Wednesday, May 29, 2019

Acoustic v. Electric Guitar: What's the difference and which is better for beginners?


We’ve been getting a lot of questions around the music studio lately about acoustic v. electric guitars, such as “Is it better for a beginner to learn on an electric or acoustic guitar?” and “What are the differences in terms of sound and cost between electric and acoustic?” So we’re taking time in this month’s blog to really break it down for you!

Which guitar type is better for beginners?


Starting lessons on an acoustic guitar means spending a little less money, but electric guitars tend to be a bit easier to play. That's certainly helpful to know, but there are several things you need to consider when making your decision.


The instrument you choose as your first guitar depends on your goals and your budget. There is no right answer that works for everyone. Deciding what is best for your specific situation means learning more about each type of guitar, and understanding the differences between them.

The difference between acoustic and electric guitar may not be clear to new guitarists.You might not understand how they compare when it comes to sound, tone and difficulty. Add in terms like “semi-acoustic” and “acoustic-electric” and it can be downright confusing.

Guitar newbies have to negotiate a minefield of bad or misleading information and complicated terms in order to figure out what is best for them. Doing your research on the internet can certainly help, but even so, it’s not always easy to find clear answers to your questions.

That’s where this article can help. Here you’ll learn about the difference between acoustic and electric guitar when it comes to tone and construction. You’ll find out which is easier to play, and be able to choose the right guitar for a beginner. Most importantly, by the time we’re done you will hopefully have a clearer idea of which instrument can get you on the right musical path.

So, let’s get to it!



Basic Differences Between Acoustic and Electric Guitars


It’s easy to see the similarities between acoustic and electric guitar. Both have strings, a neck, frets, tuning pegs, a bridge, and many other comparable physical attributes. In essence, electric and acoustic guitars work the same way. Plucking a string causes it to vibrate. Pressing down behind a fret shortens the effective length of the string. This causes it to vibrate at a different frequency and produce a different note.

However, each type of guitar has a very different and distinctive sound, and this means each guitar is better suited for certain types of music. 

One of your challenges as a new guitarist is to figure out what kind of music you want to learn, and choose the right instrument to inspire you.


So, let’s get into some of the reasons why these guitars are different. The method used by each to amplify its sound is one reason, and is inherent in the design of the guitar.



Acoustic Guitar Sound

Acoustic guitars depend upon a sound chamber to amplify the sound of the strings. When an acoustic guitar string vibrates it is the construction of the guitar itself that amplifies the sound. You don’t need to plug into any external amplifier to be heard. This is why acoustic guitars have large, hollow bodies. This sound chamber plays a big role in the amplification and tone. This also tells us that the size and shape of an acoustic guitar body has an impact on the volume and sound of the guitar.

The tone of a guitar is also greatly influence by the wood used to build the instrument. In the guitar world, these are called tonewoods. For an acoustic guitar the most significant tonewoods are used for the guitar top, back and sides, plus the neck, fingerboard and bridge.

There are important design techniques incorporated into the body of the guitar as well, and this is called bracing. 

All of these factors work together to create the sound you hear when you strum your guitar. 

With time and experience, you may come to prefer certain tonewoods and styles of guitar bodies.


Acoustic guitars are great for beginners who are interested in genres such as country, bluegrass and folk. They are used in rock music as well, but primarily by guitarists who play electric instruments the majority of the time.

They are also great tools for writing your own songs, particularly if you plan to sing as well. You can learn a few chords, and begin creating your own music.

If you are looking to purchase an acoustic guitar, we recommend this starter pack. You can hear typical acoustic guitar tones being played by North Main Music instructor, Danielle Arena, in the clip below:




Electric Guitar Sound

When an electric guitar string vibrates it doesn’t sound very loud. Solid-body guitars do not have sound chambers like acoustic instruments. In order to amplify the sound, electric guitars use pickups.

Pickups are essentially magnets wrapped in wire, and they create a magnetic field in the immediate area surrounding your guitar strings. When you pluck a string the vibration disrupts this magnetic field, and a signal is sent from the pickup to your amplifier.

Electric guitar pickups create a magnetic field and send signals to your guitar amp. This is why electric guitars do not require large, bulky bodies like acoustic guitars. But that doesn’t mean the construction and woods used in electric guitars aren’t important. The vibration of the string is colored by such factors as the size and weight of the guitar, the woods used to build the guitar, and the method used to connect the neck to the guitar body.

However, it is easy to see how the aspects like pickups, amplifier, and even the electronic components within the guitar, play a huge role in the sound of an electric guitar. Compared to acoustic guitar, you have much more control over your sound, and a much wider palette of tones and effects to work with.


Electric guitar is the primary choice for beginners who plan to play rock, metal, blues and modern country. Most bands in these rock-related genres rely on the electric guitar as the primary instrument driving their sound.


You can purchase an electric guitar in 3/4 size or full size. Below you can hear what electric guitars sound like, courtesy of our Guitar Army group:




About Distortion


One key difference between acoustic and electric guitar is the use of an effect called distortion or overdrive. When you listen to almost any form of rock music, you are likely to hear a distorted guitar. Most guitar amps include on board distortion, but there are also countless effects pedals that offer all kinds of different distortion sounds.

Distortion is simply an alteration to an audio signal to the point where it is no longer clear. The sound is literally “distorted”. For guitar this typically means increasing the strength or “gain” of the input signal. This creates a desirable effect for electric guitar, but it is not so desirable when it comes to acoustic guitar or pretty much any other audio application. 

