french conversation starters

22 MORE Useful French Phrases for Striking Up a Conversation

french conversation starters

Casual conversations with French speakers are a great way to practice your language skills! Here, tutor Beth L. shares 22 useful French phrases that will come in handy…

When learning a new language, it’s important to keep on talking — and listening — to practice your new skills. If you’ve already learned basic conversational phrases, now it’s time to move on to some more interesting conversation topics!

To help you practice and prompt your new French-speaking friends, below are some useful French phrases to use. In each case, the first version is formal, while the second is informal.

French Conversation Starters

  1. Qu’est-ce que vous faites ce weekend? / Qu’est-ce que tu fais ce weekend?
    What are you doing this weekend?
  2. Que’est-ce que vous avez fait le week-end dernier? / Qu’est-ce que tu as fait le week-end dernier?
    What did you do last weekend?
  3. Comment est-ce que vous allez passer vos vacances? / Comment est-ce que tu vas passer tes vacances?
    How are you going to spend your vacation?
  4. Quelles autres langues est-ce que vous parlez? / Quelles autres langues est-ce que tu parles?
    What other languages do you speak?
  5. De quelle nationalité êtes-vous? / De quelle nationalité es-tu?
    What is your nationality?
  6. Qu’est-ce que vous faites dans votre temps libre? / Qu’est-ce que tu fais dans ton temps libre?
    What do you do in your spare time?
  7. Quelles sont vos sports préférés? / Quelles sont tes sports préférés?
    What are you favorite sports?
  8. Quelles sont vos chansons préférées? / Quelles sont tes chansons préférées?
    What are your favorite songs?
  9. Où est-ce que vous avez voyagé? / Où est-ce que tu as voyagé?
    Where have you traveled?
  10. Où est-ce que vous voudriez voyager? / Où est-ce que tu voudrais voyager?
    Where would you like to travel?
  11. Qu’est-ce que vous aimez manger? / Qu’est-ce que tu aimes manger?
    What do you like to eat?
  12. Où habitez-vous? / Où habites-tu?
    Where do you live?
  13. Qu’est-ce que vous faites comme travail? / Qu’est-ce que tu fais comme travail?
    What kind of work do you do?
  14. Quelle est votre matière préférée à l’école / au collège / au lycée / à l’université? / Quelle est ta matière préférée à l’école / au collège / au lycée / à l’université?
    What is your favorite subject matter in school / middle school / high school / university?
  15. Est-ce que vous avez un chien / un animal de compagnie? / Est-ce que tu as un chien / un animal de compagnie?
    Do you have a dog / pet?
  16. Est-ce que vous avez des frères ou des sœurs? Décrivez-le. / Est-ce que tu as des frères ou des sœurs? Décris-le.
    Do you have brothers or sisters? Describe them.
  17. Quel est ton film préféré? Pourquoi? / Quel est ton film préféré? Pourquoi?
    What is your favorite film? Why?
  18. Quel est votre livre préféré? / Quel est ton livre préféré?
    What is your favorite book?
  19. Qui es votre acteur / actrice préféré(e)? Pourquoi? / Qui es ton acteur / actrice préféré(e)? Pourquoi?
    Who is your favorite actor? Why?
  20. Qui est ton musicien préféré? / Qui est ton musicien préféré?
    Who is your favorite musician?
  21. Quel est votre endroit préféré? Décrivez-le. / Quel est ton endroit préféré? Décris-le.
    What is your favorite place? Describe it.
  22. Si vous pouviez vivre n’importe où, vous choisiriez quel endroit? / Si tu pouvais vivre n’importe où, tu choisirais quel endroit?
    If you could live anywhere, where would you live?

useful French phrases for conversations

Not sure where to bring up these French phrases? Check out some ideas for practicing conversational French here. And of course, these phrases will come in handy when you’re working with your French tutor, as well! The more speaking and listening practice you get, the faster you’ll learn.

CarolPost Author: Carol Beth L.
Carol Beth L. teaches French lessons in San Francisco, CA. She has her Masters in French language education from the Sorbonne University in Paris and has been teaching since 2009. Learn more about Carol Beth here!

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Photo by Pedro Ribeiro Simões

How to Sing and Play Ukulele at the Same Time in 4 Easy Steps

MO - Learn to Sing and Play Ukulele at the Same Time in 4 Easy Steps

Learning to play an instrument is difficult enough, but what about trying to sing at the same time? It’s really not as hard as it sounds! Here, teacher Willy M. takes you through the steps to play the ukulele while singing…

It doesn’t matter what instrument I teach (piano, guitar, harmonica, drums, banjo, mandolin, ukulele, and voice), every student I ever have, with the exception of those playing harmonica, asks, “How do I sing and play my instrument at the same time?”

The ukulele is certainly no exception. Learning how to sing and play ukulele simultaneously is a lot like learning how to pat your stomach and rub your head at the same time. Or is it pat your head and rub your stomach? I don’t know, but you get the idea — it can be hard!

So here are four easy steps to help you learn how to sing and play the ukulele at the same time.


1. Practice singing the entire song with one chord and a simple strumming pattern

First of all, your left brain controls your right hand. So if you are right-handed like most people and are approaching the ukulele, you’ll handle strumming fairly well.

But when you start forming ukulele chords with the left hand, your right brain kicks in and suddenly you’re plunged into a chaotic world of trying to keep up while both sides of your brain are firing off stimuli and building synapses.

And then you want to try to sing. What part of the brain controls that, the middle part? Suddenly, playing the ukulele becomes more like juggling than just strumming and playing.

