Guitar Basics: Why is Technique Important?


New to the guitar? Getting the basics down – including proper positioning and guitar technique – is important from the very start. Here, Lowell, IN teacher Blake C. explains… 


Over the years, many experienced guitarists have arrived at my studio doorstep asking for help to improve their playing. These guitarists didn’t understand why they were struggling, and merely thought they were stuck in some sort of a slump. However, the slump that these guitarists suffered was not caused by a lack of musical desire or passion or some other emotional hang-up; poor guitar technique led to their difficulties.

Correcting poor technique is often more difficult than learning proper technique as a beginner. Of course, students can learn guitar basics first, but even the basics are difficult without proper technique. Therefore, it’s a better idea to avoid developing poor guitar technique; instead, study proper guitar technique with a quality instructor who can assist you with learning guitar the right way the first time.

How Do I Know If I Am Using Incorrect Technique?

The simplest way is to set-up an in-person or online video lesson to have your technique reviewed by a professional instructor here at If you absolutely cannot take advantage of an instructional session with a Takelessons instructor, below are a few ideas to improve your current technique and guitar playing.

How Do I Identify Guitar Technique Flaws?

Video recording is a good option, but an even better alternative is a bit lower-tech and used at most music conservatories. First, locate or purchase a dressing mirror – these can be purchased for $9 or $10 at most local dollar or general merchandise stores.


Next, locate or purchase a footstool – these can be purchased for approximately $12.


Finally, locate or purchase a good practice chair – adjustable piano benches are available for about $30.


Set Up Your Practice Area 

To begin, the footstool is for your left foot if you play guitar right-handed.  For left-handed guitarists, use the footstool for your right foot.  Next, place the mirror directly across from you, setting it up so you can see your hands.

Once the mirror is in place, get into a proper sitting position for practicing guitar. Sit toward the front of the bench – this will help your posture. Keep in mind, after you have a good handle on using proper technique, your sitting position will not be as critical for performing simple guitar parts or songs. However, when you perform more difficult pieces, you’ll need to be in a proper sitting position. Many guitarists will sit for difficult pieces: Steve Vai, Joe Satriani, and of course, classical guitarists such as John Williams are usually seated when playing difficult guitar pieces.

Next, if you are a right-handed guitarist, place the guitar on your left leg. Left-handed guitarists, place your guitar on your right leg. After the guitar is in place, angle the guitar neck slightly upward, approximately 45 degrees (everyone is different and the angle must suit your body size and shape).

Next, try playing a few musical phrases to check the comfort level of the position. Adjust the guitar angle to the natural and relaxed position of your hand, which typically angles slightly upward. This placement of your guitar is for electric and acoustic guitars.  Positioning the guitar in this manner provides the least strain on your hands and body.

Here is an example of proper guitar position demonstrated by one of my young students:

Blake's student

Now that you are in position, let’s begin by focusing on the position of your left hand. First, you should press with the ball of your thumb on the center of the guitar neck.


Your thumb position will change for different styles, pieces of music, and even sections of songs. However, to begin this adventure into correcting guitar technique, press from the ball of your thumb onto the center of the back of the guitar neck.

With your thumb in position, extend your fingers forward and take a look at your left hand in the mirror – it should create a flat surface that is almost parallel to the plane created by the bottom of the guitar neck.

thumb position

Now, to prepare for a simple, yet very good left-hand exercise, move your hand position to the fifth fret and place your first finger on the “C” note on the fifth fret of the third string.

Keep your first finger depressed while you place your second finger on the sixth fret of the third string, which is a “Db” note.

Next, keep both your first and second fingers depressed while you place your fourth finger on the eighth fret of the third string, which is an “Eb” note.


Make sure that you press with your fingertips and don’t collapse your joints.


Notice how the second finger in the image above incorrectly collapses. You will intentionally collapse the joints of your fingers in many instances, but try to avoid it. Next, we’ll dive into some exercises to try – check out part two of the article here!

blake clifford

Blake C. teaches songwriting, singing, and guitar lessons in Lowell, IN. He specializes in classical guitar technique as well as modern rock and blues styles. Blake has been teaching for 20 years and he joined the TakeLessons team in July 2013. Learn more about Blake here! 



