[Infographic] American vs. French Culture: 8 Things Every Traveler Should Know

ON POINT

Are you planning a trip to the U.S. or France? Though only a plane ride away, these countries are extremely different. From dining to fashion to going to the bathroom, it’s important that you learn the cultural differences before you go abroad.

After all, you don’t want to offend anyone on your trip by making a silly mistake, such as not greeting someone properly or forgetting your manners.

Check out the infographic below highlighting the difference between French culture and American culture.

American culture vs. French Culture

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American Culture vs. French Culture: Things You Need to Know

1. Driving

America: The majority of Americans travel by automobile, even in major cities such as New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago. In fact, three out of four Americans drive to work, while a mere 5.2 percent take mass transit.

France: You won’t see roads full of SUVs in France, as the country is known for having an excellent public transportation system. Most people use the underground subway systems and tramways to get around.

2. Dining

France: In France, there’s no such thing as a meal on-the-go.  Rather, people take their time eating and typically don’t eat dinner until around 8 p.m.

America: It’s not surprising to see someone eating a slice of pizza while rushing to get to their next destination. Typically, Americans eat much earlier and faster than the French.

3. Fashion

France: The French wouldn’t be caught dead wearing sweatpants and sandals in public. People take pride in their appearance and dress more moderately compared to Americans.

America: While every city has its style—for example, New York is more high-fashion, while California is laid back–Americans are all about comfort and being casual. Swim trunks and a t-shirt on a hot day are A-OK in their book.

4. Drinking

America: Americans are more apt to reach for a refreshingly cold beer. Over the past years, however, wine has become increasingly more popular. While not celebrated, public intoxication isn’t rare.

France: The French have a reputation for drinking in moderation and their drink of choice is typically wine. After all, you can find a wine bar at just about every corner. In French culture, public intoxication is heavily frowned upon.

5. Dating

America: Americans are all about playing the field. It’s not uncommon for a stranger to ask someone out on a date—which typically includes some sort of meal or outing—if he or she is interested.

France: The French don’t date. In fact, there is no real word for “date” or “dating” in the French language. People get to know each other through social circles—and exclusivity is always implied.

6. Communication

America: Americans are super friendly and outgoing. They are likely to greet friends and acquaintances with a big hug. You could say that communication is very informal, whereas the French are more formal.

France: Hugging is sometimes considered more intimate than kissing in France. The French don’t use the first name of a person unless they are invited to do so. What’s more, speaking too loud is considered a sign of anger and impoliteness.

7. Body language

France: When it comes to body language, the French are quite reserved. Placing your hands in your pockets or slouching are big no-nos.   

America: Oddly enough,  both American and French culture are very similar in this category. Americans value their personal space and don’t respond well to unnecessary fidgeting.  

8. Small Talk

America: People in the U.S. are very open and polite. It’s not uncommon for someone to ask his or her mailman or pharmacist how his or her family is doing or what his or her plans are for the weekend.

France: Stick with small talk. It’s okay, for example, to talk about the weather, but anything beyond that isn’t normal in the French culture.

Tip: 50 French Phrases You Need to Know Before Your Trip to France

Happy Travels!

Now that you’re up to speed on the French culture, you’re ready for your trip. Don’t shy away from meeting locals, as immersing yourself in the French culture will ensure that you make the most of your trip!

Do you live in France? If so, share your advice for traveling in the comment section below.

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How to Improve Your Piano Practice With a Metronome

Do you want to take your piano practice to the next level? Below, piano teacher Julie P. shares tips on how to use a piano metronome to help improve your playing…

If you’re serious about improving your piano playing, you might want to consider using a piano metronome during your practice sessions.

Metronomes are great for developing a strong internal beat and testing yourself on how accurately you play your music.

Not sure what exactly a metronome is, or how to use it? Below is a helpful guide on how to practice piano with a metronome.

What is a Piano Metronome?

A metronome is a device that emits a sound on each beat, for a set number of beats per minute. Metronomes today are mostly electronic with a sound like a click or beep for each beat.

Each metronome has a range of tempos in which it can be set, usually from about 40 beats per minute to about 240 beats per minute.

For piano, a metronome can be used several different ways; for example, it can be used as a diagnostic tool or a guide for developing a strong internal beat.

Where Can I Buy a Piano Metronome?

You can buy a basic metronome at almost any music store, usually for around $30 or less.

There are also more advanced machines, such as Dr. Beat, that have more sophisticated options like different sound options and drum machine patterns to play with.

While these are great machines, they can cost over $100 and they’re not always necessary for most piano players.

If you’re on a budget, there are a bunch of free online piano metronomes available. For example, 8notes.com has a piano metronome that you can try.

There are also tons of smartphone metronome apps. I suggest Tempo because it has tons of features including 35 different time signatures, the ability to accent or turn off beats, and programming functions for you to customize a beat pattern for a specific piece of music.

You can even create playlists of multiple songs and share them with your friends. My favorite feature is the ability to loop a section of a piano piece, which allows you to zero in on a tricky time signature or tempo change.

3 Ways to Use a Piano Metronome During Practice

Diagnostic Tool

First, play a section of a piece through without the metronome. Then set the piano metronome to the tempo you were playing at and play the section again.

You’ll probably notice that in some parts of the passage you struggle to keep up with the metronome, while in other parts you tend to rush ahead.

The sections where you have trouble staying with the piano metronome are the sections you have to work on.

For example, use a metronome while playing your scales. You’ll probably find that there are sections of the scale where the rhythm is uneven. Those are the sections you need to iron out away from the metronome.

