How to Strum a Guitar: A Beginner’s First Lesson

How to Strum a Guitar A Beginners' First Lesson

Yearning to learn to strum a tune? Guitar teacher Kirk R. shares a perfect first lesson in strumming a guitar…

Most of the songs that my guitar students want to learn consist largely, if not completely, of strummed chords.

While most students are able to pick up both simple and more complicated rhythms, or strumming patterns, often I notice that beginners have a hard time keeping track of where the beat is and really getting into the groove of the song.

It’s also common that I see musicians of all levels who have a difficult time coming up with new strumming patterns of their own.

I have a simple system that I introduce to students with either of these problems and have seen a lot of improvement on both fronts. Let’s get started!

How to Strum a Guitar – Getting Started


Make sure that you have some blank paper, something to write with, and your instrument handy. For those of you who are used to reading rhythmic notation (quarter notes and eighth notes), begin by writing four quarter notes down, with some space in between.

If you’re not really comfortable reading note rhythms, go ahead and draw four down arrows.


Now pick your favorite chord (or just start with open strings) and strum four even chords, all with down strokes.

It’s important that throughout this exercise, you keep all your strumming even. Those down arrows or quarter notes represent those four chords that you just played.

How to Strum a Guitar – Up Strokes and Down Strokes


If you watch closely as you strum through the first exercise, you should notice that between each strum, your hand does something very simple, but very important.

After each down stroke, before the next, your hand must come back up!

I call this  the “silent up stroke.” If we were to draw these into our note/arrow diagram, it might look like this:


The idea of the “silent strum” is important in keeping track of the groove and coming up with your own strumming patterns using this system. You should follow this silent strum visually and make sure that you’re keeping your hand moving consistently, not pausing after each strum before the return.

Now we can go onto to turning the silent strum into a real strum, so you’ll have four down strokes, each followed by a slightly less accented (a bit quieter) up stroke.

We can draw this into our diagram either with up arrows after each down, or with an eighth note between each of what were quarter notes. Since your hand has already been doing the motion, it should be a small step to just lower your fingers or pick down onto the strings.


From here, write down a full cycle of strums (four downs and four ups). Now, let’s cross off a couple of our up strokes:


It doesn’t really matter which ones you cross off, but the idea is to just try out what’s on the page. The pattern above would be strummed with a down stroke, “silent” up stroke, down stroke, “silent” up stroke, down, up, down, up. While this may seem like a limited approach, when you start crossing off a combination of down and up strokes, the results can be very original.


One thing to note, is that if you have a down stroke and an up stroke both crossed off next to each other, it will seem silly to do the two “silent” strokes back to back.

When first trying it out, do that extra motion, however silly it seems.

The physical motion is useful to keep time and the groove. Once you have a good grasp on it, you can do away with the full “silent” strokes, but I still find it useful to make a small motion on my strumming hand, like a miniature “silent” stroke, just to attach a movement to the rhythm.

While you’re practicing these, as well as applying them when writing a song, just continue repeating the pattern without pause.

I like to start with four beats, with a down strum on each, but you can add variation in the number of beats as well as where your “silent strums” are.

Understanding Guitar Strum Patterns


This is an easy way to come up with your own original strumming patterns, but what if you’re not really into writing your own songs? If you just want a good visual way to better understand the strumming patterns that you hear in your favorite songs.

First try listening to the song and tapping your foot along with it. How many beats do you hear grouped together?

In the majority of songs you hear, the beats will be grouped in threes or fours, so that’s a good starting place. From there, try just playing air guitar along with it, with a down strum on the strong beats and see where you hear the chords in the song.

Try writing these down and playing from your notes a few days later, without first listening to the song. Does it sound right?

Being able to look at and write down these patterns will help ingrain them in a different part of your brain and give you a better understanding of where the strong beats are at while you’re playing them.

If you have any questions or ideas on how to expand this lesson, post a comment below or click the Ask-A-Question button on my profile. Happy strumming!

Kirk RPost Author:
 Kirk R.
Kirk is a classical, bass, and acoustic guitar instructor in Denver, CO. He earned a bachelors of music in Guitar performance at The College-Conservatory of Music in Cincinnati and he is currently pursuing a masters degree in performance.  Learn more about Kirk here!

Photo by Matt Preston

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piano sight reading

9 Piano Sight Reading Exercises for Beginners

piano sight reading

The ability to sight read well is a skill that every pianist should have. Below, piano teacher Ryan C. shares 9 piano sight reading exercises to help you master this important skill…

It’s the first day of rehearsals at your school’s choir. Everyone has been assigned new music that they haven’t seen or sung before. You can sing, but you definitely consider yourself more of a pianist.

Your teacher walks in and solemnly says: “Hi everyone, our pianist is sick today, so we’re going to have to work on voice parts one part at a time, because my sight-reading skills aren’t that great. Unless, of course, someone here can sight read all the parts?”

You waste no time in raising your hand and declaring “I can do it!”

What is Piano Sight Reading?

Sight reading is essentially what its’ name implies: the ability to look at a piece of music and play it with very little to no prior rehearsal time.

Sight reading is a skill in which every pianist needs to become familiar, even if it means that he or she is only able to sight read pieces that are at or below his or her level of repertoire-performance.

Sight reading not only involves reading notes, but also encompasses implied musicality. For instance, a pianist should be able to take musical queues and respond appropriately when paired with other instrumentalists or singers.

Overall phrase shape, texture, and mood should all be considered when sight reading a new piece. These concepts are often reinforced by the other people you’re playing with, who can help you interpret the way to play a new piece.

Why Piano Sight Reading is Important

As displayed in the introduction scenario, it’s easy to see why sight reading would be useful in a plethora of situations. For instance, a good sight reader will almost always have employment options available.

Options such as working as an accompanist, being a pianist for a choir, a studio musician, a church pianist, and multiple other options, are always in constant demand.

Additionally, a pianist who has strong piano sight reading abilities will often be able to learn music at a much faster rate than those who can’t read as well.

It’s essentially the difference between reading one letter at a time and reading one word at a time. Just imagine how long this article would take to read if you could only read one letter at a time.

It’s surprising to see how many new pianists unknowingly take the second, more difficult approach to reading.

With the 9 piano sight reading exercises below, I will give you some options to help speed up your reading and quickly get you to a higher level of piano sight reading ability.

But before we get into the piano sight reading exercises, take a quick look at this 5-minute video on the basics of sight reading from Pianist Magazine.

9 Piano Sight Reading Exercises for Beginners

Below are some helpful piano sight reading exercises. These will assume that you have at least a few minutes to look at a piece before you have to play it. Let’s get started!

1. Flashcards

Unfortunately, memorizing notes can seem really tedious at first; nonetheless, it’s an important step that everyone must take.

If you spend just 10 minutes a day working on it, you’ll have the majority of the notes that are within the lines (not on ledger lines) on both the Treble and Bass Clefs memorized within several weeks.

Using flashcards is a great way to memorize notes. Just throw them in your bag and review them whenever you have a few minutes; for example, while you’re on the bus or in between classes.

2. Always Think Musically

It’s very easy to get sucked into thinking that you have to play all of the notes perfectly and forget the innate musicality of what you’re playing.

Remember, this is music–it should be musical. When something becomes too “note-y” and ceases to sound musical, what’s the point of playing it?

Even in piano sight reading, therefore, think of the musicality that defines the piece and do your best to bring that out.

3. Think Contour, Not Note Name

After you have enough notes memorized to get the starting pitches on passagework, don’t try to read every note of a passage.

Rather, look at the contour (or direction) of the notes. Do they go up or down? By how much (whole-step or half-step)?

By taking this approach, you’ll be able to easily read passagework that would take significantly longer to read if you were trying to read every single note separately.

4. Remember Your Scales

In a particular passage, do you see a succession of notes that seem to be going way up or down the staff? Does it have any sharps or flats? What note does it start and end on? Does it skip any notes?

