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easiest instruments to learn

The 5 Easiest Instruments Perfect for Adult Learners

easiest instrument for adults to learn

Interested in music, but nervous about getting started? Learn about some of the easiest instruments to learn in this guest by Christopher Sutton…

 

It’s a common misconception that learning to play a musical instrument as an adult is too difficult, if not impossible. The myth that you need to pursue music lessons seriously early in life in order to master the craft has kept many people from exploring their musical skills.

While it’s true that learning new things does get tougher with age, often the struggle is more about the fear of making mistakes. But it’s never too late to learn! In fact, there are many advantages to learning music as an adult.

For one, adults are much more independent and self-motivated than a child being forced to take music lessons. With the right help, guidance, and motivation, any adult can excel at playing a musical instrument.

If you’re not sure where to start, here are five of the easiest instruments for adults to learn.

1. Ukulele

Inexpensive to buy and super fun to play, the ukulele is one of the easiest instruments to learn. With just four nylon strings (instead of the guitar’s six), you can quickly pick up simple chords and play some of your favorite songs in just a few weeks. You’ll also be able to gain many fundamental skills that make it easier if you ever want to graduate from the ukulele to the guitar.

2. Harmonica

Be it blues, jazz, rock, folk, or country music, the harmonica (also known as the “Blues Harp”) is a great choice for adult beginners. You don’t need to know a lot in order to start playing and it has a big advantage that any note will be “in key” — it’s hard to sound bad on harmonica!

Plus, harmonicas are very portable — you can carry and practice it anywhere and any time.

3. Bongos

If you’re a fan of salsa, the bongos might be your calling. Bongos originated in Cuba and consist of two conjoined drums. It’s a simpler option than a full drum kit but can provide the same satisfying percussive experience. From there, you can move on to other types of drums and percussion instruments easily!

4. Piano

The piano may seem complicated — after all, you need to learn to coordinate both hands at once — but it’s actually one of the easiest instruments to learn for adults.

Because the notes are all laid out in front of you, it’s easier to understand than many other instruments. And although you can play wrong notes, you can’t ever play out of tune the way you can with other instruments. Moreover, due to its popularity, you’ll have no shortage of useful learning materials when you choose piano as your instrument!

5. Glockenspiel

You might recognize the glockenspiel (pronounced “glock-ench-peel”) from your elementary school music classes or if you were ever enrolled in a Kindermusik class. It looks a lot like a smaller version of a xylophone, but instead of having wooden bars, its bars are made of metal, producing a bright and cheery sound. The glockenspiel is a great way for you to get in touch with your inner child and your inner musician.

What Instrument Will You Choose?

Learning to play a musical instrument as an adult isn’t as intimidating as it sounds. There’s a plethora of instruments out there that are simple and easy to get started with.

And while the options listed above may be some of the easiest instruments to learn, there’s no need to limit yourself! Whichever instrument you choose, learning and excelling at music will eventually feel easy and natural, just as long as you’re genuinely engaged and nurturing your inner musicality along the way.


Christopher Sutton is the founder of Easy Ear Training and Musical U, where musicians can discover and develop their natural musicality. Born and raised in London, England, he lives with his wife, daughter, and far too many instruments.

 

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10 Essential Fitness Exercises for Musicians

Infographic: 10 Best Fitness Exercises & Stretches for Musicians

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

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

10 Essential Fitness Exercises for Musicians

10 Fitness Exercises & Activities for Musicians

Power yoga

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

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

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

Core strengthening

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

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

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

Posture work

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

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

See also: Posture and Breathing, via Brass Musician Magazine

Arm strengthening

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

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

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

Intense cardio

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

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

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

Dance classes

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

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

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

Neck & shoulder stretches

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

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

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

Hip flexor stretches & backbends

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

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

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

Outdoor hobbies

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

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

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

Meditation

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

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

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


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

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

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learning music

Are You Taking the Right Approach to Learning Music?

learning music

Can you learn to sing on your own? Can you learn piano with online videos? Find out what works — and what doesn’t — when it comes to learning music, in this post by guitar teacher Kirk R...

 

Dreaming of playing an instrument, or learning to sing? These days, there are many different ways to get started with music.

You could take private lessons. You could play in groups, whether that’s in school, group classes, or just jamming with friends. You could even start learning on your own through observation, or search for prerecorded video or audio lessons.

But what’s the most effective way to learn? You might be surprised to learn that it’s NOT the options listed above.

That is, not on their own.

Let’s take a look at each one, and the benefits and drawbacks they present.

Learning On Your Own

Spending time with your instrument on your own is essential to getting better. Anyone you ask about learning music will surely support your own private practicing and desire to learn new things outside of classes, lessons, and rehearsals.

