and percussion lessons to students of all ages in Boulder, CO. He joined the TakeLessons team in June 2012, with a Bachelor’s degree in Music Education and several years of experience teaching various styles and genres. Sign up for lessons with Will, or visit the TakeLessons search page to find a music teacher near you!


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Photo by Tadeu Pereira (Ted).

The Lessons I’ve Learned from Teaching

Music conductorTeachers – we’ve all been there.  Even though your job is to teach your students, often we leave the experience having learned a lesson ourselves. It’s a cycle that continues with each class, year or group of students.  Here, Portland teacher Tricia C. reflects on an important lesson she learned during one such class…


Nine weeks. It was only going to be nine weeks. I figured that I could handle nine weeks. After teaching college choirs and mentoring many music students for whole year slots, nine weeks seemed to be nothing. Yep, I was more than confident; these nine weeks were in the bag.

I had been teaching choir to a couple different groups, working mostly with children. This choir of young home-schooled students didn’t scare me. I wasn’t worried about their “teenageness,” or their lack of smiling faces. Those are nothing new in the world of teaching. I thought to myself: what’s the worse that could happen? I already knew that children are incredibly willing to learn. But I was soon going to learn even more that, sometimes, even with the willingness, they can be incredibly hard to teach.

After my first week I came home frustrated and grouchy because a young girl about the age of eight told me I looked like a snake swallowing a mouse when I sang (referring to how open my mouth was). The second week was not much better, as two sisters chose that day to fight and bring me in the middle of it.  By week four I was counting down the days, after finding out that over half the choir strongly disliked my hair.

An old professor once told me that every choir session would be different, and I now understand what he meant. There were times I wanted to rip my hair out. And still other times, I wanted to throw away all the songs and start over with “Twinkle Twinkle little Star”; the threat of which seems to make them shape up every time. In the end it took looking at each student and reminding myself that music has the ability to cross boundaries I could only ever hope. I found I read more and more material prepping for each session than I really thought I ever would. This was part of the key to my success. I also realized I could be firm with my students, and still be a good teacher.

I never understood how my professor could get up in front of our choir for a performance and smile so, when we sang. That is, until I did the same and realized there is a joy in seeing that my students were listening. When they sung their hearts out, and that sweet melody reached my ears, I was in awe of the abilities I brought out in them. It was then I realized I too was smiling wide and broad, and reminding myself of my old choir professor.  Next time, I will not be so reluctant when I am asked to teach a nine-week session. Instead I will smile, be firm, take a breath and dive into the music at hand. I may not be a favorite teacher, but I know they will remember me one day. Just like I do my professor.

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Portland music teacher Tricia C.Tricia C. teaches piano, singing, music performance, music theory and songwriting lessons to students of all ages in Portland, OR.  Tricia received her Bachelor’s degree in Music from Multnomah University, and joined the TakeLessons team in June 2012. Sign up for lessons with Tricia, or visit the TakeLessons search page to find a teacher near you!



Photo by phoosh.

Mind Your (Music) Business: Teacher Networking 101

Music teaching jobsHow often do you network or trade resources with other teachers? The old cliche claiming it’s all “who you know” certainly rings true for most career paths these days, but it can be especially helpful for teachers or anyone hoping to break into the music or entertainment industries. Networking for music teachers, specifically, can also help you establish a great reputation in your community, connect with potential new students and discover new opportunities for performances, auditions and more.

Consider these tips as you work on your music teacher networking skills:

Plan a group recital
Connect with another teacher in your area and pool your resources to plan the ultimate recital.  This can be especially useful if you’ve never put on a recital before – it can feel overwhelming for some, so having a partner to help organize everything can ease the stress.  Moreover, you can share sheet music if necessary, and expose your students to other similar young musicians.

Join a music teacher association, like MTNA
Associations like MTNA offer opportunities for ongoing education, mentoring, access to professional support and teacher grants, as well as a certification that looks great on your resume or TakeLessons profile.

Attend conferences & conventions
Search for conventions, meet-ups, and other music events near you.  Strike up a conversation with someone afterward or during intermission, and you may just find your next new student.  At the very least, experiencing new music and performances may give you an extra dose of inspiration for your next lesson.