If you ask yourself questions like these throughout you’re playing, you’ll find that many of the scale-like passages within pieces use fingerings from scales that you probably already know.

5. Practice Easy Pieces Based on Closed Hand Positions

This is a great exercise for beginners to get their feet wet with piano sight-reading.

There are even some great piano sight-reading book series out there, specifically by Lin Ling-Ling and Boris Berlin, that utilize this idea.

In essence, students should practice pieces that use five-finger positions that don’t give them the note-names or finger numbers except for the ones at the beginning of a piece.

This forces students to look at the contour and internally distinguish what finger is playing each note.

Even if they don’t know the note names yet, this method of reading is highly effective and produces great results.

6. Read Ahead as Much as Possible

This is super, super important! When sight reading anything, you always need to be a few notes ahead of what you’re actually playing.

To paraphrase one of my faculty accompanist mentors at SDSU: “Read it, and move on!”

In essence, after you read something, you should already be reading notes ahead of what you’re playing.

7. Practice Reading Hands Separately

Practice reading each hand separately, but preparing the other hand for its section well before it actually needs to play.

This piano sight reading exercise is actually way more important than it sounds. While I don’t think that students should stay for a long time in the hands-separate world, I do think that the method of preparing the opposite hand early is extremely important.

I’ve noticed that the biggest obstacle my students often face in piano sight-reading is the lack of preparation of the opposing hand.

They are often reading one hand perfectly, then the other hand starts a melody and the student has neither prepared it or looked far enough ahead to know what the starting pitch/hand position should be.

8. Play Through the Piece Without Stopping

Piano sight-reading is as much about reading notes as it is about supporting the other people you’re playing with.

In many cases, a sight-reading pianist is often playing in combination with an ensemble of some type. Therefore, you cannot stop playing.

Even if you can’t read all the music, always keep counting and play what you can, when you can.

Play at a manageable speed in which you can read as much music as possible and continue to play and count even when you make mistakes, no matter how severe they are.

Try not to repeat pieces you’ve already played, because then it’s no longer sight-reading, it’s just practice.

As an important side note, don’t use this method when practicing repertoire – always try to avoid learning incorrect notes.

9. Familiarize Yourself with Note Combinations

Chords and triads are the building blocks of harmony. Make a goal to learn all the major and minor chords that can be played on white keys, (C, D, E, F, G, A, B Major & Minor).

Now memorize the letter combinations that make up each chord. For instance, E Major = E, G#, B ; E Minor = E, G, B ; etc. Eventually, move onto the black key combinations, inversions, and seventh chords.

This step is incredibly important for students who are more on the intermediate side of piano sight reading. There will come a point in your reading in which you’re seeing things more as chords, and less as individual notes.

By having a solid foundation in the notes that make up chords, you’re saving yourself tons of time down the line. It’s much like the difference described earlier – reading entire words at one time compared to reading individual letters.

Now You’re Ready!

The ability to sight read well is a skill that every pianist should aspire to do, as it opens up career opportunities for a pianist.

For a student, this skill set will enable you to learn music faster, more accurately, and spend less time working on trying to read every note.

I hope that some of these tips will be helpful and give you some new insight into the world of piano sight reading!

Photo by Frédéric BISSON

Post Author: Ryan C.
Ryan C. teaches piano, ear training, and music theory. He is a graduate of San Diego State University with a B.M. in piano performance. Learn more about Ryan here!

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violin duets

13 Easy Violin Duets Featuring Various Instruments

violin duets

One of the best things about playing an instrument is getting to play with other musicians. Below, violin teacher Naomi Cherie S. shares some fun and easy violin duets you can play with your musical friends…

Looking for some fun violin duets to perform with your fellow musicians? Below are some violin duets for various levels, instrument pairings, and tastes. Before you get started, let’s go over some important tips for playing violin duets.

Important Tips for Playing Violin Duets

Whether you’ve played a duet before or this is your very first time, it’s always helpful to review some simple tips and tricks.

  • Master your part ahead of time: Get familiar with your violin sheet music before you schedule a rehearsal with your duet partner. It may look like a simple piece, but it can often take lots of time and practice to get the two parts perfectly synced up. It helps to have the piece mastered on your own before you add another player into the mix.
  • Prepare your violin duet sheet music: You may choose to share a music stand with your partner if you’re playing a shorter duet. However, if you’re playing a duet with multiple pages, you’ll probably want to use your own stand. At first, it can be confusing when reading music that has both the A part and the B part on one sheet (e.g. piano and violin parts stacked on top of each other.) If you’re having trouble keeping your eyes on your part, use a pencil or a highlighter to mark it.
  • Remember counting is key: I highly recommend that you and your duet partner practice with a metronome to keep in sync with one another. Start off with a nice slow tempo until you are both ready to speed it up gradually. Don’t be afraid to play it slowly in the beginning. It’s more important that you’re playing together than playing at the written tempo. Choose a team leader who can count off.
  • Stay focused: The most difficult thing about playing violin duets is getting used to another person playing a totally different part than you are. Give your ears time to adjust and be patient. Sometimes it helps to ignore your partner’s part and focus more on counting along with the metronome. If you’re having trouble focusing, try playing the song one line at a time and don’t go on to the next line until you can end one line together as written.

Easy Violin Duets for Beginners

violin duets

If you’re looking for some easy violin duets for beginners, check out the list below. I’ve also included two helpful violin duet books that feature a wide variety of violin songs you can practice.

You Are My Sunshine

“You Are My Sunshine” is a classic folk song in which people love to sing along. Folk songs are nice to start off with because it’s usually easy to find simple arrangements written specifically for beginner violin players.

The great thing about beginner arrangements is that the “bottom part” will closely resemble the same rhythm as the “top part,” except the bottom part will generally use lower notes.

Beginners can pick up folk songs fairly easily, especially if they’re playing with a partner who’s a little more familiar with the piece; for example, their violin teacher.

Jingle Bells

Around the holidays, “Jingle Bells” is a fun to song to play with a duet partner because it’s super easy for beginners to learnFamiliar holiday songs are great to start out with since you already know the tune and the basic parts of the song.

Mozart 12 Easy Duets

The “Mozart 12 Easy Duets” is a great violin duet book for beginners looking to play classical music and wow listeners with a grandiose classical music sound.

The violin songs in this book are simple and short, yet impressive. I recommend that you peruse the book and find out which duets match your skill level, as most of them are great for beginners. However, a few of the songs lean toward the more intermediate/beginner end of the spectrum.

Selected Duets for Violin

“Selected Duets for Violin Volume I” is another one of my favorite easy violin duet books. The book is a nice introduction to chamber music.

The pieces in this book are a little bit longer than the songs featured in the Mozart book above. However, the songs still use very simple rhythms and patterns.

Since these pieces are longer, it would be best to start off with the Mozart book and work up your playing stamina before trying out this book.

Piano and Violin Duets

violin duets

Do you have a friend or family member who plays the piano? Try out these fun and easy piano and violin duets below.

Canon in D

“Canon in D” by Pachelbel is a must learn for every violinist. It’s a versatile piece because it’s easy to find an arrangement for violin with almost any other instrument.

The level is generally intermediate, but easier versions can be found as well. It’s usually performed at a pretty brisk tempo.

So once you become familiar with the piece, it’s fun to experiment and try speeding it up until you find a nice upbeat tempo that works for both you and your duet partner.

Ashokan Farewell

“Ashokan Farewell” is a well-known intermediate level piece off of the soundtrack from the 1982 PBS Series “The Civil War.”

This violin duet uses traditional mountain music and folk influences of the era, and is absolutely gorgeous when paired with the piano.

You can slide your fingers on the fingerboard into the notes, rather than placing them directly into position, to give the piece some extra emotive old time country twang.


Beatles songs are enjoyed by audiences both young and old. Luckily, many of the songs are fairly easy to play on the violin and piano.

If you and your duet partner are fans of the Beatles, I recommend that you look for a Beatles duet book, as there are dozens of songs that make great duets on the beginner to intermediate level depending on how the book is arranged.

