Tuesday, November 19, 2019

Musical Theater Part I: Tips for Rocking Your Audition

The North Main Music Musical Theater crew. 
From l to r: Josh, Trisha, Ella, Riya, and Emmerson.
Photo by Sibvon Marshall.
Are you an aspiring musical theater performer? At North Main Music, many of our students also audition for theater programs at school or in community theater groups, so we thought it would be helpful to share some tips on how to rock you next musical theater audition!

Selecting an Audition Song
Selecting the right song is critical to your audition and it can take time--there’s a lot to consider as you decide! So, if you find yourself Googling “how to pick an audition song,” then look no further.

Even if you’re comfortable in the spotlight and don’t normally get stage fright, there’s often a long, arduous process to prepare for an audition. As you prepare, keep these things in mind:
  • Treat each and every audition like a performance. Why? Because it is a performance!
  • Approach it like you have the job already.
  • Select an audition song that best shows you off and is in the musical style of the show that you’re auditioning for.

So how do you choose the best song for you? Here’s what we recommend thinking about as you look for the best audition song(s).

Do you have a connection to the song? Another way to ask this question is, “Why do you want to tell this story?” Equally important to ask yourself is, do you love your audition song? No? Then don’t do it. Period. Your audience can always tell if you’re not into it. Since there are so many songs out there, there’s no excuse for doing something you dislike just because it may fit your voice. You have to connect with your song!

Questions to ask yourself:
  • What are the primary ideas and themes you want to share in your performance?
  • Why is it important to share this song with your audience?
  • How is the story you are trying to tell relevant to your present age and life experiences?

Choose a musical topic that is close to your own life experiences. You’ll be able to imagine it more clearly and, therefore, communicate it to the listener more effectively. There is a vast body of quality music out there, so choose songs with messages that you are personally interested in sharing.

Consider Your “Type”

Is your voice soulful and sultry? Or are you more of a soprano? The best way to learn how to sing for your voice is to try out many different tunes. Any strain may mean it’s out of your comfortable vocal range. Your voice teacher can work with you on this, of course!

Equally important in musical theatre is your personality type. Are you a funny girl? A leading man? The femme fatale? Know yourself and be proud to be yourself. There’s room for everyone out there — young, old, funny, sexy, nerdy — you name it. Playing “against a type” will get you nowhere and you’ll find you don’t land the gigs you want! These are all critical factors in deciding on the best audition songs to show off your skills.

Find the source material

Is the song you’ve chosen correct musically and lyrically? Is it in the correct key for your voice? Today most people buy music online, but sometimes music purchased via download-on-demand services contains variations of the melody and lyrics. Find the source material (the original version of the sheet music). That can sometimes be a challenge, but it’s important that you learn the song correctly. Try looking at your local library or university, or contact the Great American Songbook Foundation to see if they have a copy in their archives. If they do, they will be happy to send you a copy.

“The Key is the Key”

You may also find these versions have been arranged in certain keys so they are easier to play on the piano--however, this may not be the best key for you to sing it in. (Be aware that there isn’t a correct key for popular songs.) Your choice of key impacts the technical aspects of your performance, which will ultimately affect your interpretation of the piece. If you are working with a vocal instructor, they can help you choose the key that allows you to sing the song as well as possible.

Is your song choice creative?
Avoid repertoire that’s strongly associated with an individual artist, or has become representative of that artist’s body of work because when you sing these songs, it will be difficult to avoid being compared to that artist. If you like a particularly iconic song, such as Etta James’ well-known version of “At Last,” here are some options:

Listen to other songs recorded by that artist, and then choose something that is less iconic.

Investigate the songwriter/composer’s catalog, and find a similar piece you like. You will often need to dig a little deeper to find a piece that is perfectly suited to you and your skills. The Great American Songbook Foundation has compiled a “Greatest Hits” playlist of some of the most well-known tunes. And don’t automatically write off musicals that didn’t do well at the box office — they often have great music!

Does the piece challenge you *appropriately* as a singer?
The key word here is appropriate. You should not (we repeat, not) seek out the most challenging piece you can find. If the song is right at the edge of your technical abilities, you will be focused on that aspect of the performance and will likely lose the focus of the story you are trying to communicate because the technical demands will overwhelm that. Make sure you are comfortable with the difficulty level of the material you choose.

Consider edits & attention spans

Musical theater auditions usually require a singer or actor prepare 16 or 32 bars of a song, or two contrasting excerpts. Some songs are much more awkward to cut than others. Choose songs that are fairly simple in structure (verse-chorus-verse, for example), rather than a song that rambles like a long musical monologue (think of many of the songs from “Wicked,” for example). Simpler is always better, if you have the option!

