Studying Creativity: How to Find Your Muse

creativityBeing a musician isn’t always sunshine and roses – sometimes you lose focus and motivation. But finding your muse can help give you a fresh new outlook and the inspiration to continue creating. Today’s featured guest author is Astoria, NY teacher Jessy T. Read on as she shares her story…

We all possess a creative spirit that leads us to do, to make, to discover and to enjoy.  It’s that inner spark that suddenly one day ignites, and makes us leap out of bed and set out to create something that is uniquely our own.  For us musical folks, this is why we pick up an instrument or start singing.  Music is our natural medium of expression.

I have been a singer for my whole life.  Through singing I have found the greatest joys and greatest challenges I’ve ever known.  Singing was always fun and made me feel good when I was younger, so it seemed natural that I would pursue serious vocal study at the collegiate level.  I was excited to embark upon this journey, but I quickly discovered that studying voice was not all fun and games.  In fact, it was difficult, tedious and even frustrating.  After a while, I found myself enjoying it less and less.  I even got to the point when I was actually dreading my voice lessons.  I was analyzing myself so much that I forgot singing was supposed to be fun!  I felt mechanical, and had censored my creative intuition so many times that it practically went into hiding.

In the midst of this artistic turmoil, I turned to songwriting.  I didn’t realize it at the time, but it was an escape for me.  I was searching for some way to enjoy making music again, and soon found my new favorite form of self-expression in the process.  I will never forget the first time I performed my first original song at a college coffee house.  The reaction from my friends and colleagues was so positive and reassuring; I knew I had discovered something very exciting!  This “unleashing of the muse” was a breakthrough for me because it helped me to express everything I was feeling in a creative way, it reminded me of WHY I wanted to sing, and it helped me to trust my musical and artistic choices again.  I started to feel like an artist for the first time in my life.

As a beginning student of singing, all of the technicalities can seem daunting.  It is easy to lose touch with that creative spirit that inspired you to make music in the first place.  When you break something down to its most fundamental levels, it can become challenging to see the forest for the trees.  You can actually end up getting in your way and blocking your own creativity.

So, how do you study singing (or any other instrument) without losing touch with your own creative intuition?  The answer is you must make it into a study of creativity.  And you do so by always reminding yourself to HAVE FUN!  This may be easier said than done, but isn’t that why we start making music to begin with?  Because it’s fun!  Don’t allow yourself to become so bogged down in the study that you forget the initial joy you found in music.  Trust your unique choices, and try to not be your biggest critic.  Your creative spirit is calling.

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Astoria voice lessons with Jessica T.Jessy T. teaches singing, music performance, music theory, and songwriting lessons to students of all ages in Astoria, NY. With a Bachelor’s degree in Voice Performance, Jessy specializes in classical, music theory, jazz and pop styles. She joined the TakeLessons team in August 2012. Find out more about Jessy, or visit TakeLessons to search for a teacher near you!


Photo by derrickcollins

Soccer, Homework and Music Lessons, Oh My! Staying Organized for Back to School

scheduleFor parents and kids alike, the back to school season can be a stressful time. It’s a time for new responsibilities, new routines and new activities – and sometimes simply getting back into the swing of things takes some preparation! If music lessons are part of the mix this year, consider making family life a lot easier with a few preemptive actions:

– Lock down your schedule.
Most kids respond well to consistent schedules, so use a calendar to ensure everyone knows what activities are expected each day. This includes both lessons and practice times! Also, consider including a rewards system as part of the schedule; for example, when your son’s Tuesday piano lesson is over, encourage him to add a star to the calendar. If he practices for 30 minutes after the lesson, add another star. He’ll be able to see his progress and make the connection to consistent practicing and hard work.

– Set expectations for practicing.
Sometimes, a busy schedule may mean choosing between bass guitar or baseball. If you leave this decision up to your child, make sure he or she knows the expectations that will be set.  For example, do you expect him to continue his lessons through the end of the school year? Will he need to set aside practice time on Saturday morning before playing outside? Be firm with your expectations, and make sure everyone is on the same page.

