Videos We Love: Man With No Hands Plays Guitar

Have you ever wanted to play guitar, but thought of a hundred reasons to hold off?  You’re too busy, you’re too tired to practice, your fingers hurt after playing for two days… the list goes on and on for some people.

Well, you may need to put those excuses to rest after watching this inspiring video:

His name is Mark Goffeney, a San Diego musician who has even performed internationally with his band, Big Toe. Browse around YouTube and you’ll find tons of videos featuring this impressive guitar player, strumming everything from the Beatles to the Red Hot Chili Peppers.  How’s that for some inspiration?  We can’t even imagine how many hours of practicing he’s committed to learn how to use only his feet to play.  It’s just the kind of talent and commitment we here at TakeLessons thrive to see.

Now it’s your turn – so pick that guitar up and start practicing!

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How to REALLY Maximize Your Practice Time

Music practiceOver the past few months we’ve discussed several practicing techniques – including practicing when you’re out of town and don’t actually have your instrument with you (see: 5 Ways to Practice Without Your Guitar and How to Practice the Piano… Outside of the Studio), how to extend your practice sessions when you feel stuck, as well as how to use a metronome to help improve your rhythm, timing and tempo.

But how do you ensure the time you’re spending practicing is truly effective?  Think about it like a sports game – coaches spend time putting together a game plan to make sure every team member is on board and knows what to do.  No wasting time.  Just get straight to the winning plays.  Sure, you may only have yourself to worry about when you’re practicing, but the idea is equivalent – before pulling out your instrument, know your game plan!

1. Always begin with your goals in mind. Setting goals is the best way to ensure you’re on the right track.  Once you’ve set the overarching, most important ones (e.g. “This year, I’m going to perform Pachelbel’s Canon in D at the spring recital”), you can break them down into smaller, more specific goals for each practice session (e.g. “Today, I’m going to practice these 3 bars slowly until I get the articulation right”).  Knowing what you truly want to accomplish and how you plan to prepare for upcoming auditions or performances can help you understand exactly what you should be working on each day.

2. Review your lesson journal. Most music teachers will keep track of what you’ve been working on, and your assignments for the following week, in a lesson journal or notebook (TakeLessons students: yours can be found in your online account).  It’s always a good idea to review this before you start practicing, so you’ll have an easier time remembering the feedback you’ve received so far.  It will also help prepare you for your next lesson, so as to not waste any time when you get there.

3. Develop a practice routine. Most students benefit from a set practice time, whether it’s in the morning, right after school/work, or later on in the evening.  Think about when you tend to focus best, and then stick to the routine.  If you’re having trouble finding time, or if you keep forgetting, try actually blocking the time out in your calendar, writing yourself a note, or signing up for a service like Remember the Milk, an app that will send you a text or email reminder at a designated time.

4. Minimize distractions. Make the most of your time spent practicing by making sure you’re doing just that – practicing!  The more distractions you have around you, the less effective your session will be.  So take the time to “set the stage” – turn off your phone, put the dog or cat in another room, get all of your equipment ready to go (music, music stand, metronome, tuner, a glass of water, etc.) and turn the TV off.  Also, make sure your room is properly lighted and ventilated, and your seating area is comfortable for you.

5. Have fun! Above all, don’t forget that playing music is meant to be fun!  If you need to shake things up, give yourself permission to play through some “just for fun” songs every now and then. Don’t forget to take breaks if you’re committing to a longer practice time, and if needed, take a whole day off if you’re feeling overwhelmed.  Spend time cultivating your creative side outside of your instrument.  And never underestimate the power of a reward if you reach a specific goal!

As always, your music teacher can help guide you in the right direction if you’re having trouble determining what your goals are or what you should be focusing on.  (Need help finding a teacher near you?  Click here!)

, TakeLessons staff member and blogger

How do YOU ensure you’re making the best use of your practice time?  Share your own expertise with the community – leave a comment below, or stop by our Facebook page! Like these posts?  Sign up to receive daily updates right to your inbox!  Click here to subscribe.

