Thursday, September 13, 2018

The 5 Easiest Instruments for Adult Learners

Are you an adult interested in learning how to play a musical instrument, but nervous about getting started? We've compiled a list of some of the easiest instruments for adult learners that we teach at North Main Music.

It’s a commonly held misconception that learning to play a musical instrument as an adult very difficult, if not impossible. The myth that one must pursue music lessons early in life in order to master the craft has kept many capable adults from exploring their musical potential.

As the saying goes, it’s never too late to learn! In fact, there can be some advantages to learning music as an adult. Adults are much more independent and self-motivated than kids who may be pushed by their parents to take music lessons. With the right help, guidance, and motivation, any adult can excel at playing a musical instrument.

If you’re not sure where to start, here are five of the easiest instruments for adults to learn.


1. Ukulele
Inexpensive to buy, highly portable, and super fun to play, the ukulele is one of the easiest instruments to learn. With just four nylon strings (instead of the guitar’s six), you can quickly pick up simple chords and play some of your favorite songs within a few weeks. When you learn ukulele, you also gain many fundamental skills that will make it easier to graduate from the ukulele to the guitar, should you decide you want to explore a new instrument in the future.


2. Voice
Everyone can sing something. Most adults usually have some level of vocal skill coming in to lessons and tend to underrate their own ability. One of the best things about having your own voice be your "instrument" is that your instrument is always with you and you can practice it anywhere--while driving, in the shower, walking your dog, etc. 





3. Piano

Beginner pianos or keyboard are inexpensive, but to some, the piano may seem complicated — after all, you need to learn to coordinate both hands at once — but it’s actually one of the easiest instruments for adult learners. Because the notes are all laid out in front of you, it’s easier to understand than many other instruments and good for your mind because you are reading music from day one of your lessons. Plus, though you may play wrong notes sometimes, you can’t ever play out of tune the way you can with other instruments. Moreover, due to its popularity, you’ll have no shortage of useful learning materials when you choose piano as your instrument! 



4. Guitar
There are some great advantages to learning the guitar as an adult. First, the guitar takes some hand strength to play, so it is not a suitable instrument for most small children to learn. Second, many adults have had some prior experience with guitar lessons as older kids or teens, and therefore guitar lessons, in some ways, can be liking "riding a bike" and feel like you are picking up where you left off all those years ago.


5. Drums
For sure, learning to play the whole drum kit is difficult. It's also not a requirement for taking drum lessons. You can start your lesson with just the snare drum and add additional pieces as you become more comfortable and confident in your playing. 


Learning how to play a musical instrument as an adult is not as intimidating as it may sound. While the options listed above may be some of the easiest instruments to learn, there’s no need to limit yourself! You are always welcome to take a 30-minute introductory lesson in any instrument that may interest you to get a feel for it.

Whatever instrument you pick, excelling at music will eventually feel easy and natural, just as long as you’re genuinely engaged in your lessons, practice regularly, and have a dedicated teacher who will nurture your inner musicality along the way. Check out the talented and caring instructors at North Main Music and start becoming the musician you’ve always dreamed of being!



This article was inspired by/adapted from this article on takelessons.com


Photo credit: Doug Guarino

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Finding The Right Teacher For Your Music-Loving Kid









How do you match your child with someone competent, trustworthy, and inspiring?



Once your child has zeroed in on the instrument they would like to learn, the next step is to find a teacher. For many families, that means scouting about for a good private music school and instructor — which can be a challenge on many levels. Asking friends and parents of your child's peers for recommendations is a natural first step, but it doesn't have to be your only method. There are other ways to evaluate if a teacher is likely a good fit for your child and if they can help plug your kid into your local music scene.

In the internet age, it is fairly easy to do some research on your new potential teacher. At North Main Music, each of our instructors has a detailed bio on our website, describing their education and experience, as well as their teaching philosophy. You’re also welcome to call us to ask questions about an instructor’s background, teaching style, and their students’ successes – specifically the students that share your same level and goals.


How can I tell if a teacher is a great match for my child?