You can’t play steadily with any beat if you have technical issues in your playing. Once you feel more solid on the passage, test yourself against the metronome again.

Guide for Developing a Strong Internal Beat

Try tapping and counting in your lap the rhythm of a piece you’re learning. Do this along with the metronome and you’ll see how securely you know the rhythm of your music.

Try to make your rhythm as crisp and accurate as possible so that it fits exactly with the metronome.

Set the metronome so that it only makes sound on the first beat of every measure. Can you play in time throughout each measure so that you end up on beat 1 when the metronome does?

An Assistant

For passages that you can play securely, but not as fast as you’d like, you can use the metronome to help you work on speed.

Set the metronome to a tempo you can play securely and then after playing it well 3 times in a row, bump up the tempo by 3-6 beats a minute.

Continue doing this until you reach your goal tempo. Sometimes it will take a few days of working this way to fully reach your goal.

If you’re having trouble figuring out a complicated rhythm with triplets or sixteenth notes, try using the subdivision setting on the metronome.

Hearing the divisions of the beat will help you find where to put each note of the rhythm.

Your Turn!

There are even more ways to practice piano with a metronome, but the exercises above are a great place to start.

You might find that it’s hard to play with the metronome at first, but the more you practice with it, the easier it will get.

Used the right way, the metronome can greatly help your piano playing.

JuliePPost Author: Julie P.
Julie P. teaches flute, clarinet, music theory, and saxophone lessons in Brooklyn, NY. She received her Bachelor’s degree in Music Education from Ithaca College and her Masters in Music Performance from New Jersey City University. Learn more about Julie here!

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The Healing Power of the Ukulele | Personal Stories and Interviews

learn to play ukulele

Whether you just started ukulele lessons or you’ve been playing for years, there are a number of benefits that result from learning to play an instrument. From social perks to health benefits, it’s important to learn about your instrument and craft. Here, writer, speaker, and host Don Smith shares interviews with ukulele players on the big power of a small instrument and why you should learn to play ukulele…


Gone are the days when the ukulele was just an instrument for comical value. It was common to think of the ukulele as an instrument only played by men in flamboyantly printed shirts in a tropical setting.

Cristine DeLeon, a New Jersey based singer/songwriter, has seen an increase in the use of the ukulele.

“It really is a fun instrument to play,” she says. “My husband got me one about four years ago, when I said I was interested in learning to play.”

And what she has seen is the level of sophistication that musicians have brought to the ukulele. In fact, it can be compared to other trends in the artisan communities, where very basic items are refined into more complex works of creation.

Take macaroni-and-cheese, for example. One blogger writes, “it’s time to ditch the almost-instant stuff (complete with day-glow cheese) for a more sophisticated version.” It’s not uncommon to see higher-end restaurants with mac-and-cheese made with noodles made on premises with more exotic cheeses and other ingredients such as bacon and parsley.

Another example is the adult coloring book renaissance. In a recent article in The Guardian it states that “coloring has been said to be able to help [adults] achieve mindfulness, banish anxiety, and even deal with trauma.”

With that spirit, the last few years have seen a renaissance in the ukulele, and DeLeon is thrilled.

“There are performers like Victoria Vox and Lil Rev who are two of my favorite ukulele performers,” DeLeon says. Both of these performers are serious ukulele players who have made it their life’s work. ”

Another inspiration is the Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain,” DeLeon says. “They are fantastic!” The Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain formed in 1985 “as a bit of fun,” and since, has inspired other ukulele groups all over the world.

DeLeon took a different direction with her ukulele group. She and fellow musician Jeff Rantzer started a duo called BrassFedora and perform the music of Tin Pan Alley (i.e. “Won’t You Come Home, Bill Bailey?” and “My Blue Heaven”) and are able to capitalize on the trend.

DeLeon says that one of the reasons the ukulele has done so well is because the level of complexity of learning the instrument is not as detailed as other instruments, like the guitar.

“For most people, the ukulele is easier to learn,” she says. “Whereas the guitar has six strings, the ukulele has four.” She also feels that the nylon strings of the ukulele are easier on the fingers compared to the steel strings of the guitar. “It can take a while to develop the callouses on the fingers to play the steel string,” she says. “The ukulele is easier on the fingers.”

While it takes several piano lessons before a player can play the most basic songs, the ukulele is quick to learn and quick to play. “When playing it [ukulele], there’s an instant gratification,” she says.

More: 4 Reasons Why Ukulele is the Perfect Stringed Instrument for Beginners


These days, many people learn to play ukulele by watching YouTube. Back in the day, however, musicians learned from books. Justin A. Martell, Tiny Tim’s manager, said Tim learned to play from a book.

“[Tiny Tim] got a book called You Can Play the Ukulele by Don Ball,” Martell says.

Tiny Tim was born Herbert Khaury and made the song “Tiptoe from the Tulips” famous in the ’60s. He’s probably one of the most famous ukulele players who ever lived. Sadly, Tim passed away in 1996 from a heart attack.

Martell has been able to share details about Tim’s life; according to Martell, Tim found it easier to get into the ukulele because he played guitar beforehand.

Martell says that when Tim would audition for shows, he would use the ukulele because it was easier to carry. Martell says that if the performer failed the audition, it wouldn’t be awkward to ask for the sheet music back from the pianist. “[Should] I never make it, I wouldn’t have to hang my head in shame and ask for my sheet music back, I could get right out’,” Martell says, quoting Tiny Tim.