For veteran guitarists the terms distortion and overdrive have slightly different meanings, but as a beginner you can consider them the same thing for all intents and purposes. These effects have become a huge part of the rock guitar sound.



Acoustic-Electric Guitars


Sometimes we get asked whether it is okay for a beginner to start out with an acoustic-electric guitar. This is fine, as long as you understand what you are getting. These guitars are not a cross between an electric and acoustic guitar, so if you are hoping for the best of both worlds you’ve got the wrong idea. Acoustic-electric guitars are acoustic guitars with the addition of electronics that make it easier to amplify your sound. In fact, many guitar companies make acoustic and acoustic-electric guitars that are essentially identical, aside from the addition of these electronics.

You can play acoustic-electric guitars unplugged like normal acoustic guitars. Or, if you choose, you can plug into an acoustic guitar amp or sound board to further amplify your sound. This kind of guitar has a pickup that sends your signal to an onboard preamp, which allows you to control your volume and tone.

An acoustic-electric guitar will not sound like an electric guitar. In most cases, you should not use an acoustic-electric guitar with an electric guitar amp.



Semi-Acoustic Guitars


Hollow-body and semi-hollow-body guitars are sometimes referred to as semi-acoustic guitars. This is because they possess some of the same attributes as an acoustic guitar. Both are actually electric guitars, utilizing pickups and an amp just like any other electric guitar. However, the construction methods used in each do make them quite different when it comes to sound. 

Hollow-body guitars are built in much the same way as acoustic guitars. The difference is the addition of one or more pickups. The very first electric guitars were constructed in this manner, based on the acoustic jazz guitars used by big-band players. Of course the technology has come a long way since then, but they are still built in basically the same way. These guitars typically have a rich, warm sound and are most often used in jazz and rockabilly music.

Semi-hollow guitars have a solid center block with two hollow wings. They tend to handle overdrive better than hollow-body guitars, and so are a little more popular among rock guitarists. Semi-hollow-body guitars are used in just about every genre of music, aside from extreme metal. They do especially well in country, blues, jazz and classic rock.



Classical Guitars


Classical-style guitars are just like other acoustic guitars, with a few key differences.

For one, they have nylon strings instead of steel. This creates a soft, mellow sound. Nylons strings are also a bit easier on the fingers, which may be important for beginners. 

Classical guitars also have somewhat wider, flatter fingerboards, and smaller bodies. They are typically plucked finger-style, not strummed with a pick.

As you probably guessed, these instruments are intended to be used in classical music. They are not designed to have the projection and volume of most steel-string acoustic guitars.

Studying classical music is a very demanding discipline, and if you intend to do so this is the kind of guitar for you.

However, many people feel that classic-style guitars sound great for any style of acoustic music meant to be played finger-style. They have a warm, rich sound, and musicians often find their fingerboards extremely comfortable.


Should Beginners Learn Electric or Acoustic?


We get this question quite often at North Main Music. Here's our answer:

Most acoustic guitars, especially ones in budget price ranges, are physically a bit harder to play compared to electric guitars. This just comes down to the design. Electric guitars don’t feel as stiff, and usually have lighter-gauge strings. While both kinds of guitars can be adjusted at the bridge, neck and nut, the fine-tuning of an electric guitar is an easier process.

So, from a physical standpoint, playing acoustic guitar is a little bit harder. But, you shouldn’t let this stop you if that's what you really want to do!

As far as which is easier to learn, that really depends on what you are trying to accomplish. If all you want to do is learn a few chords and strum away, an acoustic guitar is your easiest path to doing so. You don’t have an amp and other accessories to worry about, and you can play and practice anywhere you want.

If your goal is to be the best guitarist you can possibly be, you shouldn’t be asking which is easier to play. Mastering either is hard work that will take many years. Instead, spend your time figuring out which inspires you the most. Then, get to work.



Where Do You Start?

Most guitar players play both acoustic and electric guitar, and have one or more of each in their collection. That’s important to realize when you are first starting out and trying to decide which to get as your first guitar. Whichever you start out with, if you are like most guitar players, you will eventually play both.

Our advice: Put some thought into what you’d most like to accomplish as a guitar player so you can decide which instrument best gets you on that path. Everything else will sort itself out later. You're going to be playing for a long, long, time--so remember no decision you make today is set in stone.

We hope that this article helped you better understand the differences between types of guitars. Good luck, and remember that this guitar thing is supposed to be fun!










This article was adapted from and inspired by this one on spinditty.com

Thursday, April 25, 2019

The Ultimate Guide to Overcoming Stage Fright




Here at North Main Music, we offer our students many performance opportunities throughout the the year. In addition to our bi-annual student concerts, we also have an acapella group and several rock bands who perform both at our student concerts and at community events throughout the Nashua area.


And while most people look forward to their performance, it’s only natural that many of them also get a little stage fright. Stage performance is a challenging art form. Whether you’re acting out a role in a musical theater setting or playing a solo at an open mic night, the experience can be nerve-wracking even for seasoned performers.


It can be even more anxiety-inducing if you’re a perfectionist, as that can breed a fear of failure… and from there, performance anxiety can feel even stronger.


Performance anxiety (commonly referred to as stage fright) can devastate a performer’s career and enjoyment of their craft, but it doesn’t have to — performance anxiety is a normal human reaction and a completely curable condition if given the right resources, patience, and support system. This article is a guide to learning how to overcome stage fright. If you wish to understand and improve anxiety issues that are holding you back from giving your best performances, read on!