I recommend reading books and blog posts (like you’re doing now, good job!) and listening to other musicians, even those from other instruments or styles. Doing so will help you recognize what you like and what you don’t like.

However, if you’re not around other musicians regularly, it becomes very easy to let your playing get way off track. Your brain can trick you into thinking the sound you’re making or hearing is the same as the sound you tried to create, even if it’s not. And if this goes unchecked, it can lead down a long path of mistakes until one day you play for someone and they don’t recognize the song at all!

It’s important to have a regular “check-up” for your playing. Even professional musicians get together regularly to play for someone else! As a beginner, working with a private music teacher is key.


Consider This: Is it Possible to Teach Yourself to Sing?

While learning notes or chords on your own on the guitar can be a great starting point, singers trying to learn on their own tend to struggle.

Why’s that? Learning how to use your instrument (your voice!) is a whole-body experience, which often requires the instruction of a teacher, whether online or in-person, who can easily identify the root issues — whether that’s poor posture, unsupported breathing, or something else.


“Canned” Music Lessons

The internet is a huge part of our society now and I think it is a huge advantage to musicians everywhere. You can find tons of videos and online courses, and these types of lessons are a great way to gain some knowledge.

However, it’s important to keep in mind that prerecorded videos don’t tell you if you’re doing something wrong, let alone what it is. Similar to learning on your own, mistakes can easily become habits. I have had guitar students who learned chords on their own, and in their first lesson actually played all the chords upside down. Needless to say, it didn’t sound great, but they were used to hearing it and didn’t even notice the mistake.

If you want to learn the notes or chords for a specific song, YouTube is a great option. But if you’re looking for lessons with substance, steer clear of prerecorded lessons. The reason? These videos assume your prior knowledge of music, which isn’t always effective.

Learning music is not a linear process; in fact, teachers don’t always agree on the order certain things should be taught. Often, it depends on the particular student and their goals. This is why working with a teacher — who can create personalized lesson plans for you — makes a huge difference.


Consider This: Can you Really Learn Piano Online?

Many students are leery of online piano lessons. After all, how can a teacher properly see what you’re doing with your fingers and if you’re placing your hands correctly?

Fortunately, the answer is yes — and online lessons are a great option for many students. Experienced teachers know how to angle their camera so you can see their hands clearly, and will direct you to adjust yours so they can provide feedback. Just remember the advice above: don’t rely on canned video tutorials alone!


Group Music Classes

Learning to play music with others is essential for any musician of any style. Collaborating with other musicians will force you to pay attention to details, like precise rhythms and a careful balance in volume, which may sneak past you when playing on your own.

Many beginner students get their start in band or orchestra, and many adult students, too, flock to group classes because it’s less daunting than private lessons. However, I don’t recommend relying on group sessions alone if you really want to improve. The reason behind this is that with group classes, you will receive little, if any, individual help.

Likewise, more advanced musicians shouldn’t rely on jamming with friends to improve their skills. Other musicians may be able to share some skills, but even good players often make terrible teachers! Learn from them, but be cautious not to pick up bad habits or get frustrated if you’re not able to pick up something right away; perhaps your friend took a subtle skill for granted and didn’t think to explain it as an experienced teacher might.


Consider This: How to Find Musicians Near You

If you’re taking private lessons, but missing the group component, don’t fret!

Younger students, consider attending band or orchestra camps in the summer to get ensemble practice. Older students, try asking your teacher to put together jam groups, or search through the myriad websites for finding musicians near you to jam with. We like Jamseek, Bandmix, and MeetUp!


Private Music Lessons

Individual lessons are a great starting place (and continuing place!) for almost any musician. Since your teacher is right there observing you, you’ll get feedback in real-time. And that can save you a lot of time searching on your own. In the midst of trying to get the right pitches, rhythms, and articulations, identifying when something is going wrong on your own can be nearly impossible, even for more advanced players.

The only drawback to individual lessons, however, is that you only receive one perspective on your playing: your teacher’s. However good the teacher is, as a musician and a teacher, they have only one perspective of many.


Consider This: How Do I Find the Best Music Teacher?

A simple search on TakeLessons can pull up tons of teachers for guitar lessons, piano lessons, and more. But how do you find the right teacher for your needs, goals, and schedule? We’ve got you covered. Check out our tips here.


So, How SHOULD You Be Learning Music?