Flute and Violin Duets

violin duets

The flute and the violin pair perfectly together. Check out the flute and violin duets below.

Silent Night

“Silent Night” is one of the most basic, yet beautiful holiday songs for beginner violin players to start off with.

Since the violin and flute are close in pitch range and both use the treble clef for written music, it can be fun to experiment and try switching off parts with your duet partner to see how it sounds.


“Spring” from Vivaldi’s famed “The Four Seasons,” a four-part piece which features a concerto for each season, makes a wonderful flute and violin duet.

It’s a great violin duet because it is generally pretty easy to find simplified adaptations of classic pieces to match your skill level.

“Spring” is one of the more well-known and easiest pieces to play out of the four concertos. Therefore, I’d recommend learning that one first. Once you’ve mastered it and you’re feeling up for the challenge, you can conquer all four seasons!

Flower Duet

“Flower Duet” from Léo Delibes’ opera “Lakmé” may or may not sound like a familiar song title, but if you listen to a recording of it, you will most likely recognize it as a popular tune heard in various movies and television shows.

It makes a wonderful violin and flute duet. The piece is good for an intermediate player, but could also be tried out by a less experienced player if played very slowly and carefully.

Cello and Violin Duets

violin duets


“Greensleeves,” also known as “What Child is This?,” doubles as a holiday favorite and a year-round piece to perform at special occasions. Because it’s a well-loved piece, it’s easy to find in a beginner or intermediate arrangement.

This cello and violin duet is generally performed in largo, which means it is played at a very slow tempo, so don’t rush when you’re learning this one.

Take your time to let the music breath in between notes and really ring out. Remember that the beauty that lies in a slow piece of music can often be enhanced by pacing yourself.

The Swan

“The Swan,” a section of Camille Saint-Saens’ piece “Carnival of the Animals,” is one of the most beloved pieces to perform on the cello.

Depending on the arrangement you choose, this cello and violin duet could fall in the intermediate to borderline advanced category.

Since this song was written to highlight the cellist, the cello part is generally more advanced than the violin part. Therefore, make sure you pick a cello duet partner who has plenty of experience.

Wish You Were Here

Even if you’re a classical player, it can be really fun to try an adapted string arrangement version of a contemporary pop/rock song every now and then.

“Wish You Were Here,” by 1970’s classic rock band Pink Floyd, has been a favorite of mine to adapt ever since I saw an experimental cello rock band called Rasputina cover the song several years ago.

Add violin and you’ll get an especially lush string sound. With pop/rock songs it’s recommended, but not required, to find a friend who plays guitar to help keep the rhythm of the song while you’re playing.

Now Get Started!

After browsing through these violin duets, hopefully you’ve found a couple of songs in which you want to try out. Before you grab a friend and start playing, remember the tips and tricks above. Good luck!

Photo by Patrick Pielarski

Post Author: Naomi Cherie S.
Naomi teaches violin in Austin, TX. She is a classically trained violinist with over 20 years of experience and a diverse musical background. Learn more about Naomi Cherie S. here.

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sewing tips

10 Sewing Tips From a Sewing Expert

sewing tips

Want to improve your sewing skills? In this guest post, Yesterday’s Thimble blogger Lisha Vidler shares 10 sewing tips to help you take your seamstress skills to the next level…

Whether you’re new to sewing or just looking to improve, there are things you can do to take your skills up a notch. Don’t let your garments look “Becky Home-Ecky,” as Michael Kors would say! Even if you aren’t a professional dressmaker or crafter, you can aim for a more professional look. Here are 10 tips to help you improve your sewing.

Note: While this article talks about garment sewing, these tips also apply to home decorating, purse-making, historical costuming, and many other types of sewing.

1. Get Quality Tools and Materials

Trying to sew without the correct tools is like sewing blindfolded, with one hand tied behind your back! There are tools for almost every sewing task, so find out what exists and give these sewing tools a try. Nancy’s Favorite 101 Notions is a great book for beginners.

It’s important not to skimp on quality—always buy the best tools you can afford. What’s the difference between a $5 pair of shears and a $25 pair? Bargain scissors are harder to cut with, they’ll probably go dull quickly, they won’t always cut accurately, they could ruin your fabric, and they may give you blisters or sore fingers. Is it really worth saving a few dollars?

Higher-quality sewing tools will last longer and work better, and most importantly—they’ll make sewing a pleasant experience. The same goes for fabric and sewing notions. It’s difficult to make a high-end garment if you’re using cheap fabric!

If you’re ready to take things to the next level, start by upgrading your sewing tools.

2. Pre-Wash Fabric and Trims

Have you ever washed a hand-made garment only to discover that it shrunk? Or the seams mysteriously puckered? Or the fabric’s texture changed? Or the colors bled? These symptoms can be prevented by pre-washing your fabric.

Many sewing notions need to be pre-washed, too. This includes lace, ribbon, decorative braid and trim, zippers, and interfacing, which should be hand-washed and drip-dried.

3. Find the Right Fit

A good fit is one of the key aspects of a professional-looking garment, but it can be the trickiest to learn. Commercial patterns are made to fit a very specific, uncommon body type. If your shape doesn’t match the pattern’s ideal model, you’ll need to make adjustments. There’s no shame in this! Learn your body’s quirks and how to compensate for them. A great guide for common fitting adjustments is Palmer and Pletch’s Fit For Real People.
Here’s another tip: take the time to sew a mockup. Sometimes called a muslin or toile, it’s what the experts use to get a perfect fit. Basically, you’re going to sew your garment from unbleached muslin (or some other cheap fabric) in order to test the fit and make necessary changes—without risking your good fabric.

Tip: A good source for mockup fabric is your local thrift shop. Look for secondhand flat sheets!

4. Measure Grainlines

sewing terms

Have you ever wondered about the arrows on your pattern pieces? They indicate which direction the pattern should face. The arrows should run parallel to the fabric’s grain.

If you cut a pattern off-grain, it may hang oddly. Eyeballing isn’t good enough—take the time to measure from each end of the arrow to the fabric’s edge to make sure the pattern piece is straight.

It’s especially important to pay attention to the direction of each pattern piece if you’re working with napped fabric. For this purpose, napped means any fabric that looks different from various angles, such as velvet, corduroy, satin, and shot (iridescent) fabrics. This also applies to stripes, plaids, and directional prints.

If you cut some pieces with the arrow running parallel to the selvage and others perpendicular, you may end up with stripes running the wrong way on half of  your blouse!

5. Use the Right Needle

Different fabrics require different types of needles. Regular woven fabrics need a universal needle. Knit jerseys, sweater knits, and stretch fabrics require a ballpoint needle. Leather and suede call for a leather needle. Heavy fabrics, like denim and twill, need a jeans needle.
Needle size is important, too. The higher the number, the bigger the needle. Bigger needles are intended for heavier fabrics.

Here’s a fabric size cheat-sheet to help you out:

  • Lightweight: Voile, Batiste, Lawn, Chiffon, Organza, Tissue Knit Jersey #9
  • Light to Medium-Weight: Quilting Cotton, Broadcloth, Flannel, 21-Wale Corduroy #11 or #12
  • Heavyweight: Twill, Denim, Upholstery #14 or #16

Note: needles go dull faster than you’d think, so change your needle with every new project.

6. Press As You Sew

sewing tips

For those of you who despise ironing—it’s not the same as pressing! Strangely, most pattern directions don’t mention pressing at all, yet pressing as you sew is vital.
First, press the seam flat, just as it was sewn. This melds the stitching, smoothing it out, so it’s flush with the fabric. Next, press the seam open, first from the inside of the garment, then from the outside. This flattens the seam, making it less visible. After that, if your pattern calls for it, press the seam to one side.

7. Learn to Use Different Seam Finishes

sewing tips

This is another crucial step, yet it’s rarely mentioned in pattern directions. If you leave a seam raw, it will fray—especially when you wash the garment. It also looks very unprofessional.