More: Music Lessons for Kids: Should My Child Learn Ukulele or Guitar?


Besides helping Tiny Tim save face, the ukulele has another benefit: health!

In Hawaii, the Roy Sakuma Studio offers a program called “Hands on Healing” which is free of charge for cancer survivors. According to the website, “[The studio] provides an environment where those facing cancer may explore and discover their creative resources to promote physical, mental, and spiritual healing.”

The program helps cancer patients “discover new personal expression in a non-medical setting. It’s a great way to quiet your mind while keeping your hands busy.”

One blogger who suffered from breast cancer, says the program helped her “forget about cancer for a little while.”

“The physical and mental scars are a daily reminder of what we’ve been through,” says cancer survivor Lori Nakamura. “But the [ukulele] program lets me focus on learning new songs, and I know the process is helping with my memory.”

“I’m not surprised to hear stories like this,” DeLeon says. “The ukulele is such a fun instrument and learning a musical instrument helps in all kinds of areas.”

In an article on Effective Music Teaching, some benefits to learning an instrument include better memory, improved coordination, better concentration, stress relief, a sense of achievement, and happiness.

“I have played the guitar for years,” says DeLeon, “and now learning the ukulele has just made my life so much richer.”

With resurgence and health benefits, there will always be the element of fun in the world of the ukulele. Going back to Tiny Tim, Martell wanted to make sure that Tim’s legacy and his place in the world of the ukulele were understood.

“I think he definitely would have liked [the resurgence],” said Martell. “Unfortunately, I think many of those involved in the resurgence – neo-ukers I call them – scoff at Tiny Tim. They overlook the fact, though, that Tiny saved the ukulele from extinction in the ’60s.”

Martell adds, “If people perceive Tiny as a joke, that’s their problem, not his. He was very serious about his craft.”

While Tiny Tim was serious, DeLeon says there will always be a place of whimsy in the ukulele culture. When asked if she believes there will still be a place for the ukulele players with the flower print shirts, she laughed.

“Of course,” says DeLeon. “There will always be a place for fun in the world of the ukulele.”

For a primer on how to play the ukulele, check out at a video of Christine DeLeon (produced in coordination with this article) explaining the basics on how to play the ukulele.

The Basics of the Ukulele with Christine DeLeon from Don Smith on Vimeo.

Ready to reap the benefits of playing ukulele? Find a ukulele teacher near you! 


don smithGuest Post Author:
 Don Smith
Don writes comic books, graphic novels, books, and short stories. In addition to writing, he is also a speaker and a host.  Learn more about Don here!

Photo by Donald Judge

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guitar terms

The Ultimate Beginner’s Guide to Guitar Terms [Infographic]

When you start learning guitar, you’re introduced to a slew of new guitar terms and expressions. Remember, being a good guitarist isn’t just about learning chords and strumming techniques; if you want to be successful, you have to learn to talk the talk and walk the walk. Guitar instructor Matt K. is here to help. Here is a complete list of guitar terms you should know…

Keep this guitar terms infographic where you can see it: put it on your fridge or hang it in your bedroom or practice space.

From parts of the guitar to accessories and music slang, here are the essential guitar terms you need to get started!


 

 

guitar terms

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Want to print this infographic so you can hang it up at home or take it with you on the go? You can download it here:

Essential Guitar Terms

For more information on these terms, check out Guitar Terms 101: Guitar parts, moves, and slang for beginners!

Matthew KPost Author: Matt K.
Matthew K. teaches guitar, piano, and music theory lessons in Brooklyn, NY. He studied music composition at Mercyhurst University, and he has been teaching lessons for four years. Matthew is available to teach in-person lessons as well as online via Skype. Learn more about Matt here!

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50 Beautiful Spanish Words 500x300

50 Beautiful Spanish Words For an Instant Mood Boost

There are so many cool Spanish words to choose from, that it’s hard to narrow it down to just 50! Spanish is a beautiful language, and as you listen to native speakers, you’ll notice how elegant it can sound.

Scientists have even deemed it the happiest language, too!

Not only is Spanish a cool language, but it also has a logical structure. Pair that with the many Spanish-English cognates, and you can see why it’s one of the most popular languages to learn.

As you learn Spanish, you’ll come across many words that stand out – whether for the melodic way they roll off your tongue, or their meaning. Check out the infographic below for some of our favorite, beautiful Spanish words!

50 Beautiful Spanish Words

50 Beautiful Spanish Words

1. bonita: pretty (adjective)
2. precioso: precious/beautiful (adjective)
3. señorita: young lady (noun)
4. guapo: handsome (adjective)
5. rosado: pink (adjective)
6. amor: love (noun)
7. encantar: to enchant (verb)
8. desear: to wish (verb)
9. sonreîr: to smile (verb)
10. bailar: to dance (verb)
11. cantar: to sing (verb)
12. beso: kiss (noun)
13. vivir: to live (verb)
14. abrazo: hug (noun)
15. novia/novia: boyfriend/girlfriend ( noun)
16. contigo: with you (pronoun)
17. palabra: word (noun)
18. chocolate: chocolate (noun)
19. café: brown (adjective)/ coffee (noun)
20. naranja: orange (noun)
21. dulce: sweet (adjective)
22. ángel: angel (noun)
23. fuego: fire (noun)
24. cielo: sky (noun)
25. zapatos: shoes (noun)
26. corazon: heart (noun)
27. estrella: star (noun)
28. noche: night (noun)
29. caliente: hot (adjective)
30. rica: rich/delicious (adjective)
31. dinero: money (noun)
32. serenidad: serenity (noun)
33. mariposa: butterfly (noun)
34. fuerte: strong (adjective)
35. siempre: always (adverb)
36. seda: silk (noun)
37. favorito: favorite (adjective)
38. mañana: tomorrow (adverb)
39. bienvenido: welcome (adjective)
40. sol: sun (noun)
41. montaña: mountain (noun)
42. azúcar: sugar (noun)
43. mirar: to look (verb)
44. fruta: fruit (noun)
45. medianoche: midnight (noun)
46. luz: light (noun)
47. diamante: diamond (noun)
48. flor: flower (noun)
49. mar: sea (noun)
50. helado: ice cream (noun)