To make this process simpler, break it down into bite-sized chunks. All you have to do is hold down your first chord and sing along while strumming the main pattern of the song. You see little kids doing this all the time. They get an instrument and strum away, singing whatever song their little hearts desire. This really is the first step to learning how to play and sing. It’s so simple that just about anyone can do it.

Let’s look at a really simple song to help you get the picture. Below are the lyrics and chords for “Froggie Went A-Courtin’.” I would suggest you check out Bob Dylan’s version of the song. It’s a very simple tune with just three chords. This song is in the key of D. Try playing through the song and just play the D chord.

Froggie Went a-Courtin’

D
Froggie went a-courtin’ and he did ride, ah hah
A7
Froggie went a-courtin’ and he did ride, ah hah
D
Froggie went a-courtin’ and he did ride,
G                                  D       A7      D
With a sword and a pistol by his side, ah hah, ah hah, ah hah


2. Practice singing the entire song with two chords and a simple strumming pattern

The second step to mastering playing and singing at the same time is to add in the second most popular chord in the song. If you are playing a song in G, and D is the second most popular chord, then the only chord change you need to worry about at this point is going from the G to the D chord. Practice the change several times until you feel comfortable with it, and then go for singing the song.

When you play through the song this way, you give little thought to the strumming pattern or the G chord because you already practiced it (and you don’t really think much about the singing either because you practiced that too).

You will find that lyrics you are unfamiliar with might throw you off a little, but the more you sing the song, the easier it’ll be to memorize the lyrics. If you need to take a moment and read through the lyrics, it should help you when you sing. Now the only thing to worry about is changing chords from the G to the D.

Once you learn the essential ukulele chords, you’ll be set to handle most songs. In the above song, the next chord that is popular is the A7 chord. Play though the song and add the change to the A7.


3. Practice singing the entire song with three chords and a simple strumming pattern

Now that you’ve mastered going from the first chord to the second chord, adding the third chord shouldn’t be too much of a struggle. If it is, just keep at it and go slowly over the parts that are hard for you.

Repeat them several times until you have it down. Before you know it, you will be singing and playing most of the song with ease. I recommend learning various strum patterns, that way you’re equipped for learning more songs.

In “Froggie,” the last chord is a G chord. Practice through the song again and add the G chord while you sing and play.


4. If there are other playing techniques, follow the above practice routine

Last but not least, there are often other elements of a song that are tricky.

Does the song switch rhythm for a certain portion, perhaps the bridge or the chorus? Does the song require some complicated finger-picking patterns on a certain part of it? Are there other more complicated chords that give you some grief?

Don’t worry, we all experience these things in our learning process. The key is to just keep working at the hard parts, adding a part at a time until you’ve mastered both playing the song and singing it.

In the final run-through of the song, try adding all of the chords and maybe add some finger-picking to give yourself an extra workout!

So there you have it — four easy steps to help you play your ukulele (or any instrument, actually) and sing at the same time. I hope you find this helpful.

What will really help you is having a qualified teacher walk you through how to break down the harder portions into smaller bite-sized chunks, and TakeLessons is the perfect place to get a teacher who can help you become the best ukulele player you can be! Once you have it down, try to sing and play some pirate songs on the ukulele!

 

Willy MPost Author: Willy M.
Willy M. teaches guitar, ukulele, and mandolin lessons in Winston, NC. He is the author of the Dead Man’s Tuning series of mandolin songbooks, and is a former member of the American Federation of Musicians. Willy has been teaching for 20 years, and his students have ranged in age from young children to folks in their 80s. Learn more about Willy here!

Photo by Dorret

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efficient language learners

8 Characteristics of Successful Language Learners | Language Tips

efficient language learners

What do the most successful language learners have in common? Find out eight common traits in this post from Spanish tutor Jason N

 

When you first start learning a new language, it might seem frustrating. There are tons of new vocabulary words and new grammar rules to learn, and listening to native speakers may make your head spin.

But don’t give up! You successfully learned one language well so far (or you wouldn’t be understanding this post!), so you can clearly learn another. And the fact that you’re even reading this article shows me another important factor — that you’re motivated to learn!

Outside of that, though, some people seem to learn languages faster than others. More often than not, it’s because they possess certain traits and characteristics that help them along the way. I’ve been tutoring for a while now, so I started thinking about what these traits are.

Here are the characteristics I see in my most successful language students:

1) Observant

The most effective language learners spend time and energy outside of classes and lessons trying to understand the language’s clues, patterns, structure, and organization. Along with this, you should keep notes to monitor what you’ve learned, and come prepared with questions for your tutor, teacher, or professor.

Learning Tip: As you learn, immediately apply new words and grammatical concepts/rules by writing or speaking. You’ll likely already be doing this with your tutor, but continue practicing in between your lessons, too. Pay attention to contextual clues as you speak with others, and write down any patterns you notice.

2) Pragmatic

My best students know what works and what doesn’t for their personal learning style. This includes an active approach in tailoring your personal preferences and needs in all learning situations, so you don’t waste time on what is ineffective for you.

This characteristic also involves thoughtfulness, including picking up on the objective of a given in-class exercise and why it’s important to your overall language learning.

Learning Tip: Figure out your learning style, and make sure your tutor knows it too.

3) Dedicated

Super-learners believe they can always learn something, even if they dislike or struggle with a given concept, topic, or rule. They steadfastly seek learning environments that facilitate their unique needs and goals.