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summer programs

5 Reasons to Attend Pre-College Summer Programs

summer programs

Summer can be a ton of fun – but it’s also a great time to get a headstart on the college admissions process! Read on as online tutor Natalie S. explains how…


It’s tempting to use the summer months as a time to check out and avoid doing productive activities. However, while setting aside free time is important, it’s also a good idea to balance out your free time with some academic prep or pre-college summer programs. Depending on what your goals are, there are all kinds of summer programs that are meant to help you learn, grow, and prep for college.

Here are five things a pre-college summer program can help you do:

1. Try new things. Pre-college summer programs are an ideal way to learn something new or try something you’ve never done before. For example, you could enroll in a program that focuses on art, music, or theater. These are subjects that will help you build self-confidence. They teach us how to open our minds, and they often force us to look at the world through a different perspective. As an added bonus, partaking in these types of courses will help you build a versatile extracurricular activity list that makes you more appealing to colleges.

2. Pursue your passions. Are you interested in writing? Do you love solving complex math equations? Do you wish you knew how to play the piano better? Enrolling in a pre-college summer program that fits your interests can help you foster your talents and decide whether or not you want to pursue them professionally. These programs also allow you to study and perfect those things you love to do but don’t often have the time to engage in during the school year.

3. Enjoy more individualized attention. Because many high school students take the summer off or choose to search for a seasonal job, pre-college summer programs have a much smaller teacher-to-student ratio. Take advantage of this rare opportunity to get individualized attention from your teacher or tutor.  Get to know your instructor, and ask them for additional help in areas that you want to improve upon. If you build a good relationship with this person, you could also later consider asking them for a recommendation letter.

4. Enhance your resume and the extracurricular activities section for college applications. Whether your pre-college summer program is academic-based or artistically driven, pre-college summer programs can help to build both your resume and your college application by showing schools that you have a passion and desire to keep learning even during the summer. These programs can help put a personality behind your application and make you stand out from all of the others.

5. Stay in the school groove. If you totally shut down in the summer, it makes it much more difficult to get back into the groove just a few months later when school starts again. Taking one or two summer courses can help you stay on track, and keeps your mind fresh and focused!

There are many options for pre-college summer programs. If your goal is to improve academically, you can enroll in courses that will help you hone your skills in certain subject areas. If your goal is to learn something new or engage in an activity that you’ve always been curious about, you can try a class that is more artistically driven. There are even programs that allow you to live on campus for a few weeks, so you can test out what college life is really like. All of these options offer the benefit of becoming a versatile student who has a lot of experiences to write about, speak about, and learn from. These experiences will all make you a well-rounded student and an appealing candidate on college admissions applications.

Having trouble finding a summer program? Not sure where to start? Connect with a tutor through TakeLessons. Your tutor will customize your lessons based on what you want to learn, so you can use them as a way to receive more individualized attention in certain areas. Make the most of your summer months – you won’t regret it!

Natalie S.Natalie S. tutors online in English, ESL, History, Phonics, Reading, and Test Prep. She received her BA in English Education at the University of Delaware, and her MA in English Literature at San Diego State University. Learn more about Natalie here!



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5 Guitar Tricks to Impress Your Friends

Even if you’re new to the instrument, certain guitar tricks are sure to impress your audience! Here, Greeley, CO teacher Andy W., shares five to try out…


What better reason to play music than to impress your friends? Below are five guitar tricks that are guaranteed to impress your friends:

1. Slapping

The slap technique is most commonly used by bass players. But slapping can also be done on a guitar, typically electric. There are three basic elements to slapping. One is to slap with the thumb of your right hand over the pickups. The second is to slap with multiple fingers of the left hand onto the strings over the fretboard. The third element is to pluck notes using available fingers on the right hand. Using these three elements to make a slap sound, you can combine them in any order to make whatever rhythms you want.

Guthrie Govan breaks down slap guitar in a very easy-to-understand video here:

2. Tapping

Tapping is a technique where the right hand taps a string and alternates with notes played by the left hand. A basic way you can start tapping is to find three notes that you want to play on one string and play them as triplets using this sequence: tap, pull-off, pull-off. The first note is tapped with your index or middle finger and then pulls-off onto a note held by one of the left hand fingers, which is then pulled-off onto another note held by a left hand finger. Other ways to tap are to use more right hand fingers, use open strings, and to use different rhythms.