SEE ALSO: An Introduction to Spanish Culture

How to Use These Cool Spanish Words

Want to start memorizing these cool Spanish words? Here are some additional tips to keep in mind as you study these fun vocabulary words.

  • Categorize the words. Try grouping words together based on their similarities. For instance, each of these pretty Spanish words is related to showing affection – besos (kisses), abrazo (hug), and amor (love). Create multiple lists with different categories to study.
  • Try forming sentences. When you create your own sentences, it’s easier to remember the definitions of the words because of the relevant context. Try writing a few sentences down with some of the words we listed above.
  • Post them around your house. Labeling items around the house is a great way to learn new words. You can label the chairs, refrigerator, doors, etc. with their corresponding Spanish word.
  • Play vocabulary games. There are plenty of Spanish websites with free games to check out. You can also purchase apps, or make DIY games such as Bingo and charades.

Good luck studying these beautiful Spanish words, and have fun along the way!

Readers, what other cool Spanish words would you add to this list? Leave a comment and let us know.

Breeana D.Post Author: Breeana D.
Breeana teaches Spanish lessons in Willow Grove, PA. Specializing in Early Childhood and Special Education, she also has a Bachelor’s in Elementary Education. Learn more about Breeana here!

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How to Sing With Confidence | The 3-Ingredient Secret Sauce

How to Sing With Confidence

Feeling nervous about an upcoming performance? It’s a totally normal feeling! Getting used to being in the spotlight can take some time. Learn how to sing with confidence in this article by voice teacher Sphie H...

 

How many times have you listened to your favorite musical artists, bands, and pop stars and pictured yourself in their shoes? Many people dream of unleashing their inner rock star, but very few actually set forth in doing so. It takes a lot of courage to learn how to sing and, for some, understanding how to formulate the first note can be a challenge — let alone imagining the excitement of singing on a stage!

With the guidance of the following few, simple steps, all of the butterflies will melt away and you will be on your way to discovering your voice in no time. So, what are the ingredients in building confidence as a singer?

1) Have Patience With Yourself

The first ingredient in learning how to sing with confidence is patience. Learning how to sing can be a very similar experience to a baby learning how to walk. When a baby learns to walk, they learn step-by-step. In singing, the process is not very different. You are learning not only how to listen to the notes but also how to formulate and re-create the notes you are listening to.

Because your body is your instrument, it takes your entire body to learn how to sing, so be patient with yourself. It is the baby steps in learning that formulate the bigger picture. Finding fulfillment in the building blocks allows you to feel confident in the work that you have achieved.

2) Practice Often

The second ingredient is practice. When I studied opera as a teenager, I sometimes loathed stepping into the practice arena outside of my teacher’s guidance. It felt like wandering through a foreign territory only to find myself at a dead end.

I thought to myself, “I don’t want to sing opera. I want to sing soul.” I felt in my youthfulness that this soulful voice was somehow going to jump out of me and one day it did. What I didn’t realize at the time was that it was all of those years of practice that had helped me to achieve it.

Practice helps strengthen both quality in tone and the relationship in building your own voice. Practicing singing is like an insurance policy for you voice. The more you practice, the more you know your voice. The more you know your voice, the more confident you are singing in any situation. Preparation is the backbone of self-confidence.

3) Take Risks

The third ingredient in building self-confidence as a singer is in taking risks. You may have heard the quote, “If you can dream it, you can do it.” When applied to singing, the same rings true!

We often hear this voice in our head when we first start singing that sounds much different than the voice that actually comes out. When applying the building blocks in practicing scales, exercises, and simple tones and in mastering them one step at a time, we then feel comfortable enough to take risks in the creation and formulation of new exercises. If you hear something in your head, but don’t know exactly how to create the sounds, try anyway. Taking risks in singing means stepping into uncharted waters of sound and testing all of the different sounds available to you. This can be as simple as humming a line to your favorite song out loud.

Every great singer has to know how to hit the “bad” notes a few times before they understand what it means to hit the “good” ones. In the end, confidence in singing comes from knowing both the “good” notes and the “bad” notes and how to move more fluidly and comfortably between all of them. The truth is, you will never know unless you try and it takes more courage to try than not to. Having the courage to take risks will build confidence in knowing your voice.

Learn How to Sing With Confidence

When it comes to learning your voice, it takes patience, practice, and a little bit of risk-taking! Ultimately, you are the captain of your own ship. Learning how to sing is an art and a balance of the above three items. With the combination of all three ingredients, you will find yourself well on your way to singing even more vibrantly and confidently in no time.

Post Author: Sphie H.
Sphie H. teaches singing, piano, yoga, and more in Indianapolis, IN. She offers her students in-home lessons, as well as lessons in her own home studio. She’s been teaching for over a decade and aims to offer a relaxed, versatile, and professional approach to her lessons. Learn more about Sphie here!