They also know there are no shortcuts when it comes to learning! Efficient language learning requires a combination of a great teacher or tutor, the right learning resources, and a commitment to practicing on your own time.

Learning Tip: Supplement your lessons with other ways of interacting and learning. This could include taking an online group class, playing a language-learning game, or listening to a podcast during your commute to and from work or school.

4) Fearless

My best students frequently seek out opportunities to chat with native or experienced speakers, with the aim of communicating and understanding before accurateness. Down the road, while temporarily prioritizing communication, super-learners know they will learn to balance communicating with accuracy as they improve.

Learning Tip: Don’t be afraid to leave your comfort zone! Seek out opportunities to chat with others, whether they’re native speakers or another student learning the same language. If you get nervous, check out these conversation tips.

5) Patient and centered

Research has shown the best way to learn is with a relaxed, yet alert inner-posture. In my five years of experience as a tutor and 12 years as a Spanish language learner, I have seen that one’s attitude, including patience with the process, can be more important than your initial skill level and intelligence!

Learning Tip: If  you’re feeling frustrated with your progress, take a step back. Learning a new language takes time, and some concepts and rules may seem easier than others. Let your tutor know if you’re struggling with something, and spend extra time on that.

6) Realistic

Most languages are highly complex. Efficient language learners are realistic, systematic, and goal-oriented in their approach. The involves an active long-term commitment, effective organization, and knowing that it’s unrealistic to aim for perfection.

Learning Tip: Think about your short- and long-term goals, and write them down. Make sure they’re realistic and reachable! If you have a busy schedule, you may not have a ton of time to set aside — and that’s OK. Just make sure you’re noticing consistent progress, no matter how small.

7) Personable

As trait #4 mentioned, consistent contact with experienced and/or native speakers is key. Super-learners have the social support needed to continually practice the language, in all types of settings.

Learning Tip: Get as much practice as you can speaking in your target language! Chat with other students online, find a language exchange partner, or teach a family member what you’ve learned so far.

8) Worldly

Lastly and most importantly, efficient language learning requires embracing the culture of the new language! They know that a language is much more than vocab and grammar; it’s an entirely new way of conceptualizing and seeing the world.

Learning Tip: If you have the resources, consider traveling to a country where the language is spoken. Immersion is proven to help you learn faster, as you’ll get real-life practice.

Recap – 8 Characteristics You Need for Effective Language Learning

8 characteristics of effective language learners

As you can see, there’s nothing inherently special about these students — these traits can all be mastered throughout the learning process.

Getting started is the first step. Find a language tutor today and you’ll be on your way to speaking a new language!

Photo by Nazareth College

JasonNPost Author: Jason N.
Jason N. tutors in English and Spanish in Athens, GA. He majored in Spanish at UC Davis, lived in Mexico for 3 years where he completed a Master’s degree in Counseling, and studied Spanish Literature and Psychology at the University of Costa Rica. Learn more about Jason here!  

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Gibson vs Fender best guitar brand

Gibson vs. Fender: Which Brand Do Pro Guitar Players Prefer?

Gibson vs Fender best guitar brand

In the Gibson vs. Fender debate, where do you stand? Here, professional musician Michael L. shares his thoughts on the two brands…  

There’s nothing like being a guitar player, am I right?

You’ve got your pick of genres to explore, from jazz to country to metal. You have amazing guitarists to look up to and learn from. And when it comes to gear, you have your pick of some of the coolest innovations to make your sound rock.

If you’re like most guitarists,  you like to talk about your gear, too. You’ll find heated debates online about the best guitar amps, strings, pedals, and more. And if you’re in the market for your first guitar, you’ll likely get a lot of (unsolicited) advice about the best guitar brands and models.

One of the biggest rivalries in the world of electric guitars is Gibson vs. Fender. Many guitar players have allegiances to their favorite company, although both produce professional-grade guitars.

So, which brand is better? To start, let’s review the history of both companies, as well as a general breakdown of the types of guitars offered. Then, I’ll share my personal preference between the guitar manufacturers.

All About Gibson Guitars

Gibson dates back to the late 1800s, when Orville Gibson patented a mandolin design that was much more durable than other instruments at that time. He sold these instruments out of a one-room workshop in Kalamazoo, MI, until his death in 1918. The designs lived on, however, as the company hired designer Lloyd Lear to continue creating new instruments.

In 1936, the company invented the first commercially successful Spanish-style electric guitar, the ES 150 (ES stands for Electric Spanish). Next came the P-90 pickup in 1946 and the Les Paul in 1952.

The Les Paul, perhaps the most iconic model from the company, was Gibson’s first solid body electric guitar. In 1958 Gibson also introduced semi-hollow body guitars with the ES-335. Afterward came the Gibson SG and Firebird in the 1960s.

Since then Gibson has stayed on top of the list of premier instrument manufacturers.

All About Fender Guitars

Leo Fender started Fender Guitars in 1946, and his first innovation was the production of solid body guitars. Up until then, electric guitars were made with hollow bodies, meaning that they were somewhat fragile and somewhat complicated in design. Leo Fender’s guitars offered a more straightforward design; the were bodies made from one solid block of wood and the bridges were simply attached to the body, removing the need for extra calibration of elevated bridges.

The first commercially available guitar from Fender was the Telecaster, originally called the Tele, in 1951. That same year Leo Fender also invented the electric bass. Until then, bassists had to use an upright bass, making it difficult to hear the bass while electric guitars and drums were being played.