Now that we’ve reviewed these four options for learning music, here’s my point: to really improve your skills, you need to combine all of the methods above. Here’s what I recommend:

  • If you’re a part of a group class at school or in the community, sign up for private lessons as well to get individual help.
  • Same goes for if you’re working your way through a prerecorded course or relying on videos. Take some time each week to meet with a teacher, to make sure you’re on the right track. With online music lessons, you don’t even need to leave your house! Review what you’ve learned in your course, and get their feedback on your technique.
  • If you’re already taking private lessons, see if your teacher can connect you with other students to get some group experience. Most teachers will be thrilled to hear that you’re interested in collaborating with other students!
  • Keep practicing and learning on your own, too. Treat practice like a lesson that you give yourself. If you’re not sure what to do to improve something, try searching online, or simply experiment! Ask yourself, “What if I use this finger? Or if I breathe here, instead?”

Have you been playing music for a while now? We’d love to hear what ways you went about learning. Leave a comment below and share your story! 

Photo by Daniel Davis

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

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Rosita R.

The 7 Types of Learners & How to Find the Best Teacher For YOU

Rosita R.

No matter how far your education has taken you, you’ve likely had a lot of teachers over the course of your life.

Elementary school teachers, middle school teachers, high school teachers and beyond; each year brought one (or more) teachers and mentors into your life. Maybe you even had Little League coaches or camp counselors along the way.

When it comes to private lessons, though — whether you want to learn music, languages, fitness, or something else — it’s a whole new ballgame.

You select the teacher, tutor, or coach you want to learn from. And that can be a little overwhelming!

Fortunately, finding a good teacher for music lessons or otherwise — the perfect person to help you or your child — doesn’t have to be hard. But it does take some reflection and research.

Finding a Great Tutor or Teacher with TakeLessons

To begin, let’s pinpoint who you are, what you want, and what you need. Out of the options below, which do you identify with? Start your search at TakeLessons with the lesson type and your zip code, and we’ll help you find a tutor or teacher who’s the perfect fit.

Want to find your teacher faster? Call our team at 877-231-8505 and we can help!


The “Schedule-Challenged” Student


We get it: life can get busy! Whether you’re working around a 9-to-5 office job, or you’re a parent juggling your child’s extracurriculars, we know some students need a specific timeslot — no exceptions. On the flipside, if your schedule is constantly in flux, you may want a teacher who can offer you more flexibility.

Our search filters make it easy to find instructors with the availability you need. And if you have unique scheduling needs, remember that you have the option to ask instructors questions before booking — simply click the Ask a Question button to the right of a teacher’s profile picture to send them a message.

Tips to find a teacher:

  • After you’ve pulled up your initial search results, click on the “Availability” dropdown at the top. Select the day(s) you’re looking for, and then pull up individual profiles to see available timeslots. You can see this within the box to the right of the teacher’s information.
  • Consider our “Schedule As You Go” plan if you need flexibility.
  • Have a unique scheduling situation? Use the Ask a Question tool to message teachers before booking, or contact us for assistance.

The Location-Bound Student


What’s that, you say? You don’t want to spend two hours commuting to and from your lesson? We get it.

We’re lucky to work with instructors from all across the U.S. — you’ll find teachers from Seattle to St. Louis, and everywhere in between. You may even find teachers who will travel to your home for lessons.

Even if there’s not a teacher directly nearby, online lessons make it easy and convenient to connect with our top teachers on a regular basis. Not tech-savvy? We’ve created the TakeLessons Classroom just for you. It’s a video chat-based virtual classroom that requires no downloads, and you can get to it right from your Student Account.

Tips to find a teacher:

  • Looking for a teacher close by? After you’ve pulled up your initial search results, click on Sort by: Distance to see your closest options.
  • Want an instructor who will come to you? Pull up an individual profile, and look at the “Select a location” prompt in the right-hand box. If a bubble for “Your Home” shows, the teacher may be able to travel to you — click the blue prompt to enter your address and make sure you’re within his or her travel radius. (Or, contact us via phone or email for a quicker search!)
  • Prefer online lessons? After you’ve pulled up your initial search results, click on the “Location” dropdown, and select “Online.”

The Budget-Conscious Student


Private lessons can be expensive. But as many students can attest to, the personalized attention you get from them is priceless! Fortunately, if you’re operating on a budget, there are ways to make it work.

TakeLessons teachers set their own prices, which are shown prominently within search results. This is usually based on their specific location, their experience level, and how long they’ve been teaching.

Also, consider taking online lessons! Often these are a bit cheaper than in-person or in-home lessons, and you’ll be saving money (and time!) by not having to commute anywhere.