The same Guthrie Govan video above also explains tapping.

3. Open String Runs

If you alternate fretted notes with open strings you can create a cascading sound of awesomeness. The video below describes how you can take a scale and substitute as many fretted notes as you want with open strings (E, A, D, G, B, E). The beginning of the lick in the video starts off by descending the G Mixolydian scale (G, A, B, C, D, E, F) from G: G (fretted), F (fretted), E (open), D (fretted), C (fretted), B (open), A (fretted), G (fretted). The video below shows the rest of the lick. This second video demonstrates descending and ascending scales while using open strings!

4. Sweep Picking

Sweep picking may seem intimidating, but it really just combines fretting an arpeggio with the left hand and strumming slowly with the right. The trick with this technique is to simply match up the fretted note with the pick. The video below explains step by step how you can sweep pick without having ever tried it before:

5. Harp Artificial Harmonics

This guitar trick is a variation on artificial harmonics, which itself is a variation on natural harmonics. The natural harmonics are most commonly played on the 5th, 7th, and 12th frets. To play these, you lightly press the left hand on top of the fret without pressing the string to the fret. Then, you pick the note. To make an artificial harmonic, you regularly fret a note with the left hand and then use your right hand index finger to lightly press on that string twelve frets above the fretted note. Then, you pick the string. With this technique, you have to hold the pick between the thumb and middle finger. Finally, to play harp artificial harmonics, you alternate plucking a note using the right hand ring or pinky finger with picking artificial harmonics. This creates a harp-like sound! This technique works well when you can fret a chord using four or more strings without repeating any notes. The video below shows the great guitarist Lenny Breau describing how to accomplish this:

Are your friends impressed yet? If not, then you either need to turn it up louder or practice these guitar tricks even more!

AndyWAndy W. teaches guitar, singing, piano, and more in Greeley, CO. He specializes in jazz, and has played guitar for 12 years. Learn more about Andy here!



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Acting 101: What Can I Expect at My First Acting Lesson?

6644062535_e2e0422733_b Gearing up for your first acting lesson? Here, teacher Matthew H. explains what to expect at your first lesson, including some of the acting exercises you’ll likely do, and more…

So this is it. You’ve always wanted to act and made the first step in the right direction: taking acting lessons. While some celebrities have had incredible luck with “being discovered,” the vast majority of talented actors and actresses have extensive training, whether attending one of the top acting schools or conservatories, or having taken private lessons.

What can you expect at the first lesson? You may have had a small role in the ensemble of a high school musical or community theater production. You may have zero experience whatsoever and feel like you’re taking a bit of a risk with this investment for your future. Either way, you probably will be nervous and feeling somewhat vulnerable on the first day. That is a good thing! Regardless of the specific technique, acting is all about accessing different human emotions and relating to others based on shared experience. An actor is constantly putting himself or herself in vulnerable situations for an entire audience to see. Tap into that raw sensation and embrace it!

You might take a private lesson or feel more comfortable taking a group class. Regardless, you will be exposed to a bunch of different acting exercises and “games” that will seem awkward at first, but will gradually grow on you until you are not only comfortable with them, but looking forward to participating in them! An actor’s major tool is the body, and anyone interested in getting into acting will need to have complete control over everything their voice and body does. To do that, most lessons typically begin with physical exercises of some sort. You may spend some time working on breathing, such as how to properly take in a large quantity of air and use it to its fullest potential. This will aid in reducing anxiety and improving the quality of your speaking voice, which is vital in both stage and screen acting.

Next, you most likely will continue with a few minutes of stretching to loosen up your muscles. Since almost all plays, musicals, movies, and TV shows (unless you are playing a character in a coma on a soap opera) require movement, you have to be very aware of how your body works. Leg stretches, shoulder rolls, and maybe even some jumping jacks to get the blood flowing will make an appearance. The goal is to eliminate any tension your body is holding onto as much as possible. Doing so will allow you to easily engage when on stage.

Now, we enter into the more “awkward” aspects of a lesson: preparation exercises and improvisation. Acting exercises and theater games such as “zip zap zop” keep actors (in a group setting) on their toes as they have to maintain their focus and attention. While the activity may seem ridiculous at first (shouting nonsense words while making unusual gestures), this leads you develop basic acting skills such as the famous “living in the moment.” Additionally, improv games (anything from “Whose Line Is It Anyway”) will keep you on your toes as you further fine-tune important skills like paying attention, maintaining eye contact, and working together while you start to develop and craft characters, however profound they may or may not be.

