The Most Important Thing to Do as the Year Winds Down

It’s the last Friday of 2011 – cheers to a fantastic year!  And as it turns to New Year’s Eve, it’s the perfect time to reflect back on this year’s successes, accomplishments, and yes, your failures.  You say you’re too busy? We know the feeling – but reviewing what went well and what didn’t will help you to learn from your mistakes and determine the best ways to fix things going forward.

So take a step back, grab your laptop or a pen and paper, and cue up your memory.  We recommend this exercise from Ariel Publicity to reflect on your year:

Questions to consider:

– What was your proudest musical moment this past year?
– Did something wonderful or unexpected happen to you?
– Did you set out to achieve something with your career/hobby but perhaps you missed your mark?
– How did you and are you managing the stress in your life?

Next, use your answers to complete the following four steps…

STEP 1: 10 Things I’m happy/proud of that I achieved within the last 12 months that are music related are:











STEP  2: The things that slowed me down or stopped me were:

Write whatever you want to clear it out of your head, and also write what you learned from these things.

It’s time to forgive yourself so that you can start with a clean slate for the new year.

STEP 3: Now write down 10 things (or more) that you are grateful for. It can be as small as coffee in the mornings or as big as your child, spouse or parents.  When you come from a place of gratitude, your creativity will flow in a much more productive way.











STEP 4: Print out, decorate and post steps 1-3 where you can see them.  If you aren’t posting them, at least place them in the back of a diary or in a sealed envelope, and open the envelope when you begin to forget these achievements.

We hope this exercise will help you get a clearer picture of where you’re at and what you need to work on.  Next step: Setting goals for 2012! Have a safe and happy New Years Day!

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5 Stages for Introducing Music to Children

Pop culture fanatics and Gleeks alike have been making a big deal out of a leaked set list for an upcoming episode of Glee – a tribute to the King of Pop himself, Michael Jackson!

With a family like the Jacksons, it wasn’t hard for Michael to jump into the music industry at an early age.  But for most parents, it will take a bit more effort to involve your child in music.  And the question remains: What age should a child start music lessons?  It depends.  Check out this great resource for intoducing music to your child at all ages, courtesy of

6 to 8 Months
Classes for moms and babies are a great way to begin even with children as young as 6 – 8 months. These classes are usually 30 – 40 minutes long, and they require active participation on the part of parents. Programs designed for toddlers 18 – 24 months are very popular as well; these still require parental participation, but by this age, children are starting actively to engage in the different activities in the class.

3 and 4 Year Olds
Programs for 3- and 4-year-olds are now readily available. This is really the ideal age for kids to start their music experience. Most of these programs are about 30 – 35 minutes in length, and involve props, movement and singing. Some even integrate arts and crafts and free play with rhythm instruments and props to music. Parents typically are not required to participate in these classes.

Ages 5 and Up
For children ages 5 and up, teachers should ideally integrate activities such as music games and crafts into the curriculum.  Piano/keyboard lessons are sometimes easiest for children ages 5, 6, and even older. One year of instruction on the piano or keyboard provides a great foundation as children learn basic music theory concepts such as the music alphabet, what a quarter note, half note, and whole note is, what the music staff does, and the location of the keys on the keyboard. In addition, they learn fun kids songs like “Mary Had a Little Lamb” and “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star.” If piano isn’t their thing, the violin can provide a great foundation for children to start their lesson path.

Ages 7 and Up
Around age 7, instruments such as the guitar, drums and other string instruments can be introduced. The same concepts are covered, but children who have had at least six months to one year of piano under their belt (and thus already know the basic elements of music) find it easier to make the transition between instruments. Consequently, they are able to engage with the new instrument a lot faster.

Elementary School Grades 3 and Up
Most elementary schools provide an opportunity for children in Grades 3 and up to begin taking group lessons in school on all instruments except the piano. This gives them the opportunity to participate in a band or orchestra at school with their friends, an experience that is often remembered vividly into adulthood. The only drawback that comes from these types of group lessons is that children needing extra help on their instrument are sometimes too timid to ask for it, or the instructor’s schedule does not allow for extra time spent with students, which can lead to discouragement. Outside private lessons on your child’s instrument are a wonderful way to reinforce what they are doing at school, and also help them to exceed what the other children in their group class are doing. This can pave the way for the child’s inclusion in solo festivals offered by the State or County.