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Moving to France: Honest Advice From Expats Living in France

 

Moving to France- Real Advice From Expats Living in France (1)

Congratulations, you’ve finally made the decision to move to France. Now comes the hard part, getting you and your stuff there.

If you thought making the decision the leave your friends and family was hard, you’ve got another thing coming. Moving to France—or any foreign country for that matter—isn’t easy.

After all, you’re moving to a country where you don’t speak the language and you’re mostly unfamiliar with the customs and culture.

Lucky for you, we’ve interviewed several expats who’ve made the big move and asked them what they wish someone would have told them before moving to France.

Let’s take a look at what these experienced expats had to say about moving to France.

1. Find Temporary Housing

“One of my pieces of advice to people is about finding housing. Searching for housing from afar is not easy and can often be wrought with pitfalls,” says Melissa Ladd, creator of Prête-Moi Paris.

“Paris is a difficult place to find an apartment to rent or buy, because prices are very high and it is a rather small city so there is less space for everyone, thus less available housing. I suggest getting a temporary rental for a month or few when you first arrive, to give you the time you need to find something long term or permanent.”

2. Do Your Homework

“Before moving to France (or any other country) do your homework so you will know what you’re getting into. Also realize France will be quite different from where you’re coming from. There will be adjustment and a learning curve. Contact your nearest French consulate to find out what’s needed for your move,” says Jeff Steiner, creator of Americans in France.

“I often see people asking online what paperwork they need to move to France. Well the only place you’ll get an answer is at the consulate. If the consulate is unhelpful or doesn’t answer your question the way you’d like, then maybe France isn’t for you. If you can’t take the paperwork demanded to move to France you’re not going to like the paperwork needed to live here on a daily bases. That said it can be a great place to live.”

3. Learn the Language

It can be extremely difficult–not to mention frustrating–trying to navigate an unfamiliar city without knowing how to speak the language. Before moving to France, you might want to consider learning some French.

While being fluent in French is ideal, it’s not always possible. We suggest learning basic phrases that will help you hold a conversation with a native. Check out these 25 conversational French phrases to get you started.

4. Read Reviews en Français

“So you just moved here and you want to go to a bar. Or a restaurant. Or even find some decent chocolate to bring to a dinner party. I suggest reading reviews, but not in English. Visit the French version of sites like Timeout, TripAdvisor, and even Yelp. If your French is good enough, you can get the gist of what the review says. If it’s not so good, use Google Translate,” suggests Whitney Donaldson, creator of Whitney in Paris.

“Reading in French will steer you away from reviews left by those who are only in town for a few days a.k.a Anglophones who don’t live in France. There is nothing wrong with that but if you want a feel for the local flavor right off the bat, do a little searching en Français.”

5. Don’t Lose Your Cool

“Be patient and remain calm at all times. There are many great aspects about living in France, but many that make me want to pull my hair out. I used to get upset every time something took longer than I thought it should or if something didn’t go exactly as planned,” says Audrey Hickey, author of Audrey Meets World.

“Take it from me, this is a sure way to exhaust yourself very quickly. Know your rights, know the rules, and keep every single piece of paperwork; you never know.”

6. Greet People Properly

“Kiss don’t hug – on the whole, the French are not huggers and will be horrified if you throw your arms around them and pull them close against you – kissing them on the face four times is fine though,” says Janine Marsh, editor of The Good Life France.

“The French can be quite formal at times so don’t expect to be on first name times for a while. When you’re introduced it will often be as Monsieur or Madame this or that and you’re expected to call them as such until they invite you to call them by their first name. It’s not that they’re aloof, it’s just a way of life in France.”

7. Mind Your Ps and Qs

“Never forget to say ‘bonjour’ upon entering an establishment, and ‘merci, au revoir’ upon leaving. This is an essential part of French culture and to not do so is considered incredibly impolite,” says Edna, creator of Expat Edna.

“Even if I enter a shop and accidentally blurt out my order, I’ll stop, backtrack, say ‘Bonjour’ and start over to show that I respect them.”

Good Luck!

Moving to France can be scary, even for the most seasoned travelers. Make the transition easier by taking advice from the experts above.

Have you recently moved to France? We want to hear from you! Share some of your expert advice in the comment section below.

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girl playing piano

Unlocking the Essentials of Music Exam Preparation

girl playing piano

Need help preparing your students for their piano exams? Learn how to set your students up for success in this guest post from our friend Darlene Irwin from The Student Music Organizer

As piano teachers, successful exam preparation is a HUGE part of what we do. I often tell my students that passing an exam is like opening a musical door.

When your student completes an exam, they pass through that door and enter a whole new level of music.

Below are some important keys to help prepare your students for success.

1. Be Prepared: Are You Ready for the Next Level?

Don’t move forward too quickly. Students need to develop their technical facility and sight reading skills before trying an exam.

Exams aren’t for everyone. Some students enjoy doing recitals or master classes, while others prefer competitions.

The most important thing is that students learn to love music. Find out what they like. Encourage them to try many different styles of music, including duets and trios.

2. Give it Enough Time: Long-term Exam Planning is Critical

Getting ready for any practical exam takes time. Everything depends on how hard they work, how quickly they learn and how busy they are with family, school, and other activities.

Last-minute preparation leads to frustration for both the student and the teacher. Have your students learn and memorize their exam pieces early in the year and then put them away. As the exam approaches, they can revisit and continue to perfect them.

Technique, sight reading and ear training are worth quite a few marks on a practical exam. Work consistently on these areas throughout the year.