Eventually, the more lessons you attend and the more advanced you become, you will tackle monologues, scenes, and perhaps even put on a full-length performance to help gain experience on your quest to getting into acting. Depending on your level and particular needs, you may venture into audition preparation and go over ways to carry yourself and present a headshot, in addition to nailing cold readings. The best teacher is real-world experience, and acting lessons will provide you with what you need to make the most out of those experiences!

MatthewHMatthew H. teaches a variety of subjects both online and in New Milford, NJ. He recently received his MA from NYU with a background in Sociolinguistics and related research. Learn more about Matthew here! 




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How to Write Lyrics: Steps to Success for Any Musical Style


Interested in learning how to write lyrics and songs? Here, New Jersey guitar teacher Matthew H. explains an easy 3-step process to follow… 

Songwriting is not easy; just ask any composer or lyricist. While the musical composition is highly important (making sure the melody is catchy without sounding too trite), having a strong, relatable message to go along with a great tune is just as, if not more, important. Here are some tips on how to write lyrics for a good song.

1) What is the story?
Too often, songwriters worry about the rhythmic structure or rhyme of the lyrics when they first should be focused on the whole point of a song: storytelling. It doesn’t matter if you are adding lyrics to existing music, creating music for the lyrics, or doing both simultaneously, you have to have a story to tell. Start small. What do you want the overall point or moral of the song to be? How should a listener feel after hearing it? Common examples include: falling in love, missing someone, feeling liberated, and so on. Once you choose a starting point, expand upon it, but write down the story as if it were prose rather than a song. For example: I miss my brother ever since he moved out of the country. I don’t get to see him as much as I used to and I feel like a part of my life will not be the same as a result. I wish things were the way they used to be when we were younger and living together at home.

2) Make your story musical.
Now that you have an outline of how you want the song’s story to play out, set it to music. Even if you don’t have a solid sense of the entire orchestration or final production elements, play around with different melodic structures and rhythms. Taking our missing brother example from before, figure out which specific words need to be stressed. If you’re working on the hook and you decide that the sensation of “nostalgia” takes precedence over everything else, then be sure to make that clear within the chorus with either a very clever line (avoid clichés like comparing his absence with death) or a sustained syllable within a strategic word (the o in home, for instance). A good rule of thumb is to never marry any idea right off the bat; the best way to write lyrics is to be flexible. In doing so, you’ll avoid any problems you might encounter if you insist on having a specific line a certain way.

3) Don’t be afraid to make some changes!
Test out your song. Does the story make sense? Do the lyrics flow well with the music? Would everything suddenly sound much better if you switch out one word with another? These are the things you need to look for after developing your perspective and making it melodic. If you’ve been working on the song for a long time, take a break. Your ears and mind will need a distraction. After a couple days or a week even, try listening to what you have and make any necessary changes that jump out at you after having taken some time to separate yourself from your creation.

When songwriting, you really are baring your soul for the world to see (and hear) in an extremely vulnerable way. If you follow the advice above on how to write lyrics, you will find the words resonate deeper than the generic pop schlock that typically permeates the radio’s Top 40.

MatthewHMatthew H. provides tutoring in various subjects both online and in New Milford, NJ.  He recently received his MA from NYU with a background in Sociolinguistics and related research. Learn more about Matthew here! 




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TL shouts 5-27

TakeLessons Community Shout Outs – Week of 7/21/14

Each week, TakeLessons students and teachers send us their shout outs. We’re thankful to be a part of this positive and thriving community, so we’d like to share these messages with you. Here are the shout outs we received this week:

Gfire in Austin, TX wrote, “My voice student Jessica, age 10, just got cast in a major production of “The King and I” at Austin’s prestigious Zachary Scott Theatre!! She is part of the children’s ensemble.” Congratulations Jessica!!

Shakeatha D. in Houston, TX wrote, “Arwen and Anissa are making wonderful strides in their vocal lessons. Arwen is six years old and quite the triple threat performer. Anissa has a golden voice. I look forward to continuing to move forward with their progress.” Keep up the good work ladies!

