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

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,, and

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

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
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

Monday, March 16, 2015

What if I forget the words?

We promise, the show will go on--and you’ll live to tell about it

No matter how much you prepare for your moment in the spotlight, anything can happen on stage! This unpredictability makes performing lots of fun, but it can also be scary. However, if you prepare for your performance the right way, you can even forget the words to the song you’re singing and still deliver a top-notch performance. Professional musicians and North Main Music instructors, Lizz Potter and Sibvon Rose, have experienced their share of performance blunders and lived to tell about it. In this article they share some of their experiences and offer advice to musicians who may be worried about making mistakes while performing live.

Tell us about a past performance during which you made a major blunder.

Lizz: I recently had a gig in Boston. It was a 3-hour solo set and it went well overall, but as I was both singing and playing piano, I was trying to read lyrics and chords at the same time, so I screwed up both a couple of times and panicked. However, I recovered as quickly as I could and as strongly as I could.

Sibvon: I can’t recall a specific performance with a major blunder, but I will say that I’ve learned from past mistakes that you have to learn to cover them really well—don’t let the mistake show on your face and in your body language. The audience won’t have a clue that you’ve screwed up unless you show it in your facial expressions and body language.

How do you recover from mistakes during a performance?

Lizz: Finish strong—people won’t remember a flub in the middle of a song if the rest of the performance is solid.

Sibvon: I always tell students to “own the mistake.” In other words, if you do a part wrong, one great way to cover it up is to purposely mess it up again. It’s a way to stay in control of your performance.

What advice would you offer to budding musicians who may be scared about making mistakes when performing live?

Lizz: Even if you’ve practiced a song 1000 times, mistakes can still happen, and that’s ok. Throughout my career, I’ve found that using breathing exercises as a method of relaxation is very helpful and important. Breathing helps me to be less in my head and more in the song. And, remember, have fun with your performance no matter what happens.

Sibvon: Audition for everything you possibly can. The more your audition, the less scary performing live will be. And use that nervous energy to your advantage; harness it and use it to take your performance to the next level.

Lizz and Sibvon teach piano and voice at North Main Music and both have been studying and performing music since childhood. To learn more about their musical backgrounds and teaching philosophies, click here for Lizz and here for Sibvon.

The above article was inspired by and partly adapted from this article on

Monday, January 26, 2015

So you need a piano: Tips for selecting the right instrument for your needs

A beginning piano student needs a good instrument. Think of it this way: If you wanted your kid to play soccer, would you send him or her out on the field in a pair of cheap flip-flops, or would you make sure your they had a good pair of shoes? Shoes, of course! On the other hand, does your child need professional-quality $100 soccer cleats? Maybe not on the first day.

As a parent, you want to make sure your beginning piano student has a positive experience while learning to play, but you’re probably not ready to go out and buy a baby grand. That’s fine. To help you decide what will be best for your family and your budget, let’s talk about the options.

Acoustic Pianos
A quality acoustic instrument that produces sound from real strings and real wood offers a level of responsiveness and a range of dynamics and tone color than even the nicest electronic keyboard cannot match. The sooner a student has the opportunity to practice on an acoustic instrument with that kind of nuanced musical responsiveness, the better. True, acoustic pianos are expensive. The typical price range for a quality acoustic upright (also called “vertical”) piano is $4000 to $8000, and if you want a grand or baby grand piano, expect to pay even more.  There are some great brands out there, including Yamaha, KawaiBoston, and Schimmel. If you already have a piano, be sure it is in tune and that the keys are in good working order. Tuning a piano typically costs between $150 and $200 and North Main Music would be happy to connect with you with reputable tuning companies in the Nashua area.

Electronic Keyboards
If you’re not ready to spend a few thousand dollars on an instrument, your beginning student can get off to a great start with an electronic keyboard or “digital piano”. Electronic keyboards come in many sizes and prices. For a new piano student, the most important factors will be the number of keys and whether or not the keys are weighted.

Learning on a keyboard with 88 weighted keys gives a student a big advantage. The weighted keys build hand strength and respond more like the keys of an acoustic piano, making it easier for an advancing student to move on. One of our top picks for beginning students in the electronic keyboard category is the Casio Privia PX-150, which has great key action and the same size keyboard, 88 keys, as an acoustic piano. These and other similar keyboards cost between $500 and $700.

Whether you buy a keyboard with weighted keys or not, it’s best to go with a trusted brand such as CasioYamaha, Kawai, or Roland.  When buying an electronic keyboard make sure to also purchase a bench and a stand A keyboard set on a table will probably not be at the correct height for a young student seated in a chair. Ideally, the keyboard and bench should be set at the right height so that the player’s arm from wrist to elbow is parallel to the floor.

There are certain advantages to having an electronic keyboard over an acoustic piano, such as the ability to plug in headphones so that a child can practice without disturbing other members of the family. Electronic keyboards can also be connected to a computer with a midi cable and used with all kinds of educational and music production software. They’re more portable, and, unlike acoustic pianos, electronic keyboards never need to be tuned.

If a beginning student has access to a quality acoustic piano, they will have the opportunity to develop more nuanced musicianship from the first. But students can also get a great start with at an electronic keyboard and move on to an acoustic piano at a later time.

We hope these tips will be helpful to you in your search for the right piano for your currents needs. As always, you’re welcome to contact us if you have any other questions.

Adapted from this article on the Hoffman Academy website.

Photos from the North Main Music fall 2014 student concert courtesy of Robyn Neville.