Looking for a music lessons for your child?  Find a teacher near you – search by zip code here.

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The Ins and Outs of Recording a Demo

Record musicIn a big boom for the music industry, Adele has surpassed the 5 million sales mark this week, the first artist to hit that record in one year since 2004.  The feat is great for the industry, which as a whole has been struggling the past few years.  According to Reuters, album sales have been decreasing an average of 8 percent each year since 2000, with a jump to 13 percent between 2009 and 2010.   As more fans turn to digital music, it will be interesting to see how this affects album sales in the future.

If recording an album is on your bucket list – or if you’re hoping to make it big in the industry – it’s time to stop making excuses!  If you don’t have the funds for a studio session, there are tons of recording programs available to help you become a pro in your own home.  And once you have that demo, the sky’s the limit.  Send it out to record labels, sell it at any open mics or gigs you go to, and don’t underestimate the power of word of mouth.

Here’s a great list we found to keep your to-do list in check as you prepare for recording a demo:

1. Pick your recording venue. Are you going to book a studio? Are you going to record at home using your computer? Make sure whichever venue you choose is equipped with everything you need, and if you’re recording at home, make sure you understand the acoustical quirks of the room.

2. Choose your recording method. There are two basic choices available to you:  Recording live – that is, all instruments and vocals being recorded in one take – produces a raw, rough sound.  Or multi-track recording – each instrument being recorded independently on its own track- gives cleaner and more polished sound.  The right one for you depends on the music you are making. Hardcore punk? Go live. Radio friendly pop? Go multi-track.

3. Set up. For the drums, each individual drum should be miked, and the cymbals should each have two mics. The bass and guitar should each go through a DI. If you have a double guitar part, or to get a really clean sound, the guitarist can have a mic plus be hooked up to an amp in separate room, to prevent bleed of the amp sound into the mic.

4. Record. Time to do the actual recording. Don’t get caught up in the details and don’t record for hours on end. A demo should be short, sweet, and to the point.

5. Mix your recording.
Remember that labels don’t expect a demo to be perfect.  If you’re recording at home on a computer, and mixing is easy enough, don’t feel pressured to execute a perfect mix. A rough mix is fine.  If you’re recording in a studio, the engineer or producer can mix your recording for you.

6. Master your recording. (This step is completely optional.) Mastering involves a final EQ process and also adds a bit of compression. Keep in mind that people who master recordings have styles all their own; no two people will master the same recording in the same way. If you decide to get your recording mastered, make sure you get an unmastered copy as well, in case you don’t like the finished product.

Looking for music recording lessons?  Search for a teacher nearby here!

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Guitar 101: 5 Tips for Dealing With Calluses

Guitar callusesNot quite mastering your guitar riffs yet?  Don’t worry.  Yesterday we gave you a list of subjects to get started with as you learn the guitar.  However, there is another important thing for beginners to be aware of – the often-painful, callus-building stage.

When you first begin playing, your fingertips start out sensitive and soft; as your fingers learn to move against the guitar strings, you’ll start to build calluses. This can be a pain, but it’s necessary if you plan to continue learning and playing.  To help ease the discomfort, here are 5 tips for building calluses:

1) Swab rubbing alcohol onto the tips of the fingers on your fret hand two or three times a day. This will remove excess moisture and help develop and maintain calluses.

2) Use water sparingly when washing your hands. Water can destroy calluses and force you to begin again. Keep your fingertips dry as much as possible.

3) Play the guitar at least 20 to 40 minutes a day. Use all your fingers as much as possible.

4) Use a product like Rock-Tips, which creates a tough protective membrane on your fingertips. It is made to both protect your fingertips and build calluses faster.

5) Rub your fingers on rough surfaces as often as you can, or carry something like a rough stone with you, so you can use it throughout the day to toughen your fingertips.

We know this stage is tough (literally) – and often, this is the time where beginners give it up and stop practicing. But don’t let it deter you! Once you get past it, it will be smooth sailing.  For the guitar veterans out there, what words of advice can you offer to beginners to get through this stage?  Leave a comment below!


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Guitar Lessons for Beginners… Where Should You Start?