This presents a particularly tricky minefield for parents who aren't musically inclined themselves, or whose own memories of childhood lessons are occupied by boring old bats or sadistic, tough-talking taskmasters--or a combination of both. Given the perceived layers of mystery that all too often surround learning to play music, novice parents might wrongly assume that bad teaching is just the way things are supposed to be, but this is far from the truth. 

If you remember only one piece of advice when choosing a music teacher, remember this golden rule: More than degrees, titles, or awards, a teacher’s level of emotional intelligence — the awareness of their own emotions and the emotions of others–will determine their effectiveness as a teacher. Is your candidate responsive to your messages, questions, and input? Are they flexible and spontaneous? Can they balance structure and fun, and do they seem to genuinely love what they do? These are the characteristics that truly matter, and that keep a student engaged, challenged, and committed to music lessons.



The Trial Lesson



At North Main Music, we offer a trial lesson for just $32, so you can to test how the personalities of a teacher and your child mesh. During the trial lesson, you are welcome ask questions: What's the teacher's background as a musician and as an instructor? What kinds of teaching materials and music does she use? How much practice time is expected for students, and does that vary by the student's age? Will the teacher allow the student to record the lesson? (This can be a terrific practice aid, especially when it comes to remembering how something is supposed to sound.) What are the expectations for students and for their parents?

A good teacher will be a friendly, encouraging, and inspiring presence — even when a student hits rough patches. He will point out the student's weaknesses without being harsh or dismissive, suggest innovative ways to overcome challenges, and create engaging ways to tackle even rote activities like playing scales or honing fine motor skills. The instructor's age and experience might or might not be a deciding factor; oftentimes a newer teacher’s youth can help a student, especially a teenager, feel more at ease. On the other hand, another student may be more motivated and inspired by a “seasoned” musician with a great deal of experiential wisdom.

So what if you try out a teacher for a little while and you're just not sure it's a good fit? It's crucial to trust your gut. It's better to make a change sooner rather than later, especially if you feel like a teacher's experience, energy or approach just isn't right for your child. Sure, that will probably be an uncomfortable conversation, but isn't that preferable to wasting money, time and your kid's initial enthusiasm? At North Main Music, we are always open to feedback on how to make your child’s lesson experience as positive as possible, and we are happy to work with you to match your child with the best teacher for them.



“We scheduled a trial lesson! How do we prepare for it?”
Congratulations! You’ve made a great first step. Now you need to do a little preparation. First you need to find an instrument if you don’t have one. Start your research but you may not need to purchase anything just yet. Ask you new potential teacher for advice on that. We also have a comprehensive FAQ page on our website, which may answer some of your questions as you prepare for your first lesson.

And that leads to the next point – GOALS. It’s very important that you can verbalize clearly why you want to take music lessons. You’ll want to tell your new potential teacher your goals in the first lesson:

  • Are you doing this just for enjoyment?
  • Do you want to strengthen your skills so you can be a part of a community group? (a church choir or musical theatre troupe or band, etc.)
  • Are you in middle/high school and you want to join the orchestra? star in the school musical? play in the jazz band?
  • Are you considering majoring music in college?
  • Do you want to start a band?
  • Do you want to be the next American Idol?
Whatever your goals are, make them clear to yourself and your teacher so that, together, you can determine whether or not this teacher can help you to reach them and make the most of your learning experience.


“My kid had their trial lesson. How do I know he/she was the right teacher?”
You might not be able to answer this question after just one lesson. But here are some things to think about:


  • A good teacher should be able to nurture and make you feel comfortable and good about yourself especially when you are having difficulty mastering the subject
  • A good teacher should challenge you to achieve to a level that maybe you think you can’t attain.
  • A good teacher should be honest with you but not in a belittling way – in a way that elevates you to a higher level.
  • A good teacher listens to your desires and goals and creates a plan to achieve those goals.
  • A good teacher can communicate their ideas clearly to you and when you don’t quite understand, they can come up with several different ways to communicate the same concepts until you understand (because not every student learns the same way).
  • A good teacher is willing to tell you when you should find another teacher if they feel like you have achieved everything you can with them.
  • A good teacher will not belittle you if you decide that it is time to move on to another teacher.




You know you are with a good teacher if you leave your lessons feeling excited about what you are doing! Of course there will always be some times that you will have a difficult lesson here and there but the right teacher will guide you through those difficult times and celebrate your success when you come through it.