Tips to find a teacher:

  • After you’ve pulled up your initial search results, click on Sort By: Lowest Price to sort your options. Note that prices may be marked at 30-minute, 45-minute, or 60-minute lesson durations.
  • Consider online lessons to save money. After you’ve pulled up your initial search results, click on the “Location” dropdown, and select “Online”.

The Goal-Oriented Student


Are you an aspiring singer dreaming of being the next Adele? Are you learning French for an upcoming vacation, or so you can interact with clients at work?

If you have specific goals, it’s more important than ever to find the right teacher. So first, write down those goals: where do you want to be in one year? Five years? Ten years? Next, get to work: dedicate some time to browsing profiles, and look for instructors who have experience teaching the specific genres, techniques, or skills you want to learn. Look for the Student Favorite badge for our top teachers, and read the reviews from current and past students.

Still struggling? Use the Ask a Question tool to message teachers before booking, or give us a call for extra assistance in finding the right match.

Tips to find a teacher:

  • Dedicate some time browsing profiles to find someone who has the experience you need.
  • Use the Ask a Question tool for specific inquiries before booking.
  • Look for the Student Favorite badge (a red heart icon) in search results for our top teachers.
  • Read other students’ feedback! After you’ve pulled up your initial search results, click on Sort By: Reviews to see teachers with the most reviews.

The Picky Parents


OK, maybe you’re not picky. Moms and Dads, we know you just want the best for your child!

And for kids, the “right” teacher isn’t always the most qualified — often it’s the person your child feels the most comfortable with. You’ll want to find a tutor or teacher who is patient, encouraging, and friendly, with (successful) experience with other children.

If safety is important to you, you may want to start your search by marking the option for “Background Check Verified” — this indicates the instructor has opted in and passed a thorough background check.

From there, filter your results by clicking on “Student Age” and selecting from the dropdown. Many teachers will also list their experience and what age groups they enjoy working with in the “Overview” section of their profile. Feel free to use the Ask a Question tool to send a message to the teacher, too.

Beyond that, sometimes it just comes down to a personality match. And the best way to test that is to just try out a lesson — if for any reason it’s not working out, our 100% Satisfaction Guarantee protects you.

Tips to find a teacher:

  • After you’ve pulled up your initial search results, check the box for Background Check Verified.
  • Click on the “Student Age” dropdown, and indicate child or teen.
  • Pull up individual profiles and look at the ages taught in the “About” section.
  • Browse through profiles to get a feel for the teacher’s personality.
  • Use the Ask a Question tool to message teachers before booking.
  • Call us for extra assistance to find that perfect teacher for your child!

The Hobbyist (or, the “Bucketlister”)


If you’re a casual learner who just wants to have fun — or to check off your bucket list — you’re in luck! Most of our teachers are well-equipped to help you with the basics. As you search for your teacher, spend some time browsing profiles and see who catches your eye. Most teachers will speak to their experience, interests, and teaching style in the “Overview” section of their profile. Feel free to give us a call and we can help you sort through your options.

And for older adults, it’s never too late to start learning! Many of our instructors enjoy teaching retirees and above, and will cater your lessons to your learning style and interests. Filter search results by clicking on the “Student Age” dropdown, and use the Ask a Question tool to message teachers if you have a specific inquiry.

Tips to find a teacher:

  • Dedicate some time browsing profiles.
  • Look for the Student Favorite badge (a red heart icon) in search results for our top teachers.
  • Read other students’ feedback! After you’ve pulled up your initial search results, click on Sort By: Reviews to see teachers with the most reviews.
  • Seniors: Find instructors who teach older adults by using the “Student Age” dropdown.

The Worrywart (and Everybody Else)


With our search tools, you can filter your results to find a music teacher, tutor, or coach based on what matters to you, whether that’s price, location, availability, or ages taught. If you’re still not sure, use the Ask a Question tool to message any teachers you’re curious about.

But all said and done, we know that an online profile will only take you so far. So if you’re still not sure, give us a call at 877-231-8505! Our staff includes Student Counselors who regularly talk to our teachers across the U.S., and have experience matching students and families with the best teachers.

Beyond that, there’s no need to worry. You always have the option of booking a smaller lesson package to try things out. Not quite what you expected? Our 100% Satisfaction Guarantee protects you. (Read more here.)

So what are you waiting for? When you’re ready to take that first step toward your goals, we’ll be here.

Special shout-out to music teacher Rosita R., featured in the photo! Learn more about Rosita here.

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

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The Language of Music

How to Approach Learning Music: 3 Exercises to Try

The Language of Music

Whether you’re learning Spanish or learning piano, you’ll find that both are complex languages with lots of history and unique jargon. In this guest post, Mike Lowden from Falls Music School bridges the gap between music and language by explaining just how similar they really are…

 

As a music teacher, I spend a good amount of time explaining to my students how learning music should be approached in a similar style to learning a language. Most professional musicians and music teachers consistently refer to “the language of music,” as this is a parallel that’s accepted worldwide.