What is Stage Fright?


Let’s start with anxiety, which is defined as a feeling or worry, nervousness, or unease about an upcoming event. Most people have experienced some level of anxiety before, during, or after a performance, speech, sports game, or test. Anxiety differs from fear in that fear addresses a present threat, while anxiety is typically felt in relation to something in the future. Anxiety is a normal, healthy human experience and, in small doses, is beneficial in making decisions and in achieving peak success.


Performance anxiety (stage fright) in particular is nervousness or unease about a specific future event in which you will be required to execute a task, such as a song— and usually when you’ll be in front of an audience. Symptoms may be present during the task, for weeks or months leading up to it, and sometimes after the event is over.



So, how do you overcome stage fright? Even most experienced performers feel anxiety, so it’s more a process of learning how to deal with stage fright. Here are the recommended steps:






Knowing if you are truly experiencing anxiety is critically important, as it’s the first step toward understanding and overcoming it. If you have experienced a few or many of the following symptoms before or during a performance situation, you are experiencing stage fright:

  • Excessive sweating (typically in the palms, feet, armpits or face, but could be anywhere)
  • Increased heart rate
  • Chills, hot flashes, or sudden changes in body temperature
  • Shallow breathing, tightness in the chest, or hyperventilation
  • Feeling dizzy
  • Racing thoughts, obsessive fear of failure during the task
  • Inability to concentrate or process logical information
  • Nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea
  • Loss of appetite
  • Frequent urge to use the bathroom
  • Inability to make small talk or hold a basic conversation
  • Shakiness, especially in the hands
  • Sensitivity lights, sounds, or textures in the environment

As you can see, this list of sensations is not only unpleasant, but makes performing at your best nearly impossible. Fear of failure becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.



















Look at the list of anxiety symptoms, and make a mental check mark next to the ones that you have felt during performance situations.


Note when it happened, how often, and any other details you remember. Are your symptoms limited to a specific few, or all of them? Are there symptoms you’d like to solve first as a priority, before others?


Now go back next to each symptom that you’ve checked, and rate it on scale of 1-10 as to how severe it felt (1 being hardly felt it, 10 being you felt it so much you couldn’t concentrate on anything else).


If you are seeing numbers in the 1-4 range, it’s likely that you are experiencing normal, healthy jitters that can actually add to your performance by making you more focused. If you are seeing numbers in the 5-10 range, you are experiencing moderate to severe stage fright and should read on to discover strategies for improvement.

















Before you can properly map a route to overcome stage fright, it’s important to know where you’ve been — and what has caused stage fright in the past. Let’s look at some of the reasons why you are experiencing stage fright, how they might contribute to your present challenges, and how you can utilize them most effectively.


Start by asking yourself some questions about your performing career, starting from the very, very beginning, which might include childhood memories or more recent situations depending on your age.





Recall the first time you performed for an audience, formally. Who was there? What thoughts and feelings do you remember? Were you happy with the outcome of the performance? Was it a positive or negative experience, was it stressful or relaxed?


Recall the first time you performed and experienced anxiety (if different from above). What were the circumstances? Who was there? Did you practice or prepare, and how much? If different from #1, what do you think sparked anxiety if there were previous performances that didn’t?


Recall the next few times that you performed, after #2 above. Ask yourself the same questions and look for patterns.


Recall the 2-3 most recent times you performed. How recent was it? Have you purposely avoided performing in recent circumstances due to fear? Were you with a large group, small ensemble or solo? Were there any post-performance experiences worth noting?


From the above questions, look for patterns. Are there any pivotal events that dramatically changed the course of your performance history? Are there any key people, venues, or pieces that contributed to where you’re at today?






The next step is re-contextualizing key anxiety triggers so that they don’t continue causing problems. Most people can identify one or two key incidents that left a large impact on their self-esteem.


Maybe it was a teacher giving an aggressive critique, a family member telling you not to quit your day job, or a performance in which you froze on stage and ran off crying.


At the time you may not have realized the impact of this key event, but in hindsight you can see that it has undermined your confidence and affected your ability to perform ever since.






The mind is powerful and can distort memories, making them seem bigger and nastier than they really were in real life. As far as exercises that can help you deal with stage fright, this is a great one to try. Pick one of your key incidents that is particularly painful or memorable and jot a few notes about it, sticking to the facts:

  • What venue were you performing in?
  • What piece were you performing or practicing?
  • Who was watching?
  • What feedback were you given, either verbal or non-verbal?
  • How did you react? Did you shout, cry, freeze up, or laugh it off?
  • If you responded verbally, what did you say?
  • What did you do after the event?


Re-Contextualizing the Event

Now let’s bring some imagination to it: sometimes taking the gravity out of a memory and bringing it into a lighter, if not humorous, context can be extremely healing. By re-contextualizing this event, you are not dismissing it or minimizing its impact, but re-framing it in a more positive, lighthearted perspective. By giving your brain a new way to interpret it, you will begin to move past it and no longer allow it to block your present performance opportunities. Jot a few notes in response to the following:

  • If you could go back and re-live this event, what would you do differently?
  • Is there anything positive that has come out of the negative memory?






We’ve spent the preceding sections of this guide processing your past. Now it’s time to move into the present and start thinking about what you can do now, and in the near future, to overcome stage fright.


