Is Learning to Read Music Necessary?

Lennon rehearsing A number of famous musicians have bragged that they can¹t read a note of music – from film composers Danny Elfman, to Broadway composer Irving Berlin, to Rock star John Lennon – not to mention a whole slew of pop, jazz, country, and rock musicians. So, is reading music necessary for music lessons?

Yes, I think it is. Furthermore, I don¹t think it is that difficult to learn. In fact, I question the claims of musicians who say they don’t read music – because it is my belief that most musicians do read music…. it is just that they don¹t read it very well!

You see, music notation is just a graphic representation of music. Every day you can pick up a newspaper of magazine and see graphs: of statistics, financial forecasts, or any number of things. Most everyone can understand graphs and charts in a newspaper or magazine. So, it is not that difficult to understand music notes written on staff lines, just like a graph. When the notes go up, the music goes up. When the notes go down, the music goes down. It is really very simple.

But yes, music reading is a little more complicated than that! For example, there are time signatures, key signatures, flats, sharps, accidentals, and note values, etc. These are further subtleties that make music notation complex. It is my belief that when musicians say they don’t read music, they are saying that they do not fully understand the complexities of more advanced music notation. Or rather, they are just unsure of the many complexities found in notation. This, however, does not mean that they are musically illiterate; it just means that they are insecure with some of the aspects of notation.

It is worth noting: if you want to study music, chances are great that your teacher will assign you music books that involve reading music. Music notation is the preferred method for any course of music study. [One possible exception might be a notation called Tablature, which is special notation for guitar. However, this is still notation.] Therefore, your success in progressing on an instrument will definitely be tied to becoming literate in reading music.

The good news is that most beginning method books (and your teacher) provide excellent progressive information on reading music. Like any learning process, there is a certain effort that needs to be made. However, the rewards are great. Just like learning to read English is a great way to learning just about any subject that can be written about, music notation is the way to learn just about any music in the clearest, concise way.

For further information on reading music, I suggest an excellent book, “The Musician’s Guide to Reading and Writing Music”, by Dave Stuart, published by Miller Freeman Books, distributed by Hal Leonard. Dave is a very humorous writer, and makes learning notation fun and enjoyable.

– Guest contributor, Ernie Mansfield

TakeLessons Welcomes The Childrens School (La Jolla)

TheChildrensSchool TakeLessons would like to welcome The Childrens School in La Jolla, CA as the newest school partner for the TakeLessons SchoolAdvantage(TM) program. They will be utilizing the TakeLessons services for music lessons for kids.

The Childrens School shares many of the same core values as we do and they focus on providing their students with an excellent education that develops the whole child. . Their programs teach students important knowledge and life skills using
innovative, hands-on teaching strategies that engage students in the
process of learning.

They focus on key elements including:

  • Successful Outcomes
  • Hands-On Learning
  • Emphasis on the Arts
  • Social Growth
  • Interdisciplinary Curriculum
  • Commitment to Physical Education

If you’re in the La Jolla area, check out The Childrens School. Your kids will be glad you did.


For Vocal Performers – The Art of Practicing

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How many times have we watched a vocalist stand frozen and expressionless on a stage and been bored by their performance, regardless of how beautifully it was sung? Have you ever watched a singer and felt uncomfortable because you could see how uncomfortable they were?

Vocal students commonly forget one important aspect in their practicing; they forget to practice performing.  While technique such as breathing, resonance, pronunciation and vowel placement are all important aspects of practicing for vocal students, performing or acting their repertoire is just as important.

On stage rocking out
Once a song is learned, it needs to be analyzed.  What is the mood of the music? What do the lyrics say?  Measure by measure, map out a script for yourself.  What expression will you have on your face?  Where will you look?  How will you stand; or will you sit?  What kinds of gestures will you use and where will you use them?

Once you have a game plan, it should be incorporated into your practicing.  So many times I’ve heard singers say they were just going to wait until their performance and let it be an organic experience.  Unfortunately, we all have nerves and 99% of the time this will backfire on us.  By the time you put your song up in front of an audience, the acting or performing should be second nature to you.  You don’t want to have to think about it in the moment.

Practicing your performing will make you a better performer.  When you are a good performer, the audience will hear what you are singing.  They will enjoy your performance without being distracted by your awkward or uncomfortable presentation.

