Finding Your Sound (of Music) as a Singer

Being a professional musician is a lifelong learning process. Even with years of experience, the best musicians seek out ways to improve at all times, such as by attending festivals and training programs. This summer, Philadelphia teacher Claire B. attended the AlpenKammerMusik Festival in Austria, exactly for this reason. Check out her story here…

Hi! I’m Claire and I teach voice lessons with TakeLessons. When new people ask me what I do and I say “I’m an opera singer” or “I sing classical music,” they nearly always ask, “Oh, where can I see you? Are you singing at the opera downtown?”

That’s a tough question to answer. The thing is, even though I’m nearing 30 and have my Master’s degree, I’m not yet a full professional and I don’t have major singing jobs yet. Opera singers have to work their way up, and it’s a long haul. Most of us don’t have a fully developed voice until we are 32 or older, and that leaves us in limbo for a few years. Community theater, summer opera festivals, and training programs help us get experience as our voices settle and we perfect our singing. Working and studying in Europe is an option as well, since the audience is bigger for opera and there are more opportunities. I spent some time this August in Austria at an amazing chamber music festival and I wanted to share my experience with you.

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What Are Violin Strings Made Of, and Which Type is Best?

Violin stringsWhen you’re learning how to play the violin, you may notice that the quality and type of strings you have can make a big difference on your tone and overall performance. But with so many types available, which is best for you?  What are the best violin strings made of, and how do you select the right kind?

Typically, violin strings are made of three types of material:

(1) Metal Strings
Metal strings – also called steel core strings – are a very common choice for violinists, as they produce a bright, full sound when played with proper technique. Folk and jazz musicians in particular, as well as electric violin players, usually favor metal strings because of their volume capacity and durability.

(2) Gut Strings
Historically, violin strings were created by using sheep intestines, sometimes wrapped with silver or copper wire. Although gut strings are not as prevalent today, some classical violinists still prefer this type because of their warm, complex tone. However, they are very susceptible to changes in humidity and require more regular tuning, as well as time to settle and stretch out once they’re in place. They are also more expensive and don’t last as the other string types.

(3)  Synthetic Strings
Synthetic strings made from high-tech nylon and other composite materials were introduced in the 1970s. Because of their quick response time to pressure, they are a great option for beginners. Synthetic strings offer the same warm tone found with gut strings, but don’t require as much upkeep, making them a great option for beginners.

The best type of violin strings will depend on your playing level and needs, as well as the tonal qualities your prefer. Moreover, different violins may respond better to different string types. As with selecting a violin and finding the perfect violin bow, choosing your strings can be a sometimes lengthy process that shouldn’t be neglected.

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Video: How are Drum Sticks Made?

Ever wondered how drum sticks are made? What goes into the process, and how long does it take?

Here’s a great video explaining how Vic Firth drum sticks are created, definitely worth a look. Enjoy!

, TakeLessons staff member and blogger

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Videos We Love: 4-Year-Old Rocks it Out on the Piano

Sometimes, you just need to take a break from your day and watch a cute kid video. Even better if that kid can offer up some musical inspiration!

This little guy not only has talent, but he has the passion to back it up. You can tell by his smile and his excitement that he really loves to play the piano, and that passion will definitely take him far. Keep it up!

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8 Important Steps to Take When Learning a New Song

singingWhen it comes to really mastering a song, a little preparation can go a long way! Here are some great tips from vocal teacher Valerie B. to try as you’re learning a new song…


1. Listen to the song, preferably with another vocalist singing it, along with the accompaniment (the same accompaniment that you will be using). Repeat several times until you are able to hum along pretty well.

2. Without the recording on, read the words out loud as if you were just reading a letter with no specific rhythm. Note to yourself where you thought you knew the words, but you realized you didn’t! Circle those parts as a reminder to yourself later.

3. Now, try reading the words IN RHYTHM with the song. Be sure to speak them CLEARLY (putting t’s and d’s, etc.. at the end of words).

4. If you have the ability to play the melody of your song on the piano, now is the time to sit down and pluck out those notes! Play it for yourself and sing only on a Hum or La. We’ve isolated the lyrics by themselves, now we will isolate the melody by itself. (If playing the piano is not an option, ask your teacher if she/he can make a recording of the melody that you can practice from or use your own recording again and sing along only on a Hum or La. YouTube may have some options on just giving you the melody line, so check that out, too.) Repeat several times until you feel comfortable with the melody line. Circle trouble spots and isolate them, practicing those specific measures only, over and over.

5. Now sing the melody AND the lyrics as you play (or listen to) the melody line. Repeat now over and over until the song is learned and then eventually memorized.

6. Listen to your recording again and sing along with the artist . Now that you have learned the melody, rhythm and lyrics, you can focus your attention on other things more like breathing, stage presentation, using a microphone, etc…

7. Now try it with a karaoke version (or a piano accompanist) of the song so that it is only you singing with the accompaniment. Circle the parts in your music where you missed your cues or forgot any words. Isolate those parts if you can.