Musicians Learn to “Talk” Music Like How Toddlers Learn to Speak

How do infants learn to speak their first words? They listen to what’s around them and do their best to copy it. As they grow older, they learn how to speak full sentences just as they’re taught. As they grow older still, they’re influenced on how to speak by friends and other social groups (e.g. a group of teenagers repetitively using the same slang) and use all of these different resources to eventually sound like “themselves.” People don’t put very much thought into it.

Listen to anyone talk; even though there might be individual nuances, language is actually a culmination of sayings from one’s parent(s), friends, teachers, and other social influences. People learn to talk by blending their social experiences together. Why do you think accents exist in certain regions and someone who moves there might eventually develop an accent? It all depends on what’s around you; we humans like to absorb what we hear.

Defining Your Musical Influences

This is exactly the same process that musicians go through; we listen to players we like and end up emulating their style. If you’re really into B.B. King, you’re going to do your best to play just like him. But maybe later you get into another player, so you learn how they “talk.” Eventually, everything you’ve learned from the music you’ve played goes into your tool belt of “self-expression.” There are many artists out there who are known for their own unique style, but all of them had influences that shaped who they became.

Put it into practice: Find a musician you really enjoy and see if you can trace back their musical history, almost like a family tree. If you have trouble tracing the history yourself, you can usually find interviews where they discuss their musical influences. Take note of some of their signature licks or musical tricks and see if they can be traced back. It’s fun just to see how far back you can trace! This can be an extremely enlightening exercise. Bonus points if you do this with your own playing.

Building Your Vocabulary

Having an extended vocabulary is extremely important when you’re trying to express ideas through both your native language and the language of music. “Bad” and “egregious” both essentially mean the same thing, but those two words have different connotations; choosing one over the other can be vital to expressing a story or idea.

Building vocabulary in music is just as important. Not only does it help culminate your overall style, as stated above, but it also can be the difference between a good solo and a great solo. Having a limited vocabulary means you can only say so much in a particular way. The last thing an artist wants is to be limited.

While one lick might fit and work well in a part of a song, there might be another that’s able to display an emotion even more perfect. Composers and improvisers agonize over these nuances just as much as poets and novelists agonize over their word choices. A musician decides on music ideas just as a poet might decide to say “glorious” rather than “cool.”

Put it into practice: Listen to the same song done by two different artists. Choosing some unexpected covers to compare is a fun idea. See what differences of “vocabulary” they each end up choosing. Often, an artist may choose to express an idea that’s exactly the same — basically reciting what the artist before them did. If you pay close attention, many artists will choose subtle differences in licks or chord voicings to show how they think the song should be played. Learn both versions and compare!

Speaking With the Right Nuances

Another thing musicians spend a fair amount of time on is contemplating the “interpretations” of composers. This means that it’s not only important to play the notes correctly, but to express them in a very specific way. Think about it — the way we say things in our spoken language can sometimes be even more important than the words we’re actually saying.

If you were speaking to your child and asked him or her to make their bed very nicely, that might get the job done. If the child still didn’t make the bed, however, you could repeat those same exact words but say them in a much sterner manner. It’s likely that this change in tone will elicit a different response.

Similarly, musicians focus on a lot of nuances with their music — how to attack each note, how loud or soft to play (dynamics), how to phrase musical ideas, and so on. The list of nuances is almost endless!

Understanding the Details

This same idea can cross over to styles of music. I had a jazz professor who would consistently tell students who had trouble swinging, “You’re saying the right thing, but you’re speaking French with a Russian accent — it ain’t right!” This meant that even though somebody was playing the right notes for it to be considered jazz, the nuances didn’t quite fit with the style, and, therefore, sounded funny.

This is exactly why someone who speaks the native tongue of a country can always tell if someone else hasn’t learned it as their first language. Sure, the words are right, but it sounds forced and foreign. It takes a lot of learning and practice to sound natural. A lot of people don’t realize that these subtleties are what make a piece of music so powerful.

Put it into practice: Start actively listening to ways people approach certain musical phrases and try to identify what makes one style different than another. If you’re a musician, try this with your own playing. What are other ways you can interpret the same phrase? Do you have trouble playing a particular style of music even though you can technically play the notes correctly? Look at what nuances you might have to add!

The Takeaway

These concepts are only the tip of the iceberg! All of the world’s best musicians are great because they have become so fluent in the language of music. If you’re learning music, use these approaches to improve your skills. If you’re a seasoned pro, you can always improve your musical fluency. Happy practicing!