 

 

You might also like…
Your Guide to Setting SMART Music Goals
How to Use a Metronome for Efficient Practice
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Feeling Weak? Piano Exercises for Finger Strength

For beginner pianists, and especially younger children or players with small hands, building up the dexterity of your hands and fingers can do wonders for your playing.  Just as singers need to warm up their most important muscle with vocal warm-ups, piano players need to take their fingers into consideration.

In this article, we’ll share 5 great exercises to improve your finger strength and dexterity, as originally published by Piano and Synth Magazine. But first, check out this simple and helpful strength exercise on YouTube.

5 More Exercises to Strengthen the Fingers for Piano

1. Scales
The bane of every music student? Piano scales and arpeggios may be boring, but they work. Not only do they help to reinforce knowledge of the notes in each key signature, but they help develop finger strength and rhythm. Try playing major, minor and chromatic scales, and major and minor arpeggios, both single-handed and in unison in a variety of ways:
-legato (notes smooth)
-staccato (notes played shortly and sharply)
-regular rhythm
-alternative rhythm (for example: hold the first note of each octave for longer than the other six notes)
-alternative accents (for example: every third or fourth note)
-inverted (same start note, right hand plays ascending notes while left hand plays descending notes).

2. Stretches
-Play two notes of at least an octave apart, with thumb and fifth finger.
-Play a third note somewhere in between, with another finger.
-Jump staccato from the lower to the higher note and back.
-Hold thumb down on one note and play ascending staccato notes as far as possible with one of your fingers.

3. Work your weaker hand
Many pianists have one hand that is weaker than the other. Scales (see #1) will help, as will practicing parts usually played by your stronger hand.

4. Work your weaker fingers
Generally, the little (fifth) finger is weaker than the other fingers in the hand. Significantly differing finger strengths will make it difficult to maintain even playing.  To combat this, try the following:
-Practice playing scales with even volume across all fingers.
-Play two alternating notes with your weakest finger and a stronger finger. Maintain an even rhythm and volume.
-Play a run of three notes with your weakest finger and two stronger fingers. Again, maintain even rhythm and volume.

5. Key and Tempo
Try playing pieces or phrases of music you know well at different speeds and in different keys.
-Dexterity can be challenged at faster tempos.
-Steady rhythm can be challenged as tempos change.
-Different fingers can be stretched and strengthened as a piece of music is played in a new key.

If finger strength is something you need help with, run through these piano finger exercises right when you sit down to practice.  With repetition, you can train your muscles, just as a bodybuilder targets certain muscles.  Readers: what exercises have helped you improve your finger strength?  Leave a comment below!

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Ear Training Exercises: Recognizing Intervals

One of the best parts of developing your musical ear is learning to quickly recognize notes, chords, pitches and keys of songs as you sightread, improvise, tune your instrument, compose or sing.  If you’re one of the few born with perfect pitch, you’re one step ahead.  But if not, it doesn’t mean you need to give up music altogether – you’ll just need to put in a little extra work!  Luckily, there are several strategies for ear training that can help you refine this skill.

One common beginner strategy for singers in particular is to practice recognizing intervals, or the pitch difference between one note and another.  And by associating them with common songs, you’ll find it easier and faster to learn them. For a quick intro to recognizing intervals, check out the video lesson below.


Here’s how to remember a few of the essential intervals:

Major Intervals
– Major 2nd: Silent Night
– Major 3rd: When the Saints Go Marching In
– Perfect 4th: Amazing Grace
– Perfect 5th: Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star
– Major 6th: NBC theme
– Major 7th: Somewhere Over the Rainbow (1st and 3rd notes)
– Perfect 8th (octave): Somewhere Over the Rainbow (first 2 notes)

Minor Intervals
– Minor 2nd: Jaws theme
– Minor 3rd: Greensleeves
– Minor 6th: The Entertainer (3rd and 4th notes)
– Minor 7th: Star Trek theme

As you practice, sing each interval and really internalize the difference.  As simple as it sounds, actively listening is one of the most important parts of learning to sing.  Alternately, listen to someone else sing the interval and see if you can determine it on your own.  You can also practice the notes using solfege syllables, or do, re, mi, etc. (think of the Sound of Music song!).  As always, practice makes perfect, and working with a trained voice teacher can help you pinpoint where you might be struggling, and how to best help you learn.