Beginner guitar lessonsThe weekend is over, and for some of us, it’s time to turn off the Christmas music and go back to reality.  And for those of you who received instruments or music equipment for the holidays, it’s time to schedule your music lessons and start practicing!

The guitar is a popular gift to give around this time, but it can be a daunting thing for a beginner.  While you may be already making a mental list of songs you’d like to learn, where do you start? What can you expect from your first guitar lesson?

Your lessons will vary depending on your teacher and your own personal goals and interests.  To get an idea, here are some common topics that a beginner guitar teacher may cover,  from

Reading Standard Music Notation and Tablature
Learning to read music is not as hard as it seems and will definitely make the rest of your learning experience much easier. The notation is just the information about how to perform a piece of music. Without it, it’s similar to working to set up an item of furniture without being able to read the instructions. You could eventually figure it out, but it really will be more difficult and take longer than it should.

General Music Theory
You might think it’s a little premature to do this, but it’s definitely not. Music theory is a thing that you’ll work with throughout the entire process. It’s just like mastering the grammar of music. By knowing how the music is put together, you will have enough knowledge to apply that knowledge to each and every new tune that you learn.

Here is a good short list of basic theory concepts you should to get to:
– How chords are built
– Tension and release
– What a “key” is
– Chord relationships
– Half, Authentic, and Plagal cadences
– Intervals
– Borrowed chords

Strumming Rhythms
It is useless having chords if you do not have any rhythms to go along with all of them, right? You can begin with a few basic quarter note/eighth note rhythms and then extend into sixteenth notes plus syncopations. Work your rhythms initially with one chord, and after that begin using pairs of chords to rehearse changing them proficiently. You’ll go on to learn and invent rhythm styles in the course of your studies.

Position Playing
Position playing means being able to perform melodies higher up on the neck of the guitar than the open position. Once you have a few major and pentatonic scales under your digits, this won’t be that tough.

Pentatonic Scales
Typical teaching would have you master major scales to begin with. But for the guitar player, pentatonic scales are usually a lot more immediately useful. Just like anything, don’t try and learn all the stuff at once.

Major Scales
Same as with the pentatonics, you’ll want to work with a single form here. And when you know some major patterns, they may be slightly modified to turn into various other important scales as well. Always consider the way the newer thing you are studying works with the old things you mastered.

Minor Scales
Your minor scales are based on the major patterns you learned in the past. Here you will want to get to know the natural, harmonic, and melodic minors.

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A Santa-Approved Voice Exercise

Gifts?  Check.  Eggnog?  Check.  If you’ve completed your to-do list, it’s time to sit back and take a deep breath.  You’ve made it – Christmas is just around the corner, and it’s time to celebrate (and relax!) with family and friends.  From all of us here at TakeLessons, we hope you’re enjoying the holiday season and making the most of it!

One of our favorite parts of the season is all of the holiday music, and sharing that gift of music with others.  And of course – if you’re heading out caroling this weekend, make sure to warm up your voice, as with any practice session or performance.  Here’s a simple voice exercise sure to get you on Santa’s “Nice” list, courtesy of

You have probably heard many times that singing is all about breath support and airflow.
And you may think you’re singing with good breath support and airflow.  But if you’re getting tension in your neck and are unable to sing past a certain ceiling without “flipping” into the next higher register, you probably still have some work to do with breath.  Let’s get down to the basics for a moment.

Put your hand on your belly.
Spread your fingers wide so that you cover as much vertical area as possible.

Now, say “Ho! Ho! Ho!” in a percussive way.
Don’t worry about hitting any particular pitch.  Just focus on feeling your stomach muscles actually act, and expel air with each syllable.  Your throat is simply a passage the air goes through.  Let the air pass through without trying to “grip” it or control it with your throat muscles.

Your belly should go in, not out, with each syllable.
This is completely natural for some people, but not for everyone.  Just check to make sure.  (If you’re pushing your belly out with each syllable, how in the world are you pushing air up and out through your throat as well? Think about it…)

Once you are doing “Ho! Ho! Ho!” correctly, then do a variation:  “Ho! Ho! Hooooo…”
Hold out that last syllable for a second or two, making sure that you are still supporting your breath from your belly and not moving the compression and effort up into your throat just because you are now “singing” a sustained note.

How did the voice exercise go for you?   What other tips would you add?  Leave a comment below!