There is no magic formula, unfortunately; you must expose yourself – you must perform, perform, perform, and this is known as exposure therapy. Exposure therapy is a fancy name for the common-sense approach known as “facing your fears,” a technique commonly used by psychiatric doctors to treat phobias of all kinds. However, there is an art to exposing yourself to your fears, and it should be done in careful, small, planned doses that gradually lead up to a major milestone.


Create an Exposure Ladder

Exposure ladders are a technique used widely by the medical psychiatric community to treat generalized anxiety, panic disorders, and phobias of all types.


An exposure ladder is a list of activities that lead you gradually to a big goal (such as performing on your city’s biggest stage, for example), with activities ranked from least to most anxiety-provoking. An individual will work up the steps of the ladder, moving on to the next step only after mastering exposure to the current step with little or no anxiety.


You’ll need to create your own customized exposure ladder, starting with #1, which is your first, tiny little step toward performing — something that you could handle right now, today, with little or no anxiety symptoms. Then you’ll move on to #2, and so on, gradually making steps more anxiety provoking as you go, until you’ve reached a final step which is your final performing goal. You can make your final step as big or small as you want, just be honest with your true performing goals.


One precaution: be careful not to create too big of a jump between steps on the exposure ladder. You can repeat a step as many times as needed, in order to master that level with little to no anxiety. Depending on how often you are working on the steps, it might take months or years until you feel you’ve mastered a step, and that’s just fine. Study the example below to help you brainstorm ideas for your own ladder.


Example Exposure Ladder
1. Imagine yourself performing.

2. Perform alone.

3. Record yourself performing a scene or song and watch it without critique.

4. Perform for a supportive partner or friend.

5. Perform a duet or ensemble in front of family or friends at an informal gathering.

6. Perform solo in front of family or friends at an informal gathering.

7. Perform a duet or ensemble at a venue that is higher caliber, like a talent show for your class at school, a neighborhood barbeque, or karaoke at a bar.

8. Perform solo within the same circumstances in #7.

9. Perform with a semi-professional ensemble, such as an audition-only community chorus or community theatre.

10. Arrange an opportunity to perform solo for your peers or an audience, within the group you’ve identified in #9.

11. Enter a competition.

12. Continue finding opportunities similar to #11 with gradually higher caliber venues (or even paying gigs!).





Once you start working the steps on your exposure ladder, there are going to be successes, and also setbacks. It’s important to arm yourself with relaxation techniques so that when setbacks occur, you have a strategy in place to deal with them in a healthy way. Try these:


Meditation


Find a quiet space, sit or lay in a position that is comfortable enough to sustain for 10 minutes minimum, close your eyes, and stop thinking. It’s as simple as that; meditation is simply a state of thoughtlessness. Your mind will wander, and when it does, just bring it back to a blank space. (If this idea seems daunting to try on your own, there are lots of free meditation apps out there which you can try.) If you can commit to meditation as a daily practice for 10-20 minutes, over time you will be able to push aside thoughts that distract you during performances, including anxious thoughts.



Progressive muscle relaxation
Find a quiet space and lay down with your arms naturally at your sides and legs fully extended. Close your eyes. Prepare with three slow, deep breaths. As much as possible, focus all of your attention on the task at hand; don’t let your mind wander. Tense your forehead muscle, holding it as tight as you can for about five seconds. As you do this, inhale and hold the breath while the muscle is tense, and then exhale and breathe normally as you let the muscle relax. Enjoy the relaxed position for about five seconds.


Repeat the above process with the following muscle groups: your face/cheek muscles, neck muscles, shoulders (pull them up and tight), back muscles (pull your shoulder blades back and in), abs/stomach muscles, arms and hands (make a fist while you do this and tense it all the way down to the fingers), glutes, thighs, calves, and then finally feet.






Acceptance is a final and critical step in learning how to overcome stage fright, as resistance will only make a problem grow stronger. It’s important that you stop criticizing or judging yourself for having fears or challenges on stage, as it is one of the most common types of anxiety, and you are definitely not alone!


Acceptance is not declaring that stage fright is “just a problem you have” and that you’ll have to deal with it for the rest of your life. Acceptance is realizing you have some uncomfortable symptoms that are occurring and allowing the process of change to unfold, even if the process is difficult. Acceptance is allowing setbacks to happen, refraining from self-criticism when they do, and celebrating the small successes along the way.



Conclusion

Public speaking and performances of all types continue to be the number one fear of most adults. By reading this article, you have embarked on a journey that very few are brave enough to take – congratulations are due just for starting!


Your reading has given you initial tools for understanding what stage fright is, how you experience it personally, how your past is affecting your present, and beginning to learn how to deal with stage fright.


Performing is one of life’s great joys and you too can enjoy sharing your unique gifts and stories in front of an audience, free of fear, paralysis, or uncomfortable feelings. Don’t give up, and remember that psychological change is a gradual process. Good luck, and happy performing!


What are some of the ways have you learned how to overcome stage fright? Let us know in the comments!





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

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

15 Super Effective Ways to Motivate Your Child to Practice Music

So your son or daughter has started taking music lessons. You found a kind and knowledgeable teacher, set up a lesson schedule, and bought an instrument. Your kid is motivated to learn and everything is off to a great start!

But don’t rest on your laurels just yet: No matter how excited your child is initially, there will come a point in time when they simply doesn’t feel like practicing. And this may leave you feeling frustrated not only by their lack of motivation, but also by the time, effort, and financial investment you’ve made in their music lessons.

