3 Things to Master Before Learning Jazz Drumming

Jazz DrummingImagine you’re traveling to a foreign country, and you decide to learn the language.  You would probably start with simple words or phrases – “Hello, my name is…” or “Where is the subway?”. With the basics, and maybe a reference guide at your side, you’d probably get along just fine.

But for those of you who have mastered a second language, think about how much easier it got once you delved a little deeper: grammar rules, formal vs. informal language, even the evolution of the culture and how the language developed over time.  With a true understanding, you might go from being a simple tourist to being mistaken for a local.

Similarly, a beginner musician attempting jazz drumming beats may be able to learn quickly, but it’s when you learn the underlying history and application that the knowledge really sets in.  So what should you study to really solidify your skills?  Steve Houghton, renowned jazz drummer, shared his tips in this great article found at PearlDrums.com.

Here’s an excerpt from the article, explaining a few of the areas to focus on:

Rhythm Section Awareness
It is important for the jazz drummer to be aware of the entire rhythm section and their individual roles, as jazz music is not a “one man show.”  For example, the more aware a drummer is of the bass player’s role, the more successful the performance. Outstanding music can be made when the drummer and bass player are on the same page musically.

Tune Knowledge
The true indication of a serious jazz musician rests with tune knowledge; that is, a broad, in-depth understanding of all “standard” jazz tunes as well as the newer tunes of the day. The more a drummer knows about a tune’s form, melody, and even harmony, the more effective the performance.

Practical Application
This is an important part of the process because it provides an opportunity to put your ideas and concepts to the test. Unfortunately, many students learning to play jazz are limited to practice room study, accompanied only by play-alongs or CDs. Jazz is an improvisational art form, where skills are honed by interacting with other musicians; reacting to soloists, comping patterns, bass lines, time feels, song forms, developing long–lasting musical skills that can only be found in live performance.

Most of all, Houghton stresses, jazz drumming (and other styles) can’t be learned solely in the practice room.  You’ll learn Spanish a lot quicker if you immerse yourself in a Spanish-speaking country, and you’ll learn a lot more about drumming styles if you go to performances, listen to accomplished musicians, and notice the patterns and techniques out in the “real world.”  Learn as much as you can, as pretty soon you can call yourself a pro!

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Jam Session Etiquette for Drummers
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6 New Ideas for Piano Warm-Ups

Piano Warm-UpsWe all know the importance of warming up – but do you actually commit to a proper warm-up every time you sit down to play the piano?  If you’re in a rush, it’s easy to forget it.  However, an effective warm-up is essential for avoiding injuries, such as tendonitis, and can also help increase the dexterity of your fingers and hands, allowing you to reach certain tough chords.

Before you get into the “meat and potatoes” of your practice session, you’ll want to spend a good 10-15 minutes focusing on your muscles and tendons.  A consistent warm-up can also prepare your mind, a great habit to help ensure that your practicing is effective.  Luckily, it doesn’t need to be all piano scales and arpeggios every time (yawn!). To get the creative ideas flowing, here are some great warm-up ideas, excerpted from Dr. Chris Foley’s e-Book 31 Days to Better Practicing:

1. Do a physical warm-up such as yoga or tai chi. Many teachers have talked about the benefits of stretching exercises before practice and if you can incorporate them into your routine, you can drastically cut down on the chance of physical injury from playing.

2. Problem solving time. Jump to the most problematic areas of your current repertoire and fix the spots that are giving you the most grief. Take them apart and practice them in new and interesting ways.

3. Play something entirely enjoyable with the most beautiful sound you are capable of. Then launch into your regular work. The legendary violinist Itzhak Perlman is said to start his practice sessions in this manner.

4. Sight read as a warm-up. Done over the course of weeks or months, you can improve your reading skills to an incredible extent by setting aside time to sight read every day. And what better time to do it than at the beginning of your session.

5. Slow practice. Just as athletes take it slow at the beginning of a training session, so should we. Work on a short section of a piece, whether problematic or not. Practicing slowly can allow you to be in total command of your instrument and develop greater awareness of what there is in the music and your approach to it.

6. Change things from time to time. There are some musicians who boast that they have a set warm-up that they have been following for years. What a dull way to start your practice day! The more interesting you can make your first minutes at the instrument, the better off you’ll be later on.

What other piano exercises do you use during your warm-ups?  Share yours with the community over on our Facebook page (don’t forget to “Like” us, while you’re at it!).

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You might also like…
Improving Sight Reading as a Beginner Musician
Your Guide to Getting Through Tough Piano Passages
Feeling Weak?  Piano Exercises for Finger Strength

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Learning to Sing: The Truth Behind 4 Common Misconceptions

Learning how to singDescartes once said, “I’m tone deaf, therefore I’m hopeless.”