Next, the Stratocaster hit the market in 1954, introducing a tremolo bridge (or whammy bar) to the world. Fender kept the amazing innovations coming, introducing the Jaguar, Jazzmaster, Jazz Bass, and Twin Reverb amp over the next decade.

Gibson vs. Fender: Style & Adaptability

When choosing between Fender or Gibson, there are many factors to consider. The main factor for me is style adaptability. Both Fender and Gibson have different models for different musical styles and tastes.

Gibson vs Fender

The Gibson Style

Gibson’s electric guitars generally sport humbucker pickups, known for their thicker, rounder tone. You also get less feedback, which limits the types of delay and overdrive tones you can experiment with, but ensures a cleaner and more consistent sound. Gibson mainly uses mahogany for their guitar bodies, which is what gives it that slightly darker sound.

Another feature that affects a Gibson guitar’s sound is the scale length. Gibson typically uses a 24.75″ scale length, producing warmer, muddy overtones.

Outside of the sound created, Gibson guitars also feel different to players. Gibsons typically have a longer fingerboard radius, at 12″, which means a fatter neck. With a fatter neck, the strings are at a more even height, which may help you play faster.

Gibson Guitars

Gibson Les Paul

Les Paul guitars in particular boast a full tone that can serve as an entire rhythm section if need be. With a switch of pickups, you can also find a lead tone that cuts through, while still maintaining low-end frequencies. Jimmy Page, Joe Perry, and Zakk Wylde are known for playing Les Pauls.

A Gibson SG, another example, is a straight rock-n-roll or punk rocker guitar. It’s shrill with big low frequencies, which is great for blues. Sister Rosetta Tharpe, Angus Young, and Tony Iommi favor the SG.

The Fender Style

Fender guitars have a bit of a different sound, again because of the way they’re made. Fenders are usually made with alder and ash, producing a brighter tone and offering a lighter feel.

Fender typically uses a 25.5″ scale length, which provides a rich, almost bell-like tone.

And for its fingerboard, Fender typically uses a shorter radius (7.25-9.5″), offering a thinner, curved neck. Beginners and players with small hands might find these thinner necks more comfortable.

Fender Guitars

Fender Stratocaster

The single coil pickups of a Stratocaster, in particular, may be your preference if you like lots of treble in your tone and want to make lead lines pop.

Some famous Stratocaster players are Jimi Hendrix, Stevie Ray Vaughan, John Frusciante, and Jeff Beck.

Telecaster tone, on the other hand, has a bit of a flat thud to it. The notes generally don’t have a full sustain and the lipstick pickup promotes more mid to low frequencies.

Players like Joe Strummer, Keith Richards, and Prince favor telecasters.

Who Wins?

For me, it’s difficult to take a personal side in the Fender vs. Gibson debate. Both companies have produced legendary instruments that have shaped music around the world. Both have helped define electric guitar tone.

However, I will have to side with Fender in this arena. I love the feel of Fender instruments, particularly Jazzmaster and Telecasters. Both have broad, flat necks that fit my fingers and a tone that sounds divine. The Telecaster has an honest thud to its sound and the Jazzmaster gives you a full range of tonal experimental possibilities.

What Other Opinions Are Out There?

Search through any guitar forum or blog, and you’ll find tons of information about Fender, Gibson, and other guitar brands. If you’d like to research some more before casting your vote, here are some articles and posts to check out:

Your Turn

Which guitar brand is best? Cast your vote here:

 

Which guitar brand is better?

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Don’t have an opinion yet? If you’re trying to decide which guitar to buy, don’t just trust the poll results. Try out different guitar brands, models, and styles, and you’ll find what you like best.

And once you have that perfect guitar, it’s time to improve your skills! Search for guitar teachers in your area and get help with playing chords, songs, and much more. Good luck!

Photo by Larry Ziffle

Willy MPost Author: Michael L.
Michael teaches ukulele, guitar, drums, and music theory in Austin, TX. In addition to private lessons, Michael teaches music to special education students and foster children with Kids in a New GrooveLearn more about Michael here!

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save money on music lessons

Private Lessons Don’t Need to Be Expensive – Here’s How to Save

save money on music lessons

Want to learn how to play guitar? Speak a second language? Step up your selfie game with new photography skills?

These days, there are plenty of ways to get started and many routes to reaching your goals.

But if you want the best learning experience, there’s no question that hands-on lessons and classes are the way to go. Sure, you’ve got options for online programs and video series that cost next to nothing. But for most students, working with a teacher — one who will hold you accountable, correct your mistakes in real-time, and customize your lessons just for you — is well worth the price.

Worried about your budget? Here’s the good news: private lessons don’t need to cost an arm and a leg! Keep reading to find out some of the ways our budget-conscious students decrease their costs and make room for music lessons, language lessons, and more.

Opt for online.

save money on online music lessons - 1

Many TakeLessons teachers and tutors offer online lessons — and our research has shown that, on average, students taking online lessons spend 20% less than those taking in-studio lessons. It’s a convenient option for both student and teacher: there’s no need to commute anywhere, which saves you money on gas or public transportation.

Moreover, online lessons allow you to work with teachers from all across the U.S., giving you more options for finding the right teacher, at a lesson price that works for you.

Money-Saving Example: If you’re in a major city and want to find cheap lessons, you might see a teacher charging $35 for a 30-minute lesson, while an online teacher in another location might charge $25 for the same duration. If you take lessons once per week, this saves you $520 over the course of a year.