Take advantage of social networking
Consider starting your own blog, or submitting an article to an established music blog where students may be looking (like the TakeLessons blog!).  Connect with your students and parents, and join forums and Facebook groups in your area.  Use these groups to start communicating and sharing advice with other teachers in your area, and you could find some great connections.

Perform – everywhere and anywhere!
As musicians, it’s second nature to want to get out there and perform.  But sometimes teaching can get in the way.  In order to keep up your own performing chops, consider contacting local fairs, block parties, and school or charity events to find out how you or your students can perform. Getting up on stage and performing is a great way to get your name out there and advertise your experience as a teacher.



Photo by Poetprince.

All I Really Need to Know I Learned from Music Recitals


Break out the flip flops and gardening gloves – today marks the the first day of Spring!  Which also means: teachers, it’s time to start planning your Spring recital!

Planning the perfect recital takes time and resources, but the benefits to everyone involved can be extremely rewarding.  As teachers, you can earn recognition from parents and the community for going above and beyond.  Many of our TakeLessons teachers have collaborated with other instructors in the area for recitals, which can be a great way to network.

Students can experience the joy of performing in front of an audience of friends and family, and learn to overcome stage fright in the process.  The memory of a successful (and fun!) recital can last a lifetime, and do wonders for their confidence.  And parents, of course, can see their child’s progress and how much fun they’re having!

The skills that students can gain by performing even translate into real life lessons – even if their future career path doesn’t involve music.  Here are just a few examples, as originally published on the Park Slope Music Lessons website:

Recitals are like so many things in life. It’s a due date when you need to really know something well and you need to show it in public, in this case 100 of your friends, family members and peers. Think of the times when you had to present a paper or a case or a sales pitch at a specific time and day. The recital is preparation for that. It’s a deadline.

Discipline and Mastery
Preparing for the recital is also like life. The discipline required to learn, memorize and perform the pieces is the same discipline you use when you are in college working on a term paper, at your job preparing the big Powerpoint presentation to your clients, presenting your court case to the judge and jury and so on. There’s a level of mastery that needs to be achieved in a recital. And music lessons culminating in a recital is a training ground for discipline on the road to mastery.  Even better to start at such an early age!

Mistakes happen. In fact, how often do things go exactly the way you want them to? Almost never. Your goal is to minimize them. But you can never achieve 100% perfection. To play like a machine is completely useless. It’s the mistakes that make you sound human and gives you unique expression. As described in a recent NY Times article about what makes music so expressive, researcher Daniel J. Levitin at McGill University and Edward W. Large at Florida Atlantic University recorded a concert pianist performing a Chopin etude analyzing it for speed, rhythm, loudness and softness. They then recreated the performance with a computer stripping it of any human variances, in other words, making it more perfect. They then scanned the brains of listeners as they listened. The results? Perfection is boring.

Another thing discovered by these researchers is that music can give us emotional hits by creating a subtle change from a pattern. Students should be gaining an understanding of the structure lying underneath the piece of music they are working on. Whether it’s the grand scheme of section A followed by section B, or even just how the notes of one measure actually are spelling out an F chord. It’s the same in real life. There’s an order and structure to how things are put together, whether it’s a sandwich, a computer program, a resume or a social network.

Possibly the best part of a recital is the immediate feedback from the audience. There’s no waiting around for an acceptance letter in the mail; if you did well, you know it right now! And if not so well, then you know that too.  Students should learn to reflect back on their performance, and recognize what they did great at and what they need to work on.  Recitals are a safe space, since the audience will always be rooting for you – but if you make a few mistakes, it really doesn’t matter as long as you did your best. There’s always the next recital!

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Special thanks to Los Angeles instructor Kelly K. for sending us great pictures from her own holiday recital!

What Taylor Swift Can Teach Music Teachers

Billboard recently ranked country darling Taylor Swift as the top music-industry earner in the past year, beating out veterans like U2 and shoo-ins like Adele.

The annual “Top 40 Money Makers” list takes into account U.S. income sources, including touring, recorded-music sales, publishing royalties and payments from an array of digital services.  According to Billboard, Swift’s net earnings totaled up to about $35.7 million, 17% more than last year’s top earner, Lady Gaga.  Not bad for a 22-year-old!