Helen P., who takes violin lessons from Branda T. in Irving, TX wrote, “I just wanted to say that Take is a BRILLIANT idea, connecting people with other people who have the desired skills so we can learn and improve ourselves. I just took some violin lessons and learned some basics which was an awesome experience. And the skills people offer are truly MANY. All the way from Acting to Math, to Computer Science etc. I think in this day and age, we all could use self-improvement. Most of us have the time and money, as the lessons are affordable. I recommend anybody who is reading my message to learn a new skill , especially if they have been dreaming , wishing they could produce in a subject. Example: I wish I knew how to sew. I wish I understood math. I wish I knew more about the computers….I wish I could play the piano. Don’t wish, just do it! : ) Thank you TakeLessons!” Wow, thank you Helen, you’re making us blush! It’s truly our pleasure to connect people who want to learn with great instructors, and the best part is hearing back from happy students and teachers!

Mary Kaye K. in Fairport, NY wrote in to tell us about her experience with her piano teacher Keith S. “My piano teacher Keith rocks!! He creates an awesome environment to learn piano. By that I mean he brings a teaching style that is open not only to further my awareness about piano but I also am developing an emotional connection to the piano that is AWESOME!” Wonderful! Thanks to Keith and all our teachers for all that you do!

Anna T. in Lawrenceville, GA wrote, “ I would like to brag about my voice student Emma. She has been working with me for almost a year and I am so impressed with her improvement. She has learned so much about dynamics and her range has grown tremendously. Several weeks ago, she was at a local restaurant with live music and asked if she could sing with them. The musician said yes and she actually got up and sang. That takes so much nerve and confidence and I am so proud and happy to have such an eager and capable student. I am now encouraging her to audition for some local musical theater shows and for her school choir. I know she can make the cut!” Go Emma!! We’re all rooting for you.

Ryan H. in Newport Beach, CA shared a great article that was recently published about his business in his local paper. Check it out to learn how Ryan is making money writing ukulele jingles for all kinds of clients! Very cool, and congrats on the feature Ryan!

Share your good news with the TakeLessons community by sending an email with your shout out to Don’t forget to follow us on FacebookTwitterPinterest, and Google+ to keep the conversation going!


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How to Audition for a TV Show | 5 Steps for Success

8696114399_7b222a9e35_hDreaming of making your debut on TV? Here, acting teacher Liz T. shares her tips for how to audition for a TV show… 

Want to be on TV? You’ll first need to get some acting training under your belt, and establish a strong knowledge of current dramas and comedies on TV. Then what? Here are your next steps…

Film Yourself

Because it’s TV, casting directors will want to see how you look and act on a screen as opposed to a stage in a live theater. At home, try filming yourself on an iPhone, Macbook computer, or other film recording device to see how you look! Sometimes how we think we look on film is very different than how we actually look! When you do this, think about these questions: Do you look comfortable on film? Or are you making a lot of weird facial expressions, such as blinking a lot, touching your nose, biting your lips, or raising your eyebrows? See if you have any habits that you can break before you step into the audition room!

Also, it is not recommended to wear white or black clothing in front of the camera, as this can wash your skin tone out. Wear something flattering and a neutral color; casting directors don’t usually like busy patterns or stripes.

Critique Yourself

If you are doing an acting scene either alone or with a partner in front of the camera, you want to make sure your speaking volume is accurate. You don’t need to speak too loud, as on a Broadway stage when you are trying to project your voice to the back of the audience; the camera and microphone should be able to pick you up at your normal speaking voice. But it shouldn’t be so soft, either, that they can’t hear a word you are saying.

Also, make sure you don’t look directly into the camera all the time, or directly at your scene partner. When you do your “pretend” filming experiment at home, notice where your eyes are most of the time. Are they rolling around, looking cross-eyed, or are they glued on one thing? They should look natural, with some movement, but nothing too still or sporadic. When you look at your reading, make notes of where in the scene or lines you should look at the camera and at your scene partner. Perhaps it is a romantic scene, and you are saying “I love you.” You may want to try two different approaches, one directly into the camera, and one at your scene partner. Think about these techniques. Study your favorite actors and see how they do it and what makes an impact on you!


Similar to movies, you will need to be part of the SAG-AFTRA Union (Screen Actors Guild & American Federation of Television and Recording Arts) in order to audition. If not, you can start by attending non-union auditions.