Here are some example prices from TakeLessons teachers:

juliaTeacher: Julia H.
Lesson location: In studio — Seattle, WA
Price: $35 for a 30-minute lesson
kevinTeacher: Kevin M.
Lesson location: Online
Price: $25 for a 30-minute lesson

Choose your teacher based on price.

find a cheap teacher for music lessons or language lessons

For some students, finding a teacher who offers the right availability is important. For others, price is the most important. That’s why we leave it up to you: we let our teachers set their own prices, so you can find the one that best suits your needs.

And with our handy search filters, finding those teachers is easier than ever. Once you run your initial teacher search, you’ll be able to see their starting price for lessons immediately; click into their profile to see how their rates change by location and duration.

Money-Saving Example: If budget is a concern, even a $5 difference will add up over time. In fact, if you’re taking weekly lessons, this saves you $260 over the course of a year.

Keep in mind, though: the price a teacher sets doesn’t indicate whether one is better than the other. Your specific needs and goals should also influence your decision. Aiming to be the next breakout singer? Working with a vocal teacher in Los Angeles or New York with experience in the industry might be non-negotiable for you. For others, you might work best with a teacher who doesn’t have 20+ years of experience, but is still enthusiastic and knowledgeable.

Here are some examples of how violin lesson prices can vary by teacher:

leannaTeacher: Leanna L.
Lesson location: In-studio — Austin, TX
Price: $35 for a 30-minute lesson
meganTeacher: Megan C.
Lesson location: In-studio — Austin, TX
Price: $25 for a 30-minute lesson

Adjust lesson length & frequency.

save money on music lessons and language lessons

Yes, learning a new skill takes time. But that doesn’t mean you need to cram it in as a beginner!

While some students can certainly benefit from an hour (or longer!) lesson, most teachers agree that starting with a 30-minute lesson, once per week, is perfectly fine. (You can always bump it up when you’re ready!)

A shorter lesson time gives you the opportunity to really gauge your interest in the subject, without overwhelming yourself or overcommitting. It’s also ideal for younger students, who have a shorter attention span and tend to get antsy during lessons.

Another option, although risky, is to switch your weekly lessons to every other week. Here’s the kicker: if you must go this route, most teachers will recommend upping your commitment to practicing outside of the lessons. To stay on track, you’ll need to supplement your lessons with other learning methods, such as online classes or apps.

Money-Saving Example: If you’re looking for cheap lessons, consider booking a 30-minute timeslot to start. You’ll likely see a $10-$15 difference in price compared to the 60-minute timeslot, which saves you $780 over the course of a year.

Here is an example of guitar lesson prices based on lesson length:

brianTeacher Brian P.
Lesson Location: In-studio — Culver City, CA
Price: $40 for a 30-minute lesson
$45 for a 45-minute lesson
$55 for a 60-minute lesson

Shop around for your materials and gear.

saving money on music lessons materials and gear

Most hobbies require some additional purchases: instruments and books for music students, cameras and software for photography students, mats and workout gear for yoga students, and so on.

And those materials can add a good chunk of change to your learning expenses, there’s no doubt about it.

The good news is, it’s totally OK to start out slow and postpone the pricey purchases until later, after you’ve been learning for a while.

As a beginner music student, for example, it’s not necessary to buy a brand new top-of-the-line instrument. Used instruments can be just as good as new ones, depending on how well the previous owner cared for it. Younger students can also rent instruments from local music shops. Ask your friends or family if they have extra instruments they aren’t using, or look on eBay, Craigslist, or Amazon for used instruments at heavily discounted prices.

Your teacher can also be a great resource for this; before you book your lessons, feel free to use our Ask a Question feature to get their insight and recommendations.

Hold yourself accountable.

save money on lessons

The best way to save money on lessons is to avoid wasting your money. We’ve shared how to stop wasting money on language lessons, specifically, and that also applies to music lessons, art lessons, and everything else!

Hold yourself accountable and commit to practicing in between your lessons. As you practice, take notes of what you’re struggling with, so you can review it with your teacher. And during your lessons, stay focused! You’re paying for your teacher’s time and expertise, so make the most of it.


Mastering a new skill can be a fantastic experience. And when you’re speaking Spanish fluently, performing a killer guitar solo in front of a crowd, or simply feeling confident at karaoke night, you’ll realize those lessons were money well spent.

Thousands of students have started new hobbies and reached their goals with TakeLessons teachers — will you be next?

Photo by Andrea Rose

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are language lessons worth it

How to Stop Wasting Your Money & Time on Language Lessons

are language lessons worth it

Are language lessons worth the money, or should you learn another way? French tutor Jinky B.  shares her tips here… 

 

Thinking about taking a language class or working individually with a language tutor for French, Spanish, or another language? With so many resources available these days, it can be a daunting task to pick the right way to learn. And it’s no secret that signing up for private language tutoring is usually one of the pricier options.

Aspiring learners often ask, “Are language lessons worth it, or are they a waste of money? Do they even work?”

Here’s the thing: while private lessons can be more expensive than using a free app online, the benefits of individual lessons can pay back tenfold.

Yes, those language lessons can be a waste of money — if you’re not taking learning seriously.

Language lessons and classes work — if you put in the effort.

In order to reach your language learning goals, here are five things you can do to better maximize your progress and not waste your money.

1. Determine your objectives and goals.

Let’s take a French student, for example. Why do you want to learn French? Do you have an upcoming ski trip to the French Alps? Are you moving to the south of France for graduate school? Do you want to perfect the French accent?