– Stay organized.
Don’t get caught at your teacher’s studio without all of the essentials! Everything your child needs for her music lessons (pencils, sheet music, practice journal, and of course, her instrument) should stay organized in one area. If your child is especially forgetful, consider creating a checklist and posting it on the door.

– Befriend your child’s music teacher.
Starting music lessons for the first time – especially with a new, unfamiliar teacher – can be a scary experience for some children. Most teachers encourage parents to sit in on at least the first few lessons, which will help ease the anxiety, and also allows you to get a feel for their teaching style. Communication is key, for everyone involved!  Your instructor may have the music expertise, but ultimately you know your child best. If you’re worried that your daughter is losing interest because of the repertoire involved, for example, talk to her teacher about adjusting the material.

– Don’t forget the practice journal.
A practice journal can be an incredibly valuable tool, when both student and teacher are using it effectively. Sit down with your child and review the journal each week; encourage her to share what she thinks she did well, what she should work on, and what the next step is. It may not be clear at first to her, but as she progresses and gets older, she’ll be comfortable with the process of setting and reaching goals.


What Musicians Can Learn From Olympic Athletes

2012 OlympicsIt’s official. It’s that time again, and I definitely have Olympics fever! Bring on the Opening Ceremony, the gorgeous London backdrop, the edge-of-your-seat parallel bars, the blink-and-you’ll-miss-it 100-meter dash – oh, and does anyone else out there like watching televised table tennis as much as I do?

Every four years I look forward to watching the athletes battle it out, and I’m always inspired by the way the events bring together people of all countries, cultures and backgrounds.

As I’ve been following the news, I started thinking about how similar sports and music are, in that sense. In sports, the rules are understood no matter what language you speak. And with music? You can appreciate catchy harmonies, melodic piano runs and the beat of the drum without even saying a word. But that’s not where the similarities end. I’ve put together my list of things musicians can learn from Olympic athletes here – what other crossovers can you think of?

1. Success takes dedication and commitment.
No athlete wakes up one morning, decides to take up a particular sport, and then days later is invited to the Olympics. I recently read that 15-year-old Kyla Ross, the youngest gymnast on the U.S. team this year, practices 30-35 hours every week – that’s pretty much a full-time job! What’s more, these athletes usually begin training at a very young age.  To compare: if you think you can master the guitar in just a few short lessons, you’ll probably end up pretty frustrated. True success – with anything – takes passion, practice, and most of all, commitment.

2. Try, try again.
If you don’t perform at your finest the first time, there’s nothing wrong with trying again. Take 71-year-old equestrian Hiroshi Hoketsu, whose attendance this year makes him the second-oldest contender in the history of the Olympics. He first competed in 1964, but has never medaled.  There are two lessons here: First, you’re never too old to dedicate yourself to a goal. Second, you’re not limited to just one opportunity to reach that goal. If your audition doesn’t go the way you wanted, reflect on what you can do better, keep your attitude positive and then try again – even if it’s 48 years later.

3. Attitude is everything.
Whether you’re preparing for a small, family-only recital or the most important audition of your life, your attitude will always influence your performance. If you’re so worried about getting through a specific part of the song, you may not be playing at your full potential.  So instead of focusing on the negative thoughts, think about how you’re going to rock it out, and how all of your practice is about to pay off. Athletes often use visualization techniques to envision themselves reaching the finish line – take advantage of the strategy by picturing yourself wowing the audience.

4. Goals are necessary.
Setting goals, no matter how far off they may seem, gives yourself the direction you need. With an ultimate goal of the gold medal, great athletes know the importance of breaking that down into smaller goals – run a little bit faster or throw a little fit further next time, for example. So what do you really want? Do you want to record an album? Do you want to be the next Adele? Do you want to eventually earn a Grammy, or sell out huge amphitheaters? Write those goals down. Determine the smaller steps and milestones that will lead up to that, and then get to work!

5. Don’t neglect your support team.
Many athletes, with the exception of sports like basketball or volleyball, perform alone. However, they often have a large team working behind the scenes, from personal trainers to nutritionists to coaches and managers who are there along the way. The lesson here? Never underestimate the power that your own support team can offer.  Whether this is a mentor of your own, a great music teacher, a street team to promote your gigs or your bandmates, a little support can go a long way.