Also, keep your audience in mind. Your audition panel has been listening to singers all day long and doesn’t really want to have to cut you off. Singing a shorter song is fine, as long as it shows off what you’ve got! Less is sometimes more. The judges often know all they need to about a singer in a surprisingly short amount of time.

Consider Your Age

These days, kids have great repertoire to choose from. The problem is that kids often go into competitions or auditions with songs that are inappropriate; either the song’s subject matter is too mature or the song is beyond their capabilities.

When you’re looking at popular music, it gets especially difficult as most songs deal with romantic relationships. However, there are plenty of pop songs with positive messages. Look at the repertoire of Taylor Swift, Bruno Mars, or Rachel Platten.

Kids can also do well by going “old school.” Young girls can look at the music of Connie Francis, and both boys and girls can sing a lot from the Lennon/McCartney songbook.

If you’re looking at musical theater audition songs for kids, be aware of what’s overdone. No “Annie” — ever — unless they specifically ask for it. Get a good musical theater anthology and explore the songs that you may be unfamiliar with. For kids, the main idea should be about confidence, personality, and fun!

Preparation Time
Frantically learning a new song before an audition doesn’t always work. If you have already found audition songs that show you off, by all means use one of them if it fits the audition requirements! Otherwise, there is more room for error (lyric flubs, weak high notes, etc.). It can be helpful to maintain a book of the best audition songs you’ve worked on, ready to go at any time.

Benefits of Working with a Vocal Instructor
If you are an aspiring musical theater performer, you need to be working on improving and mastering your voice every step of the way. That’s why you see many musical theater singers working regularly with vocal coaches even after they’ve “made it.”
Of course, vocal training will help you with the technical side of singing, but there are a lot of other benefits that you’ve probably never considered.

Better posture

One of the first things any good voice instructor will notice is your posture. That’s because a hunched posture really limits your breath capacity and can obstruct your vocal chords. It’s just harder to sing with bad posture.

After you’ve had your posture corrected for the umpteenth time, it starts becoming a habit, and that habit will carry over to the rest of your life. You’ll find yourself sitting up straight in your chair at work, you’ll stand tall onstage, and you won’t be hunched over on the bus or train. And that all adds up to less back pain and aches.

More confidence

Building off the previous point, simply having a good, tall posture can instantly make you feel more confident. Which is good, because singing in front of an audience can be scary. Even the most outgoing and confident people get a little anxious before getting on stage. A big reason we get so anxious is because we fear people judging us badly. This is especially true for singers who are being judged on something so personal as their voice. Vocal training can help you get past that fear and build confidence.

Less stress and increased mental alertness

Another thing a good voice instructor will notice is your breathing. As a singer, you will get better tone, power, and sustain if you breathe deeply and fully from your diaphragm. You’ll learn breathing exercises, and just like posture, those techniques will become habit and you’ll find yourself breathing deeper even when you’re not singing.

Deep breathing is scientifically proven to improve your mood, relieve stress, and increases mental alertness, concentration, and memory as the brain and other organs get more oxygen. And all of this can help your performance, your music career, and your life.

Better connection with your audience

Think about all your favorite musical theater performances. What drew you to them? At first we think it’s just the music or the story line, but there are plenty of great musicals out there. Often what we really fall in love with is the actor’s performance and the uniqueness and personality they convey with their voice.

If you know how to properly control your voice, you don’t need to spend as much time and effort worrying about getting your tone right, hitting that high note, or controlling your dynamics. All of that will flow much more naturally so you can focus on your performance. You can work on developing your sound, conveying the emotion of the song through your voice, and adding in little nuances that are uniquely you.

At North Main Music, we offer a Musical Theater group program for budding young thespians. This program offers students an excellent opportunity to fine tune their musical theater skills under the guidance of a professional instructor. Best part: they can take what they learn in our Musical Theater program and use it to bring their auditioning skills to a whole new level!

For more information about our Musical Theater program, email us at NorthMainMusic@gmail.com or call us at 603-505-4282.

This article was inspired by and adapted from articles on takelessons.com, getacceptd.com, and sonicbirds.com.

Thursday, October 17, 2019

4 Reasons Why Ukulele Is the Perfect Stringed Instrument for Younger Children

Many music-loving little kids aspire to play stringed instruments, such as guitar and bass. However, larger string instruments are generally not recommended for children less than 8 years old because they require a larger hand size and finger dexterity that little kids typically do not possess yet. Luckily, the ukulele is a small, cheap, and easy gateway into more advanced stringed instruments and is a very suitable instruments for children as young as 5 years old. In this month’s blog article, we’ll discuss just how simple and accessible ukulele for young beginners can be.

Stringed instruments are extremely popular in every culture and most musical genres. For any younger student who embarks on this particular musical journey, the ukulele is a the perfect instrument for a few great reasons, especially if you want to eventually move to the guitar as you grow older.