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5 More Awesome iPhone Music Apps

What a year for Apple – iPhone sales are still through the roof, Siri continues to be a hot topic, and Steve Jobs is now being recognized with a posthumous Grammy award for his part in revolutionizing the music industry.  Nowadays our smartphones help us with anything and everything, it seems; it’s hard to imagine living without them!

But besides organizing our calendars and feeding our Angry Birds addiction, the iPhone is a great resource for music teachers and music fans alike.  Check out our original list of 5 apps for music lovers – now, here are 5 more especially great music apps for teachers to check out, courtesy of

1. ACappella – This simple song recording app can be used to record voices into tracks that can be played at the same time or one by one. The user can adjust the volume, tempo, and time signature. The app was designed for ease of sharing files: song URL’s can be posted to Facebook and Twitter or shared on a special website called “SingSing.” ($1.99)

2. Notes for Little Composers – Designed for ages 3 and up, this app can be used to introduce beginners to music notation and basic composition. The user taps on the treble clef screen to make notes, hear the names of notes, and create simple songs. Ideal as an accompaniment to starting music lessons. ($0.99)

3. Ear Trainer – This app is designed for beginning to advanced music students, and provides exercises on intervals, chords, scales, and relative pitch. A virtual piano keyboard helps you recognize the notes that have been played. Individual progress is tracked so that users can pinpoint areas of strength or weakness. ($6.99)

4. ImproVox– Record your voice into your device and create harmonies as you sing. This app demonstrates effects such as reverb and echo, and enables you to generate 4-part harmonies in different styles. ($3.99)

5. TabToolkit – This guitar tablature and notation viewer can be used for learning guitar and practicing music. The interface shows a fret board or keyboard with finger positions and/or standard music notation. Upload tabs from your computer or download from the Internet. ($4.99)

What other music apps do you love?  Leave a comment below!

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3 Artists You May Have Missed in 2011

It may only be December, but many music industry buffs are already getting their spring music predictions underway.  Feeling a bit overwhelmed?  With so many new artists entering the scene and so many ways to find the newest bands, it can be easy to miss what could be your next obsession.  But don’t worry – with the help of Seattle radio station KEXP and NPR’s list of 5 Artists You Should Know in 2011, here are 3 bands to catch you up:

Of Monsters And Men
The Icelandic band Of Monsters and Men made its debut with My Head Is an Animal, an impressive set of epic folk-pop. Its dynamic sound combines the warmth and earnestness of Seattle’s The Head and the Heart with the anthemic surge of Arcade Fire in impeccably crafted, heartfelt songs that feature male/female lead vocals, exuberant group harmonies, sing-along choruses and endlessly catchy pop hooks.

Canon Blue
Canon Blue is the alias of Nashville’s Daniel James, a multi-instrumentalist, singer, songwriter and touring member of the Danish band Efterklang. Written while touring with that group, and recorded during off hours at its Copenhagen studio, Rumspringa is anything but a casual side project. It’s an orchestral pop masterpiece with intricate arrangements, cascading melodies and emotional depth.

Apparat Organ Quartet
If Kraftwerk made an album in 2011, it would probably sound like Pólýfónía — great for driving the Autobahn, the back roads or the Internet. A playful set of mostly instrumental synth-rock, it combines analog synths, organs and other vintage keyboards with driving drums and occasional vocodered vocals.

The full list can be viewed hereWhat other artists would you include on this list that made your year?

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Your Cheat Sheet for Singing High Notes

The “VH1 Divas Celebrates Soul” concert aired last night, featuring performances by Kelly Clarkson, Mary J. Blige and Florence Welch, as well as a special tribute to the late Amy Winehouse.  In a generation of auto-tune and computer-generated beats, these powerful ladies are a great reminder of the vocal talent that’s still around.

Taking voice lessons and finding out your own vocal range can be an exciting process – but if you’re ready to take it the next level (literally), you’ll need to keep some things in mind.  Most of all, don’t strain your voice!  Some people just aren’t cut out for Mariah Carey’s range, and the last thing you want to do is end up with an injury (we all know about Adele‘s struggles).

Take it slowly, and listen to your body.  Here’s a safe exercise to try from that is worth the read:

1) Take a few minutes to do a vocal warm up with some rudimentary singing basics. For example, you can try humming through ascending arpeggios. The point is to warm up and go as high as you can for your vocal range — but don’t strain yourself!