How do you practice intervals?  Where do you struggle the most?  Post a comment below, or head over to our Facebook page and join the conversation! Like these posts?  Sign up to receive daily updates right to your inbox!  Click here to subscribe.

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4 Necessary Skills for Guitar Improvisation

guitar improvisation tipsFor many guitarists, learning to “jam” with others (or along with the radio or a certain song) is a top request when beginning guitar lessons.  But if you’re feeling stuck, you’re not alone.  It might just be time to take a step back.

We’ve discussed tips before to help jazz up your improvised solos, but there’s even more preparation that can be done to help with your overall skillset when it comes to this technique – particularly for guitar players.  Before you start showing off, consider the behind-the-scenes work that should get its due time.

These suggestions from Ultimate-Guitar.com will help you get even better at guitar improvisation:

1. Thorough knowledge of music theory. Why? When there’s a chord playing, you need to know which notes sound good over the chord and which ones don’t. You need to know which scales you can play over the chords, chord theory to construct your own chords and inversions as you are playing, modal theory so you can open up hundreds of new scale options, intervals, inversions, and much, much more.  Knowing music theory massively expands your options.

2. Memorizing the fretboard. Why? When you know which notes you can play over which chords, the next step is knowing where they are on the guitar so you can instantly find them. This will make guitar playing easier for you if you can see the fretboard clearly as you are playing. If you can’t, then it’s a lot like driving along a road you’ve never been on before, in pitch black darkness, without a map.

3. Mastery of phrasing. Why? Guitar playing is like a conversation. You need to be able to phrase your licks in such a way that is interesting and doesn’t ramble on forever. Phrasing means targeting the right chord tones at the right time, “speaking” with your guitar, spacing your licks and using various techniques.

4. Understanding the basic 7 elements of music. Why? When you understand rhythm, harmony, melody, dynamics, texture, timbre and form, it becomes much easier to improvise a guitar solo and create an interesting sound in real time while playing. You can sense when there is an imbalance in the music, and try to correct it so that you and the listener can enjoy the music more.

Of course, working with a guitar instructor can give you even more hands-on tips if you’re struggling with specific techniques.  Search for a guitar instructor near you here.

Ready to try your hand at improvisation?  If you’ve learned other tips or techniques, share them with the TakeLessons community!  Leave a comment below or stop by our Facebook page and join the discussion. Like these posts?  Sign up to receive daily updates right to your inbox!  Click here to subscribe.

 

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Play Ball! The Hidden Symphony of Baseball

Opening Day yesterday marked the official start to baseball season, and we encourage you to get in the spirit today by checking out this New York Times article that caught our eye.  In true music critic fashion, the author takes the game and gives it a musical spin, comparing it to an outdoor symphony.

The roar of the crowd, the boom of the announcer’s voice, the intro music for each player, even the crack of the baseball bat… the sounds of the sport usually take a backseat to the hits and home runs, but if you start paying attention, it may even make you a better musician.

As the author writes…

The most assertive soloists are the vendors. My favorite was a wiry man with nasal snarl of a voice who practically sang the words “Cracker Jack” as a three-note riff: two eighth notes on “Cracker,” followed by a quarter note on “Jack,” always on a falling minor third. (Using solfège syllables, think “sol, sol, mi.”) After a while I heard his voice drifting over from another section, and he had transposed his riff down exactly one step.

Baseball fans get treated to a live performance of this kind of symphony at every game.  And although each game follows the same format, as music follows the “rules” of harmonies and melodies, the emotional response of the crowd can be huge when something unexpected happens – an impressive triple play or a sudden accelerando, for example.

As we head into the weekend (and especially if you’re going to a baseball game!), we encourage you to really stop and listen when you’re out and about.  Take off your iPod and listen to the sounds of nature or the sounds of the city.  The best musicians internalize music wherever they go, and pretty soon you’ll hone that ability to hear the music in everything.  And you never know – you might find yourself even more inspired to play, perform or compose.

 

 

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How to Practice the Piano… Outside of the Studio

Piano exercisesWhether you’re on vacation or simply working around a busy schedule, you don’t always have your instrument with you. And while we’ve shared strategies on how to practice guitar during these times (reviewing notes on the fretboard, studying the chords, or even simply developing your ears by picking out intervals in the music around you, for example), the same ideas can be used for piano players.