, TakeLessons staff member and blogger

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Photo by Donna_Rutherford.

Student Success Stories: Never Give Up!

microphoneOne of the best things about working at TakeLessons is hearing our students’ stories – about their goals, their achievements, and how music has impacted their lives. For some, the goal might start off small: mustering up the courage to sign up for lessons to begin with, for instance.  Maybe it’s earning first chair in orchestra or the lead in a school musical. For others, it might be dreams of earning a record deal, performing on stage or going on tour. Music is important to everyone in the office, and seeing students reach these goals truly reminds us of why we work here.

Recently, we received an email from one of our Ridley Park voice students, May.  She’s been a student with TakeLessons since November 2010, and wanted to share her recent accomplishment of recording two original songs.  She definitely caught my eye – or ear, you might say – and I’ve chosen to feature her as this month’s Student Success Story. Below, you’ll find my interview with May, along with a link to her recordings.  Congrats, May, for reaching your goals!

, TakeLessons staff member and blogger

What is your musical background? When did you start singing?

I have sung and danced since I was a little girl, but never took formal classes. Money was scarce when I was growing up and extracurricular activities were not choices for my family. The thought never occurred to me that I could take professional singing lessons. I had also been told that I was not “born” with a singing talent, therefore it would be useless for me to try to sing. I do remember being ten years old telling my father proudly that one day I would be a singer and his answer was a firm “No.”

Walk us through your experience with private music lessons – how long have you been taking them? How has TakeLessons helped you in reaching your goals?

One day I was singing Barbra Streisand’s “Somewhere” when I was struck with the realization that I loved singing so much, I should take professional lessons, even if I wasn’t “born” with the talent. So I looked online for singing lessons, found Takelessons, and set up my lessons immediately for that very weekend. Takelessons helped me find professional singers, who are also educators, that I can trust. I have had two admirable, talented singing teachers, Valerie H. and Claire B., who have helped me be the best singer I can be to date. My singing teachers have helped me develop my breathing techniques, singing confidence, music theory comprehension, and my unique needs for singing my personal best, particularly for the kind of music I love to sing. I know I am still and will always be working on improving my singing, and I am happy to do so for the rest of my life.

What inspired you to record your songs?

That little ten year old girl, the one that always wanted to be a singer, would remind me on occasion how much I wanted to be a singer. I love all types of music, especially upbeat, fast tempos. I want to combine meaningful, substantive lyrics and messages with an eclectic array of musical instruments for an uplifting mood. I want to touch people’s minds, hearts, and souls personally with my music. Sharing my music with the world is my goal!

What advice would you give to beginner students?

The first step is to give yourself a chance. Do not listen to naysayers, no matter what their intentions may be. Try, do your personal best, practice, and keep at it… Like my first song says, “Never give up. You gotta keep on keeping on!”

Check out May’s songs here!


Do you have a story you’d like to share? Email us at, and you might be featured in an upcoming blog post!

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Photo by wstyder.

Beginner Music Lessons: Starting Your Child On the Right Foot

Is your child showing an interest in music?  Most parents know the benefits of music education when it comes to spacial, visual and oral development in kids – the Wall Street Journal even reported that babies as young as six months old showed advanced brain development with interactive music lessons.

But for the parents out there who don’t have any musical background, the sheer amount of options when it comes to music lessons can be a bit baffling.  Should you choose in-home or in-studio lessons? Or even online music lessons? How do you find a teacher who will mesh well with your youngster? How do you make sure your finicky five-year-old sticks with the big investment you’re about to make?

Luckily, it’s not actually as stressful as it sounds. For an easy run-down of how to get started, check out these tips from our friends at the Tampa Bay Music Academy:

-Start at the right age.
Many people assume that all children are ready to begin music lessons at age five (or six, or seven). But that’s not necessarily the case. A child should have an attention span long enough to remain engaged through the entire lesson, generally 25 to 30 minutes. He should also show an interest in music and be demonstrating basic reading or pre-reading skills.