To join the union, you will need to start working in TV as an extra or stand-in. If a director hires you as a non-union actor in a role that is meant or contracted for a union actor, you’ll receive a waiver each day you work – and once you receive three waivers, you can then apply to join the union. If accepted, you will need to pay a union initiation fee of approximately $3,000, along with monthly dues. It is a very big investment, so make sure it is something you really want to go for! Being part of the union, however, will ensure that you are being paid and treated fairly on set, and you are also eligible for health and retirement benefits.

Finding Auditions

Of course, if you want to learn how to audition for a TV show… you’ll need to know where to find the actual auditions! Try websites and resources such as:

These sites mostly post auditions for big cities such as New York, LA, Orlando, Boston, and Chicago. Some of these websites will require a fee to join (it is worth it!). And some you can submit your headshot and resume online to the casting director, without having to audition in person.

Prepare Yourself

If you do receive an audition time slot, or are attending an open call, don’t panic! You will need to bring your headshot and resume to the audition, and also be prepared that it could take as little as under two minutes, or you could be in the audition room for an hour. Be prepared for both scenarios.

In the audition room, there may be one or several casting directors. Sometimes you will be given the script or “sides” a few days or weeks beforehand, or sometimes you’ll get it on the spot! If you are reading on the spot, it’s good to practice these types of “cold reads” before your audition. Find a friend, and test yourself reading lines or monologues. See what your natural reading tendencies and acting choices are.

When you walk into the room, be very polite and be yourself. Sometimes the casting directors will want to chat and have a conversation with you, but other times they just want to focus on the audition. Try not to distract them. In a TV audition, it will most likely be filmed. Sometimes they will send it to another casting office in LA or New York, so you must be as comfortable as possible auditioning with a big camera or several cameras right in front of your face!

If you would like to practice reading lines, work on your monologues, or learn more about how to audition for a TV show, I would love to start working with you today! Contact me through TakeLessons!

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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How to Audition for a Movie | 6 Tips for Success

3279700572_374d060a96_bWhat does it take to audition for a movie and make it to the big screen? Here, acting teacher Liz T. shares six important tips for success…

Are you an actor interested in learning how to audition for a movie? Now is the time to get started! Many major movies are filmed in major cities such as Los Angeles, New York, and London, and now even smaller cities are starting to boom with filming. Whatever cities you are closest to, research the local film office. Every state also has its own film office, which will have all the information about what is filming in the state, auditions, and so on. To find yours, a simple Google search usually works. For example, if you search for “Massachusetts State Film Office”, you should see a website like this.

Find Your Role

For most films, it may sound superficial but looks really are everything! You will need to try to assess which characters you could play on film. For example, do you look like a high school student? Could you portray a daughter, or a sister? Or could you play the dreamy boyfriend? Think of all the different character possibilities you could portray, and start looking for auditions! And when you see an audition notice for your character type, audition!

Find Smaller Productions

If you are diving into film for the first time, you don’t necessarily have to try for the major, commercial films. You probably don’t realize it, but whatever city you are in there are many independent and student films being created and filmed all the time! This is a great way to start out, and see what it is like being on a film set! If you’re a college student, I also encourage you to get involved in your school’s film department. Many students will need to make films for their majors. These won’t really pay, but it’s a great way to start learning about film, and how to act on film. Also, low-budget independent films and short films are a great way to get a speaking part!

Find Background Work

If you have done your acting training, maybe taken some acting lessons or classes, and want to pursue it even further, don’t be be afraid to go for the big budget films! Films are being made everyday, and usually need tons of extras. Extra or background work is fun – you will learn so much about film, get a decent paycheck, and perhaps even be featured on film! Having done extra work a lot myself, I thoroughly enjoy it, and have worked with some amazing directors and actors. The part may be small, but you never know – depending on your look, and how you act on the film set, and being at the right place at the right time, you could get bumped up into a featured or speaking role. I have seen this happen a number of times!

If you want a speaking role, or a main role in a film, doing extra work is essential before you can hit these goals. Extra work will help you become comfortable on camera, get used to the terminology, and learn how a movie is made. You may or may not need to audition for extra work. I encourage you to research online for local casting directors – try searching for something like “Background Casting Directors” and a list should come up near your city. You then can register to have your headshot and resume on file, and if they have a role open for your type they will get in touch with you. You may or may not have to pay to register for them.