 

Guest Author: Mike Lowden
Mike Lowden has been playing the guitar for as long as he can remember, and enjoys playing every type of music that he can get his hands on. Mike has education from the Berklee College of Music, and studied Jazz at the University of Akron. Now the guitar instructor and co-owner of Falls Music School, in Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio, his mission is not only to teach music students at the school, but also through online content.

Photo by Nic McPhee

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9 Thoughtful and Affordable Christmas Gifts for Teachers

Christmas Gift Ideas For TeachersWith Christmas just around the corner, now is the perfect time to give your or your child’s teacher a present as a token of appreciation for the time and energy he or she has invested  — this includes teachers at school as well as private lesson teachers and tutors! To help make your shopping easier, here are nine thoughtful and affordable ideas for Christmas gifts for teachers this holiday season.

1. A Handwritten Card

Sometimes the best things in life really are free, and a card written by a student is one of the most meaningful gifts that a teacher can receive. Teachers cherish these sweet words of admiration and usually keep these letters for many years. A homemade card is appropriate for younger students, while older students can compose a personalized letter of appreciation. You can also leave some kind words in a review for your TakeLessons teacher, which helps him or her attract new students!

2. Christmas Ornaments

Holiday ornaments make wonderful Christmas gifts for teachers because they are small, inexpensive, and easy to find. Steer clear of anything “teacher” related, as any teacher who has been teaching for more than a year or two likely already has more of these themed items than they know what to do with! Instead, select something you feel reflects the teacher’s style or personality.

3. Homemade Treats

Almost everyone loves homemade goodies, so if you are culinarily inclined, baked goods can make a delicious gift that is sure to be appreciated. Cookies, truffles, or fudge are all good options, as they are quick and simple to make, while also being easy to transport. Include the recipe so they can make it for themselves later on!

4. Gift Card or Gift Certificate

Take time to pamper your or your child’s teacher by giving them an indulgent gift card. A $5 gift card to a coffee shop may not seem like much, but getting to splurge on a fancy latte they might not usually purchase for themselves is a welcome treat. And don’t forget, TakeLessons offers gift certificates, too! Whether your teacher wants to improve their cooking skills, work on their fitness, or learn a new language, there’s so much to explore!

5. Cookie Jar

Fill a clear jar with all of the dry ingredients necessary to make your favorite homemade cookies, layering each ingredient. Tie the recipe to the jar with a fancy ribbon and you have a beautiful, simple gift. This idea also works well with homemade hot cocoa powder.

6. Tote Bag

Teachers and tutors who travel to students are always carrying books and supplies around with them. Help your teacher out by giving them a tote bag so they can carry their materials to you in style! You can select a pattern you think the teacher would enjoy or have a plain bag embroidered with their name or initials.

7. Travel Mug or Cup

Because teachers (especially singing teachers!) use their voices constantly throughout the day, many of them always have a drink with them for when their throat gets dry or scratchy. Reusable travel mugs or cups make wonderful Christmas gifts for teachers. You can find them almost anywhere in a wide variety of colors and prints. If you have a young child, you might even pick a customizable cup that they can decorate just for their teacher.

8. Handmade Crafts

Feeling crafty and want to make something unique? Pinterest is filled with creative ideas ranging from extremely simple to fairly complex, so you can pick the idea that fits your level of skill and the amount of time that you have. Your teacher will love your one-of-a-kind gift.

9. Hand Sanitizer

During the winter, children tend to become walking petri dishes for cold and flu germs, depositing them on every surface they touch everywhere they go. In an attempt to keep everyone healthy, teachers and tutors tend to use a lot of hand sanitizer for both themselves and their students during the colder months. While it may not be one of the most exciting Christmas gifts for teachers, hand sanitizer is certainly a practical gift that will be well appreciated.

Have a happy holiday season!

 

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6 Fun and Unique Ways to Learn Music Theory

Orchestra-Performance-23Staring at the Circle of Fifths and memorizing key signatures isn’t the only way to learn music theory! Here, Brooklyn, NY teacher Liz T. shares some creative ideas to revive your learning…

 

Music theory is a very important part of your musicianship, whether it be mastering ear training, harmony, or sight reading. No matter what instrument you play or what styles you enjoy, those who learn music theory grow further as musicians. A solid knowledge can help you improve your performance, technique, composition, and analysis of music!

For some, learning music theory can be very dry, or perhaps even overwhelming at first. Fortunately, it doesn’t have to be all about sitting down with a theory book and memorizing scales, chords, and key signatures. There are many other interesting ways you can improve your musicianship. Here are some ideas to try that incorporate both learning and having fun!