Good luck on your search!


The above article was inspired by/adapted from this article on npr.org and this one on pianopower.org.


Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Shh!!! The best way to practice drums quietly

For people who play percussion, drums often can't be loud enough to satisfy their musical tastes, but for household members and neighbors, drum practice is often *not* music to their ears. So whether you play rock, funk, jazz, or anything in between, learning how to practice your drum playing quietly is essential.

At North Main Music, we've found that the best way to practice drums quietly is by using Silentstroke drumheads. Silentstroke drumheads are low volume drumheads designed for quiet practice applications where standard drum set volumes are an issue. Constructed of 1-ply mesh material, Silentstroke drumheads provide a soft spring-like feel at very low decibel levels and are available in 6" to 24" sizes. 



To accompany your quiet drumheads, we recommend Zildjian L80 Low Volume cymbals, which are real cymbals that play at reduced volume - up to 80% less volume, thanks to a unique perforated pattern. That means you can play them exactly how you play any other cymbal, using any stick, mallet, or technique. The full decay is there, and they respond to your every playing nuance. They're the obvious solution for quiet rehearsals and late-night practice at home. 




As our founder and director, Mike McAdam says, "They are the greatest things of all time. One of the best things about these drumheads and cymbols is that they feel like real drums and cymbals--whereas rubber pads or electronic kits do not. "


While you're anxiously awaiting the delivery of your new Silentstroke drumheads, here are a few things you can do to keep the volume down while you practice: 

  • Use Brushes: If you have some drum brushes, these drumming tools permit you to play drums quietly without sacrificing your stick height to get soft sounds. Additionally, brushes make it possible for you to play with the same attack on drums as if you’re using sticks.
  • Develop New Skills: Learning how to play the drums with a lighter touch and lower stick high is the best way to lower the volume of your practice sessions, but it’s the most difficult one. Focus on your technique, and work with a private drum teacher to master the skill.
  • Get Thinner, Lighter and Smaller Sticks: You can practice drums more quietly by simply getting thinner, lighter and smaller sticks. That way, you’re able to practice at low-velocity swings. However, this solution is appropriate only if you live in a home surrounded by landscape, which can stop the sound transmission from your living space to adjacent houses. If you’re living in an apartment, you may want to try another solution.
By applying theses tips, you can practice drums more quietly and allow your neighbors and household members to fully enjoy the time they spend indoors.

Don't let fear of disturbing others keep you from your drum practice. Get some Silentstroke drum heads and Low Volume cymbols and get jammin'!

Got a funny story about a noisy drum practice, or a tip to share on how to practice more quietly? Share it in the comments below!


Portions of this article adapted from takelessons.com


Tuesday, June 12, 2018

The Top Father's Day Songs

The best Father's Day songs were written in good times and in bad. At heart, they're about the paternal figures who provided guidance (or did not) as we attempted to navigate through childhood and the “real world”. Here’s our list of the best Father's Day Songs that, for better or for worse, were all inspired by fatherhood.



“Glory” by Jay-Z

In 2012 American Gangster Jay-Z officially became American Dad. Jay-Z released this heartfelt track two days after the birth of his and Beyonce’s first daughter, Blue Ivy. Lyrically, it is as open, vulnerable and loving a tribute to a new baby as you could hope to hear, with Carter reflecting on the pain of “false alarms and false starts,” and then finding salvation of sorts: “The most amazing feeling I feel / Words can't describe what I'm feeling for real / Maybe I paint the sky blue / My greatest creation was you. You. Glory." From street hustler to urban hero to hit-maker—to daddy. Glory, indeed. 






"My Father’s House" by Bruce Springsteen

A distant relationship with his father inspired Bruce Springsteen to write this song, which is on the Nebraska album from 1982. His father was not excited about his son’s musical inclinations and spoke to Springsteen about “that damn guitar” when he was growing up, a phrase that he later immortalized as an onstage story in the middle of “Growin’ Up.” 