-Choose an exceptional teacher.
A great teacher can make or break your child’s opinion about the value and enjoyment of music lessons. A positive, upbeat approach to learning helps solidify a love for music that lasts a lifetime.

-Make practice time rewarding.
Stickers, special treats, and outings for big accomplishments can all make practice time fun rather than a drudgery. Some ideas include a special toy as a reward for a specified number of practice hours, a special outing after the lesson, and going out for ice cream after a recital.

-Provide opportunities to interact with musicians.
An inspiring role model can help your child see the value of hard work and persistence. Find ways for him to interact with musicians at church or school, take him to concerts, and invite your musical friends over to your house for a sing-a-long.

-Cultivate appreciation for many types of music.
While certain instruments lend themselves to certain types of music (classical piano or jazz saxophone, for instance) that doesn’t mean your child should listen to and play only those styles. Encourage her to explore many different options and to appreciate not only her preferred style, but also a variety of folk, classical, and other styles in order to broaden her musical experience.

Looking for music teachers in your area?  Search for a teacher near you, and book lessons today!

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Photo by shankar, shiv.

Discounted Summer Music Lessons – Now Through May 25th!

SummerMemorial Day is approaching, and you know what that means: summer is almost here!  And if you haven’t started thinking about your family’s schedule, it’s smart to start planning before it’s too late.

In the land of sunscreen and Popsicle stands, it can be all too easy for kids to forget all of the techniques and songs they learned in the last 9 months, so it’s important to keep them engaged in music in some form.

Many families take advantage of the extra time available by adding in extra lessons or extending the lesson duration, giving kids a head start on their instrument before the next school year starts. For students shuffling between family visits, camps and other vacations, a flexible lesson schedule can be ideal.  If committing to a weekly timeslot is too difficult, speak with your child’s teacher and call our support staff to switch over to the “Flex” plan.

Of course, the opportunity isn’t restricted to the youngsters: with the longer days and carefree attitude the season usually encourages, it’s the perfect time for musicians of all ages to get started.  Since some teachers will have more open availability as students take breaks, use that to your advantage and secure an after-work or weekend timeslot.

But best of all?  We’re offering a special Memorial Day promotion to help you get a jump start – now through May 25th, new students are eligible for one FREE lesson with the purchase of three lessons.  For a longer commitment, book our Quarterly plan and receive two free lessons with the purchase of eleven lessons. Browse our certified teachers, find an instructor near your home and begin a summer to remember!

To find out more and take advantage of this special discount, call us at 877-231-8505 and connect with one of our student counselors!  This offer is available to new students only, and is not currently available for online booking.  Lesson plan pricing will return to normal for all billing cycles following your initial purchase.


Photo by Loren Sztajer.

Beyond the Piano Tie: 5 Absurdly Cool Pianos

If you’ll be in Los Angeles between now and May 3rd, keep your eyes open for the latest public art installation – 30 pianos, designed and decorated by local artists and community organizations, with one simple instruction: “Play Me, I’m Yours”!  The art celebrates conductor and pianist Jeffrey Kahane’s 15th anniversary as music director for the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra.

Similar Street Pianos have been featured in several US cities over the past 5 years, including Birmingham in 2008, New York in 2010 and Austin in 2011. Check out their official website to download a map of the piano locations and find out more information.  You can also upload your own photos, videos and stories to be featured on the website.  Just a look through their library shows just how creative artists can get with a seemingly simple piano.

We’ve shared photos of crazy guitar designs here before, but what about pianos?  Here are a 5 absurdly cool piano designs that caught our eye:


Chichi, Rocking Piano1. Chichi, the “Rocking Piano”:
This piano really rocks – back and forth, that is.  UK designer Sarah Davenport crafted this idea around a standard baby grand from the 1900s and literally rocks the player as a way of strengthening the relationship between the pianist and the piano.



Burning piano2. Burning Piano:
Ok, not really a piano design, but a unique performance nonetheless.  In 2008, Japanese pianist Yosuke Yamashita donned a fireproof suit to play a piece as the piano enveloped in flames.  Believe it or not, it was actually the second time he performed the stunt.