The solution is to finish the seams in some way. There are lots of different seam finishes to choose from, such as flat-felling, French seams, mock-French seams, Hong Kong binding, and others. Most are very easy.

My favorite finishing technique is overlocking. It’s a method that’s rarely used because most people think you need an industrial sewing machine to do it. The truth is, most sewing machines have an overlock (aka overcast) stitch. Use it with an overlock or overcast presser foot (which can be purchased online for around $12) and you’ll get a beautiful seam finish every time!

8. Reduce Bulk

By reducing bulk wherever possible, you’ll end up with a tidier-looking garment. Here’s how:

Trim and Grade Seams

For seams that aren’t pressed open, cut one side of the seam allowance narrower than the other. Not only does this reduce bulk, but it prevents ridges from showing on the right side of the garment.

Clip or Notch Curves

Convex or outward curves (such as collars), need to be notched. Cut a series of small triangles into the seam allowance, so that when the garment is turned right-side out, the curved seam will lie flat.

sewing tips

Concave or inward curves (such as necklines and armscyes) need to be clipped. Cut a series of short cuts into the seam allowance, so the seam allowance can spread open when flipped right-side out.

sewing tips

With both methods, alternate the clips on each seam allowance, so you avoid weak points in the seam.

Clip Ends of Seam Allowance Diagonally

Any seam allowance that will be crossed by another seam should have the ends clipped diagonally, to remove excess fabric.

sewing tips

Clip Corners Before Flipping Right-Side Out

Any corner should have the point clipped off—not just once, but three times. First, cut straight across the diagonal corner. Then, go back and cut both remaining corners. This will help create a sharp point when the fabric is turned right-side out.

sewing tips


Avoid Backstitching

Beginners often have trouble backstitching accurately. If you do succeed in sewing directly over your previous stitch, it often creates a thick seam that won’t press flat, no matter how hard you try.

Instead, try this couture method: reduce your stitch length to 1.0 or 1.5 for the first and last half inch of every seam. Don’t worry, it will hold securely—and without the unwieldy bulk of backstitching.

9. Don’t Forget the Details

Sometimes, it’s the small things that matter most. For example:

 Learn to Sew Straight

If you have trouble sewing a straight line—practice! If necessary, buy a seam guide. They make several different kinds that attach to your sewing machine. (Never use the magnetic kind if your sewing machine is computerized!) Or you can simply place a piece of blue painter’s tape alongside the feed dogs to mark your seam allowance.

If you have trouble sewing curves, slow down. Instead of trying to angle the fabric while you’re stitching, stop sewing. Make sure the needle is down, then raise the presser foot and pivot the fabric slightly. Lower the presser foot and sew a few stitches, then repeat.

If it’s a very tight curve, you may need to stop and pivot every two stitches. If it’s a shallower curve, you can get away with fewer pivots.

Clip Your Threads

Whenever you finish a seam and remove the fabric from the sewing machine, immediately clip your threads. It’s a good habit that will prevent finished garments with messy, dangling threads.

Directional Stitching

This is a technique that’s rarely taught these days. To prevent distorted or stretched-out seams, sew from the widest point to the narrowest, or from the highest point to the lowest.
For example, when sewing the side seams of a flared skirt, start at the hem and sew toward the waist. Or when sewing a curved neckline, don’t sew down one side and back up the other. Instead, start at the highest point (the shoulder) and sew to the lowest point (the center of the neckline).

To finish, flip the garment over and repeat, sewing the other side of the neckline in the same way. Overlap the stitches at the center front. (For more information, see: “Directional Stitching.”)

9-Directional_Stitching (1)

10. Practice Hand Sewing

Most garments will call for hand sewing at some point, whether it’s basting, hemming, attaching a hook and eye, or crafting buttonholes. The more you practice hand sewing, the better your stitches will look. Here’s four types of hand-sewing you’ll want to master.


A long running stitch used to temporarily hold seams together. It’s more secure than pinning, so baste whenever you have a tricky seam, or difficult fabric.

Tip: Use a fine silk thread for basting. It’s a dream to sew with, and it pulls out easily once you’re done.


Hems often look nicer when hand-sewn. Learn the blind-hem stitch, as well as the catch-stitch.


This is an invisible stitch used to close gaps in linings, as well as to attach bias binding. It takes practice to make it truly invisible, so don’t skip this one.

Buttonhole Stitch

Not just for sewing buttonholes! Use this stitch to attach hooks and eyes, to give them a polished look, or as a decorative embroidery stitch.

Bonus! When hand sewing, always use waxed thread. It’s stronger and less likely to tangle or knot up. To wax it, first thread your needle and knot the end. Pull the thread through a cake of beeswax several times, until it feels a bit like dental floss. Fold the thread into a scrap of muslin, then press with a warm iron. This melts the wax, fusing it with the thread.

slipstich (1)


One final tip: Keep practicing and keep learning. Don’t focus just on new techniques, but try to refine the sewing methods you already know. Before you know it, you’ll be stitching like a pro!

Hopefully, these sewing tips will help you refine your technique and improve your sewing skills. If you have questions, let us know in the comments below!

Lisha Vidler started sewing at the age of four, when she crafted Barbie dresses out of Kleenex! One thing led to another, and now she teaches sewing classes in Cordova, TN. Her website, Yesterday’s Thimble, is filled with sewing tips and tricks.


15 Fun-to-Say Japanese Onomatopoeias (With Audio)

15 Fun-to-Say Japanese Onomatopoeias and sound words

What Are Japanese Onomatopoeias?

An onomatopoeia is a word where meaning is derived from a sound, or when a word sounds like how it looks. In English, we have onomatopoeias like “cock-a-doodle-doo” for the sound a rooster makes, or “crunch” for the act of crushing things.

Onomatopoeias are quite common in many, if not all languages. We tend to notice them most in comics as sound effects: zippers “zip” and light switches “click.” They’re fun to say and they certainly aren’t hard to learn.

Certain Asian languages, like Chinese and Japanese, show emphasis through repetition of a word. This emphasis is usually applied when it comes to onomatopoeias.


The Onomatopoeias

Let’s start off with an onomatopoeia that anyone who watches anime or reads manga is sure to be intimately familiar with…

dokidoki    どきどき/ドキドキ

The sound of a small throbbing, dokidoki is most often used to identify a beating heart – typically one that is beating unusually fast or hard. It’s often used to signal sexual tension to the reader of a manga. Dokidoki-suru can be used to infer being excited, nervous, anticipatory, or embarrassed. Actually, saying dokidoki-suru would translate to “I’m nervous,” or, “You make my heart race.”

perapera    ぺらぺら/ペラペラ

The sound of something flapping in the wind, perapera is often used to describe incessant chatter. Perapera-suru could be used to tell someone that they should take a breath. But perapera can also be used for good; suggesting that someone flaps their gums in a language would describe them as fluent.

jii    じー/ジー

One of the more unique onomatopoeias in Japanese, jii is the sound of staring and motionlessness. The longer the vowel is extended, the more intense the stare. When used as a verb with suru, jii becomes jitto-suru (じっとする). This “to” is a quotation marker and it’s sometimes seen accompanying onomatopoeias in Japanese.

kirakira    きらきら/キラキラ

“Twinkle, twinkle, little star…” Most of us know that nursery rhyme. Kirakira is like that “twinkle twinkle.” It’s the sound of sparkling, whether it’s water, gemstones, or stars. Kirakira-suru could be used to let a friend know that the rock you found might just be a diamond.

zaazaa    ざあざあ/ザアザア

We don’t really have a word for this in English, but I think it’s fantastic! Zaazaa is the sound of rain falling, or the sound of static on your television screen. This isn’t one you would use too much in ordinary conversation, but it could be used adverbially when talking about rain.

shiin    しーん/シーン

Another word we don’t have in English, shiin, is the sound of silence. This is an example of the best part of Japanese onomatopoeias: words for sounds that aren’t made by anything! This word can be used with suru to mean “to be silent,” or more commonly with “to-suru,” as seen above with jii, to form the sense of doing something silently.

