Music Theory: The “Characters” of Key Signatures

key signatureWith so many great music websites out there, we’re always on the lookout for educational (but fun!) resources to supplement our students’ music lessons. It can be hard to navigate through all the information on the Internet nowadays, so when we come across gems like the CBC Music’s Signature Series, we can’t help but shout it from the rooftops!

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What is “Bel Canto” (And Why Should I Care?)

bel canto techniqueWhen you decide to take voice lessons, as you are looking for a teacher you may encounter the phrase “bel canto method” (as in, “I teach the bel canto method”).  It sounds fancy, but what does it mean? Read on as New York voice teacher Natalie W. explains…

Bel canto refers to both a musical style and the singing method that was developed to sing that style.  It originated with the first operas during the Baroque era (early 1700s) – best exemplified by the music of Handel – and was revived a century later with the music of Rossini, Donizetti and Bellini.  Bel canto music has long, florid, flowing lines, where the voice performs lots of fancy stunts (not unlike the riffs and runs in gospel, R&B, and most of the stuff you hear on American Idol).

In order for singers to learn to perform these stunts, a technique of study emerged.  This technique was codified in the 1800s by Manuel Garcia, a voice teacher from a family filled with internationally-famous opera singers. He observed what all the great singers and teachers did to produce such beautiful singing, and wrote a book full of exercises.

Garcia’s exercises include several different kinds of scales (kind of like what you may have seen or heard people do in movies: “mi mi mi mi mi,” but more elaborate).   While it may not sound like as much fun to sing scales as it is to sing songs, it is very important for building the strength and coordination of the voice, and for keeping your voice healthy.  If you have ever played a sport, you know that you don’t just dive in and start playing, you have to do exercises and training first – like how football players have to run up and down the bleachers to strengthen their legs and build up their cardiovascular endurance.

But I want to sing pop music, not opera.  Do I need to do all that stuff?

The bel canto method can do a lot for you even if you aren’t going to sing opera.

Learning to sing these scales will help you master all those great R&B runs and riffs.  There are a lot of similarities between Rossini coloratura and R&B runs and riffs.  For an example of what riffs and runs sound like, click here to hear clips of Beyonce and Christina Aguilera singing them, or here for Whitney Houston.

Most importantly, the bel canto method can help you sing in a way that feels easy on your throat and won’t strain your voice. Did you follow the story of Adele needing to cancel her US tour in 2011 and go on complete vocal rest after she had surgery on her voice?  She is a very talented singer, but was singing in an unhealthy way that damaged her voice – no one wants that!

In Italian, “bel canto” literally means “beautiful singing”.  And that’s what we all want to do, no matter what kind of music we sing – sing beautifully!

New York music teacher Natalie W. Natalie W. teaches piano, singing, Broadway singing, music performance, music theory, opera voice, and acting lessons to students of all ages in New York, NY. She joined the TakeLessons team in October 2012, with over 20  years of teaching experience. Find out more about Natalie, or visit TakeLessons to search for a teacher near you!

 

Photo by michael_swan

Another Approach to Music Transcription

Listening to musicEarlier this month, Brooklyn guitar teacher Mike B. shared his tips on how to transcribe music – did you try them out? If you’re still struggling, here’s another approach from fellow Brooklyn teacher Martin N. to think about…


Since music is what you hear, developing your ear is one of the most important things for a musician to work on. While sight-reading is an essential skill, learning music by ear can be an extremely valuable exercise.

When you play music with other people, the more you can hear and understand the better the music will be and the more comfortable you’ll feel. Learning songs by ear can be tough and sometimes pulling up a tab seems like the faster and better way to go. But stick with it, and you can train yourself correctly.

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Jumpstarting Your Music Career: 5 Tips Nobody Talks About

street performerIf you’re one of the many with dreams of scoring a record deal, embarking on a world tour, or gracing the Broadway stage or maybe even the big screen, you’ve probably received a wealth of advice from teachers and mentors. You know the importance of working hard, practicing a ton, acing your auditions and networking. But there’s actually much more to it.

When it comes to “making it” in the entertainment field and getting the opportunity to do what you love, the path to success can be filled with frustration and unpredictable outcomes. So how do you survive the ups and downs? New York, NY teacher Natalie W. recently gave us her 5 tips for survival that aren’t always mentioned in the career guidebooks.

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Why It’s Never Too Late For Violin Lessons

violinThink you’re too old to learn how to play the violin? Nonsense! Take a look as Los Angeles teacher Travis H. dispels the myth and explains why taking music lessons as a later age can actually be beneficial…


The age at which a violinist begins playing is an interesting thing. Most of my violinist friends started when they were in elementary school, and just about everyone says that starting at an early age is the right thing to do.

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Video Tutorial: Intro to Funk Drumming & Syncopation

Ready to try your hand at some funky drum styles? Funk drumming is a great style to explore, and it’s very easy to learn and adapt once you master a simple rock pattern. Check out this great video tutorial from Allston, MA teacher Russ S., and find your groove…
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Why You Should Study Fun, Unusual and Popular Music

pianoLast week, Albuquerque piano teacher Steve O. dove into some great classical  pieces for your piano repertoire – but don’t worry if they aren’t your cup of tea. Read on as Chicago teacher Tracie T. explores how incorporating popular music can really spice things up!


What do you love to play? What gets you inspired to practice? These are questions that I always ask of my students and myself.

Playing music should be fun, and it should be something that you want to do (most of the time anyway!). If a student of mine isn’t practicing, I always try to find out what I can do to make them want to practice more.

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Insider Advice From a Glee Warbler and Industry Pro

GleeWhat’s it like to work in Hollywood? For Jon H., one of our newest instructors in North Hollywood, it’s a life of auditions, long days on set, and of course, a lot of fun! Jon’s experience began at an early age, spending much of his elementary and middle school years going between studio sessions and singing for movies like Armageddon, Deep Impact, Amistad, Hush and Jungle Book 2. After nailing the job as a background vocalist on the hit TV show Glee, Jon continued on and was cast as a Warbler on the show for Seasons 2 and 3, and is currently filming Season 4. Jon also competed on NBC’s The Sing-Off with his a cappella group Kinfolk 9 in Season 3 of the show.

Sound fun? We thought so too! Read on for my interview with Jon, and check out his advice for students hoping to ace their next audition…

, TakeLessons staff member and blogger

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CapoSonic: Would You Buy It?

guitarWe all know the magic of the guitar capo – it’s a handy tool for any guitarist to have around the house, making your life much easier when you need to quickly change the key of a song. It’s a great way to experiment and explore, and find out just what your guitar can do! But have you ever wanted to take it a step further? For example, what if you want to quickly switch to playing with an alternate tuning, without the hassle? Enter: CapoSonic, a device that offers six individual hammers to clamp down, giving you endless possibilities for exploring new sounds and chords.

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How to Be a Rock Star: Learn the Rules Before You Break Them

rock bandSo you think being a rock star is all about the freedom to break every rule in music, and just let your creative side do its thing? Sure, that might be part of it. But in order to do this, you need to actually learn the rules before you can break them – and yes, that means scales and other “boring” exercises. Read on for advice from New York teacher Brett D


A long, long time ago in a galaxy far, far away I was just like you; a budding musician daydreaming of rock stardom. Instead of sitting at the piano, or grabbing my guitar and practicing; I would daydream of ripping out soaring solos that would send Jimmy Page back to California. When any teacher would say to me, “Brett, practice your scales, learn your etudes,” I would respectfully respond, “We must have a misunderstanding, I WANNA ROCK!”

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