We came across a great article about this very concept on Tim Topham’s blog, an awesome resource for musicians.  In his post, Topham runs through how he practiced while mid-flight, placing the music in front of him and studying it one bar at at time.  He describes his method as follows:

  1. Study the left hand with the score
  2. Close your eyes and picture playing each note clearly in your mind
  3. Play it a number of times in your mind and while moving hands on an imaginary keyboard
  4. Study the right hand with the score
  5. Close eyes and picture playing every note of the right hand melody, and repeat a few times as for the left hand
  6. Play hands together with eyes closed picturing the movement of the hands and the coordination of the fingers. It’s vital that you can picture playing every note for this to be a successful exercise.
  7. Check back to the score to ensure you’re playing it correctly and move onto the next bar.

Using these visualization techniques, you can train yourself to easily memorize pieces – a skill that will come in handy if you start competing  (many competitions require this) or if you are having trouble learning the intricacies of the song.  If you already know the notes and fingerings by heart, you can then turn your attention to the dynamics, articulations and different emotions of the music. Have fun!

Check out the full article here.

 

 

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5 Insider Tips for The Voice Auditions

5 Insider Tips for The Voice Auditions

The Voice auditionsThinking about auditioning for a show like The VoiceBryan S., one of our San Diego-based teachers, offers a few insider tips to get you ahead of the game. Read on…

There are many of us out there that dream of making it big as a singer. The great thing about the day and age we live in is that your life can be changed in a second and your dreams can come true. With shows like American Idol, The X Factor and The Voice, more singers than ever are closer to being heard by a nation. With that in mind, there is a lot of work and preparation needed to get to that point.

This past weekend I auditioned for The Voice at the Los Angeles Convention Center. Overall, the experience was fantastic. I waited in line only about an hour and a half, and then literally walked in, sang and left. Though I sadly did not get a callback, I did leave with a better understanding of the process and what to expect from a television competition.

I went into the audition with a teacher’s mindset; how can I better prepare my students for an audition of this caliber? Here is what I learned from my time in Los Angeles:

1. Seek advice and training – Taking singing lessons will definitely help you be ahead of the game in these types of auditions. Having natural talent is fantastic, but if you rely solely on natural talents you may find that your overall performance is lacking. Find a good voice instructor and let them guide you to your goals.

2. Go in with your best – Make sure you sing the best part of your best song. Often times you will only get one verse and one chorus to show exactly how amazing your voice is. With that in mind, make sure you do your research. You have something special about your voice and you need to find a song that best shows that off.

3. Know the show – As with any television audition, it is essential that you know something about the show. Do your research and look at the songs people are singing. Do any of those songs fit into your range? Could you rock that song better than someone on the show? What are they wearing? Use the show as a resource to prepare you for the audition.

4. Come with your “A Game” – Though you may have to wait in line for some time, you need to be ready to go at any second. Make sure that you drink lots of water, do some humming and keep your voice warm, especially if you will be waiting in line outside. Do everything you can to be well-rested before the audition. This is your opportunity to shine!

5. The Voice is literally looking for “The Voice” – This may seem obvious, but when you go into the audition you are told that there is something particular that they are listening for. While they don’t tell you what that exact type of voice is, you do get some insight into the fact that you may be phenomenal but still not the “right” voice for the show.

Singing is becoming a bigger deal in the television world and as you prepare yourself for your auditions make sure you remember how amazing you are. It’s all too easy to let your nerves get the best of you. With that being said, get up, practice and get out there! You are the only thing coming between your reality and your dreams. You have it within you to be great, so let’s see it!

Bryan S. teaches singing, theatrical Broadway singing, opera voice, music performance, acting and music theory in San Diego, CA.  He is a member of the National Association of Teachers of Singing, (NATS), the American Guild of Musical Artists (AGMA) and the Music Teachers National Association (MTNA).