Piano table3. Piano Table:
Would you love to have a piano in your home, but the space is too limiting?  Georg Bohle’s Piano Table design works double-duty – just don’t get any crumbs between the keys!  The electric keyboard is made out of oak wood and is completely hidden when the lid is down.  All yours for the retail price of $6,000.


Hydra Piano4.  Hydra Piano:
This other-worldly design by Macedonian designer Apostol Tnokovski was reportedly inspired by a Lady Gaga performance.  The concept is also heavily influenced by Hydra, the mythological 7-headed sea monster, hence the name.


Schimmel Pegasus5. Schimmel Pegasus:
Italian designer Luigi Colani takes us to another dimension with this unique look. The Pegasus offers an ergonomic keyboard, over 200 strings, and 7 1/4 octaves. Its curved soundboard also results in a highly-efficient resonance system.  Reportedly Lenny Kravitz and Prince each own one of these pianos.






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Earth Day and Music: Are You A “Green” Musician?

To celebrate Earth Day today, we encourage you to think about the following question: Are you a “green” musician?

These days, many in the music industry are doing their part to help the environment.  Growing lists of artists are “going green”: making sure tours are as eco-friendly as possible, heading up environmental campaigns, and taking the time to educate their employees, fans, and venues. Music festivals like Seattle’s Bumbershoot offer hydration stations to reduce the use of plastic water bottles and fill the grounds with recycling bins.  Solar-powered recording studios are gaining momentum, and the band Cake even completed their 2011 album, “Showroom of Compassion,” using 100% solar energy.

So what can students and teachers do?  You may not be traveling the country with fuel-guzzling tour buses, but there are still ways to ensure you’re doing your part.  Here are a few Earth Day ideas for musicians:

– If you download sheet music, print on both sides of the paper when possible.
– All that sheet music you don’t ever look at?  Pass it along to other students who may want it, or at the very least, recycle it.
– iPad users: consider downloading sheet music directly to your device to save on paper.
– Turn off amps, recording equipment and other electronics when not in use.
– Buy music online, as opposed to driving to the store and buying a packaged and shipped CD
– Recycle the CDs you no longer listen to, instead of throwing them away. (Check out the CD Recycling Center of America to learn more.)
– Heading to a concert or festival?  Carpool there, and bring your own reusable water bottle instead of purchasing a plastic bottle.
– Support green musicians!  Jack Johnson, Dave Matthews and Missy Higgins are just a few musicians who are outspoken with environmental initiatives.
– Make your own instruments.  Reuse tin cans, pots & pans, or other household items to encourage children to play music.  (Or try using vegetables like the Vienna Vegetable Orchestra, if you’re so inclined.)

Now it’s your turn: how do you play a part in staying “green” when it comes to your love for music?  Leave a comment below or join the discussion on Facebook!

, TakeLessons staff member and blogger



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How to REALLY Maximize Your Practice Time

Music practiceOver the past few months we’ve discussed several practicing techniques – including practicing when you’re out of town and don’t actually have your instrument with you (see: 5 Ways to Practice Without Your Guitar and How to Practice the Piano… Outside of the Studio), how to extend your practice sessions when you feel stuck, as well as how to use a metronome to help improve your rhythm, timing and tempo.

But how do you ensure the time you’re spending practicing is truly effective?  Think about it like a sports game – coaches spend time putting together a game plan to make sure every team member is on board and knows what to do.  No wasting time.  Just get straight to the winning plays.  Sure, you may only have yourself to worry about when you’re practicing, but the idea is equivalent – before pulling out your instrument, know your game plan!

1. Always begin with your goals in mind. Setting goals is the best way to ensure you’re on the right track.  Once you’ve set the overarching, most important ones (e.g. “This year, I’m going to perform Pachelbel’s Canon in D at the spring recital”), you can break them down into smaller, more specific goals for each practice session (e.g. “Today, I’m going to practice these 3 bars slowly until I get the articulation right”).  Knowing what you truly want to accomplish and how you plan to prepare for upcoming auditions or performances can help you understand exactly what you should be working on each day.