“Daughter” by Peter Blegvad 

“Daughter” first appeared on Peter Blegvad’s 1996 album, Just Woke Up, however it was made a popular father-daughter dance song when Loudon Wainwright III’s cover of the song was featured at the end of the 2007 movie, Knocked Up. Blegvad’s story of how he came to compose the song is a refreshingly honest and philosophical commentary on what it means to be a parent:
As everyone knows, a parent's love for their child is partly narcissism. My daughter, Kaye, was 3 when I wrote the song - long enough for me to have recognized this fact in myself and seen it manifested in the behavior of other parents. It's natural, maybe even a crucial element, but the narcissism has to be watched, obviously. (Think of Dr. Evil and Mini-Me in Austin Powers). The comedy of all that amused me, and I didn't think anyone had treated that in a song before. I was vaguely thinking of Stevie Wonder singing "Isn't She Lovely" and Frank Sinatra singing "Nancy (With the Laughing Face)" and I wanted to write something that would express that kind of love honestly but also hint at the complexities which come with that role and responsibility.

The chord sequence is uplifting, but "Daughter" is maybe more sardonic than some people realize. It's about unconditional commitment to the task of raising a child, but it's also about the vanity and narcissism of the parent. 




"Teach Your Children” by Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young 

Graham Nash wrote this tune, which features a pedal-steel guitar contribution from Jerry Garcia, about the troubled relationship he had with his own father--putting an interesting spin on its lyrics. According to Nash, the song started out as a folk song when he was in the Hollies, but Stephen Stills put a more country feel into it, and it wound up on Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young’s Deja Vu album from 1970. 






"Color Him Father" by the Winstons

This million-selling song tells the story of a stepfather who became a real father to his wife's children. It was the only chart hit (number 2 for 5 weeks on the R&B singles chart in 1969) for the Winstons, a Washington, D.C., based band that featured Richard Lewis Spencer's unique vocals. Spencer also won a Grammy Award in the category of Best Rhythm and Blues Song for writing this song.






“Just the Two of Us” by Will Smith 

Will Smith remade this classic R&B tune into a tribute to his relationship with his son, which had made softies out of fathers everywhere. It was released as the fourth single from his debut solo studio album, Big Willie Style, in 1997. 




“Daddy-O” by Frances England 

Frances England is a children’s musician from San Francisco, CA. Her style of music is generally described as Indie and/or Folk. In 2006, England wrote her first album of songs entitled Fascinating Creatures as a fundraiser for her son’s preschool and recorded it with the help of artist Billy Riggs. The album went on to the be the sole recipiet of the 2007 Oppenheim Platinum Award for Music and contained this song, “Daddy-O,” which is a sweet, melodious song sung from the perspective of a small child who describes the very special bond between father and child. 






What songs remind you of your dad?
There are so many other songs that could have made our list of the Top Father’s Day Songs. What song reminds you of your relationship with your dad? Let us know in the comments below!



This article was adapted from/inspired by posts on takeslesson.com, billboard.com, and rollingstone.com.

Wednesday, May 9, 2018

Happy Mother’s Day! Shout out to 5 Amazing Rock & Roll Moms

Being a mom is a hard job--much harder than being rock star, yet somehow these amazing women kick butt at doing both! In honor of moms everywhere, North Main Music is highlighting some incredible women in music who deserve some pampering this Mother’s Day…

Where did you get your love of music? Is your mom musical? Maybe she played an instrument, sang in church or in a band, or saves up her hard-earned money so that you can take music lessons?

However you found your way into music, your mother was probably there to love and support you on your musical journey. This Mother’s Day, we can’t help but think about rockin’ women in music who are also moms.




1. Ann Wilson
Best known as the lead singer and songwriter for the hard rock band Heart, Wilson was named one of the “Top Heavy Metal Vocalists of All Time” by Hit Parader magazine in 2006. Known for some killer songs like “Crazy on You” and “Barracuda,” Wilson is also the adoptive mother of two kids. With her dramatic soprano vocal range and powerful lyrics, Wilson is a maternal force to be reckoned with.