3. Take Care of Choosing Pieces: Strategic Piece Selection

Pick songs that are on the syllabus but not in the current books. My students love doing something unique.

It’s also refreshing for an examiner to hear something totally different. Choose pieces that highlight your piano student’s strengths.

Here’s a list of some of the interesting pieces that my students have worked on for exams.

4. Try Memorizing in Sections: Don’t Practice Until You Get it Right, Practice Until You Can’t Get it Wrong

Divide pieces into logical sections according to form and phrasing and label them A, B, C etc. Be sure to compare similar sections. This is especially important for a Sonatina.

It’s important to learn and memorize pieces hands separately and hands together in sections.

Your student should be able to start from any section. This gives them safely nets throughout the piece.

Tell them to keep going in a performance. Go to the next section if you must, but NEVER go back.

Practice ‘jumping’. Have your student start their piece, then call out a section. The student must jump to that section and keep going!

My theory is that there are three levels of memory:

  1. You can play it at home, but it’s still shaky at your lesson
  2. You can play it at your lesson, but it’s not ready for performance.
  3. You can play it for anyone anywhere at any time!

Note: You can find more helpful pedagogical blog posts on The Student Music Organizer website.

A practical piano exam is made up of many different components…. technique, studies, pieces, ear training, and sight reading. Using these keys will help your students unlock their maximum potential. Good luck preparing your students for their music exams.

Photo by Ann

Guest Post Author: Darlene Irwin
Darlene Irwin is a registered music teacher in Ontario, Canada. She blogs about creative ways to teach music and is very successful in sharing the love of music with her students. She is also the creator of The Student Music Organizer, a super organized music dictation and resource book for students of all ages and disciplines.

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5 Powerful Ways Music Can Improve Your Memory

5 Powerful Ways Music Can Improve Your MemoryDon’t you wish you could remember everything you want? Although it’s just about impossible to do that, the good news is you can get very close! In this article, you’ll learn about the effect of music on memory and how to use it to your advantage…

 

We like to think that memory is a key indicator of our intellectual abilities. After all, that’s what makes us such a capable species. Without memory, we wouldn’t be able to pass down information from generation to generation, which is how we evolve. Therefore, we like to believe that memory is linked only to reason and intellect.

However, recent studies have revealed that other factors –  such as emotions, stress, food, and hormones – can have a huge impact on the way we remember information. This is why we aim to further understand the effect of music on memory; music is one of the few elements we can actually manipulate in order to create more robust memories.

Before we recommend how you can use memory-boosting music in your studies, let’s first look at the scientific reasoning behind the effect of music on memory.

1The Science Behind Memory-Boosting Music

In order to truly understand the science, let’s start with an example: You’ll be taking a test tomorrow and you’re reading the same old notes, but you can’t seem to remember anything.

And it’s surprising, because we know that concentrating long and hard enough on something makes us remember it. What’s the reasoning behind that? Well, pieces of information that we focus on are transformed into electrical impulses that travel between the brain’s neurons through synapses. That means if we repeat something often, we’ll strengthen the bond between neurons and create a memory.

But why can’t you seem to remember something you really want to, especially when you’re trying hard to focus with all of your attention? Long-term memories are stored by the hippocampus, a region in the brain which is also influenced by proper maintenance of the “working memory.” The working memory itself is influenced by attention.

hippocampus-148151_640

However, attention in this case isn’t equivalent to concentration, but to a more meditative state, affected by the production of alpha and theta waves by the brain. The alpha waves allow deep concentration, while the theta waves bring calmness and relaxation.

The Reason We Can’t Remember Things

So here’s the answer: Many times stress is what disconcerts our brain, making it harder for us to learn new things. To counteract the negative effects that stress has on our memory, we must create the same calmness for ourselves.

With that said, scientists found that music induces a state of meditation and relaxes the brain. Thus, the effect of music on memory is that it allows our brains to become more disengaged, or more free of “debris” which impede their proper functions.

If you want your test scores to be as high as possible, consider listening to music while studying.

What About Long-Term Memory?

Apart from momentary stress (or acute stress) caused by nervousness-inducing tasks, chronic stress is another disruptor for the formation of long-term memories. Chronic stress is worse than acute stress because it causes actual health problems, like high blood pressure and heart disease.

By messing with our hormones, chronic stress can cause loss of brain matter, affecting already-formed synapses (i.e. long-term memories). The same consequence is triggered by depression, an affliction correlated with low levels of dopamine and serotonin (these are called “neurotransmitters”).

More to the point, both neurotransmitters play an important part in memory formation and they can both be influenced by music. Therefore, if you listen to adequate memory-boosting music while studying, chances are you’ll exceed your own expectations.

The Mozart Effect

A number of neurological studies have been conducted on this subject, but some of them present rather contradictory results. Regarding the well-known Mozart Effect, some scientists found that listening to Mozart before performing a certain task improves the subject’s ability to solve it correctly.

Meanwhile, others found that the Mozart Effect doesn’t affect test scores at all. Leaving that aside, they all agree that our cognitive abilities are enhanced when listening to Mozart and listening to classical music in general. The problem is that we don’t know by exactly how much.

The Vivaldi Effect

Another interesting article from the same research area shows that there is also a Vivaldi Effect. According to the studies, listening to Vivaldi’s “Spring” can boost both attention and memory. Participants in this study listened to all of Vivaldi’s “Four Seasons” concerts, but the first portion from “Spring” proved to be the most successful with regards to its memory-boosting properties.