2. Review your lesson journal. Most music teachers will keep track of what you’ve been working on, and your assignments for the following week, in a lesson journal or notebook (TakeLessons students: yours can be found in your online account).  It’s always a good idea to review this before you start practicing, so you’ll have an easier time remembering the feedback you’ve received so far.  It will also help prepare you for your next lesson, so as to not waste any time when you get there.

3. Develop a practice routine. Most students benefit from a set practice time, whether it’s in the morning, right after school/work, or later on in the evening.  Think about when you tend to focus best, and then stick to the routine.  If you’re having trouble finding time, or if you keep forgetting, try actually blocking the time out in your calendar, writing yourself a note, or signing up for a service like Remember the Milk, an app that will send you a text or email reminder at a designated time.

4. Minimize distractions. Make the most of your time spent practicing by making sure you’re doing just that – practicing!  The more distractions you have around you, the less effective your session will be.  So take the time to “set the stage” – turn off your phone, put the dog or cat in another room, get all of your equipment ready to go (music, music stand, metronome, tuner, a glass of water, etc.) and turn the TV off.  Also, make sure your room is properly lighted and ventilated, and your seating area is comfortable for you.

5. Have fun! Above all, don’t forget that playing music is meant to be fun!  If you need to shake things up, give yourself permission to play through some “just for fun” songs every now and then. Don’t forget to take breaks if you’re committing to a longer practice time, and if needed, take a whole day off if you’re feeling overwhelmed.  Spend time cultivating your creative side outside of your instrument.  And never underestimate the power of a reward if you reach a specific goal!

As always, your music teacher can help guide you in the right direction if you’re having trouble determining what your goals are or what you should be focusing on.  (Need help finding a teacher near you?  Click here!)

, TakeLessons staff member and blogger

How do YOU ensure you’re making the best use of your practice time?  Share your own expertise with the community – leave a comment below, or stop by our Facebook page! Like these posts?  Sign up to receive daily updates right to your inbox!  Click here to subscribe.



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Photo by Buggle89.

Avoiding 5 Common Rehearsal Mistakes

band practiceSo you’ve mastered the art of deliberate practice on your own – what about when rehearsing with your band?  Practicing with extra people can add another level of distraction and requires even more preparation and focus.  When it comes to band practice, especially if you have a gig or performance coming up, sometimes you just need to buckle down and save the goofing off for later.

Check out a few of these mistakes to avoid from to ensure your band practice is smooth and productive:

1. No agenda
Make the most of the band’s time together by knowing what you plan to accomplish. Is it a writing session or a performance rehearsal? Do you need to tighten up a few tunes that were sloppy at the last gig? Plan it out in advance. If the group has vocal harmonies or dual guitar parts to work out, you might want to set up separate rehearsal times for just those band members.

2. Inviting friends and fans
Don’t invite anyone to your rehearsal other than bandmates. It’s fine if you need a manager or other business associate to hear what you’re doing, but keep your legions of fans out. Most musicians just don’t tend to work as productively, or even act normally, when there are other eyes and ears on them. If that many people are dying to hear you play, here’s a crazy idea: book a gig!

3. Free-for-all
It’s one thing to take a moment to adjust your tone or get a new riff under your fingers; it’s another to run a dozen lead lines when everyone else is ready to start working. If your band is populated with aimless, endless noodlers, try setting a new rule for rehearsal: Each player signals that he/she is ready to rehearse by not playing.

4. Planning to wing it
Unless you play out all the time, be sure to run your whole set list for the next gig from top to bottom, dress-rehearsal style. Don’t stop for anything. Deal with problems — broken strings, cracked voices, forgotten lyrics, dropped drumsticks — as you would if you were onstage.

5. Rehearsing at full volume
It’s always great to feel your pant legs flap in front of a 12″ speaker, but do you really need to rehearse with the amp on 11? At lower volumes you’ll be better able tweak an arrangement, make pitch corrections, and call out audible changes on the fly. May your eardrums live another day.

What other issues have come up at rehearsals you’ve had, and what did you do to fix them?  Leave a comment below, or stop by our Facebook page and leave a comment!


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Photo by Ewen Kahr Yu