To help you avoid the endless battle of wills and keep you from pulling your hair out, we’ve assembled a toolkit of strategies to help you motivate your child to practice.


1. Shift your Mindset, Part I: Stop treating music practice like homework

Think back to when you were in school. You had your academic classes and your after-school activities. You knew your daily routine: Math, English, Science, etc. Then after school: homework!

With so many different school subjects and assignments, it’s no wonder adding time to practice music can seem like a burden to a kid.

That’s where you can help shift your child’s mindset. It’s up to you to help your child see music in a different light!

Rather than treating music like yet another homework assignment, create a distinction so your child sees music as something he or she wants to do. The best way to shift your child’s mindset is to let him or her play an instrument they’re actually interested in and excited about. If your child views music as a forced discipline, like math or history, it won’t be fun. Practicing music should feel like play, not school work. If that’s not happening, that might be a signal that it’s time to switch instruments.

This also means you may need to be flexible. While it can be expensive to allow a child to start and stop several different activities, try to work with him or her to find one he or she enjoys and is intrinsically motivated to practice.


2. Put Your Child in Control


It’s no secret that when we’re told to do something, we sometimes will not want to do it. From the moment they first wake up, kids have parents, teachers, siblings, coaches and others telling them what to do all day. Add music to the list of directives and it’s no wonder motivation seems to dwindle!

Combat this problem by putting your child in control. Let them determine the practice schedule, that way they’re more likely to stick to it.

Start with the end in mind: your goal is to get your child to decide that they need practice in order to play the way they want to play. Once they decide this, you can help them research and figure out how often a good musician practices. Your child can then set a schedule based on the reality that, to be a good musician, you need to practice.

Not only will this approach allow your child to feel a sense of control, it will also help them to learn the value of practice.



3. Shift Your Mindset, Part II: Think of practice as a set of repetitions, not a length of time
North Main Music founder and director, Mike McAdam, recommends that parents and students start thinking about music practice as doing a series of repetitions. So instead of saying “Go practice for a half an hour,” you could say go play your piece three or four times.

Mike also recommends that people who are looking for new ways to motivate themselves or their kids to practice their music read The Practice Revolution. According to Mike, “It’s a good book and sort of break some of the molds that are traditionally taught with music instruction."



4. Motivate Your Child to Practice With a Reward System
You may be thinking, “Yah, sure, but will they really stick with this day to day?” Let your child make the schedule, but it’s up to you to reinforce it--you may have more weight in your reminder. One way to reinforce the schedule would be to set rewards for accomplishing little goals along the way. For example, “If you practice every night this week, we can download that song you’ve been asking for.” Reward the work.



5. Help Your Child Understand the Gift of Music


Teach your child to appreciate music and all the possibilities it has to offer. Playing a musical instrument is a privilege and an opportunity that isn’t available to everyone. Taking music lessons not only expands your mind, at North Main Music, it plugs you into a music community where you can perform at student concerts, participate in bands, and connect with new friends you may not have met otherwise.

You can also help your child develop a love for music by taking them to shows, playing music at home, and being supportive of their musical interests and tastes--even if they’re different from yours!

Many adults wish they had stuck with a hobby or endeavor they started as a child, such as playing a musical instrument. While this can be a difficult concept for young kids to grasp, teaching them to appreciate music can help them understand why practice is important.

These are just a few ways that parents can help their kids understand the value that musical ability brings to their lives and to society.




6. Don’t Make Practice an Obligation

This one may seem a bit counter-intuitive, right? After all, you’ve invested the money in an instrument and lessons, and you want your child to make the most of it. Plus, if kids wants to achieve their musical goals, they needs to practice!

The trick is to not make practice feel like an obligation when compared to other fun activities. For example, if your kid loves to play video games and you don’t allow them to do this until after completing practice. Using a fun activity as a reward creates the mindset that practice is the obligation that stands in the way of fun, and this could create resentment or dread for practice. It reinforces the notion that playing piano is not fun and video games are fun.



7. Plan Performances

When it comes to a sport, hobby, or endeavor, it’s important to keep your eye on the prize. The same principle applies when it comes to your child learning an instrument; they have to keep their goal in sight, otherwise, they may question the need to practice.

At North Main Music, we offer students multiple opportunities to perform in front of an audience throughout the year, such as our biannual student concerts, rock shows, band performances at community events, and more. These planned performances foster a growing curiosity and excitement about music in children’s lives and keep students engaged and motivated.

It gets better:

Performances not only help to increase excitement, they also work to hold children accountable. Ask any music teacher — even the most unmotivated student will be more likely to practice if it means avoiding being unprepared and embarrassed at a concert!



8. Let Your Child Choose

Just because you loved playing piano as a kid doesn’t mean your child will love playing it, too. Your child may have other interests, and it’s important to allow them to explore different endeavors and follow their own path in life.

It’s critical that a child choose the instrument they’re going to learn. If an instrument is thrust upon them, then practicing it will also be thrust upon them. Letting them choose the instrument turns this on its head, and in your favor, even if they did not choose an instrument you would have wanted them to play.



9. Be Their Cheerleader

Let your child know you’re their biggest fan, especially early on when your child may feel frustrated or discouraged. Listen to your child at home as often as you can and make encouraging remarks about their progress. Also, make sure to ask them how their lessons went.

Take a genuine interest in your child’s musical journey. Your child will be excited to play for you and show off new skills!