8. A great performer is a prepared performer! Now, put that smile on and go sing for an audience!

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Wilmington singing teacher Valerie B.Valerie B. teaches piano and singing lessons in Wilmington, DE. Valerie received her Bachelor’s degree in Music Education from West Chester University, and specializes in teaching kids, including those with special needs. She joined the TakeLessons team in December 2009.  Find out more about Valerie, or visit TakeLessons to search for a teacher near you!


Photo by Suchious.

Should You Rent or Buy Your Child’s Band Instrument?

flute Do you have all of your back-to-school shopping done? Sometimes that list can seem never-ending – books, pencils, highlighters, new uniforms, etc. – and the stress can get to the best of us, especially if you’re on a budget.

If you know your child will be starting a music program this year, or if you are thinking about signing up for private music lessons outside of school, a decision you’ll inevitably have to make is whether to buy or rent your instrument. So how do you make this decision? The right answer will depend on a few different factors.

A common path for new musicians (and children, in particular) is to rent the instrument for the first couple of months or even the first year, in order to get comfortable with playing it. Once the student is committed or gets to a more advanced level, then you might start shopping around to purchase. High school is a good time to upgrade to a new model, especially if your child is getting more serious about music.

The amount you pay, of course, will depend on the model, condition and type of instrument, so you’ll want to shop around and find one that suits your budget but is also still quality. If the decision is between renting a higher-end instrument, or buying a cheaper model, it may be better to begin with renting. A good instrument can save your child from a lot of frustration, as well as help you avoid repair costs on an older or used model. Many rental contracts will cover you for things like routine repairs and maintenance. Some may also allow you to switch your rental to another instrument with no penalty, in case your child wants to learn something different.

Of course, there are also advantages to buying your instrument, whether new or used. First, you’ll avoid costly monthly fees, which will save you money in the long-run. Second, owning an instrument can also be a source of pride for students, and drive home the fact that playing an instrument is a commitment. If you’re purchasing a used model, consider having your band director or music teacher take a look at the condition, to point out any potential defects or issues.

Take some time to think about your lifestyle, commitment level and budget as you decide which option is right for your family. Whether you end up buying or renting, make sure your child also knows the importance and basics of instrument maintenance, and you’ll set them on the path to musical success!

, TakeLessons staff member and blogger

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Video: Understanding Guitar Power Chords

Power chords are easy, fun to play and popular additions to many styles of rock music. But what exactly are they, and how do you use them? Check out this video tutorial from Austin teacher Josh G., and learn a few guitar exercises to incorporate them into your playing!


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Austin guitar lessons with Josh G.Josh G. teaches music theory and guitar lessons in Austin, TX. Josh earned his music degree with a focus on blues, jazz and classical guitar, and also specializes in rock, folk and pop styles. He joined the TakeLessons team in August 2012. Learn more about Josh, or visit TakeLessons to search for guitar lessons near you!

Songwriting Tips from a Grammy Award-Winning Musician

songwritingMany movies these days are filled with special effects, incredible cinematography and overall glitz and glamor. But for people like Marc S., two-time Grammy Award-winning songwriter, the magic is in the music.

Marc earned his awards for his songwriting work on “Trust in Me” from The Bodyguard soundtrack, and “(I’ll Give) Anything But Up,” featured on Marlo Thomas’ Thanks and Giving All Year Long. With over 25 years of experience in the music industry, Marc’s success is clearly a result of his hard work and dedication to his craft!

As a new teacher with TakeLessons, Marc offered to answer a few questions about his path to success. Check out the interview below…

, TakeLessons staff member and blogger

How did you get started with playing music and songwriting?

I started playing the clarinet when I was nine years old.  That didn’t last very long!  I switched to guitar at ten.  I always loved it but found it challenging. When I was thirteen, I met a teacher who, after one lesson, said to my folks, “Your son is the most natural bass player I have ever seen… why is he playing guitar?”  The rest is history; I became obsessed. My parents probably never liked him too much after that day!

I stumbled upon songwriting by accident.  I seemed to become the designated “arranger” in so many of my bands, just because I could hear all of the parts in my head. My mentor at the time was a very famous songwriter and he urged me to start writing… so I did. One of the first songs I wrote ended up being recorded by Joe Cocker. Beginner’s luck, I guess!

How do you find inspiration for your songs?
Ahh, the age-old question! Personal experiences, mood, how the sun is shining, divine inspiration???  No one really knows what brings on inspiration. The point is – it comes.  The trick is not to let it go.  You almost have to drop whatever you’re doing in the moment and just go for it, because inspiration can be brief.  You have to pay attention.

Not everything I write is worthy of the pen and paper, but it is the art of it all that keeps me going.  More often than not, you can tell when something special is brewing.  That’s a pretty amazing feeling!

What advice do you have for students hoping to break into the music industry?
Remember why you started playing music.  For fun?  For love?  Because it made you feel like you weren’t alone?  Figure it out and keep going back to that. The music business is no picnic.  It’s important to remember why you’re in it.  And practice a lot!