Wait, no, that’s not right.  But the debate is certainly real: Is there such a thing as being “tone deaf”?  And if so, should the hopeless few bother with singing lessons if their dream is to one day perform on stage?

Much like mastering any other skill, learning to sing comes with many common misconceptions from outsiders.  So read on – we’re about to debunk them!

1. Singing lessons are for people who can’t sing.
Think again!  While professional training can definitely help students who don’t have the “natural” talent people often refer to, you may find that you’ll see even more benefits if you already have a decent foundation.  For one, a voice teacher will be able to hear (and see) things that you may not while you’re focusing on your breathing or another aspect of your performance.  The guidance you’ll receive can be incredibly valuable.  Moreover, a great singing teacher can help you keep your focus and set realistic goals, and may even be able to open doors for you through networking, audition opportunities and more.

2. I can learn enough by watching YouTube videos about singing.
Not so fast.  YouTube definitely has some great tutorials, but similar to misconception #1, working with a professional will do wonders for your technique.  Still learning proper breathing?  Your teacher can point out where to place your hand to feel your breath.  Preparing for an audition? A teacher can help you build your stage confidence.  Without the individual feedback from a private teacher, students may end up with bad habits, or practice the same thing over and over with little progress.

3. I can’t sing that song, because my range doesn’t go that low/high.
While you certainly don’t want to strain your voice, the beauty of private singing lessons is that you can work with your teacher to extend your vocal range and prepare yourself to sing even more songs than before.  You’ll notice a difference with even simple changes, such as engaging in effective vocal warm-ups and recognizing your chest voice versus your head voice.

4.I’m tone deaf – there’s no hope for me.
Tone deafness (also called “amusia”) describes a person’s inability to recognize relative pitches in music, and is the ultimate fear of many karaoke singers all across the world.  But can it be corrected?

Fortunately for you, vocal lessons can definitely help.  Singing off-key often has more to do with poor vocal habits, which can be corrected with private lessons.  For example, beginners might try to force a high note, which inevitably leads to falling out of key.  Sometimes it even stems from something deeper, like feeling self-conscious about your tone.  With proper training, even the most cynical of singers can begin to recognize notes and pitches.  The more exposure you have, the easier it will become.

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Videos We Love: Awesome Guitar Pick Art!

We LOVE when musicians start getting creative with other art and mediums, and we couldn’t get enough of this video!  Check out MysteryGuitarMan below as he uses thousands of colorful guitar picks to create a stop-motion masterpiece.  And then, like us, watch it again and again and again…

Want more? MysteryGuitarMan has a lot of other super creative videos on his YouTube channel that are definitely worth a look!  Check out the stop motion version of “Dust in the Wind” – done backwards – and 90s kids, the live action Doug intro will bring back some great memories.  We could watch these videos all day – how about you?

Visit us on Facebook and share your thoughts! What other art could you create using only guitar picks? (Don’t forget to “Like” us while you’re at it!)

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Students Listening to Music While Studying Can Help

Students – Listening to Music While Studying Can Help!

studying with music

Ah, the power of music!  Recent research has found that fast-paced beats can increase your exercise intensity and slow, quiet music can even reduce stress. But what type of music is best to help you study?  Los Angeles teacher Kelly K. shares her findings here…


It is widely accepted that the best environment for concentration is a quiet one; however the majority of students in the US say they prefer to study while listening to music, and in fact the highest achieving students are even guiltier of this.  Why do students do this?  To block out more distracting noise, to motivate themselves, to stay awake or to calm nerves… Whatever the reason, it’s important to find music that will serve your needs, while causing the least amount of distraction. The type of music a student listens to while studying contributes to how much information she can retain and how well she can focus.  The most common type of music students report listening to while studying is popular music.  However, if a person chooses to listen to music while trying to complete a task, is popular music really the best choice?

No!  Classical instrumental is by far the better choice.  Inspired by the findings of “The Mozart Effect,” I researched this further for my senior thesis in college.  I had 112 participants and my results were statistically significant.  I found that, on average, students score 90% on spatial reasoning tasks conducted in silence, 83% when listening to classical instrumental music, and 72% while listening to popular music with lyrics.  This means that your choice of music could affect your GPA by a whole letter grade!  One of the reasons for this may be that, due to a person’s capacity for attention, lyrics inhibit ability to focus.

Interestingly enough, I found that women are not only more likely to listen to music while trying to complete a task, but they are also more likely to become distracted by it.  So, girls: try to study in a quiet environment, but if you must listen to music, make a good choice and go for classical rather than popular!

No matter what the reason, students are more likely to study while listening to music than to study in silence.  So, make a smart decision and go for classical instead of popular – it could make the difference of a whole letter grade!