1. Learn to play other instruments
If you’re a singer, then learning the piano is vital to becoming a well-rounded vocalist. And if you’re a pianist, then being able to sing comfortably will improve your piano skills, believe it or not! The more instruments you know how to play and read the music for, the easier it will be for you! You can also try learning an instrument that plays in bass clef if you play an instrument in treble clef, to work on those transposing skills!

2. Listen to new material
I recommend attending many concerts of vocalists, choirs, orchestras, and big bands, to train your ear on what all the different voices and instruments sound like. The only way to really develop your musical ear, and to start working toward perfect pitch, is by listening to the different instruments.

3. Analyze your favorite songs
If you’re up for the challenge, find the sheet music for one of your favorite songs, and analyze it. For example, what are the tempo markings? What key signature is it in? Are the chords major or minor? Then, I dare you to sing the song only in solfege, not the lyrics, on the correct pitches. This is going to improve your theory and musicianship immensely! Even if you think it’s time consuming, it is very good practice. As a performer, knowing the music you’re singing or playing inside and out is key!

4) Find visuals
If you’re a visual learner like I am, consider placing music theory posters around your music room, or somewhere you can always see them. There are also clocks that represents the Circle of Fifths (like this one); every time you look at it, you will start to memorize the key signatures!

5) Incorporate movement
I encourage dancing and movement when learning music theory, especially with my younger students. This can really help you gain a sense of musicality and feel the rhythm in your body. Freeze dancing, ballet, tap, zumba, and yoga are all great ways to be lyrical with your body. And by dancing regularly, your body will begin to internalize the rhythm automatically, so that when it’s time for sight reading and performing rhythms it’s going to second nature for you!

6) Try composing a song
I also encourage you to try composing music on your instrument! Write your own chord progressions, melody, and rhythms without thinking too much about it, and remember that it’s okay to start simple and to make mistakes. Just write whatever comes to mind. Then start to analyze what you have just written, and you may be surprised with the masterpiece you have created!

I highly recommend trying out these ideas as you learn music theory — they are fun, creative, and much more hands-on than staring at a book!

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

 

 

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Should Your First Music Lessons be 30, 45, or 60 Minutes Long?

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You’ve found a great music teacher and are ready to book – but if you’re not sure how long your lessons should be, you’re not alone! Read on for some helpful advice from Greensboro, NC teacher Alanna H...

 

When first starting music lessons, either for your child or yourself, it’s hard to know how long your lessons should be. Eventually many students can work up to 60-minute lessons if they want to, but where is a good place to start? Here’s my advice:

30-Minute Music Lessons

–Young children (elementary school and most middle schoolers)
–Students who have never played the instrument before

30-minute lessons are great for young children and people brand new to the instrument. If you have a young child (middle school or younger) who is new to the instrument, I would definitely start with half an hour. In addition to not having the playing endurance, young students often don’t have the attention span to get full use of an hour or a 45-minute lesson. There are of course always exceptions, but that is a good rule of thumb. Adult beginners might also find that 30 minutes is the best for them endurance-wise.

45-Minute Music Lessons

–Children who are serious about learning the instrument
–Adult students who have never played before

45-minute lessons are great for adult beginners, high schoolers, and younger children with a keen interest in music and longer-than-average attention span.

60-Minute Music Lessons

For serious music students, or students preparing for auditions or competitions, 60-minute lessons are ideal. An ideal candidate for a 60-minute lesson practices regularly and therefore has built up the playing endurance to feel comfortable all the way through the lesson.

Music lesson length can also be determined by the actual time you have available, as well as budget, and those are perfectly acceptable reasons to choose a certain lesson length. If you still feel unsure about how long the first music lessons should be, contact a TakeLessons Student Counselor, or speak with your teacher about your goals, experience, and schedule prior to your first lesson to get a recommendation.

AlannaHAlanna H. teaches music theory, clarinet, and saxophone lessons in Greensboro, NC. She received her degree in Music Performance (Saxophone) from The University of North Carolina at Greensboro. Learn more about Alanna here! 

 

 

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Making Practice FUN – 2 Ways to Spice Things Up

piano practice

Is practicing your instrument becoming more of a chore than an enjoyable pastime? Check out these tips from Hayward, CA and online teacher Molly R. for making practice fun and getting out of the rut:

 

Sometimes as students and teachers, we lose sight of some pretty important things in music making: personality… and plain FUN!