2) Try to develop a clear sense of the high note you want to reach and make sure you’re setting a realistic initial goal. Ensure that this note is within the achievable range of your singing voice.

3) Start by singing the note that is an octave below it. Then, breathe deeply into your diaphragm and back, simultaneously dropping your inner jaw. You will then want to raise your soft palette without also dropping your tongue or raising your larynx. It will get easier with practice and this sort of thing definitely helps you to learn to sing better.

4) Get your voice high up in your head (above your eye sockets, near your forehead). It helps to visualize the top of your head as being large and hollow. Sing the high note with gentle but solid support from your lower body. It might feel like you’re yelling, but this is a good way to improve your singing voice.

5) Even though your voice feels like it’s up in your head, it actually starts its rise in your diaphragm. When you’re singing, your voice will reverberate in your skull first. Then it will be projected outwards.

6) Spend the time practicing singing the two notes an octave apart. Proceed ahead when you manage to achieve a rich tone for your high note.

Readers, what other tips do you have for singing high notes?  Leave a comment below! Like these posts?  Sign up to receive daily updates right to your inbox!  Click here to subscribe.

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5 Tips for Making Sure Your Band Doesn’t Suck

Today Paul McCartney announced his upcoming album, set for release on February 7th, featuring cover songs he deemed as key influences for his and John Lennon’s songwriting, as well as two new songs.  The album will come as an answer to the topic that Beatles fans have often analyzed, even four decades after the band’s break-up: what exactly inspired the guys?

Of course, despite their fame and fortune, the Beatles’ career wasn’t always smooth sailing.  But if you’re considering starting a band, it’s usually best to avoid the drama.  Here, check out advice from on starting and maintaining a band:


Know your place
Are you a lead guitarist full of great solos? That’s beautiful, just don’t start spamming solos where they don’t belong. Are you a rhythm guitarist? Good, then keep rhythm and don’t start doing whacky stuff. The same goes for everybody: know what you’re supposed to do, when you’re supposed to do it, and then do what you have to at the right time. A lot of people forget this.

Criticize each other
Don’t be afraid to point out mistakes, no matter how small. Chances are that whoever makes a mistake doesn’t even realize they do, until it gets pointed out. And be as blunt about it as you can. If someone can’t take the criticism, get rid of him/her. It sounds harsh, but it’s necessary. Nobody likes getting rid of a band member, but sometimes you just have to. If it doesn’t work, it doesn’t work. Your band members are great people and good friends, if you’ve done things right so far, but sometimes they just don’t fit with your band.

Learn to compensate for mistakes
One important point when playing live is learning what to do when somebody makes a mistake. This is something you have to feel as a band, simply because you can’t go over every possible mistake during rehearsal. But something you shouldn’t do is try to catch up when you miss a beat, e.g. play the notes you should have played, only at the wrong time, to arrive back at where you are supposed to be at some point. Play something else, or play nothing at all and let your band handle it. A general rule is that if it sounds good, it’s not a big deal. The exception is a solo; these are usually really hard to pick up once you’ve made a mistake, and you can’t just stop playing. Usually, the only options you have are to accept that you messed up and just keep playing, or to signal the band to skip the solo in some way.

Listen to your audience
This can’t be stressed enough. Listen to all the feedback you get, negative or positive, and if they have a valid point, do something with it. Your audience listens to your music in an entirely different way than you do, so listen to what they have to say. You may feel you messed up, but chances are nobody even noticed. Or maybe you feel like you made no mistakes, but somebody noticed something after all.

Make a good setlist
This is more important than you might think. A setlist can make or break a performance. You need to make sure every song you play belongs in your setlist, and you need to put the songs in the right order. All this depends on the kind of music you play and what you’re going for as a band. Do you want to just start with a bang and get the audience going immediately? Start with a high-tempo song with a fast solo. Or maybe you want to get the audience going slowly, ease them into your performance? Then start with a nice, slow ballad. It’s all a matter of feeling things, trying things, and listening to what your audience said about past performances. Do what feels right, and think of what you would like to hear if you were in the audience.

More often than not, it’s not only about how talented you are – if you don’t have a good rapport and friendship with your band members, it can end up a disaster.  Do you agree?  Let us know!  Leave a comment below.

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