The Results

All of these studies show that classical music has a definite impact on memory and attention, even though actual improvements in test scores are individual and can’t be predicted accurately. But other scientists argue that the effect of music on memory exists only if you enjoy it.

Ambient music and classical music with no lyrics prove to be the best in this respect because they don’t have distracting lyrics. Instead, they improve your mood and relax your mind. On the other hand, pop music appears to decrease errors in spell-checking by 14%!

25 Good Reasons to Listen to Memory-Boosting Music

Now that you know there’s scientific evidence for music improving your memory, let’s take a look at five wonderful benefits you’ll get from this practice. Memory-boosting music will:


1) Minimize your stress.

Stress can cause an unbearable amount of negative thoughts to barrage and cloud your brain. It can also be the reason you feel unmotivated to work or study. Give your brain some rest by using music as a distraction from your stress.

2) Improve your mood.

Listening to happy instrumental music will brighten your heart and mind. Give your ears some nice melodies and don’t be afraid to sing along! Singing is a great way to exercise your mind and body.

3) Allow you to think more clearly.

Let your thoughts follow the organized musical patterns and rhythms for you to focus better. Studies show that our brains operate by rhythms. By listening to the rhythms found in memory-boosting songs, you’ll be able to study in a clear and calculated manner.

4) Keep your eyes on the goal.

Listening to more alert musical pieces motivates you more and thus enhances your attention. You can essentially be “pumped-up” by a song and use that energy to accomplish the task at hand.

5) Allow yourself quick breaks.

Taking a few moments to hum along with your favorite piece gives you some time to ruminate new information, while also allowing you to reward yourself. The music can be a good reminder that you’ve been studying too long and need a break.

3Memory-Boosting Songs

The following songs are meant to improve your concentration while you work or study. Some are more calming than others, and some are more boisterous than others. Play around with the different selections and see which ones enhance your thinking, motivation, or anything memory-related.


1) Eine kleine Nachtmusik by Mozart

Eine Kleine Nachtmusik has a vivacious tempo which will make you feel more energized. It’ll also enhance your dopamine levels! That in turn will help you remember new information better.


2) Moonlight Sonata by Beethoven

Moonlight Sonata inspires peace and tranquility, adjusting your serotonin production. The more engaging parts bring back your focus if you start slacking.


3) Four Seasons by Vivaldi

Four Seasons offers you a mix of emotions that’ll keep you on your toes. It’s better to listen to this piece if you’re doing a routine task, or even if you’re taking a break.


4) Bassoon Concerto by Mozart

Bassoon Concerto provides you with a light-hearted rhythm to guide your thoughts along a natural, cursive path of reason and emotion.


5) Espiritual by Marcus Viana e Transfônica Orkestra

Espiritual will give you some ambient music to enjoy and increase your productivity. The instruments play in a mellow fashion that’ll assist with your concentration.


6) Bohemian Rhapsody by Queen

Bohemian Rhapsody instills a motivating rhythm, but also helps create a relaxed atmosphere. Not to mention the satisfaction your brain must feel when listening to this true work of art, with varying melodic lines and exciting tempo changes.


7) Fidelio’s Overture by Beethoven

Fidelio’s Overture is an energetic piece that won’t let you slip into the dream-world while studying. It’ll motivate you enough on the more intense bits, but it’ll also allow you some sense of calmness during the other parts.


8) No Ordinary Love by Sade

No Ordinary Love has a very structured rhythm (like a lot of usual love songs). It has lyrics, but the singer’s voice is really suave and you won’t lose your focus. However, humming along here and there may actually help new information stick better.


9) Soldier of Fortune by Deep Purple

Soldier of Fortune is a great song to listen to when trying to study. It’s quite repetitive, so you won’t feel compelled to pay much attention to changes in rhythm and intensity.


10) Thus Spoke Zarathustra by Richard Strauss

Thus Spoke Zarathustra is an inspiring piece that’s not distracting at all. It’ll help you get into a consistent pace with your studying.


Conclusion

Did you memorize everything you just read? Just kidding! We hope that you enjoyed learning more about the effect of music on memory. To learn more awesome facts about music, or for more invaluable study tips, schedule a lesson with a private teacher.

 

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violin bow hold

10 Sure-Fire Ways to Improve Your Violin Bow Hold [Video]

violin bow hold

If you want to be a successful violinist, you need to learn proper technique, and that starts with your violin bow hold. Unfortunately, it’s easy to pick up bad habits. Austin, TX violin teacher Naomi S. is here to help; follow this guide to master your violin bow hold and improve your sound…

Proper violin bow hold is imperative to building a foundation as a budding violinist, but bow hold can be one of the most challenging aspects to master on the violin. Your bow hold affects your bow tone and your overall sound quality. A poor bow hold can cause a lot of roadblocks as you develop, so make sure to address the issue right away, and get really comfortable with your violin bow.

Most of my students look at me like I’m crazy when I show them how to hold a violin bow. In the beginning, it’s not always psychically possible to hold the bow correctly. When you hold your bow properly, you use a delicate set of muscles that you might not use in your everyday life, so it takes lots of time, repetition, and strength building to get your hand ready for the task.

Since you may be unsure of all the specifics of proper violin bow hold, I’m going to walk you through it, step by step, in this video tutorial.


Violin Bow Hold for Beginners

While the video will help you learn proper violin bow hold technique, I also have some helpful tips that you should keep in mind as you play. Here are 10 important things to look out for as you work to master your violin bow hold.