Decide the reason for your language lessons. Saying that you want to become fluent is too broad of an objective. Narrow down the specifics. When you’re on the ski trip, would you like to be able to talk to the ski instructors about une piste (a ski trail)? For your move for graduate school, would you like to be able to carry on a 30-minute conversation with a colleague about the lesson?

With your final objective in mind, this is why private lessons are so much more effective than other learning methods. Together with your tutor, you can break your objective down into manageable (and measurable) goals. Then, he or she will know exactly how to organize your time together. Reaching your goals and seeing the direct outcome of the money you’ve spent will help you understand that your lessons were worth it!

2. Practice every day.

Most students take language lessons once a week, but you’ll also need to commit to practicing on your own — every day. Fortunately, it doesn’t need to take up a ton of time, and you can even incorporate it into your daily life. If you like to drink a cup of coffee every morning, for example, use that 15 to 20 minutes while drinking your coffee to go over any new words or phrases that your teacher introduced that week.

If you’re not setting aside this time each day, you risk forgetting the information you’ve learned, which can set you back. Make the most of your money by committing yourself to at least 15 minutes every day. At your next lesson, your tutor will review your progress — and you’ll get direct feedback and corrections so you stay on track.

3. Make that practice time efficient.

Many students balance language lessons with work and other responsibilities — so the trick is to make sure the time you are spending on practice is efficient! For vocabulary in particular, the best way to learn is through rote memorization. Flashcards are a great way to do this: each week, create new flashcards using the new vocabulary words you’ve learned, with a picture on one side and the word on the other side. With this method, it’s best to not write out the English translation on the card, so that you’re training yourself to recognize your target language. Here’s an example for a French vocabulary word:

Apple Flashcard - French vocab

4. Talk out loud.

Another one of the biggest benefits to working with a tutor is having someone to talk to in your target language, who can also correct any mistakes you’re making. Staring at vocabulary words alone isn’t going to make you fluent. Instead, you need real-time conversation practice, and that’s what your language lessons and classes are for.

However, you should also be talking out loud when you’re practicing on your own. Pronounce each word as you review your flashcards, and with longer words, tap each syllable out. The more you actually speak the language, the better progress you’ll make.

Also, try to start conversations in your target language when you’re out and about! Here are 20 conversational Spanish phrases, and 25 conversational French phrases to get you started. If you want to go the extra mile, you can also find a local or online language learning group to practice with!

5. Review and prepare for your lessons.

Lastly, to really make the most of your language lessons, make a habit of properly preparing for them. During the week as you’re reviewing what you’ve learned, note items that you have difficulty mastering (pronunciation, grammar rules, translations, etc.). This way, you’ll have a list handy to go over with your tutor during the next lesson — which is exactly what they’re there for!

Your tutor will prepare lesson plans with your objectives and goals in mind, however, it’s important to communicate any obstacles that may be hindering the learning process. In the end, you’re the one in charge.


So there you have it: five tips for NOT wasting your time and money on language lessons. And in the future when you’re speaking in your target language with others — whether you’re on vacation, at your job, or meeting with new friends and family — you’ll realize that was money well-spent!

Make the move and commit to learning with a trained and experienced tutor who not only speaks another language, but wants to share their love for languages. Good luck!

Photo by Luka Knezevic – Strika

Post Author: Jinky B.
Jinky B. teaches French and ESL in Jacksonville, FL. She has her Bachelor’s of Arts in French, French Literature and Psychology from Florida State University and has over five years of teaching experience. Learn more about Jinky B. here!

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music theory games and exercises

The Practice Decathlon: 10 Music Theory Games & Exercises to Try

music theory games and exercises

Are you in a practice rut? Mix things up with these ear training exercises and music theory games for kids and beyond, compiled by music teacher Alicia B...

 

It’s no secret that professional athletes have to train rigorously to reach the top of the medal podium. The path of music is similar, and you’d be surprised how your training is no different! Learning to play an instrument takes dedicated practice, mental stamina, and an organized plan for success. But don’t worry — it doesn’t have to be just scales and etudes over and over.

Music games can be effective for all ages, and are worth incorporating in your practice time — especially if you feel like you’re in a rut! So adults, it’s time to bring out your inner kid. And parents, it’s time to grab the kids and have some fun as a family!

Here’s a set of music theory games and ear training exercises that you can play all summer long.

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Mastering The Staff

Age group: Kids to adults
Players needed: 1

One of the first building blocks of music is learning the musical staff (or staves). You may recall the first mnemonic device in order to learn your lines of the treble clef, “Every Good Boy Does Fine.” For this music theory exercise, let’s take this idea one step further with a memory game.

To begin, make a set of flashcards with a certain line or space (e.g. “first line” or “second space”) on the front, and the correct answer (e.g., “E” or “A,” respectively) on the back. Start a timer and see how many correct answers you can get in 30 seconds.

Making these cards without drawing an actual staff allows you to visualize it in your head, which jump-starts your recall abilities. Of course, you also have the option of using the staff. These note name flashcards are commonly available for purchase or you can search for printable versions.

Musictheory.net has a great online version of this game where you can set the range of notes, including all your ledger lines above and below the staff.

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Get Into The Rhythm

Age group: Kids to adults
Players needed: 1

We can all clap along to a beat, but how well can you tap it? This series of exercises focuses on separating your instrument from your rhythm reading, so all you’re required to do is tap your finger!

One way to practice is to take any line from the method book you use. Try to see if you can tap the correct rhythm along with a slow metronome. Can you get it right in one try?