KellyKKelly K. teaches piano to students of all ages and levels in Los Angeles, CA.  She received her Bachelor’s degree in Psychology and a minor in Music from Scripps College, and joined the TakeLessons team in August 2011. Sign up for lessons with Kelly here!



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3 Straightforward Steps for Violin Tuning

Violin tuningFor beautiful tone, understanding how to tune your violin is one of the most important things for students to learn. The tuning process will support your ear training, as well as help beginner musicians recognize the connection between strings, pegs and the sounds produced by the violin.

Without an in-tune instrument, any techniques you try to learn will be offset – not to mention your neighbors might complain! Check out these 3 straightforward steps that go into violin tuning, as originally published by Lumuel Violins:

Step One:
Comparing the sound difference between a reference tone and the sound of your violin.
First, you’ll typically need a source for generating reference tones for each of your violin strings. Reference tones can come from a number of sources such as a piano or a tuning fork.

Step Two:
Using the violin pegs to tune the sound of each string most of the way close to the reference tones.
Many problems can happen at this stage. Sometimes the pegs are really hard to turn. They appear stuck or when they actually move, the pegs feel like they are turning through sticky gum or tar. Yet another problem occurs when the peg is easy to turn, but as soon as you let go, the pegs won’t stay in place, but loosen up again. (Your violin teacher can help you combat these issues!)

Step Three:
Fine tuning each violin string to match the reference tone (or at least very close to matching).
To fine tune a violin, you need to hear minor pitch differences between the reference tone and the sound of your violin. This is not easy for many beginners. To put things in perspective, it can take years of ear training to discern very small pitch differences.

With proper training, you can hone your ability to tune your violin by ear.  Once you’ve mastered this skill, the sky’s the limit!

Thoughts, questions or other comments?  Share them below, or stop by our Facebook page and share with the community! Want even more expert advice?  Sign up for email updates here!


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5 Tips to Instantly Improve Violin Tone
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Electronic vs. Acoustic Drums: Which Should I Buy?

Acoustic drum setOne common question we get here at TakeLessons is which type of drumset – electronic or acoustic – is best for beginner drummers to use for practice at home.  If you’ve been wondering that as well, read on for some great advice from Adam C., one of our newest drum teachers in Riverview, FL…


Since drums are loud, some people may want to purchase electronic drums instead of acoustic drums. Electronic drums are only worth getting if you get quality—and quality is usually priced around $3,000.

Here is something to consider: electronic drums (advanced as they may be) do not replace the authentic feel of acoustic drums. Electronic drums will give you a good sound regardless of how you hit them.

Acoustic drums only sound good when they are played with good technique. So, if a student learns on electronic drums and then tries to play acoustic drums, he/she will sound terrible. But if a student learns on acoustic drums and then plays on electronic drums, he/she will still sound good.

It would be a bold assumption to assume that a drummer, even owning an electronic kit, would never want to venture out to play an acoustic kit. So, I think it is best to learn on an acoustic kit. If afterwards a person wants to own an electronic kit as well, that’s fine. My objection is from the standpoint of learning and what’s best in the long run.

Here are some other options for handling the noise:
-Only practice during the day.
-Purchase a set of drum mutes (rubber pads that greatly reduce volume). (~$70)
-If you don’t have drum mutes, use hand towels.
-Purchase a drumset practice pad set. (~$100-$170)

This is an excerpt from Adam’s book, “Crash Course: Drumming Manual

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Adam C., Riverview drum teacherAdam C. teaches drums, guitar, music recording, music theory, percussion and songwriting in Riverview, FL.  He received his Bachelor’s degree in Music Education from the University of South Florida, and is active in the music scene around the Tampa Bay area.  Sign up for lessons with Adam, or visit TakeLessons to search for teachers near you!



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Your Guide to Getting Through Tough Piano Passages

Kid practicing pianoDoes this sound familiar?  You sit down to practice the piano, sheet music placed in front of you. This is it.  You’re going to dominate this song.  You rest your fingers gently on the keys, and then begin playing.

Everything is going great!  And then suddenly, like black clouds rushing into a sunny sky, the measure is filled with never-ending runs of sixteenth notes and accidentals galore.  And just like that – your fingers freeze.  You think, “Wait, where was I again?”

This “start and stop” habit is something that many pianists face, even if the piece is something you’ve played before.  While you’re not always going to be playing a song perfectly, that dreaded pause when you hit a tough passage can be pretty unnerving.

Here are a few tips to help:

Tip 1 – Practice sight reading strategies.
Before you even begin your practice, it may help to take a look at the piece as a whole:  the time signature, genre and even the style of the composer. Understanding these basics will help you get into the right mindset, as opposed to racing through etudes, exercises and then songs without recognizing the differences.