wakuteka    わくてか/ワクテカ

This is one of my personal favorites. It’s actually a two-fer; it comes from the phrase “wakuwaku tekateka.” Let’s break that down: wakuwaku (わくわく/ワクワク) is the sound of trembling – it means to get excited or nervous, and tekateka (てかてか/テカテカ) is the sound of something shiny or gleaming (similar to kirakira, but less “sharp”). Together, you get wakuteka – the jitters. When someone is shivering with excitement and they just can’t keep still, you might comment with wakuteka-suru.

gorogoro    ごろごろ/ゴロゴロ

Gorogoro is the sound of something rolling around. It’s great for describing all manners of things, like roly polies, a runaway barrel, a rolling pen, your gymnastic friend, and more! In addition, it can be the sound of a grumbling stomach, or even thunder. If you imagine all three uses, you can start to really hear the similarity in the sounds.

pachipachi    ぱちぱち/パチパチ

Snap! It’s the sound of a book clapping closed, or the bubbling pop of a wood fire. It could also be the sound you make when you snap your fingers. Have you heard of pachinko? It’s a pretty popular game in Japan (often used for gambling) and it’s named so because it makes that sound too! This one has a variant, pachin, that’s goes “zing!” – like bullets ricocheting or the sound of a pinball game.

pekopeko    ぺこぺこ/ペコペコ

The sound of a grumbling stomach, pekopeko, is more often used by children, but it can be a cute way to say you’re feeling famished! A groaning pekopeko-suru should get you headed toward food in no time (especially after you read the complete guide to sushi).

suu    すう/スウ

The sound of sucking, suu, is actually a normal Japanese verb. But… it’s also an onomatopoeia! Whether taking a breath, pulling on a pipe, or slurping up some broth, suu can be used. Keep in mind that unlike the others on this list, you can’t just add suru to suu because it’s a godan verb, not a suru verb!

mogumogu    もぐもぐ/モグモグ

Chew chew chew… and not just in the literal sense. You can use mogumogu for munching on your lettuce leaves, but also to indicate mumbling. Don’t forget to chew your words!

zudon    ずどん/ズドン

Thud! Bang! Something heavy just hit the ground. Maybe you dropped a box of books or a bowling ball. Either way, you can use zudon to call to mind a decisive slam onto the floor (or table, bench, or what-have-you).

herohero    へろへろ/ヘロヘロ

Oh man, am I wiped! I’m completely pooped from writing this article – I would say I’m herohero. If you take a piece of plastic and flap it around, listen to the sound it makes. This word means flimsy, in the sense of utter and total exhaustion. It counts whether it’s mental, physical, or both.

It’s often used in conjunction with 疲れる (つかれる/ツカレル – to be tired) as ヘロヘロに疲れた (へろへろ に つかれた / herohero ni tsukareta – totally wiped out).

nikoniko    にこにこ/ニコニコ

We’re at the end of the article, but don’t be sad – put on a smile! Niko is the sound a smile makes. When you put two smiles together and get nikoniko, it has connotations of happiness – doing something with a grin.

You know emojis? Those cute little faces on your phone that are so popular? Did you know that if you’re using an IME (Input Method Editor) to type Japanese, you can get to those by using onomatopoeias? Try it! Type niko next time you’re writing in Japanese and hit your spacebar.

Learn more onomatopoeias in Japanese group classes on TakeLessons Live, or ask a Japanese tutor if you need some extra help!

Related: Japanese Honorifics, Japanese Numbers 1-10, and Common Japanese Greetings

Sound Like a Native With 8 Korean Slang Expressions

8 Korean Slang Expressions That Will Make You Sound Like a Native

You may have all of the resources to learn Korean, but can you speak like a native yet? If you can’t, we’ll help with that! In this article, guest blogger Anum Yoon from Current on Currency will teach you eight Korean slang words to make your speech sound more natural…


By now, you should be aware of the fact that Koreans love incorporating slang into casual conversations. In any given Korean drama or reality show, there are a variety of different slang terms being thrown around.

Slang expressions in Korea aren’t just used by the younger generations either; a lot of working professionals and parents use them as well since they’re so commonplace. Knowing slang, on top of other useful Korean phrases, will help you assimilate to the language even better.

Let’s take a look at the slang expressions you’ll be learning today.


Note: The following phrases are all in the informal Korean form.


1) 대박

The English equivalent to this expression would be “jackpot,” but you can use this phrase to describe anything from a delicious meal to a great movie. It can also be substituted for “wow” when expressing shock. It’s not uncommon to hear people exclaim “대박” upon hearing shockingly bad news or even shockingly good news.


Person A:   영화 어땠어?
How was the movie?

Person B:   대박이였어.
It was great!

Person A:   뭐가 그렇게 좋았는데?
What was so great about it?

Person B:   마지막에 반전이 있는데, 주인공이 죽거든.
There’s a plot twist at the end where the main character dies.

Person A:  대박, 진짜?
Wow, really?

2) 멘붕

This is a shortened form of멘탈붕괴,which is a combination of the English world “mental” and the word붕괴,” which means “to destroy.” The word “mental” is often used to refer to the mental state of a person, so멘붕means to experience mental breakdown or to feel severe stress.


내일 시험 2 있는데 아직 공부 시작도 안해서 멘붕이야.
I have 2 exams tomorrow but I haven’t started studying yet so I’m in a state of mental breakdown.

3) 불금

불금” is short for “불타는 금요일,” which literally translates to “burning Friday.” This basically means TGIF, except it includes the connotation of drinking or partying.


오늘 불금이니까 제대로 즐겨야지.
Today is burning Friday so we have to enjoy ourselves properly.

4) 볼매

볼매” is the shortened form of “볼수록 매력있어,” which means “the more you look, the more charmed you become.” So it basically means that something is “growing on you.” This expression is often used to describe someone’s looks, or even clothing and accessories.


청바지 처음에 봤을땐 별로 였는데, 근데 은근 볼매야.
I thought these jeans weren’t great when I first saw them, but it’s growing on me.

5) 빵터져

This is basically the same expression as “LOL.” The phrase literally translates as “to explode” or “to pop with a bang.”


어제 뮤직비디오 보다가 빵터졌어.
I LOL-ed so hard while watching that music video yesterday.

6) 썸 타다

This phrase is a compound word derived from the English word “something,” and the Korean word “다,”  which means “to feel” or “to ride.” This means there’s something special between two people and they’re both riding this feeling. This expression appropriately describes the awkward phase before a couple becomes official.


요즘 누구랑 썸타냐? 왜그렇게 기분이 좋아보여?
Are you seeing someone these days? Why do you look so happy?

7) 똥차

The literal translation of this word would mean, “honeywagon.” But if you break down the word, you’d have “” and “차,” which means “excretion” and “car.” Koreans tend to add the word “” when describing something as less than desirable. For example, if you have an old, cheap, or broken phone, you’d call it a “똥폰.” You’d likewise call a cheap or broken down car a “똥차.” More interestingly, this phrase is also used among women to describe men who aren’t good enough for them.


저런 똥차한테 시간 낭비 하지마.
Don’t waste your time on a bad guy like him.

8) 웃프다

This is another compound word that combines the words “웃다” and “슬프다.” The equivalent in English would be “laughring.” Okay, maybe that doesn’t work as well, but it basically means to “laugh-cry.” It’s perfect for describing your feelings in situations where you don’t know if you should laugh or cry.


어제 너무 많이 먹어서 체했어. 웃프다.
I got sick after eating too much yesterday. I want to cry and laugh at the same time.

I hope this article was another fun way for you to practice speaking Korean! Be sure to take private Korean lessons to stay sharp and learn everything you want to know about the language. Happy learning!


Post Author: Anum Yoon
Anum Yoon is an English/Korean teacher. She currently resides in Philadelphia, PA and is focused on her writing. You can learn more about her on her personal finance blog, Current on Currency.