1. Ukuleles Come in Five Different Sizes

The ukulele comes in five distinct sizes. From smallest to largest, they are the pocket ukulele, the soprano, the concert, the tenor, and the baritone. The soprano (pictured here) is the ukulele size and type most commonly used and associated with the instrument. You have lots of options to choose from for the optimum variety to suit your hand size and preference.

A small child can comfortably hold and play the pocket or soprano in the same way that a full-sized adult can hold and play a tenor or baritone. In terms of portability, even the baritone is extremely convenient for traveling on foot, by car, or by plane.

2. Ukuleles Only Have Four Strings

The ukulele only has four strings, unlike a six-string guitar, a five-string banjo, or an eight-string mandolin. This provides a refreshing sense of simplicity, both mechanically and conceptually, to many younger students.
At the same time, the range of creativity and musicality is not limited since most of the chords anyone will ever play only contain three or four notes each.

3. Ukuleles Are Tuned Like a Guitar

The strings are actually tuned identically to the four high-pitched strings on a guitar. This means that as students are learning chord shapes and scale patterns on the ukulele, they are actually learning how to play the same shapes and scales on the guitar.

Many varieties of chords and scales on the guitar only incorporate the four high strings. In fact, many of my ukulele students spend their time learning songs that are written and played with the guitar.

4. Ukuleles Are in the Easiest Key
The four strings are centered around the easiest, most understandable key in all of music, the key of C major. This means that the first time you are exposed to the concepts of a major scale, a key, and how chords are constructed, the focus stays primarily on notes that only come from the white piano keys.

The result is that every note is simply named after one of the first seven letters in the alphabet, and you don’t have to immediately learn sharp or flat notes. This provides a very understandable atmosphere when learning notes, scales, and chords, for the first time.

As a music school staffed with experienced professional musicians, North Main Music appreciates the valuable characteristics and accessibility of this instrument for younger children. We feel that the ukulele is a great first stringed instrument for anyone,but especially for younger kids.

Is your youngster interested in learning ukulele? Click here to learn more about our fantastic ukulele instructors!

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

Thursday, September 26, 2019

Is Saxophone Hard to Learn? Read This Before Starting Lessons

“Is saxophone hard to learn?” Not exactly. The saxophone, like many instruments, is not difficult to begin playing. It can however, be challenging to master.

Many people say that it’s easy to make a sound on the saxophone, but harder to make a good sound -- at least at first. But if you’re considering getting started with saxophone lessons don’t let the challenges discourage you! A self-disciplined student can progress in their saxophone skills by taking the right steps as a beginner.

Is Saxophone Hard to Learn?

It’s usually easy to get a sound out of a saxophone during your first lesson. If the sound is not responding, the reed and mouthpiece are likely being squeezed together as a result of too much jaw pressure. The way that you hold your lips on the mouthpiece of the saxophone is called the “embouchure.” This is the most important aspect of learning the saxophone and it has a great impact on tone quality. This skill is developed over several years and will require a great amount of coaching.

You may still be wondering, “Is saxophone hard to learn?” One of the biggest challenges of the saxophone is that it’s not an instantly gratifying instrument. It takes a lot of time and effort to develop good tone quality. Furthermore, some people will have an easier time learning the saxophone than others, depending on their age. Children can start the saxophone as early 4th grade and some public schools let 4th graders play the alto sax, but if a child has weaker hands, they may need to start with the clarinet.

People who have prior experience on any wind instrument, especially woodwinds such as the clarinet, will adapt to the saxophone more quickly. Fortunately, the fingering system for the saxophone is not as complicated as other woodwind instruments.

Some students get frustrated that they don’t sound like a professional within the first month or two of lessons. These unrealistic expectations can set a student on a course for disappointment and make it more difficult for them to stick with it. Remind yourself that college music majors who have been playing the saxophone for eight years still have a lot to learn!

The Easiest Way to Learn the Saxophone
Now that we’ve established that learning the saxophone is doable and worthwhile, you’re probably wondering how to get started. At the beginning of your lessons, it’s important to develop fundamental skills on the saxophone, and not simply work on playing the same songs over and over.

Working on the embouchure, scales, articulation, dynamic control, and vibrato will strengthen your abilities as a saxophonist. To start your learning journey with ease, follow the simple steps below and you’ll set yourself up for success.

Choose Your Equipment Wisely
When beginning to learn the saxophone, having quality equipment can make a huge difference. Stay away from “value” brands. Professionals will tell you that if you’re worried about the initial cost, it’s better to get a used instrument from a trusted brand rather than a cheap, brand new instrument.