2. Alicia Keys

Singer-songwriter, pianist, music producer, philanthropist, actor, and mother are just a few of Keys’ achievements thus far--and she’s only 37 years old! Her beautiful voice and unforgettable songs, like smash hits, “Fallin” and “Girl on Fire,” helped her soar to the top of the charts, but one of her most groundbreaking and empowering performances was at the 2010 BET Prince Tribute, during which she performed barefoot and several months pregnant and climbed on top of a piano! The expression on Prince’s face as he watched her climb on the piano says it all--what a powerful mama!





3. Kim Gordon

Gordon obviously did things that moms do—changed dirty diapers, sang lullabies, and celebrated little achievements with her daughter, Coco. But she did something else that the average mom doesn’t do: she helped define a generation and a genre by creating Sonic Youth with Thurston Moore, during a time in music history when no-wave music was all the rage. Gordon was the bassist, guitarist, and vocalist for the New York-based band, all while being a mom, too--talk about multi-tasking! In addition to her prolific musical output she also found time to write a book. In Girl In A Band, she elaborates on her life and what it’s like to be a mom who rocks. Hats off to Kim Gordon on this Mother’s Day!





4. Beyoncé

Beyoncé’s kids have been in the spotlight from the time they were born. The world waited for her children to arrive like a kid waits for gifts on Christmas. In addition to selling over 100 million records worldwide and winning 22 Grammy’s, Beyoncé still finds time volunteer with charitable causes. After Hurricane Katrina in 2005, Beyoncé and Kelly Rowland founded the Survivor Foundation to provide transitional housing for victims in the Houston area. By most accounts, Beyoncé appears to be a kind and humble person. And those are qualities that make any mom rock.






5. Chrissie Hynde

Chrissie Hynde is best known as a founding member of the Pretenders. With her take- no-prisoners lyrical and musical approach, and her Zen-Beatnik-Punk-Biker style, Hynde has influenced the musical landscape, as well as female fashion and the feminist attitude, for decades. However, few people (outside of her hardcore fans), may know that Hynde follows Vaishnavism, a branch of Hinduism; is a strict vegetarian; and the mother of 2 daughters. Hynde brings the concept of being a “cool mom” to a whole new level.




How does your mom rock? Tell us about her in the comments below!



This article was inspired by/adapted from the following article on takelessons.com.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Making the Most of Music Lessons

With fall just around the corner, our phones are ringing and our email box is full of messages from parents and students looking to get back into music lessons after a summer full of vacations and relaxation. As we all get back into the swing of things, are returning music students prepared to make the most of their lessons?
Some are, but some may not be because they are unclear about their roles as students and lack confidence in their communication skills. To help students excel in their lessons and beyond, this post highlights the attributes of successful students and suggest ways in which everyone can enhance their communication with their teachers.

Attributes of Adept Learners
What’s the primary goal of music lessons? Learning, of course! What, then, is the primary responsibility of a music student? To be an adept learner. (Teachers facilitate learning.) So let’s look at what it means to be good at learning. In a nutshell, adept learners are:
  • Growth-minded. They recognize that skillfulness arises from steady effort; their growth mindset inspires them to set meaningful goals and practice with enthusiasm.
  •  Mastery oriented. Unlike helpless students, intrepid ones take responsibility for their learning. They adhere to high standards, tackle appropriate material, stay within healthy limits, and seek help when needed.
  • Independent and collaborative. They’re resourceful when practicing alone and team-minded when working with others.
  • Persistent. Their mindset and goals give them the strength to persevere in the face of challenges.
  • Professional. Adept learners exhibit professionalism in all of their musical activities – they’re punctual, prepared for lessons, courteous, and honest.
  • Open to new ideas. They thrive on fresh perspectives.
  • Communicative. In lessons, they listen keenly, speak authentically, and question frequently.

Communicating in Lessons
In order to embody that last trait – being communicative – a student needs both a desire to connect and the skills to do so. Nonetheless, communicating can get tricky, more so with some teachers than others. Words and tone of voice can easily, albeit usually unintentionally, be misconstrued. In the end, though, poor communication equals little or no learning.