In addition to her music career, Swift has also recently delved into the film scene, lending her voice to Dr. Seuss’ ‘The Lorax’.  According to LA Times interviews and videos surfacing after the movie premiere, Swift even went out of her way to share her skills by teaching costar Zac Efron a few chords on the guitar.  Efron reported nothing but great things, saying, “In the past, everyone who’s tried to teach me guitar starts with music theory and stuff like that. I tend to just doze off after a little while. She went straight into songs. She taught me, like, four chords, and I’m already playing all the good campfire songs.”

Could Swift have a career in teaching music at some point?  Maybe!  For one thing, she took into consideration something pretty important, that some teachers overlook: what the student wants. So what can music teachers learn from the country singer?  Here’s a great take from the Start Teaching Guitar blog:

1) People want to play songs.
Taylor Swift understands something that a lot of guitar teachers tend to forget: People want to play songs!  They are less interested in music theory, sight reading, scales and chord inversions,  and more interested in being able to pick up an acoustic guitar and play some songs for their friends. This is especially true for beginners.

Later on in their musical journey, your students will be more interested in the technical aspects.  But in the early days of playing the guitar, you need to make sure you’re giving them what they really want, or they may not stick around long enough to learn anything else.

2) You don’t need to play like Steve Vai to be a great teacher.
There’s always something unique that you can share with your students, and something special that differentiates you from everyone else. It may be your extensive knowledge of music theory, or it might just be the fact that you actually care. You will tend to attract students who are looking for that specific thing, so just be yourself and do what you do best. Always try to keep learning and growing as a player and a teacher, but never lose sight of the things that allow you to genuinely connect with your students.

3) It’s critical to understand your student’s expectations.
All those other teachers Zac Efron worked with probably thought they were doing everything right. They started out trying to build a strong foundation with theory, the basics of music and making sure he understood the fundamentals of how music works. Sounds great, but they failed to understand what he really wanted from his guitar lessons.

If you want to be successful as a teacher, you need to make an effort to understand why your students want to learn in the first place, and do everything you can to fulfill those expectations.

Teachers: what are your strategies for managing the expectations of your students?  Do you remember to continually ask questions about what they want to work on?  Stop by our Facebook page and join the discussion! Like these posts?  Sign up to receive daily updates right to your inbox!  Click here to subscribe.



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Teachers: Deck the Halls with the Perfect Holiday Recital!


Photo by SimplyAbbey.

Are You a Good Music Teacher, or a Great Music Teacher?

As a music teacher, you’ve got big shoes to fill, whether your student wants to someday play at Carnegie Hall or headline a music festival like Bonnaroo.

We’ve discussed the integral characteristics of successful musicians, but to be learning how to be a great music teacher is taking it a step further.  It’s your job to inspire, motivate and perhaps provide a little tough love every now and then.  You know the power and benefits of playing music – but how can you translate that in order to keep your busy adult student motivated, or to keep your fidgety 5-year-old student focused?  It takes a special kind of person, and several specific personality traits.  So what makes a great music teacher? Here are 5 qualities that will help you learn how to be a great music teacher, as originally published on

1. Approachable.  A happy person who demonstrates a sense of humor along with an empathetic sense of humanity is capable of putting people at ease, and, in return, can create an atmosphere where mutual communication can flow.
2. Organized.  This projects a sense of professionalism and helps create confidence in your service. Your answering machine message should also reflect a person ‘in control’ of their business.  Remember to include the name of your studio on your message, even if you use the same line for personal calls. Keep your teaching tools in the same place all the time, so you know where they are.  Work closely with a calendar so you can plan events in a calm manner.
3. Motivating.  Psychology is useful in any profession when dealing so directly with people.  Understanding the different ways people learn, reason and communicate is vital when helping them reach their fullest potential. Positive reinforcement is a much stronger motivator than negative condemnation. A diligent teacher will have an array of strategies for motivating their students to practice, listen, express and create.
4. Inventive.  Games, illustrations, analogies, exercises and demonstrations all need some consideration for individual students. An active mind not only learns better, but information is stored in the brain systematically, which makes retrieval easier!  Emotion impacts much more strongly than cold facts.  An inventive teacher is able to evoke an emotional response from a cold fact, which will then impact greatly on the student and can add to their growing knowledge.
5. Knowledgeable.  It is unreasonable to expect any human being to know everything about a subject – even if they make a living out of it.  However, a great teacher will know how to access and find information, as well as communicate it.

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Photo by Allio.