Even the youngest of students can benefit from this.  Would you send a young violinist up on stage without teaching them how to use their instrument?  Probably not!  The singer’s instrument is their body.  It is the entire body, not just the vocal chords.  Teaching them to perform and use their body in an effective way helps them to feel prepared for their moment on stage. Being prepared builds confidence.  Confident singers are effective communicators of music.


Christie By Guest Contributor and TakeLessons Instructor, Christie Lynn Devoe.

with being an instructor for, Christie has an impressive performance resume, as
well.  She spent 7 years as a working actor
and singer in New York City. During her time in New York,
Christie performed in many Off Broadway musicals, several operas, on television
and in film.  She has performed at Madison
Square Garden
at the Original Improv Comedy Club, and was seen at the NJPAC performing “The
Lord of the Rings Symphony” with the New Jersey Symphony.  She studied vocal
music performance at Montclair
State University

under world-famous counter tenor Jeffrey Gall and music education at Asbury
.  She also had the great
privilege to study acting in New York under the amazing Gene Frankel. Christie now resides in Howard County adives singing lessons in Baltimore and the surrounding area.


The Benefit of Taking Drum Lessons

I have been a drum set and percussion player for over fifteen years. Looking back over the past decade and a half, the process of becoming a drummer, the instruction from drum teachers, watching many seasoned artists perform, the countless hours spent practicing, has been remarkably enriching.

I have grown to love the drums. In fact, being a drummer has defined who I am. Learning music, through learning the drums, has instilled in me a love of all of the arts that has ultimately enhanced the quality of my life. Playing the drums is a joy that I love passing on to my students. Here, I would like to expound upon what I believe to be the important benefits of learning to play the drums.

DrummerIn my estimation one of the main benefits any music student would receive from learning to play the drums is a heightened understanding of rhythm. As a young boy of eleven, the age I began taking drum lessons, learning the percussion instruments gave me an awareness of the rhythmical aspect of music that has, in turn, allowed me to appreciate all styles of music more fully.  Rhythm is fundamental to music. Learning to play the drums, an instrument that functions specifically in the realm of rhythms, provides students with a foundational understanding of music that gives them a greater capacity to appreciate all aspects of music. No matter what instrument one learns to play, whether it be piano, flute, guitar, or even voice, the rhythmic element of music is always present. All musicians must have a solid understanding of rhythm. Learning to play the drums can, more than any other instrument, afford a student this knowledge of rhythm that is required for understanding music in general.
Another benefit in learning the drums is that percussion instruments have been greatly represented throughout the history of music. For students who, like myself, are very much in love with modern forms of popular music like rock and jazz but also desire a traditional classical understanding of music, the percussion instruments can serve as a cross-over between the two worlds. No instrument is more represented in modern forms of rock and jazz than the drums. Yet also, instruments like the snare drum, bass drum, crash cymbals and kettledrums are staples of the classical music from our western tradition. Learning the drums simply gives a student more opportunities to learn and play many styles of music. Drums and percussion can give students the chance to play all styles of modern music that they love yet also gain enrichment from exposure to classical genres.

A percussive foundation is present in virtually all styles of world music as well. Virtually all cultures in all times and places have, in some way, incorporated percussion into their music. Learning to play the drums can not only give a student a proper appreciation of the music from his or her own culture but can also serve as a gateway to learning and valuing the music of cultures from around the globe. The drum is an instrument that all cultures have in common.

Finally, and most importantly, students who learn to play the drums are having a lot of fun! Guaranteed! As a past time and activity, nothing is more enjoyable than playing the drums. Let’s face it, we all love watching the drummer in the band, right? Indeed, it looks fun and, as a drummer myself I assure you, playing them is more fun that it looks. Sitting down behind a drum kit and playing a beat that is fun to listen to and great for your friends to jam along with is an exhilarating and rewarding experience. It is not easy though; the drums can be deceivingly difficult to play. Much time, dedication and commitment to practice is required to play them well. This only adds to the sense of reward and accomplishment in learning the instrument. In my opinion the drums, more than any other instrument, has just the right balance of being fun to play yet also requiring practice and hard work to play well. It gives enough instant gratification to be enjoyable for the beginner student, yet can be challenging and difficult enough to keep even the most seasoned player engaged and interested in learning more. Learning to play the drums can enrich the lives of young and old alike.