10. Help Them Engage With Music

Your child is more likely to practice music if he or she feels connected to the process. Help your kid develop an interest and curiosity for music. To help them stay engaged, become a part of the process. Whatever you can do to get involved is likely to increase their interest and motivation.

Let your child play around with different instruments. Listen to music together. Your child will naturally want to imitate you, so a big motivation for children to practice is seeing their parents engage with music themselves.



11. Create Challenges

Instead of telling your child to practice, help them set specific goals and challenges. This will help them progress faster because they’ll work on accomplishing specific tasks or mastering particular skills. This idea can be applied to any instrument.

12. Celebrate *All* AccomplishmentsLearning to play an instrument is a long journey full of peaks, valleys, and plateaus. While you’ll definitely be proud when you watch your child perform, it’s equally important to celebrate the small victories along the way.

While verbal praise is important, you may also want to create another way to celebrate achievements; for example, you could keep a journal or scrapbook of your child’s accomplishments. Another option could be to keep a whiteboard on the fridge, or make a chart that you can display and update when they reach a goal or overcome a challenge.

Celebrating the little victories will help your child keep a positive attitude when they’re struggling or having difficulty tackling a new concept or song.



13. Let Them Play Music They Like

While there are certain signature songs and classics for various instruments, your child will lose interest if he or she doesn’t like the music they’re playing. Around age 10, sometimes younger, kids start developing preferences for musical styles, largely influenced by radio, television, and their peers, so be sure to work with your child’s teacher to make sure your child is playing some music they truly enjoy. This can be used as a motivational strategy; encourage them to learn and play at least one of their favorite songs as part of their weekly routine.



14. Make Practice Fun

This should come as no surprise — no one wants to practice when it’s boring! Incorporate fun games, activities, and challenges, and your child will look forward to practice! Very few children are self-motivated in their music practice and most need incentives and reminders to keep them focused and moving forward.

At North Main Music, you are always welcome to ask your child’s teacher for some creative ways to make practice more fun!




15. Find the Right Teacher for Your Child
This brings us to our final strategy and one of the most important: find the right teacher for your kid! Yes, practice is done outside of lessons, but if your child connects with their teacher, they’re much more likely to take direction willingly and practice consistently.

Finding the right teacher will make or break the whole music lesson experience. Don’t be afraid to try a new teacher if your child isn’t connecting. The best teachers are usually the ones who not only teach, but know how to be a good friend and mentor to your child.

At North Main Music, we encourage new students to review the instructor bios and videos on our website and to sign up for an introductory lesson to get a better feel for whether or not a teacher is right for you.

What has worked for you in terms of helping to motivate your child to practice? Share your insights and tips in the comments below!


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

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Sing with Confidence: Helpful singing tips for vocalists

Feeling nervous about an upcoming performance? It’s a completely normal feeling! Getting used to being in the spotlight takes time. Learn how to sing with confidence using the tips in this article. 

How often do you listen to your favorite bands and pop stars and imagine yourself in their place, singing to an adoring crowd? Lots of people dream of unleashing their inner rock/pop star, but few actually take the bold step of doing so in real life. It takes a lot of courage to learn how to sing and, whether you’re an experienced performing artist or planning your on-stage debut, it’s always helpful to practice a few tips and tricks that will help make your performance the best it can be. 


1) Be Patient--Give Yourself a Minute
It’s natural to get nervous or feel overwhelming anxiety before you perform. This simply means that you care about what you’re about to do! The problem is, anxiety tricks your body into a fight or flight state—your heart beats faster, your breath quickens, and your muscles tense up.

When this happens, find a quiet place, close your eyes, and take a slow, deep breath. Hold it in for 10 seconds and then let it out. Repeat 2-3 times until your heart rate slows. A shorter version of this is helpful on stage, too. Take a second before your song starts (your audience won’t mind a 5-second delay) to center yourself and it will make *all* the difference.


2) Practice Often and Be Technically Prepared
Think of practicing as an insurance policy for you voice--the more you practice, the more you know your voice. The more you know your voice, the more confident you are singing in any situation. Preparation is the backbone of self-confidence.

Well ahead of your performance, think about your strengths and weaknesses, and work with your voice teacher to create a plan so that you feel fully prepared. Fumbling around with your instrument? Practice your piano or guitar parts until they become muscle memory. Worried about forgetting lyrics? Hand write them over and over until you don’t have to think about them. Not feeling vocally consistent? Break down the issue with your instructor in lessons leading up to the performance. Feeling like your song just isn’t clicking? Workshop them with a mentor or fellow musician. At North Main Music, we host Performance Workshops a couple of weeks before our student concerts, to give performers an opportunity to test out their song ahead of time and get valuable feedback from the workshop facilitators and attendees. 

Most importantly, be sure to warm up your voice on performance day!


3) Take Risks
You may have heard the quote, “If you can dream it, you can do it.” When applied to singing, the same rings true!

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

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


4) Remember Your “Why” 
Connect with your song and your purpose, and the audience will feel you. Whether it’s a cover song or an original, we must remember the emotion, experience, or memory that brought us to the song in the first place. As singers, we’re often performing the same song over and over. It’s easy to fall into a routine and go through the motions, but your audience will see right through this. There’s nothing worse than watching a performance and the singer is clearly just phoning it in. No matter how many times you’ve sung a song, dig deep each time and remember *why* you wrote these words or *why* you were drawn to this particular song. Find that emotion and use it to express yourself—That is your job as a singer.