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6 Destructive Beliefs That Hold Beginner Musicians Back

Siz Destructive Beliefs

Do you ever wonder how good your skills would be now if you started practicing a year ago? A question like this should motivate, not dishearten you. In this article, guest writer Elizabeth Kane will take you through six destructive beliefs you might face as you’re learning how to become a musician, and how you can overcome them…


Mind Over Matter

Your mind is a powerful tool. Your thoughts dictate just about every conscious decision you make.

Whether you’re a beginner guitarist who’s just learning how to hold your instrument or a seasoned singer who’s preparing for an important vocal audition, your thoughts can make or break your self-esteem.

Negative or self-doubting thoughts are mental poison — they can hurt your confidence and stop you from taking risks.

Risks Are Good

As you learn how to become a musician, you’ll soon understand it’s your job to take risks. It’s also your job to bring beautiful music (through passion) to an audience that craves authenticity. For this reason alone, we’ve got to put a stop to these perilous ideas that creep into our minds when we’re feeling overwhelmed.

Are you ready to face them? I’ll help you along.

Six Destructive Beliefs and How to Overcome Them


1) “If only I had…”

We think we need a particular instrument. We imagine learning from a specific teacher. We dream about having more time to practice.

Whatever it is, we have an idea that if only we had this or that, then, and only then, would we become the perfect musician.

But life doesn’t work like this.

Sure, we DO need a quality instrument, a great music teacher, and plenty of practice sessions. However, this “chasing perfection” thought pattern is holding you back from using the resources and skills you have now to become a better musician.

Instead, don’t idealize every step of the process. Take things as they come — you may be surprised by how well it all turns out.

2) “I’ll never be able to do that.”

Too many times we tell ourselves that despite everything we try, we’ll never be able to flawlessly play that piece, nail that audition, or impress that audience.

Naturally, some things do take more practice than others. You might have to work harder than you ever have before, but that doesn’t mean you won’t master the skill you desire at some point.

Think about something that’s ridiculously easy to you now: a skill, sport, or technique you’ve mastered. Remember when you didn’t know anything about it? When you barely even knew where to start?

Keep that in mind the next time a voice creeps in your head telling you there’s no way you’ll ever be able to do that. Time is all you need. Remember that patience and consistency are the keys to achieving whatever you want.

3) “If I mess up, ________ will happen…”

Let’s face reality — you’re going to make mistakes. We all do. To be great at what you do, you’re going to make a ton of mistakes.

Try to think about what you’re truly worried about.

Are you worried about someone laughing at you if you make a mistake? What happens if someone does laugh?

Write down what you’re afraid of if you make a misstep. Better yet — try it out! See what really happens when your fear manifests in real life. Overcoming stage fright is easier than you think!

4) “I’m not ready.”

It’s not easy failing, is it?

That’s what we’re really talking about when we say we’re “not ready” to give our skills a try. Failure is tough for every single one of us.

It’s terrifying.

We’ll never be truly ready to fail, no matter how much we’ve practiced, and no matter how much we’ve prepared. Trust me, there’s no giant sign that flashes across the sky saying, You’re absolutely 100% ready! There’s no way you’ll fail this time!”

But we do it anyway.

And with each moment, we defeat our insecurities, one shaky note at a time. We do this until we feel strong and proud, wondering why we were ever nervous in the first place.

5) “I can’t do that until…”

We spend too much time thinking about what we don’t have in order to achieve our goal. But with all the time and energy we spend worried about what we don’t have, we gloss over what we DO have.

What tools do you have now that will help you get closer to your goal? I’ll bet you can think of a few, even if they’re small: organization skills, persistence, optimism, imagination, etc.

Who can you go to for help when you’re struggling and facing unexpected challenges? Perhaps it’s a family member, a friend, or even a colleague. It’s important to know, especially for young musicians, that you have direct support when you need it.

What skills have you refined that will help you gather even better skills? Knowing one skill can help you learn another.

Use what you have now, right at this moment, to get to the next step. It’s not always easy and it’s certainly not always glamorous, but that’s how real growth happens: step by step.

6) “I’ll never be as good as him,” or “I’ll never play like her.”

Jealousy is a strong emotion.

When you doubt your own abilities, it’s easy to look at someone else’s highlight reel in comparison to your lousy dress rehearsals.

Everyone has someone they can compare themselves to. There will always be someone who began lessons before you did, performed a piece better than you played, and practiced more than you have.

The key is to measure where you are now to where you used to be — that’s a lot more satisfying. Staying motivated is a key to reducing anxiety during your practice and performance.

These destructive beliefs won’t go away overnight. It’ll take some practice to face these dangerous thoughts and eliminate them from your mind. Just know this — it’s definitely worth fighting for.

ElizabethKanePost Author: Elizabeth Kane
Elizabeth Kane is a music teacher who loves helping parents get the music education their child deserves. She is the creator of Practice for Parents, where she discusses what to look for in a music teacher, why kids really hate practicing, and what parents can do to guarantee their child’s success.

Photo by Alex Masters


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holiday sewing projects

10 Fun, Festive Holiday Sewing Projects


holiday sewing projects

As the holiday season approaches, these holiday sewing projects will help you get into the spirit! So whether you’re looking for some festive holiday decor or some DIY gift ideas, make sure to bookmark these fun, festive holiday sewing projects…

Craft Sewing Projects


Lovely Scissor Holder

holiday sewing projets

Image courtesy AllFreeSewing


There’s no point in starting your holiday sewing projects without an organized sewing kit. Otherwise, you’ll never be able to find what you need. This DIY scissor holder will help you (or a fellow sewing enthusiast) get organized, and keep your precious fabric scissors safe, so that no one uses them to cut anything other than material!

A useful, crafty gift for friends or relatives, this project is suitable for absolute beginners and can either be hand sewn or made with a machine. Although this makes a great Valentine’s Day gift, this is the perfect project to bookmark for birthdays and year-round crafting projects.


Felt Tablet Case

ipad case

Image courtesy Urban | Acreage

This beautiful felt tablet case isn’t just practical, it’s a cool, thoughtful gift for a teen or adult. You can sew this by hand or use a sewing machine.

For an individual touch, try embroidering your own designs on the felt!







Fabric Scraps Matching Game

matching gameYou might think that sewn toys have to be plushies or difficult-to-follow patterns, but with this simple tutorial, you can make your own matching game.

This game is great for young children, and you can make it more challenging if you want to gift it to older kids.




Tote Bags

holiday sewing projects

Image courtesy Craft and Fabric Links


Need a shopping bag you can stuff in your purse that’s perfect for that last minute bit of Christmas shopping?  Tote bags are simple to make and they’re perfect eco-friendly stocking stuffers.

Add a few festive patches to turn this tote into the ideal holiday shopping companion.



Thanksgiving Sewing Projects


Turkey Pot Holder

holiday sewing projects

Image courtesy AllFreeSewing

Pot holders are always useful, either to get hot pans from the oven, to protect your kitchen counter, or in this case, to make you smile while you’re cooking a Thanksgiving feast!

Fall into the season with this festive Turkey pot holder; you can make it as plain or bright as you want. It also makes a great gift for friends and family.


Thanksgiving Table Runner

holiday sewing projects

Image courtesy AllFreeSewing


Add a personal touch to your holiday gathering with this Thanksgiving table runner. This beginner-friendly, hand-sewing project is perfect to personalize each place setting.

Your dinner guests can write their names or write down what they’re thankful for this year.



No-Sew Napkins



If you’re feeling stressed and running out of time to make something with that fabric you’ve purchased for table settings, follow instructions at the end of this table runer tutorial, to make these simple, fancy no-sew napkins.

You’d pay good money for fancy napkins from a store, so why not make them yourself?




Christmas Sewing Projects


Christmas Stocking



Once Thanksgiving is over, it’s time to start preparing for Christmas, and what is Christmas without a tree and stockings hung on the mantle?