As I mentioned earlier and could probably not mention enough, I LOVE PLAYING THE DRUMS. Learning to play the drums can be an exiting adventure, and adventure that can take a lifetime. The drums can be challenging yet even more rewarding. Learning music and being exposed to all styles and genres of music through learning the drums has been a great joy in my life and can enrich the lives of all who try to learn, I am sure of it.

– Guest contributor, Brad Elliot

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NAMM’s National Wanna Play Music Week – May 4-8, 2009


NAMM and TakeLessons have joined forces to launch the new Lesson Locator powered by set to debut during National Wanna Play Music Week.

Click here to learn more…

VIBE Magazine Holds Rapping Competiton with Eminem

EminemEminem (via

Urban magazine VIBE will hold its VIBE Verses competition, giving aspiring artists a global platform to showcase their skills and be crowned by rapper Eminem as a finalist in the “No. 1 Stan” contest. Entrants will rhyme for 60 seconds over a specially selected instrumental track and submit video clips of their performance. VIBE will send the Top 10 finalists (determined by VIBE user votes) a second instrumental, which will then be submitted to Eminem for careful review. The two finalists will be flown to a VIBE event and winner will be crowned by audience response and featured in VIBE magazine and on The first round of the competition has been extended to April 30th.

Trent Reznor (Nine Inch Nails) Interviewed by Kevin Rose of DIGG

Trent gives his thoughts on how the NIN brand encompasses more than just music. His business model is built around the idea that music – even if free – is a driver for additional sales of merchandise.

Right around 10:38, Trent gives advice to artists who are looking to use the Internet as their main distribution vs. a record label. Very insightful.


The Benefits of Piano Lessons

A Roland EXR-3 Arranger KeyboardImage via Wikipedia

Learning to play the piano leads the student of every age to delightful feelings of accomplishment as they make music at the keyboard.  The sounds produced from a single melody to full range of accompaniment of that melody are a joy to experience.

Greater concentration, coordination & confident listening come as students learn to interpret music at the piano.

Playing one line of music to multiple lines of music teaches eye ~ hand concentration.  Our right & left brain read music visually increasing our focus and concentration. Increased coordination of hands and eyes develop as well as directed listening.

Piano lessons lead to improved coordination of the eyes & hands leads to keener listening skills. Perseverance, and discipline in practice bring pride in the sounds produced at the keys. Higher levels of concentration lead to discriminatory decisions of playing for greater self expression. Continued confidence in reading leads to greater understanding of the composer’s ideas expressed in the music.

It is fun to express and hear music at the keys! Greater poise and sociability evolve as music is shared.  You cannot read music in a vacuum, as your playing is heard. Personal confidence and feelings of self achievement are felt as the difficulty level increases.  Personal interpretation of the composer’s ideas is creative.  Making music at the keys can lead to relaxation daily from the stresses we each feel. Personal ideas stated in our interpretation of music are valuable to our feelings of self worth and a joy to hear. Playing the piano well leads to confidence presenting our own verbal ideas, as well as at the keys.  Each learning step completed leads to feelings of accomplishment. It is a joy to daily hear and make beautiful music at the piano!

– Guest contributor, Joyce Scheel

TakeLessons CEO Speaking at Social Media Conference

Do you run a business? Interested in how to use social media to grow your clientele and grow stronger – even in these economic times?

Plan on attending the “Using Social Media Successfully” conference on Saturday, April 11 from 9:00 AM to 5:00 PM at San Diego State University. Our CEO, Steven Cox, will be speaking on using Facebook advertising to attract the right customers. Here are a few details:



We are excited to have you attend the San Diego social media workshop hosted by Artistic Hub.
We have spent a lot of time creating a great agenda and lining up
amazing speakers to teach you how to effectively harness social media
both personally and professionally.

We believe 2 things:

1. There are a lot of tools out there, but only a few necessary ones to get the biggest results
2. Success with social media is directly related to the idea of Social Capital

workshop is going to focus on these two things and give you tools you
need to be successful. You will leave today with a new or improved
blog, an impressive LinkedIn account, an understanding of Facebook ads,
your own social community on Ning, an e-commerce store on Zazzle, and
the knowledge to harness Twitter effectively.

Who should attend:

  • Small business owners who want to leverage social media to attract customers
  • Students looking to use social media in business or to start a business
  • Professionals who want to use social media to monitor their competitors, attract customers, or increase their social capital

number one goal is for you to walk away with the skills to improve your
business or success as a professional or student through social media
with the ability to implement these immediately.