Tip 2 – Practice slowly.
Practicing with a metronome is a great reminder to slow down – and sometimes, that’s all you need to master a tough phrase.  Take a good look at where you’re tripping it up – is it a certain accidental or one chord that catches you off guard?  An entire measure? One line that’s particularly scary? Once you’ve pinpointed it, simplify.  Start by practicing just a few notes.  Then, start at the measure before and work your way in. You can also simplify further by practicing one hand at a time.

Tip 3 – Practice effectively.
This might be the most important tip to keep in mind, so lazy students, take note!  Running through a song and ignoring the tough passages isn’t effective practice.  When you hit a roadblock, attack it right then and there.  Otherwise, you’ll just be practicing the same mistakes over and over, and they may become harder to fix once they become habits.

Moreover, the way that you think is also a huge part of effective practice.  If you’re so nervous about a certain section that it’s all you can think about, you won’t be playing at your best.  Stay positive and relax – your fingers will follow suit!

How do YOU avoid the “start and stop” habit when practicing the piano?  We want to hear your tips!  Stop by our Facebook page (don’t forget to “Like” us!) and leave a comment.

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Vocal Tips: Learning How to Harmonize

It’s amazing what you can do with your voice!  Unlike other musicians, as a singer you carry your instrument with you at all times.  The opportunities to practice and perform your art are vast, as well as the ways to experiment with different styles, techniques, and of course, harmonies!

Similar to a guitar player plucking one note and then building it into a chord, learning how to harmonize will create that rich, full sound when you’re singing with a group or a choir.

Singing harmonies, however, can be tricky.  Lead lines may come easy to beginner singers, but excelling at harmonies requires an understanding of note relationships and chord formations. Finding a great voice teacher, therefore, is a must if you really want to improve.

Check out this quick tutorial from singing teacher Arlys A. for an overview of one way to learn to harmonize-

Now check out these additional tips from the Eclectic Musician, another great resource for singers!

1. Put on some music and start experimenting with your voice. Harmony is, essentially, multiple pitches at once. One way to proceed is to put on a favorite song and start singing whatever comes to you. Try some high notes, low notes, long tones and short tones. By definition if you are not singing the melody (i.e., the tune) you are singing harmony.

2. If you are having trouble breaking away from the melody, drop the words. Listen to the Beatles’ “Hey Jude”. During the first verse, it’s just Paul singing alone. In the second verse, on the word “minute,” the other guys come in singing “ahhhhh.” Think about how much easier it is to just pick a note and stick with it, rather than come up with a distinct harmony line! Still, it’s completely legit. You can add aaahs and la la las to just about anything to practice.

3. Learn existing harmony parts. If you have the opportunity to sing in a choir, you will learn a specific harmony part to sing against the melody (unless your part actually is the melody). This is a great way to experience how singing harmony is supposed to feel, and develop the independence to stick to your part even when someone else is singing a different part.

Also, seek out the harmony parts in the music you listen to. You might start with call-and-response type songs (if you’re not Gladys Knight, you’re a Pip – can you pick out your part?) and then try out some closer harmonies where two or more parts are moving together in the same rhythm. If it’s not fun, you’re doing it wrong – pick stuff you really like.

Continue reading the article for additional tips here.

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How Often Should You Change Your Guitar Strings?

Changing guitar stringsAre you wondering how often you should be changing your guitar strings?  It’s a common question for beginner guitarists, and it goes hand-in-hand with general guitar maintenance.  Read on for some great advice from one of our office rock stars, Megan L…


Learning how to take care of a guitar can seem like a mysterious and difficult undertaking. When I was first learning to play, I was surprised at how much care and attention goes into keeping this instrument sounding great. Between tuning, cleaning and changing strings, at times I felt more like I had invested in a strange new pet than in a guitar. Over time, I found that learning when to change my strings actually made my guitar sound a lot better, which helped me to become a more confident player.

Many factors go into determining how often you should consider changing your guitar strings. Dirt and oil from your hands can build up on the strings, causing the sound to become sort of flat or dead. (Learn how to clean your guitar strings here!) Strings stretch out as they are played and eventually do not hold tune well any longer. Additionally, steel strings can rust, which not only affects the sound of your guitar but also makes it kind of gross to play.

If you are playing for several hours every day, you might want to change your guitar strings as often as once a week. If you aren’t quite ready for that much string-changing, washing your hands before you play can help reduce the amount of dirt and oil from your skin that gets onto your strings. However, if you have extra sweaty hands when you play, you might want to change your strings more often. If you notice your guitar doesn’t hold tune as well as it used to or the tone sounds less rich, you might see a vast improvement if you just change your strings. Personally, I like to change my strings a day or two before a performance. Not only does it make my guitar sound better, but it helps me feel more prepared to succeed.

– Megan L., TakeLessons staff member

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