You can use these plaid Christmas stockings year after year. They look great by themselves, and they will look even better filled with gifts for your loved ones!

Christmas Cat


Image courtesy Craft and Fabric Links

Follow this tutorial to make this adorable, cat-shaped pillow. Use Christmas fabric for a DIY gift or holiday decoration, or use non-Christmas fabric for a fun craft project you can do any time of year!






Want to make your own beautifully-stitched holiday ornaments? It’s easier than ever with this tutorial. Instead of throwing out leftover scraps, use them to make tree and mantelpiece ornaments.






These holiday sewing projects should give you some inspiration for crafts, gifts, and DIY decor. If you need help with any of these projects, be sure to ask your sewing teacher!

Happy holidays and happy sewing!

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Image courtesy Tony Hall

thanksgiving songs for kids

10 Thanksgiving Piano Songs Kids Will Gobble Up

thanksgiving songs for kids

Are you looking for some Thanksgiving songs for kids? Below, piano teacher Alicia B. shares 10 yummy turkey tunes kids will love playing…

Whether it’s playing for friends and family around the table or at a school holiday party, Thanksgiving is an excellent time for beginner piano players to demonstrate their skills to a welcoming crowd.

Below are 10 Thanksgiving songs for kids. These piano songs vary by level and style, so there’s something for everyone.

1. Five Fat Turkeys Are We: Primer level

Veteran piano teacher and university professor, Gilbert De Benedetti compiles several arranged and original holiday-themed songs, including this primer-level piece, “Five Fat Turkeys Are We.”

It’s a great Thanksgiving song for kids, as it has kid-humor lyrics. For example, “Five fat turkeys are we, we slept all night in a tree, when the cook came round, we couldn’t be found, so that’s why we’re here you see!”

Find this and other free music at

2. Hurray, Thanksgiving Day!: Pre-reading level

Educator, Susan Paradis wrote this Thanksgiving song for kids as part of her teaching resources blog, which focuses on the pre-reading level.

It’s a great easy piano piece your beginners can learn in a day. The song even has lyrics for the cousin choir. Find this free piano piece on

3. Simple Gifts: Beginner, Intermediate, Advanced

Originally a Shaker hymn (other interpretations include it as a dance song), “Simple Gifts,” is an American folk tune written by Joseph Brackett.

The piano song’s tone of wistful Americana makes it ideal for this time of year.

Many classical fans have heard the song as part of Aaron Copland’s “Appalachian Spring,” and today it’s used for several movies and television holiday specials.

4. Turkey in the Straw: Beginner, Intermediate

The American folk song, “Turkey in the Straw” dates back to the early 1800s and is comprised of themes from other countries, such as Ireland.

Given its steady eighth-note feel, it was originally popularized as a fiddle tune, but is now enjoyed by all instrumentations.

Find a version of “Turkey in the Straw” for piano players on

5. We Gather Together: Intermediate, Beginner

This hymn was originally taken from a Dutch folk tune. Composer, Adrianus Valerius added lyrics to commemorate the victory over the Spanish in the Battle of Turnhout.

In current day, the piano song is often heard around the Thanksgiving holiday, as its title and lyrics suggest a time to join and reflect on the year’s blessings.

The 3/4 time signature and dotted quarter note pattern is a great warm up for “Silent Night,” which shares a similar structure.

You can find Andrew Fling’s arrangement of this tune on

6. Thanksgiving Theme (A Charlie Brown Christmas): Advanced, Intermediate

Pianist and composer, Vince Guaraldi made an indelible mark on American culture when he composed a series of jazz-inspired pieces to accompany Charlie Brown, Snoopy, and the gang for the 1965 television special, “A Charlie Brown Christmas.”

Since that time, the laid-back jazzy tunes have become a staple of the holiday season, and “Thanksgiving Theme” is a wonderful example.

Its driving 3/4 time signature and cascading triplets beautifully juxtapose the busyness of the season and the beauty of falling snow.

This piece is available for purchase in many Charlie Brown songbook collections.

7. Teacher’s Pet  (School of Rock, The Musical): Intermediate

Now coming to Broadway, School of Rock (originally a 2005 movie starring Jack Black) inspired a generation of kids to get involved in music education through high-energy classic rock and soul music.

The upcoming Broadway cast is performing at the 2015 Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, which should inspire and invigorate your young pianists, as the cast is comprised of actual child musicians – and even features a rockin’ keyboard solo!

8. Autumn Leaves: Intermediate, Advanced

Well-known jazz standard, “Autumn Leaves” began as the 1945 French song, “Les feuilles mortes” (The Dead Leaves) by Joseph Kosma.

It was only after American songwriter Johnny Mercer added English lyrics in 1947, did it gain popularity as a pop and jazz standard.

It’s now often used as a teaching tool for beginner jazz pianists, as it illustrates a ii-V-i (2-5-1) chord progression pattern, a pivotal concept in many jazz standards and improvisation.

9. Largo and Scherzo from Dvorak’s New World Symphony: Intermediate, Beginner

Highly celebrated Bohemian (now Czech Republic) composer, Antonin Dvorak had always been influenced by his geographic surroundings.

It is of no surprise, therefore, that when he moved to the U.S. in 1892 he wrote his impressions in his 9th symphony, commonly known as the “New World” Symphony.

The Largo movement is a solemn march that takes direct influence from African American spirituals and Native American intervals and rhythms in the Scherzo.

Find a version of the Largo movement on

10. Mashed Potatoes U.S.A.: Beginner, Intermediate

This early James Brown classic is basically a rhythm and blues jam in which Brown lists every one of his favorite cities.

The song’s driving groove is perfect for the cooking mood and it’s a great way to practice some blues improvisation. Encourage your guests to chime in with the city in which they’re visiting, while giving shout-outs to their favorite side dish.

You can find a recording of this song, and many blues backing tracks to practice with on YouTube.

These Thanksgiving piano songs for kids will keep your pumpkin pi(e)anists practicing until Black Friday! Happy Thanksgiving and have a musically merry holiday season!

Untitled design 66Post Author: Alicia B.
Alicia B. teaches piano, violin, music performance, and more. She is a graduate of Miami’s Public Arts Programs, including Coral Reef Senior High and the Greater Miami Youth Symphony. Alicia has over 15+ years of musical experience. Learn more about Alicia here!

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How to Enter (and Win) Singing Contests (3)

How to Enter (& Win) Singing Contests & Competitions

How to Enter (and Win) Singing Contests

Are you ready to step out of the practice room and take your talent to the stage? In this article, voice teacher Milton J. shares his tips for preparing for a competition or audition, and then continue reading for our list of contests to enter!


For quite a few years, we’ve tuned in our televisions, phones, and tablets to our favorite singing contests and competitions every week. We’ve been picking our favorite singers, voting for them (sometimes more than once), and hoping they win the coveted record deal at the end of the season.

We’ve watched as the juggernaut American Idol, a derivative of Pop Idol from Europe, gave way to other singing competition shows like The Voice, The X-Factor, and The Sing-Off.

Other worthy and not-so-worthy opponents, such as ABC’s Rising Star, have tried to get into the singing competition game. While American Idol may be ending, there are many singing competitions locally, regionally, state-wide, and nationally that vocalists can enter into, in addition to auditioning for the current king of reality singing competitions, The Voice.

The following tips will help out vocalists who audition live, as well as those who audition through a prepared recording. Let’s first take a look at tips for those who are preparing to audition live in front of a panel of judges.

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Tips for Live Singing Auditions

More often than not, singers will have to audition in front of one or more judges in order to be considered as contestants. It may sound nerve-wracking to sing in front of others, but you’ll be glad you seized the opportunity.

Live auditions give you the benefit of having instantaneous feedback from a panel of judges who, as a standard, should be well-versed in the art of vocal performance. Let’s go through some tips to help you conquer any live audition you wish to attend.

1. Be Well-Prepared

Judges can and will recognize an auditionee who has put enough time and effort into perfecting their performance. Practice is not something that should be overlooked. Develop a routine and structure your singing practice in a manageable way.