Keep an Eye Out for Audition Notices

Many audition notices are posted online on sites like Playbill, Backstage, Actors Access, and Casting Networks. Some of these trade websites require a monthly fee to subscribe to, and some of them even allow you to “audition” by submitting your materials online, rather than going in person. Your materials should include a headshot and acting resume, and perhaps a reel of video footage. With the industry changing so much these days, it’s easy to get headshots taken and get some film footage with YouTube, Vimeo, Vine, and so on.

What to Expect at an Audition

At a film audition, expect a lot of other people auditioning for the same role as you. There is going to be a lot of competition. Sometimes the writer or director may be present in the room, or it could be interns from a local film office, who will film a quick take and send it out to LA for more consideration. No matter who is in the room, you should always remain professional and courteous at all times. A film audition will usually consist of you reading lines from the actual movie, say with another actor, who they are also considering for a role. Sometimes you will have seen the script before, and other times right on the spot they will give it to you! The casting team has many people to see, and are usually tired from auditions, so you’ll want to make their job easy for them – being prepared and not asking too many questions is the way to go!

Work Your Way Up to the Union

Working in film and TV, you will eventually need to be part of the union, which is called SAG/AFTRA (Screen Actors Guild, and American Federation of TV and Recording Arts). The union will make sure you are paid fairly, have health insurance, are not working under unethical circumstances. Many of the main roles and speaking parts in major films are cast with actors represented in the union, and usually only actors in the union can audition for that role. If you are not in that union, you are then considered non-union. Non-union actors are paid less, and some movies that need 1,000 actors will hire non-union actors only. So now you are probably wondering, how can I get in that union? It will take some time, work, and dedication!

You will need to do extra work for a few years before getting into the union. If you audition for a film as non-union actor, and are offered a union role right away, the production will grant you the opportunity to join the union. No one can just join, you have to earn your way up! Also by doing extra work, sometimes you can earn “waivers,” which are given when the role is meant for a union person, but they cannot possibly find a union person to fulfill it. For example, if they need a set of identical twins on set! Each day you work on set, you will be given a waiver, and once you earn three waivers (three days on set), you become eligible to join! Hooray! All your hard work has paid off! However there is an initiation fee of approximately $3,500 to join, and once you join you can’t do work that is not covered by a SAG/AFTRA contract, meaning you can’t do non-union work.

Knowing these tips for how to audition for a movie is your first step, but keep in mind working your way through the film industry will take time. But with hard work, patience, and persistence it will pay off, and you will have fun doing so. As always, best of luck!

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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Improving Technique on Guitar: Exercises to Try

guitar strings

In a previous post, Guitar Basics: Why is Technique Important?, guitar teacher Blake C. discussed the importance of utilizing proper technique, along with examples and ways to check your guitar playing technique. Here in Part Two, he continues with a helpful guitar exercise to try… 


If you want to improve your technique, there are a few guitar exercises you can try. I call the first exercise “1-2-4 Exercise” merely because of the fingers used. This exercise is designed to improve multiple aspects of guitar playing technique for beginners or even more advanced guitar players. The first improvement aspect is fret-board balance, which is practiced as you focus your attention on utilizing proper finger position – pressing each note with the fingertips of the left hand (for right-handed guitarists or pressing with the right hand for left-handed guitarists) while not collapsing the joints of the fingers. Refer back to the pictures in this post to see the difference.

It is critical for guitarists to develop dexterity and nimbleness in order to attain a higher level of mastery of guitar playing. The “1-2-4 Exercise” addresses these skills as you increase the rate that the exercise is performed, while maintaining proper technique.

That in mind, begin this guitar exercise at a relatively slow tempo – for example, the 50 bpm setting on your metronome – allowing you to center your attention on proper technique. Keep in mind, if you simply play this exercise without concentrating on proper guitar technique, your efforts will not accomplish nearly as much in the long run.

Below are the notes and tab for the exercise. Although I began on the “A” note located at the 5th fret on the 6th string, the 1-2-4 pattern is obviously a moveable pattern. Beginning the exercise at the 5th fret is a better starting point than the first few frets because of the additional space your fingers must reach, as well as the additional distance your arm must reach. Conversely, beginning beyond the 12th fret creates a different dilemma as you begin the exercise – your fingers are crammed together!