10 Ways  to Improve Your Violin Bow Hold Technique

violin bow hold

When you hold your violin bow, place your thumb on the little bump that’s under the stick and attached to the frog. Your thumb needs to remain bent at the middle joint, at all times, as all of your fingers on the bow hold curve inward and not outward.

This helpful trick goes for children as well as adults– if your thumb is flexed and curved, like a banana, you need to correct it and bend at the joint.

“Bananas” happen to almost all new violinists, especially for the first few months, but if you keep correcting yourself, your muscle memory will kick in and start to remember how the thumb should feel.

violin bow hold

Your first finger, or pointer finger, should wrap around the grip. It’s usually a little black strip of leather or soft plastic for your first finger to grip onto. One common mistake is for students to reach up too far and place the first finger on the bow stick instead of the grip. Think of your finger as a hook that wraps around the grip and keeps your hand anchored and in place.

As you practice, make sure to watch out for these seven common violin mistakes!

violin bow hold

Your middle finger and ring finger, often referred to as the “huggers,” don’t do a lot in the bow hold other than wrap or hug the frog. Make sure that you have your fingers bent at the middle joint and snug on the frog.

Many students place the tips of their fingers towards the top of the frog (near the bow stick), but it’s important to make sure the pads of your fingers are placed towards the bottom of the frog, so that you have full coverage over the frog and good balance for your entire hand.

violin bow hold

Almost all bows come with a little white or light-colored dot on the bow. You may wonder if that dot has a purpose, but it can actually help you with your bow hold! The dot acts as a guide so that you can make sure your hand is positioned correctly. The pad of your ring finger should cover this dot.

Always check back while you’re playing to make sure your ring finger lines up with the dot.

violin bow hold

As illustrated in the video above, the pinky or little finger’s job is to sit high on the stick and act as a weight to balance out the thumb. Like all of your fingers, in order to maintain good form and keep pressure off the fingers, the pinky should be curved at the middle joint.

A common issue for beginners is that the pinky wants to flex the other direction, which creates a “french fry” look. If your little finger looks like a french fry and is not curved under, make sure you correct it right away. Like “banana” thumbs, these french fries will pop in every chance they get when you’re first learning because your fingers haven’t built the strength they need to master this unusual hand position.

violin bow hold

When you play a stringed instrument, it’s important to keep your fingernails on your left hand clipped and tidy, so that your fingers can go down easily on the strings. When you clip your fingers, however, make sure not to clip your thumb nail on your right hand (bow hand) too short. You can clip it, but it’s helpful not to cut the white part all the way off.

When you clip your nail too short, it can cause friction on your thumb against the bump where it rests. This can tug at your skin which makes it uncomfortable to play. If you leave a little sliver of the white part of your nail, it can help you grip the bump and act as a shield against any discomfort.

violin bow hold

Remember, your bow hold is not a death grip! You’re not holding onto the bow stick for dear life, you’re holding onto it to create beautiful, emotive music.

Your violin bow hold should be delicate and graceful. Hold the bow tenderly, so that it might be possible for someone to grab the stick out of your hand.

Sometimes, during more intense sections in your songs, your grip may tighten, but always be mindful to loosen up when you can, so that your hand doesn’t get tired during the song.

violin bow hold

It’s common for beginners’ bow hands to look like mountaintops. If your hand forms into the shape of a steep mountain with your knuckles popping up in the air, take time and care to make sure to bend each finger at the middle joint, and relax your hand down, into the position of a nice, rounded hill or plateau.

violin bow hold

Similar to the mountaintop hand, your wrist may start to bend (too much) when learn how to hold your bow. As a beginner, your wrist should generally be in a straight or neutral pose. Eventually, as you draw the bow up towards the ceiling across your strings your wrist will bend and as you push the bow down towards the floor your wrist will flex. This sort of technique may take years to develop but it’s good to keep a relaxed and flexible wrist from the get go so that you can start to build good wrist foundation.

Eventually, as you draw the bow up towards the ceiling across your strings, your wrist will bend, and as you push the bow down towards the floor, your wrist will flex. This sort of technique may take years to develop but it’s good to keep a relaxed and flexible wrist from the get go so that you can start to build good wrist foundation.

This sort of technique may take years to develop, but it’s good to try to keep your wrist relaxed from the get go, so that you can  build a solid foundation.

violin bow hold

Last but not least, check in on your bow hold, constantly! Take breaks during your songs and glance back at your bow hand to make sure all your fingers are in place.

If something is off, stop everything and fix it right away. Sometimes, your hand may cramp up, and that’s a good time to take a break and shake it to let the muscles relax.

Eventually, you’ll become so aware of your bow hold that you’ll be able to correct things like “bananas” and “french fries” as you play, without stopping. In time, with enough practice and spot checking, these issues will go away.


Violin Bow Hold Exercises

Windshield Wipers

Here’s an excellent exercise to help develop the hand strength and flexibility you need to improve your violin bow hold.

Make sure to do this exercise every day for the first few months, until your bow hold becomes stable. You can start off by doing 10 repetitions, and then gradually increase to sets of 30.

It’s important not to overdo it when you first start learning, so pace yourself and take breaks in between your exercises.

Memorize the finger placement of the bow hold, remember the 10 pointers above, and use the Windshield Wiper exercise every day, and you’ll be well on your way to a flawless violin bow hold. Remember, proper violin bow hold technique leads to great sound quality and bow tone!

Have questions about your violin bow hold? Ask your teacher or let us know in the comments below! 

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.

Photo courtesy Changjin Lee

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