Your degree of preparedness will only be determined by how comfortable you are with your greatest weakness. Turning that weakness into a driving force in your performance will help you get to the level of comfort you need for a live audition.

For example, if your weakness involves your voice cracking at a high note, embrace it and try to make the voice crack fit the feel of the song. Australian singer Sia has a natural voice crack that has made its way into many of her songs. She embraced what many would call a weakness and turned it into something stylistic and beautiful.

2. Choose a Song That’s Suitable for Your Voice

One issue that plagues even wonderful singers is performing a song that’s not suitable for their voice. If your voice is more Andrea Bocelli (opera) than Justin Bieber (pop), that’s ok! Being true to your own voice, which inherently has unique qualities, is what will shine instead of doing a song that’s popular but doesn’t showcase your voice in the best light.

Find out which type of music suits your voice by listening to different singing styles and genres. Once you figure that out, you can start working on perfecting your style.

3. The Judges Are Your Audience

One mistake some vocalists make in their auditions is forcefully singing to judges, which turns to ineffectively singing through the judges — this is a common singing audition mistake. Treat the judges as your audience members as opposed to your adjudicators. Take them on your journey and help them feel the emotion you’re conveying through the lyrics of your song. The more you sing FOR them and less TO them, the more effective your performance will be.

4. Always Warm-Up Your Voice

One of the things vocalists time and time again fail to realize in their rehearsals and auditions is to properly warm-up their voices. Much like how an athlete that needs to fully stretch out their body before entering a game, a singer must stretch the muscles in their vocal cavity to be as musically effective as possible.

Be sure to take ample time to go through all of the warm-ups and vocal exercises you have learned from your vocal coach. This is very important to ensure that you can hit all the notes you need to and acquire consistency throughout the song.

There’s more to warming up your singing voice than you may think. For example, reciting tongue twisters are a great way to practice syllable annunciation. Be sure to try more outside-of-the-box vocal warm-ups to increase your vocal effectiveness.

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Tips for Pre-Recorded Auditions

In many cases, vocal competitions will require you to send in an audition video in lieu of a live performance. This may be a result of limited space in the audition venue, limited time with the judges, or due to the sheer amount of auditionees that can’t possibly be given the chance to perform live.

Make no mistake, pre-recorded auditions are not necessarily easier than live ones. Sure, you’re able to record yourself as many times as you need, but in turn, the judges are able to play your tape over and over again. If you make a mistake, a simple rewind will allow the judges to hear it again.

With that said, pre-recorded auditions can be powerful when done right. Let me show you some tips on how to make an impact on the judges via a video performance.

1. Create a Performance

One interesting thing about the major singing competitions, such as The Voice, is that their video submission guidelines are straightforward, and yet they leave room for creative freedom. With that freedom afforded to you, you should create a performance video.

For this, have your camera set up with a view of a stage, makeshift stage, or perhaps even just curtains. Whether you’re able to record in a large auditorium or a small bedroom, make the best of the environment to boost your performance.

A performance is only supplemented by how well a singer can act. You need to make sure that your performance resonates with the audience behind the camera lens, which is a great reason why singers should learn how to act.

2. Eye Contact and Connection

While performing in front of the camera, understand that your audience lies behind the camera lens. You must therefore create an artificial connection toward the camera by engaging your eyes, facial expressions, and body language. Maintaining eye contact is an important facet of how to sing with confidence.

The best way to find this connection is through a couple methods: record and review your interactions with the camera or ask someone to stand behind the camera so you may sing to them. Performing in front of someone else is good practice for suppressing your nerves and building your confidence.

These tricks can help you see what’s working in your performance and what’s not.

3. Stay Loose!

With a lens in front of us, many vocalists tend to lock up and become methodical, robotic, or in layman’s terms, fake. We may lose the natural tenor of our speaking voice when introducing ourselves, or we may rush to get our words out and muddle our speech in order to meet the time requirements.

That nervous energy is then transferred into our performance, which we know isn’t the best performance we’re capable of giving. Be sure to keep yourself loose before the camera turns on. You’ll be more relaxed if you practice your introduction and conclusion, and use the natural cadences in your speaking voice to keep you grounded as you move into your vocal performance.

If you follow these tips, you’ll be sure to rock your vocal audition!

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2016 Online Singing Contests

Ready to enter? Here are some competitions to look into, most of which are online singing contests that you can enter no matter where you live. Some of them do require travel if you advance to the next round, so be sure to check out the details on the contest’s website.

Young Arts

  • Cash awards of up to $10,000
  • Must be a U.S. resident, age 15-18, or in grade 10-12
  • Submit an online application through National Young Arts website
  • Apply here

Song Door

  • Must be 16+ to enter
  • Submit your song online, along with your $10 entry fee
  • Enter here

New Song Contest

  • Open to anyone 18+
  • Submit your song online, along with your $30 application fee
  • Enter here

Mid-Atlantic Song Contest

  • No criteria currently given, check back later

Fox’s Next Empire Artist

  • Must be a U.S. resident, 18+
  • Submit a video performance of your solo or group act
  • Enter here

Song of the Year

  • Must be a U.S. resident, 18+
  • Submit your song online and pay the entry fee (varies)
  • Enter here

Unsigned Only

  • Must be amateurs 18+, younger entrants may enter with parental permission
  • Submit your song and lyrics online or through the mail, along with $30 per entry
  • Enter here

Paramount Song Contest

  • Please contact contest officials for more information
  • Enter here

American Traditions Competition

  • Must be 21+ to enter
  • Submit three songs from the categories listed on the contestant information page, and pay the entry fee of $55
  • Apply here

Hal Leonard Vocal Competition

  • All ages welcome
  • Submit a video recording
  • Enter here

Classical Singer Competition

  • Open to anyone 14+
  • Two song submission by video recording online, by mail, or audition in person, along with $85 entry fee
  • Register here

The American Prize

  • Open to U.S. residents 18+
  • Send in 3-5 recordings of arias to the email below, along with $40 entry fee and form
  • Enter here

Schmidt Competition

  • Open to high school sophomore, juniors, and seniors
  • Complete your application and pay the $45 entry fee, then perform three musical compositions live from one of the locations listed
  • Apply here

Texas Troubador

  • Anyone is welcome to enter, but finalists will be asked to travel to Clifton, TX
  • Submit one to three original songs, along with application and entry fee
  • Apply here

Singist Online Singing Contest

  • Submit a video (see guidelines on their page) and users vote on the winners
  • Contest re-starts each month

SingSnap Online Karaoke Competitions

  • Join the SingSnap network to upload videos, meet other singers, and share your talents

American Protege

  • Anyone five or older can enter (varies by category)
  • Send a video recording, $200 application fee, and application form
  • Enter here

American Guild of Music regional contests

  • Open to students with 3 months to 12 years of music study, up to age 21
  • Your teacher must be an American Guild of Music member to participate
  • Regional contests are held throughout the year; see website for details and upcoming dates

The Voice Auditions

Singing Contests for Kids

If your son or daughter has an interest in the spotlight, a few of the singing contests listed above are open to youngsters. However, it’s a good idea to start with voice lessons to help build their confidence and refine their voices before entering. And of course, make sure to show your support along the way, no matter how they place!

Singing Contests for Teens

Singing competitions can be a great resume-booster and wonderful experience if you’re thinking of pursuing a music degree or a career in music. Getting as much performance experience as you can is key! Check out the age restrictions on the singing contests listed above, or check with your teacher for local competition recommendations.

Additional Resources for Singing Contests

Readers, do you know of other singing contests for teens, singing contests for kids, or singing contests for all ages? Leave a comment and let us know the details!

MiltonJPost Author: Milton J.
Milton J. teaches guitar, piano, singing, music recording, music theory, opera voice, songwriting, speaking voice, and acting lessons in Corona, CA. He specializes in classical, R&B, soul, pop, rock, jazz, and opera styles. Learn more about Milton here!

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