So let’s begin the exercise at the 5th fret as shown here:

guitar exercise

Music and Tab written using Guitar Pro 6

Remember, pick each note at a relatively slow rate when you first begin practicing. Focus your attention on pressing with your fingertips and not collapsing any joints of your fingers. As you practice this exercise, play one note for every metronome click.

After you are confident in your ability to play the notes fluidly without a pause when you change from one string to the next, increase the tempo in increments of 10 bpm on your metronome. With time and diligent practice, you will be able to play the exercise at a tempo exceeding 320 bpm.

After you successfully accomplish the exercise at the 5th fret, practice at other locations on the fretboard. In addition to improving your fretboard balance, dexterity, and overall nimbleness, this is one of the guitar exercises that is an excellent lead into soloing.

blake cliffordBlake C. teaches songwriting, singing, and guitar lessons in Lowell, IN. He specializes in classical guitar technique as well as modern rock and blues styles. Blake has been teaching for 20 years and he joined the TakeLessons team in July 2013. Learn more about Blake here! 



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College Success Tips: 5 Practical Ways to Get Ahead


College life requires hard work, perseverance, and balance. Read on as Tucson tutor Blake C. shares some of the best college success tips to keep in mind…


We all know that college can be a challenge. We also know that avoiding procrastination can be quite difficult when faced with the huge transition that is the college living experience. So here are some college success tips that can make your life a lot easier:

1. Go to Class – By far the most important thing you can do in college, no matter how tempting it might be to ditch, is to attend class. Lectures are where the teachers tell you what they want you to know. Basically, they are telling you exactly what you will be tested on.

2. Pay Attention - It’s not enough to just plop your butt in the seat and expect to do well. You have to pay attention and take notes. You have to think about what your professor is saying. You have to consider how each day’s lecture relates to what you’ve already learned.

3. Try to Make Connections - As I have progressed through my college career, I have noticed how often the discussions from one class relate to another, or how the discussions from class relate to my own life, my own experiences, or how some of my favorite things in the world came to be. This helps tremendously in giving me a reason to care about what I’m learning beyond merely the concern for a good grade. Search for your own reasons to care. Try to envision how what you’re learning in each class can improve the quality of your life, your understanding, and your own sense of well-being and fascination with the world in which we live.

4. Avoid Procrastination - Aside from the stress caused by always waiting for the last minute, procrastinating is going to have deadly consequences for your ability to foster your own love of learning. One of the best college success tips is to become excited about your field and to exercise your own passionate exploration of the knowledge related to your chosen degree path. It is impossible to feel good about learning when you constantly put things off to the last moment. School becomes work when you do this. You’ve got your whole life to work, so my earnest suggestion is to keep on top of things and enjoy your college experience with the secure knowledge that classes are going well.

5. Make Your Class Schedule Work for You - By far the most important skill in college, or in life for that matter, is time management. We all know how much fun there is to be had at college and how exciting this new bigger social environment can be, but we’ve got to set aside the time to get things done; after all, the real reason we go to college is to learn.

To make your schedule work for you, you simply have to be aware of one simple fact. Even when you’re not in class your friends probably are. There’s nothing really social to do. So, you’ve got no excuse. Use the time between your classes wisely. Make sure to leave room for a lunch break. Make sure to bring your reading assignments for the next day of classes with you, so you can use your gaps to get some work done. Stay away from the dorm until your school day is done. It’s hard to work when distractions are readily at hand. Spend your breaks in the library instead. And, if you really want to make life easy, spend an hour or two at the library after your last class to get some more work done. You’ll still get home before 5, only now you’ll have the whole evening to do as you please.

Do all of these five things and not only will you be on top of your coursework, when it comes time to study for exams you’ll find you only need an hour or two to review course materials, instead of cramming as if you’ve never seen them before.

BlakeCBlake C. tutors in various subjects, including math, reading, and SAT prep, in Tucson, AZ and online. A Flinn Scholar, Blake C. graduated from The University of Arizona with a degree in Business Management in 2007 and later returned for a second Bachelor’s in Music Theory History and Criticism, which was awarded in December of 2013. Learn more about Blake here!



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