Songwriting requires a lot of creativity. How do you keep your creativity levels high and the ideas coming?
Be a sponge.  I listen well and observe my surroundings.  I also keep up on current events.  It sounds obvious but it’s true.  I take everything in so that when inspiration hits, I have something to draw from.  Also, I try to live my life in the most authentic and simple way possible.  Sometimes your art can mimic your life.  And aren’t the most honest and uncomplicated songs always the most memorable?

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Long Branch teacher Marc S.Marc S. teaches bass guitar, guitar, music performance, music recording, music theory, percussion, songwriting, speaking voice, and organ lessons to students of all ages in Long Branch, NJ. For over 25 years, Marc has collaborated with some of the top artists and writers in the music business. Learn more about Marc, or visit TakeLessons to find a teacher near you!

Performance Opportunities for Violinists & Beyond

We’ve all seen musicians who take to the streets and try their hand at busking, but we especially love this idea from the viral video masterminds at cdza – a human jukebox!

Performing in a public place (for a non-captive audience, no less) takes perseverance and a thick skin; you never know who your audience will be, and what they will think of you. Depending on where you are, there also may be a lot of competition, so putting on an entertaining show – like the guys in the video did – is essential.

Sound scary? It can be. But getting out there and performing for others is an invaluable strategy for getting used to your instrument, overcoming stage fright and learning how to create a connection with your audience. If busking on the streets isn’t your style, however, there are other ways to get performance experience. Consider the following:

– Perform at senior homes, hospitals, or extended care centers
– Join a community orchestra
– Teach music lessons (to siblings, friends, anyone!), or volunteer to help with school music programs
– Put on a concert for family and friends at your next holiday get-together
– Perform at open mic nights at cafes, restaurants and other venues

The most important  thing to remember is that these opportunities don’t usually just fall in your lap – you’ll need to seek them out! Brushing up on your performance chops will help you become a better musician, and the more you perform, the easier it will become.

Readers, where else do you find performance opportunities? Leave a comment below, or stop by our Facebook page to join in!

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Booked the Gig? Here’s How to Prepare

drumsYou auditioned for one of the top bands in your city. You worked your tail off and nailed the audition. You got the gig. Now what? Prepare yourself with these helpful tips for drummers from Memphis teacher Carter B.!

Once a student books a gig, so many teachers stop here in their preparations. While learning how to prepare for an audition is incredibly important, how to prepare yourself for the actual gig is just as important. After all, what good are all the audition skills you’ve learned if you don’t know how to roll with the life of a gigging drummer?

First, just because you’ve got the gig doesn’t mean you don’t need to practice the songs anymore. Take time to keep them fresh in your mind even outside of band practice time. Here are some more things to keep in mind:

–  Make a mental or written checklist of all your gear so you know whether or not you have everything when you leave and when you’re packing up at the end of the night. This will help you make sure you do not leave anything behind!

–  Know your gear better than anyone else. Know it better than your friends. Know it better than the other band’s drummer. Know it better than the guy who sold it to you. If something breaks mid-set (and it will, trust me), know how to fix it or get by without it. Remember, the show must go on!

–  Have backups for the following things: sticks, pedal, snare, drum heads and drum key. It may seem like a lot of extra stuff to carry, but it’s a small price to pay for being prepared. All it takes is forgetting a crucial piece at a gig one time to learn this lesson. I showed up to a gig a few years ago without my snare and stick bag. No fun. Always have a backup.

– Be professional. In many cases, someone is paying you to be there. Act as you would like people to act if you were the one footing the bill. Be on time or early. Have a helpful and encouraging attitude. Do NOT get a big head – no gig is beneath you! Roll with the punches. Things hardly ever work out just like you pictured it. The monitors may not work or the club may not even have monitors! Deal with it. Adapt and overcome. You’re there to perform and entertain – not to complain.

– Nothing’s worse than having your bass drum creep forward during a song when you’re not playing on a carpet. You can’t count on every club, bar and church to have carpeted floors or have to a drum rug. Fortunately, there is a cheap solution. Most home repair stores (Home Depot, Lowe’s, etc) sell 3’x5’ mats that work perfectly. You don’t need to have your whole kit on the mat, just your kick pedal and spurs, as well as your hi-hat stand. Take this mat to every gig.

– If you’re playing a venue that has a house kit or a festival with backline gear, don’t just assume everything’s going to be in perfect condition on the kit. Often this couldn’t be further from the truth. To combat this, always show up with all of your hardware, so you can substitute whatever you need on the kit. If you are happy with how the house kit is outfitted and can play it, rejoice! You’re one of the lucky ones!

Those are just a few things to remember when you’re on the gig. But it all boils down to this: make sure you are prepared, so you can do everything possible to play your best. Take these tips to heart and happy gigging!

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Memphis drum lessons with Carter B.Carter B. teaches drums, music performance and music theory lessons to students of all ages in Memphis, TN. Carter’s specialties include rock/pop, worship, funk, jazz, latin, R&B, gospel, and fusion styles. He joined the TakeLessons team in August 2012. Learn more about Carter, or visit TakeLessons to search for a teacher near you!


Photo by PeterTea.