There are a few apps that create this as a game where you tap along to a randomly generated notated rhythm. Some apps, like Rhythm Tap, also allow you to adjust the note values (so if you haven’t seen a triplet or sixteenth note just yet, don’t stress, you don’t have to include it).

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The Hot Potato Staff Game

Age group: Kids
Players needed: 2+

This is one of the music theory games I use with my own students! Parents, you can easily play it with your kids.

Gather players in a circle and start with your “potato” (in my case, it’s a stuffed frog named Mr. Hoppers). The game begins with you tossing the potato and immediately posing a question (e.g.,“What’s the letter name of the third line in treble clef?” or “Third line treble clef!” for short); the child who catches the potato responds and tosses it back.

This is a great game for students of all levels because it asks you to imagine the staff in your head, bridging a recall gap from just memorizing ‘Every Good Boy Does Fine.’

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Become Your Ear’s Personal Trainer

Age group: Teens to adults
Players needed: 1

It’s a common misconception that you either have a good musical ear or you don’t; with the right ear training exercises, you can definitely improve!

For this exercise, all you need is a keyboard and some Post-It Notes. Number your keys one through eight and close your eyes. With your left hand on key 1, randomly play a different numbered key with the right hand. Try to figure out what interval you heard. Open your eyes and check if you were right.

There are also a few apps for interval training; here’s one I like from Musictheory.net.

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Mission Transposition

Age group: Teens to adults
Players needed: 1

If you’ve learned a little bit about your key signatures, a fun way to revisit old material while improving your key signature knowledge is transposition! This music theory exercise is simple: take a song you know well (and have memorized) and start it on a different note. If it sounds funny, correct each note as you go along, and you’ll notice you’re actually following the key change that occurred.

A great way to start is with “Twinkle, Twinkle” in the key of C major, then moving it to G major (don’t forget your F sharp!), then F major (B flat city).

You can also give a twist to a “happy” song in C major by moving it three steps down to the more “sad” A minor.

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Music Marathon

Age group: Kids to adults
Players needed: 1

It’s surprising how often new students have actually never heard the different genres of music their instrument can offer. We often hear about binge-watching movies, but have you ever listened to an entire symphony? Sat through an opera or musical? What about a full album start to finish?

To be a gold-medal musician, you need to be a gold-medal music appreciator. Take the plunge and dedicate a block of time to listening without distraction. Take notes of what interested you or how it made you feel. These are the doors you open to yourself as you walk down the figurative music hallway. You may find a new genre and re-inspire yourself to pick up your instrument and start practicing!

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Pitch Detective

Age group: Teens to adults
Players needed: 2+

Similar to identifying intervals, recognizing pitches is a vital part of ear training. For this exercise, pick a major or minor key, and have another person play the root note (first note of the scale), and any other note in the scale. It’s your challenge to name not only the interval that was played, but the name of the note. This game gets particularly difficult when the flats and sharps increase. The more you play this game, the stronger your ear will become.

Once you master finding the pitch, ask a partner to play four notes in the scale (starting with the root), and see if you can write the notes down on staff paper.

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Rhythm Jumpers

Age group: Kids
Players needed: 2+

These next two music theory games are for kids again. This one takes elements from “Mother, May I?” to create a slow-moving race while jumping to correct rhythms. To play, the “mother” thinks of a note (or rhythm pattern) and asks each player to jump the rhythm (e.g. a single whole note would be one jump and holding four counts, while a half note/quarter/quarter pattern would be a jump lasting two counts followed by two more jumps). Whoever gets to the finish line (first) wins!

Kids love to utilize their whole bodies to learn. It’s a great break from sitting, and by the end, everyone will have learned note duration in a fun, physical way!

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Tempo Light

Age group: Kids
Players needed: 2+

All you need for this game is a finish line. Have the child(ren) line up and get ready to listen. To start, choose four tempos to shout out, all of which mean different speeds (similar to red light, green light). For example, shouting out “andante” means everyone goes at a walking pace, but “allegro” means go fast! See if they match the tempos correctly. If they don’t, it’s back to the starting line. Use your “red light” by shouting, “fermata!” and see how they freeze in their tracks.

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Performance Time

Age group: All ages
Players needed: 1

Last but not least, performing for others is a great way to get out of a practice rut — for all ages. Think of it as similar to the gymnastics’ floor routine: impressive, creative, stylistic, and acts as the culmination of other events.

For kids, a more casual performance, even if it’s for friends or family in the living room, can take the edge off of more formal performances. And for adults, you may not have the same recital opportunities as kids, so you’ll have to make your own. It may be nerve-wracking, but performing in front of others and overcoming stage fright is an important part of learning.

Remember, to become a “gold medal” musician, you have to play to win!

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More Music Theory Games for Kids & Beyond

AliciaBPost Author: Alicia B.
Alicia B. teaches piano, violin, music theory, and more in Miami, FL. She has 15+ years training in violin technique, and almost 10 years of classical piano experience. Learn more about Alicia here!

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singing in the summer

Summer Bummer: 6 Warm-Weather Dangers for Singers

singing in the summer

Are you paying attention to your vocal health? The summer season presents some unique challenges when it comes to caring for your voice. Learn a few summer tips for singers in this guest post by vocal teacher Elaina R

 

Summer is in full-swing! The season of green grass, hot sun, pool parties, and BBQs is my favorite time of year. But as a singer, I also have to watch out for the special hazards that warmer weather brings.