Given that learning in lessons hinges on communication, here are 7 ways that students can heighten their communication with teachers:
1.    Record your lessons. By listening back and taking notes, you can retain all of the advice you receive.
2.    Query your teacher when something is unclear. Students sometimes shy away from asking for clarifications because they don’t want to seem clueless or imply that their teacher’s explanations are flawed. Believe us: educators want students to understand and ask questions. Always ask if you’re unsure.
3.    Agree on lesson goals. Before you depart from a lesson, ensure that you and your teacher spell out goals for your next meeting – verbalize your aims so that they’re captured on your recorder. Also, periodically discuss your long-range objectives with your teacher so that lesson goals support your interests.
4.    Document questions during practice. Keep a notebook handy as you practice and then bring your questions to lessons.
5.    Ask for feedback. During and at the close of lessons, inquire how well you’re attaining lesson goals and whether there’s anything more you could do to improve your musical or practice skills.
6.    Listen actively. Communication involves articulating one’s thoughts and hearing the thoughts of others. So listen attentively during lessons and paraphrase complex concepts to help your teacher know that you’ve absorbed them.
7.    Be positive. Bring a positive attitude to lessons so that you contribute to creating a productive learning environment. When miscommunication does happen, and from time to time it will, resolve them promptly, and then let go of any negativity.

What if you can’t establish a communicative rapport with a private teacher? For starters, you could solicit advice  from a mentor. Then, if your attempts to communicate still fall short, it might be time to find a new instructor.

Adapted from this article on musiciansway.com.
Photo: McKenna Chaput and her instructor, Jason Latham, at the North Main Music spring 2015 student concert. Photo by Robyn Neville.




Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Tips to make music lessons & practice a breeze this summer

As the weather gets nicer and we head into summer, are you having a hard time getting yourself or your child to stick with music lessons and practice? You already know that consistent weekly lessons--and practice in between--are vital to get you to your musical goals. So how do you beat the summertime blues and start making your musical dreams come true? Two of our top instructors, Shea Ellis and Christie Conticchio, were kind enough to share some of their expert advice for students and parents who need a little help getting into the music lesson and practice groove this summer.


Have you ever noticed that sometimes the hardest part of practicing is simply getting yourself to start? Guitar and ukulele instructor Shea Ellis has several great recommendations to help you get started!


· Have fun with your instrument and try being creative. To spice up your practice routine, write a song. Song writing is easy and fun, if you don’t overthink it, and can open many new doors for your playing.
· Choose to learn songs that you love, songs that pull you to your lessons and drive you to practice each day because you want to hear them!
· Call it playing, not practicing; playing is fun but practicing sounds like work. You never want to lose the element of fun!
· Remind yourself to practice by scheduling reminders on your phone or putting up post-its, whatever works for you.
· Make a practice schedule or calendar and mark the days that you practice.
· Get inspired to play by looking up information about a favorite musician. Even the greatest musicians are human just like you and none of them turned into famous geniuses overnight.

If you’re having trouble committing time to music this summer, voice and piano teacher Christie Conticchio has more great advice for you or your child to stay on track:

· Get involved with an activity or project that uses your instrument, whether it’s joining a band, entering a competition, or covering a favorite song.
· For singers, vocal technique can be applied when you are silent or talking, pretty much any time! You can work on your technique while you are doing other things such as talking to friends, texting, watching TV, riding in the car, on the computer, walking, standing, on a plane, etc.
· Find a way to add practice to your routine. Make it the first thing you do when you get home from camp or play for a few minutes before heading off to the beach or summer job each morning.
· On any instrument, it’s okay to play in short bits of time. Five minutes here and there can add up and even a little bit of practice is better than none at all.
· Make sure you and your kids see live music! Being exposed to music in the real world will inspire you to play, too. Summer is an awesome time to go see live music, as there are so many outdoor venues, from parks to band stands to stadiums.

Hopefully these tips will help you or your child get more from music lessons this summer. And remember, North Main Music has a bunch of summer activities to help you and your child stay motivated this summer, such as the Sizzlin’ Summer Cover Song Contest, North Main Music Night at the Fisher Cats, and our Rock Camp. So turn practice time into play time and watch as musical challenges become easier and easier!

Do you have any other tips for music students this summer? Share them with us in the comments!


Top left photo: Damon and Shea at the Spring 2015 student concert.
Bottom right photo: Christie and Nora at the Spring 2015 student concert.
Photo credits: Robyn Neville.

Adapted from this article on takelessons.com.