5) Enjoy Yourself
For one song, you’ve got 2 to 4 minutes on stage, so make the most of it! If you spend the entire time rushing through, or focused on what could go wrong, you’ll miss the magic. Be present for these moments, enjoy being on stage and connecting with your music and your audience. This is what being a musician is all about!

When it comes to voice lessons, it takes patience, practice, and a little bit of risk-taking! Ultimately, you are the captain of your own ship. Learning how to sing is an art and a balance of all of the above tips and advice. With the combination of all of them, you will find yourself well on your way to singing even more vibrantly and confidently in no time.
Want to put these tips to the test? Then sign up to sing at our next Student Concert! Talk to your instructor or stop by the front desk to learn more.



This article was inspired by and adapted from this article on takelessons.com and this one on songbirdsf.com.https://songbirdsf.com/five-tips-for-singing-in-front-of-a-crowd/ 


Photo credit: Doug Guarino

Tuesday, January 29, 2019

Piano Myths Busted


Do you dream of starting piano lessons, but worry that you’re too old, or too busy, or lack the discipline to focus and learn to play? These are some of the common excuses that might keep you from learning piano. In this month’s article, Elena Stabile, one our awesome piano instructors, helps us debunk a few of these excuses and myths.
Most everyone has thought about taking piano lessons at one point or another, but there are some pervasive myths and excuses out there that keep new students from taking the first step to actually doing it. We’re going to address these five myths and help you make an informed decision about taking piano lessons.

Myth #1 – “Piano lessons are boring.”

If you’re unfamiliar with piano lessons, you may imagine sitting at the piano with a mean teacher who keeps yelling at you to play the same scale over and over. The truth is, most of us are far from scary! Learning an instrument can be a challenge, but it’s an extremely rewarding challenge. As piano instructors, it’s our job to make that journey as fun as possible! Different instructors have different techniques for accomplishing this, so it’s important to find someone who is a good fit for you and your learning style — and who also understands your goals. At North Main Music, we encourage you to take an introductory lesson as a way to get a sense for an instructor’s teaching style.

Yes, there are some things that everyone needs to learn — such as theory and scales. But learning these things doesn’t have to be boring! What if there’s a way to show you how scales fit into your favorite rock or pop songs? And how knowing music theory will empower you to quickly learn the songs that you love? Even when you’re learning things that seem difficult and less fun, work with your instructor to find creative and practical ways to incorporate this new knowledge. You’ll be amazed at how easy it becomes to learn — and how much fun you’ll have doing it!

Myth #2 – “If you don’t start piano lessons by age 11, it’s too late.”

Over the years, we’ve heard this myth attached to several different ages, and many variations of thought, such as, “You can learn the instrument, but you will never be able to reach your full potential” or “It will be much more difficult to learn if you start after a certain age.”

Age really doesn’t matter. It’s about your passion for music, desire to learn, and your dedication to investing time in practicing and honing your craft. So if you’re an adult or teen who wants to take piano lessons--do it! It’s never too late to start learning the piano.

Myth #3 – “I don’t have time for piano lessons.”

In the 21st century we don’t *have* time, we *make* time for the things that matter most to us. “‘The excuse of ‘not having time to practice’ falls in a similar vein,” said Elena Stabile, North Main Music piano and voice instructor. “People sometimes expect that being a musician means practicing for hours a day. Sure, that's what you'll do if you're a full time concert pianist, but we don't expect that from our students, especially if they do multiple activities or work full time. Teachers help their students find ways to best and most efficiently practice, given the demands of their lives and what they're currently working on. The approach is totally individualized.” Many North Main Music instructors also encourage their students to record their lessons on their smartphone. Doing this provides a great resource for practicing at home because it reinforces what you learned during your lesson.

At North Main Music, we have daytime, evening, and weekend lesson times available and we’re open on most holidays, too. In addition to having a variety of lesson times, many North Main Music instructors also encourage their students to record their lessons on their phone. Doing this provides a great resource to take home and use to reinforce what you learned during your lessons.

Give us a call or send us an email to discuss your schedule and how we can work with you to find a lesson time that fits your life.



Myth #4 – “I can’t start piano lessons because I don’t own a piano.”

The piano is an impressive instrument to behold both visually and musically--especially a baby grand! Although nothing may compare to playing a well-tuned, full-sized piano, the truth is, you don’t have to own a piano to start learning. There are many different types of affordable keyboards that are great to start with, especially for beginners. If the student is a child, we actually recommend taking this route if you don’t already own the piano. Even kids who love music will often want to try a few different instruments before settling on one. Starting with a keyboard will allow them to try piano without having to make a serious financial commitment.

There are many great websites where you can find amazing deals on lightly-used keyboards. If you decide you would rather buy new, most music stores offer these options as well. The bottom line is, no matter what you start learning on, the most important thing is to get started!

Myth #5 – “Trying to play ‘by ear’ can actually hinder your progress in learning piano.”

We’ve heard stories of students being told not to use their “musical ear” to assist them while reading notes. And for some reason, many students feel like they need to choose to be either a “note reader” or an “ear/chord chart player.”

While most people are naturally inclined one way or the other, it’s equally important for a student to develop both skill sets. Some instructors like to incorporate ear training exercises for their students, in addition to note reading. This helps to create versatile, well-balanced musicians who can adapt to any situation. Your ability to hear what music should sound like will also prove extremely valuable in correcting mistakes as you are practicing on your own throughout the week. So to sum things up, playing by ear will definitely not hinder your progress in learning piano. In fact, quite the opposite!