 

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Avoid the Musical Plateau & “Trick” Yourself Into Practicing Longer

piano exercisesThe dreaded plateau is not just a fitness concept – most musicians, at some point or another, are forced to face it as well.  It’s when many students decide to give up and end their music lessons, because they’re convinced they are unable to learn any more.  The key?  Have a plan of action.

As any pro musician (or athlete, at that) can tell you, it’s just a matter of breaking through that barrier and keeping the inspiration alive.  And maybe the extra oomph that you need is a matter of adding a few more minutes of practicing each day.  Who knows – you might discover a new source of motivation as you dissect certain passages or try out different warm-up exercises.

If you’ve already hit the plateau and feel frustrated with a lack of progress, consider these 5 ideas for extending your practice sessions, as published on The Collaborative Piano Blog:

1. Work in more detail. Take apart each phrase and discover what you need to do in order to make it fit into the whole. Once you’ve finished working on one phrase to your satisfaction, go on to the next one.

2. Repetition. Once you’ve got a passage worked out, repeat it several times to solidify it in your playing. Having longer practice sessions can accomplish this very nicely. Bear in mind that this doesn’t mean running whole pieces several times and calling it a practice session, unless the detail work is already in place.

3. Come back to each piece you’re working on every day. Day-by-day repetition is what can add tremendous reliability to your performance. That passage that almost worked in the first session of the week can usually be played with ease if attended to daily. There’s something about working hard on a passage, setting it aside and then returning to it the next day that builds confidence and command to what seemed initially unplayable.

4. Warm up properly. Consult with your music teacher as to how you should warm up every day. Try out several different types and styles to keep things interesting.

5. Add more diverse activities to your daily practice session. Changing gears several times can lessen any chance of boredom practicing. Activities such as technical exercises, sight reading, transposition, reviewing old pieces, playing in a different musical style and improvising can make your time spent practicing more rewarding.

Remember: Musicians of all levels can experience the feeling of hitting a wall.  When that happens, it’s important to look back on what motivated you in the first place and keep that momentum going.  And of course, let your music teacher know how you’re feeling.  Maybe all you need to break through the plateau is a shift in focus, exposure to some other creative outlets or some new music!  (If you don’t have a private teacher, sign up for lessons here.)

Have you reached a plateau in your own music studies?  How did you keep your  motivation up?  Share your story – leave a comment below, or head on over to our Facebook page!

 

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Photo by puzzledmonkey.

Give Your Guitar Strings Some Love Today

Guitar stringsWe all know the importance of caring for your instrument, and guitars require a good amount of attention.  After all, where would musicians like Jason Aldean and Miranda Lambert, who both took home multiple honors during last night’s Academy of Country Music Awards, be without their trusty guitars?  Guitar strings break.  Cracks might appear in the wood.  Pegs and frets may end up loose or damaged.  But by taking a few extra moments to give your guitar some TLC, you can improve your sound and ensure years of playing and learning to come.

Let’s begin with your guitar strings.  Here are some things to remember:

1. Wipe down your guitar strings.
This is a priority for guitar maintenance. Each time you finish playing, wipe down your guitar strings with a soft and dry cloth. Make sure to run the cloth in between the strings and fingerboard, as well. (Here’s a great visual guide.) Run it all the way down the length of the neck of the guitar to get rid of all the perspiration and rust.

2. Use string cleaner.
There are a few great guitar string cleaners available that will keep your guitar strings clean and allow you to play faster. It can also reduce excessive finger noise. You can use most cleaners on strings, the fretboard and the back of the guitar neck.

3. Leave your guitar in a case when not in use.
When you leave your guitar out, it’s exposed to air, moisture and heat.  Instead, try storing it in its case when you’re not using it – this will protect it from the elements, and it only takes a few seconds to take it out of its case when you’re ready to play.

4. Wash your hands!
This should be a no-brainer.  If your hands are covered in sweat and grime, it will transfer to the guitar strings.  So play it safe: just wash your hands before playing!

Remember these steps, and your guitar will thank you!  Can you recommend any special products that you use to care for your guitar?  Leave a comment below, or share it on our Facebook wall!  Like these posts?  Sign up to receive daily updates right to your inbox!  Click here to subscribe.

 

 

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Do You Have the Right Strings on Your Guitar?
Better Guitarists Use These 3 Tools
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