While winter is definitely a singer’s roughest season (zero humidity and the flu are no fun), summer holds some unexpected dangers for your vocal cords. Check out my summer tips for singers below, and have a fantastic and vocally healthy summer!

1. Dehydration

Hotter weather often means sweat and more time outside, so you have to be extra careful to stay hydrated. Vocal cords are made out of the same soft, moist stuff as the inside of your cheek, and when they don’t get enough water, they become more brittle and susceptible to damage. So be sure to drink plenty of water, not just for your vocal cords, but for your whole body!

2. Allergies

Unfortunately, all of the living things that make summer so gorgeous — flowers, trees, grass — can also cause allergies. Allergy symptoms can include coughing, sneezing, congestion, and a bunch of other problems that inhibit breathing and irritate the throat.

One of these issues, post-nasal drip, is particularly damaging to singers because it involves mucus dripping from the sinuses onto the vocal cords, irritating and inflaming them. Many singers (myself included) use OTC medications, nasal sprays, and neti pots to deal with these problems.

3. Amusement Parks

Amusement parks can be lots of fun, but they also encourage lots of vocal abuse: loud talking, yelling, and, of course, SCREAMING on the roller coasters and other rides. Screaming involves slamming your vocal cords together rapidly, and as you might imagine, it isn’t good for you. If you’ve ever found yourself hoarse after visiting an amusement park, you know exactly what I mean.

Luckily, I have a sneaky trick that can completely eliminate vocal damage at amusement parks. When I ride roller coasters and other rides, I open my mouth — but I don’t actually make any noise. No one notices, I have just as much fun, and my voice feels great at the end of the day!

4. Smoke

I love BBQs and bonfires, but smoke can cause coughing, wheezing, and mucus buildup. Avoiding this one is easy — just sit downwind of bonfires, and be careful not to inhale too much smoke while BBQing. You can also volunteer to cut up the watermelon and leave the BBQ to someone else.

5. Concerts

Summer brings a wave of outdoor concerts and music festivals. While these events can be a blast, they often involve singing along (usually loudly and with bad technique) as well as yelling and screaming.

I bet you can guess my antidote for this one! Just like at amusement parks, I don’t actually make much noise at concerts. I mouth all the words and I look like I’m cheering along with everyone else, but I don’t actually use my voice. I have a great time AND my voice feels great the next day.

6. Air Conditioning

While summer air in many climates is nice and moist, air conditioning changes all that. Air conditioning removes moisture from the air, resulting in dry, wintery conditions. This can irritate the respiratory system and cause coughing just like winter air. Air conditioning and fans can also circulate dust, aggravating allergies.

To combat this, try not to crank up the air conditioning too much at home. If you spend a lot of time in a highly air-conditioned environment (like an office), you can protect yourself by staying hydrated and using cough drops or a personal humidifier if your throat feels dry.


By working these tips for singers into your day, you can enjoy summer to the fullest without harming your vocal cords. Your body and your voice teacher will both thank you. Now get out there and enjoy the weather!

Learn more about this topic:

Photo by Roger Blackwell

Post Author: Elaina R.
Elaina R. teaches opera voice and singing in Ypsilanti, MI, as well as through online lessons. She received her Master of Music from the University of Michigan, and she has a B.M. from the University of Southern California. Learn more about Elaina here!

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road trip songs by state maps

3 Maps to Help You Pick the BEST Road Trip Songs [2016 update]

road trip songs by state maps

Bad news: It’s August, and summer is halfway over. Good news: There’s still plenty of time for a summer road trip!

And of course, no road trip is complete without a playlist. The best road trip playlist includes songs to sing along with, songs to keep you energized, and songs that will appeal to everyone in the car (no easy feat!).

So let’s get to work. Grab a map, and mark the states you’ll be driving in. Then, check out our maps below: just for kicks, the first map lists the official (and some unofficial) state songs for all 50 US states. In case you don’t want to be blasting those songs, you have two more maps to choose from. The second map offers road trip songs based on famous musicians from each state; the third map features OUR new picks for state songs.

If you want to go the extra mile (pun intended), upload all three road trip playlists and hit Shuffle. You may even discover some new favorite songs!

Don’t agree with our picks? Think we should replace one song with another? Sound off in the comments — we want to hear your thoughts!

State Songs Across the US

What’s your state’s official song? If you want to start with some patriotic spirit, add these tunes to your playlist. (Note: some states have multiple state songs, both official and unofficial.) 

Take-Lessons-US-Map-v1

50 Famous Musicians From Each US State

Next up, we handpicked a famous musician with ties to each state, and a well-known song from that artist. This one’s a mixed bag: depending on your route, you may be blasting a country crooner or boy band pop!

famous musicians from US states

State Songs for 2016 (Our New Picks!)

We all know about “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” So in our final map of road trip songs, we’re taking some creative liberties. If WE were choosing the official state songs across the US, here’s what we would recommend. And again, you’ll get a nice mix of genres and styles with this playlist!

US State Songs for 2016 road trip

 

What’s On YOUR Road Trip Mix?

Whether your wanderlust takes you to the golden beaches of the West Coast, the rolling plains of the Midwest, or even back in time to the battlefields of the South or colonial settlements of the Northeast, nothing says good times like scenic drives with your favorite people.

And from country to hip-hop and jazz to rock, there’s something in these road trip playlists for every type of music-lover.

Now, it’s your turn. Do you agree with our road trip songs? What famous musicians did we miss for your state? Let us know your thoughts by leaving a comment below!

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