Piano lessons can add great enjoyment to your life, regardless of whether or not you aspire to be a professional musician. If you’ve let piano lesson myths keep you from starting lessons in the past, maybe it’s time cast excuses aside and give it a try! Happy playing!



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

________________________________________



Meet Elena Stabile, piano and voice instructor at North Main Music

Elena is a professional singer, with a performance background in both voice and piano. She studied at Lawrence University and Conservatory of Music (BA and BM) and the University of Tennessee Knoxville (MM), and got her start teaching during undergrad as a music theory and aural skills teaching assistant and tutor before moving to private voice and piano. Elena's performance experience is primarily in opera and in contemporary classical music; and she also frequently sings in churches as a soloist or as a part of an ensemble. Elena is new to the area--she moved to Nashua in July 2018--and she's very happy to be working at North Main Music. "Working at NMM has provided me with a very positive and supportive teaching environment," said Elena. "I love seeing the growth my students have already experienced in such a short time, and I'm excited to continue working with them and to help them achieve the goals we set out for them when we first started."


Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Guitar v. Piano: Which one is the best fit for you?

Here at North Main Music, we get this question often from prospective students and their parents: should they first learn to strum sweet serenades on the guitar or tickle the ivories? The answer is anything but black and white (insert piano keys pun here.) Piano and guitar are both suitable to most music genres and are equally up to the challenge of accompanying a vocalist. Yet at the same time, these two instruments couldn’t be more different. So, which one is the best fit for you or your child? In an ideal situation, one would get a solid foundation in both piano and guitar in order to know for sure, but we can help make your guess an educated one.

Learning Curves—Guitar v. Piano
The guitar and piano learning curve are not the same. After your first piano lesson, you could very well walk away with a simple tune like ‘Twinkle Twinkle Little Star’ under your belt. By contrast, the only thing you’ll walk away with after your first guitar lesson is probably sore fingers. Guitar can be uncomfortable at first. Between the sorta wonky wrist position and the hard-to-press strings,it can take up to two weeks before you’re not shaking out your burning fingers every 5 minutes.

Jump to three months or so from your starting date: With practice, you will have made steady improvement on the piano. You can play a handful of simple songs, but coordinating both your hands is a little like patting your head and rubbing your stomach at the same time. It may be a little while before you can comfortably accompany yourself.

After three months on the guitar, your fingers haven’t been getting sore for a while, and you’re equipped with a handful of chords. You can strum, with some confidence, a huge repertoire of basic rock songs, and at least 10 Bob Dylan songs. You’re not shredding, but you could do a campfire proud.

After about a year-and-a-half of diligent practice, piano and guitar start to even out again. You can pound out enough chords in C and G Major to play some of your favorite pop songs on the piano. Maybe you’ve got a sonatina or two under your belt. More intricate passages are still tricky and require time and effort. They always will.

After a year-and-a-half of furious practice on the guitar, you’re kind of bored with strumming, and you’ve moved on to lead guitar passages and fingerstyle. That can keep you busy for, oh, the next ten years! Intermediate to advanced guitar progresses in much the same way as intermediate to advanced piano.




Portability and Space
This pro v. con is a no-brainer. Hands down, a guitar is more portable and space-effective than a piano. Get an acoustic guitar, and you can take it almost anywhere. Get a piano, and you can barely take it up the stairs (with an army of burly gym rats). You can, of course, remedy the portability problem by getting a keyboard, but you’ll still always need a power source. This one goes to the guitars.




Start-up Costs
While it may be true that guitars are less expensive than pianos, a beginner guitar costs about as much as a beginner keyboard, and really, a keyboard is all you need when you first start piano lessons. Since there’s no need to break the bank buying the best equipment in the beginning, both instruments get a point for this topic.

Theory and Ear Training

It can be easier to conceptualize melodies on the linear piano than on the nonlinear guitar. What does linear vs. non-linear mean? There is only one way to play each unique note or frequency on a piano. There’s only one middle-C, one C above middle C, etc. On the other hand, the guitar has around six ways of playing the very same pitch. When playing by ear on a piano, if pitch in a melody increases, your hand necessarily moves to the right. When playing by ear on a guitar, if the pitch in a melody increases, your hand might move toward the body of the guitar or to an entirely different string.

Now one for the guitars: Some people find it somewhat easier to conceptualize harmonies and chords on a guitar than on a piano. This is because the piano is divided in a somewhat arbitrary way with black keys. It is fairly easy to understand music theory in the context of one key (C-Major) on the piano, but the way the keys are arranged obfuscates the fact that harmonic progressions are simply distances and relationships between chords. It’s easier to demonstrate these relationships with chord shapes on the guitar.

Accompaniment and Vocal Type
Piano and guitar are both quintessential for vocal accompaniment, but they lend themselves to different types of voices. Because they are loud and bright, pianos can sometimes drown out the beautiful mellower types of voices. Pianos sound great with voices that might be described as soulful, clear, salient, bright, or virtuosic. Guitars can accompany any type of voice, but acoustic guitars complement voices that might be described as darker, soothing, airy, or “folksy.”

So, there you have it. We hope that this Guitar v. Piano list gives you some food for thought as to which instrument might be suit your musical interests and current lifestyle. If you have further questions, you are always welcome to contact us at 603-505-4282 or email us at northmainmusic@gmail.com.



Inspired by and adapted from this article on mollymusic.org.