Sure, there may be a handful of musicians out there that wow with their impeccable technique. But is that really enough? Think of yourself as an audience member for a moment and ask yourself which performances are the ones you really remember: the ones that appeared flawless, or those that touched you in some way?

We should ask ourselves the same thing as a musician in our day-to-day lives. Do you want to be perfect, or do you want to be interesting? It all starts in the studio or practice room.

Here are some ways to get out of your head and to start bringing the fun back into making music:

  • Are you a singer? Well, if you’re learning a “serious” aria, why not sing it in the style of Katy Perry or Beyonce? Why not rap it? Instrumentalists… the same applies to you! Say you’re doing a jazz or classical piece that’s pretty difficult . Stand up and rock it Jerry Lee Lewis style and really use your body and attitude (no one’s looking! Go, Killer, go!).
  • How about our basic warm ups? Those don’t have to be boring, either. Sing your scales using nonsense words. Swing the rhythms! Dance or sway or stomp and clap. Make funny faces. Use your imagination – the options are limitless!

Now after you have done some of these “crazy” (but hopefully fun!) things, sing or play as “you.” Record yourself. Are you amazed at the difference? You should be. Something magical just happened. By allowing yourself to cut loose , you will do wonders for your singing and playing. When the mind relaxes, so does the body!

As I tell my students, practicing should NEVER be a chore. There are plenty of ways for making practice fun by mixing it up and simply playing. My rule is “first, make it fun.”  After all, isn’t that why you got into music in the first place?

mollyrMolly R. teaches online and in-person singing lessons in Hayward, CA. Her specialties include teaching beginner vocalists, shy singers, children, teens, lapsed singers, and older beginners. She joined TakeLessons in November 2013. Learn more about Molly here!

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Piano Lessons

Top 5 Piano Lesson Books for Adults

Piano Lessons

Have you been thinking about taking piano lessons, but aren’t sure where to begin as an adult? No problem! Learning musical theory and practice as an adult just means that you’re more likely to be a dedicated, intelligent student!

Learning with the help of piano lesson books is an ideal way to get comfortable with your new instrument and grasp the basics of musical theory. Once you have covered the basics, you can work with a specialized, private piano teacher to enhance your skills!

The following piano lesson books are the most highly rated among adult learners:

Alfred’s Basic Adult All-in-One Piano Course

The Alfred’s collection of piano books is one of the most popular among adult students because it’s easy and enjoyable to use. Each section covers a piano lesson, musical theory, and technical information about the elements of music and the piano itself. This is the most highly recommended adult piano book on the market right now!

John Thompson’s Easiest Piano Course

Thompson’s Easiest Piano Course is not an overstatement: this series of piano lessons is perfect for beginners. Thompson introduces each note in his book one at a time and reinforces his lessons with colorful illustrations and characters. This lesson book, complete with writing and reading assignments, is a great supplemental resource when working with a professional teacher one-on-one.

The Classic Piano Course Book

Written as a series of piano lesson books, the Classic Piano Course Book starts at the beginning with notes, names, pitches and keys. From the first book in this series, you’ll be guided carefully through the practical exercises, as well as theoretical learning. Beautiful classical songs, like “Swan Lake” and “Fur Elise” are included, which will motivate you to complete the lesson! There’s no better feeling than achieving the ability to play a beautiful piece of music. Understanding classical music fundamentals will also help you to play different genres of piano music, and a piano teacher will be able to show you exactly how these principles apply.

Bastien Piano for Adults

The Bastien Piano for Adults lesson book was truly designed with adult learners in mind. Not only does the sample music include songs from all kinds of musical genres and eras — jazz, blues, folk, ragtime and classical — but the lessons are more progressive than children’s versions, at least in terms of musical theory. In addition to the text, the Bastien book includes a CD accompaniment to the lessons. The CD will help you gauge your understanding of tempo and timing, but it still can’t replace the private teacher’s pinpointed guidance.

The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Musical Theory

Don’t be embarrassed by the title — The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Musical Theory will help you complete your learning experience! A lot of adults worry that they have no musical affinity or natural talent. Is that how you feel? Then this book is most definitely for you! This guide is not specific to piano, but it will help you on your journey to understanding the theory behind all music, from the piano to vocals. Confusing theories are explained as simply as possible, which will help you on your way to being a virtuoso in no time. Musical theory can seem very complicated to the untrained student, so you should never hesitate to seek out the professional guidance of a music teacher.

With the right piano lesson books in hand, you can really tackle your new instrument with gusto! Once you feel more confident at the keys, you will benefit the most from learning with a good teacher. TakeLessons piano tutors can help you find the right person to help with any questions or struggles you experience on the piano, as well as suggest new course books to enhance your learning even further.

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