To get started on the saxophone, you’ll need some standard equipment for beginners:

  • Yamaha 4c mouthpiece
  • Vandoren Traditional “Blue Box” reeds (strength 2.5)
  • A Bonade ligature
  • Yamaha or Selmer saxophone. Most beginners start on an alto saxophone (the smaller of the two), although some begin on the tenor saxophone

For your neck-strap, simply make sure that it is rigid and not stretchy. Most music educators will agree that this is a good quality beginning setup.

Find an Experienced Saxophone Instructor
The best thing a beginning saxophonist can do is to choose a good private instructor. North Main Music is home to an excellent saxophone instructor, Aaron Gratzmiller. Be sure to choose a teacher who can help you reach your specific goals.

Even if you hope to play in the jazz, pop, or rock genres, it’s best to start with a classical instructor and classical equipment. This type of instruction will help you build a solid foundation of tone, reading ability, and technique.

Practice, Practice, and more Practice!
Mastering any instrument is a lot of work, but remember to try to make it fun! With your teacher’s suggestions and feedback in mind, put in the hours properly practicing your instrument. Then, as a reward at the end of your practice session, try some improvisation or play your favorite song.

Including this important step in your practice routine will help you stay motivated. In addition, reminding yourself at the end of a practice session why you love the saxophone will help you avoid frustration and continue thinking positively about your progress.

Now you’re ready to get started. The journey of becoming a saxophonist can be a winding road, but it will also be incredibly rewarding. Good luck!

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

Thursday, July 25, 2019

Tips for Staying Motivated to Practice in the Summer Months

We're more than halfway through summer vacation and by now you know all too well what happens when you take some time off from your music: the rust sets in pretty quickly! So what can you do to keep your music strong this summer, especially if you plan to audition for competitions, or try out for school orchestras, choirs, or bands this fall?

Whether you’re a parent who is concerned about keeping your child’s practice schedule maintained throughout the summer months, or a student who’s struggling to stay motivated, you’ve come to the right place. Many student musicians are on “vacation” until they’re back in the classroom in September, but taking a three-month break from an instrument is sure to set your progress back. With more time on your hands but less of a routine, the only way to ensure you or your child keeps practicing is to become more involved. Here are a few ways you can encourage yourself or your child to practice and progress.

Create a Rewards System

If your child participates in music lessons, you have two choices for the summer: keep them enrolled in private music lessons or stand-in as their teacher during the summer months (which is likely to be the opposite of fun). Taking lessons with a qualified instructor, such as one of our fabulous teachers at North Main Music, can help prevent that summer slump.

One thing many music teachers do to help motivate their students to practice is establish a rewards system. Some parents use a token system, while others get a bit more creative. Whether you create a number wreath or establish a different system that works for you and your family, it’s important that your child feels rewarded for a job well done. As for the rewards, they can be small rewards (ice cream cones or special treats) throughout the summer or one large reward (a family trip to a theme park) at the end of the season. Regardless of the rewards or the system, focus on encouraging your child to meet their goals throughout the summer.

Establish a Schedule

Consistency is key when it comes to setting a practice schedule. Unfortunately, the summer months aren’t usually as structured as the rest of the school year. For this reason, try setting a general time frame (instead of a set hour during the day) when you or your child should fit in their practicing. For example, instead of creating a schedule where you practice at 10 A.M. everyday, decide that practice needs to happen for 30 minutes after breakfast. Additionally, make sure your scheduled practice “time” works for you or your child. Some people concentrate better in the morning while others’ creative juices flow later in the afternoon. As long as practicing is consistent, that’s all that really matters.

Invite Friends to Mini-Performances or Join a Band

Student concerts and live performances throughout the school year help keep your child interested in and excited about their instrument, so how can you keep this excitement alive during the summer? Try putting on mini-performances for friends and family. If you’re new to the area or don’t live near a lot of family, you can be their audience. Just ask them to perform a new song for you once a week and act like it’s a real performance: pay attention, clap, and praise them for a job well done.

Whether it’s a Monday evening mini-recital or a Saturday afternoon jam session with their friends, they’ll look forward to impressing their friends and family with what they’ve learned each week. And, as an added bonus, you’ll enjoy the special time the two of you spend bonding over music.

At North Main Music, our group programs don’t go on hiatus during the summer--we practice all year round. So, if holding mini-performances in your living room isn’t your thing, we encourage you to join one of our bands, rock shows, the theatre program, or our acapella group. Being part of a group that’s counting on you can be excellent motivation to keep showing up and showing out for your band

Go to live music concerts

Challenge your listening skills in new ways. Watch how the musicians interact with the audience. Stretch your musical tastes.

Listen to music

Again, stretch your musical interests by listening to genres of music you’ve never heard before. Tune in to music you already know in new ways.

Do you have tips to add to the list? Let us know and we’ll consider quoting you (and giving you and your music a shout out as well.)

This article was inspired by and adapted from this article on thevault.musicarts.com and this one on majoringinmusic.com.

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:


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.


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.