A Case for Early Childhood Music Education

When I was young, there weren’t a lot of organized activities or private lessons available for children in the three to five year old age range. Swim classes, dance classes, gymnastics, and a slew of other options for youngsters seems to be a more recent phenomenon, at least to this original small town girl. While the more overtly physical activities have gained momentum over the years, why not consider early childhood music education?

piano keyboard kids music

There is a world of opportunity for our youngest kiddos to participate in music making from the earliest ages, birth even, from Suzuki inspired lessons to an exploratory early childhood music and movement class. Now I know what you may be thinking: “Music? For a newborn or a three-year-old?” Absolutely. Think of the ways our children learn: from their environment, by imitating others, by exploring the world around them, and learning through trial and error. Although these characteristics may not be exclusive to musical experiences, they are inextricably linked to the way music and learning takes place for our youngest musicians. There are many reasons our children should participate in a rich musical environment from as early of an age as possible. Here are four for you to think about.

 

1. Children learn from their environment

One of the first questions I receive from parents who are contemplating music education for their younger child is whether or not it is too soon. Well, it depends. If you are talking about a three year old who you wish to begin formal piano instruction, I’m not sure his fine motor skills are developed enough to accommodate the proper technique needed to play the instrument. Additionally, his emotional maturity, and size alone, could be major roadblocks. Another issue is purely attention span. A one on one lesson where a student is asked to rote memorize note names on the lines and spaces of the staff is not going to hold a three-year-old’s attention for more than three minutes, and may be a concept simply too abstract for that age group. But what if he were playing a game with other three-year-olds? Not only would it hold his attention for much longer, but he would also learn from watching and observing other children.infant music lesson

 

I have taught music classes for children as young as 0 years old. Yes, a music class for newborns and their parents. I know what you’re thinking; do those infants even know what’s going on? Well, they obviously can’t verbalize or show us the steady beat, but they can experience it in their mother’s arms and by watching other babies bounced in their fathers’ laps. The point is, so much learning is from our environment. Social cognitive theorists study how we learn from our environment, through modeling and positive and negative reinforcement of others. Taking this into account, group music lessons or classes are inextricably valuable for our youngest learners who are just beginning to learn their place in the musical world.

 

2. Early childhood music education lays foundational knowledge through exploration and experimentation

Obviously these very young students who are infants or toddlers are not going to be playing a Bach Sonata or composing rhythm patterns after a series of group musical experiences.  However, the very nature of early childhood music, and early childhood in and of itself is play. It is often said that play is children’s work, and this is certainly the case with play in early childhood music education. Initial experiences are just that, the beginning, the foundation, the place from which inspiration and curiosity stems. The earlier our children have the opportunity to be immersed and explore within a rich musical environment, the more musical vocabulary they will develop.

 

general music class Let’s go back to the three year old whose parents wish for him to begin piano lessons ASAP. Indeed, a child at this young age will not be able to play four octave scales in sixteenth note patterns, but he could be placed with a teacher who understands his current stage of cognitive development and focuses on foundational skills in music. This can be done through a number of ways, whether game based or purely exploratory. These early experiences provide an entry point from which young musicians blossom.

 

If you were to take a peek inside a kindergarten music class, you would see this exploration model first hand. Students learn songs, play games, tell stories, and imagine different ways to express themselves with and through music. Much like learning a language, these students are learning to speak before they read and write.

 

3. Early experiences develop music vocabulary

We know from research that the early years in a child’s life are the most critical for development. Although this may be a sweeping generalization, it has broadly been shown that as time goes away our brain picks and chooses what attributes to keep through the process of pruning. However, the brain has great plasticity, and we can certainly continue to learn new skills at various stages of life. But just as it is said that learning a foreign language is easier as a child, the same is true of the musical language.

 

early childhood music educationThink of the ways a child learns to speak. She listens, she explores, she babbles, she imitates, she observes to make connections between sounds and symbols. This goes on and on until she finally connects the word “ball” to the round rubber thing the dog catches and eventually forms her mouth correctly to make the sound. The same thing happens in music. She listens, she explores, she experiments, she imitates, and begins to make connections between high and low and loud and quiet. That is, as long as she has had a musical environment or model from which to explore and imitate.

 

I have had many students where their first musical experience is in my kindergarten music class. I have also had many students who come from a home where there is music ever present, either by a parent or a sibling or otherwise. As the teacher, I can often tell which student is which. Those who have had a musical foundation prior to my class are ready to learn the words and read and write the language, but those who haven’t still need an interpreter.

4. Early childhood music is social, but also develops interpersonal skills and awareness

I’m going to go out on a limb and suggest that most parents do not enroll their students in activities for the sake of the activities themselves. You don’t sign your child up to play soccer so they can go on to win the World Cup, just like you don’t sign your child up for violin lessons so they can be the next Joshua Bell. That may be an exciting benefit, but hopefully not the basis of the appeal. The real reasons are so that children can come to know their place in the world and learn skills that help them interact with others. But also, so they can come to know themselves.

 

A continually toted benefit of music education is that it teaches students hard work and dedication. By playing an instrument or performing in an ensemble, they learn to make goals, strive for excellence, and work hard. That’s all good and true, but music education is not the only activity that helps those things. What makes music education, and specifically early childhood music education unique, is the process.

 

musical playBy observing others in a rich musical environment, our youngest musicians not only build vocabulary or learn from their peers, but they begin to develop their own musical tastes and personalities. This helps them find not only an identity as a young musician, but a young human being. Playing a game of “Ring Around the Rosie,” a kid might learn to sing a simple melody, walk in a circle, and “all fall down.” But he also learns that Johnny pulls and makes the circle cave in, Jane holds his hand too tight so he doesn’t want to stand next to her again, and Jude never “falls down” which ruins the game. But while he is making these observations, he is still walking to a steady beat, singing in head voice, and paying attention to form so he knows when to drop, all developing music vocabulary. Then, there is the whole host of extra musical renderings that take place in a music lesson that otherwise may not have transpired.

 

 

Early childhood music education is vital to a child’s development. It doesn’t matter whether or not they plan to play at Carnegie Hall or sing with the Houston Opera. These early experiences lay a foundation and develop a vocabulary so that they might come to understand the orchestra piece, or pick up on emotion in the opera, because they are a product of a rich musical environment. The vocabulary built through early experiences and explorations in a rich musical environment not only provides a foundation on which to build more complex musical concepts and skills, but gives our children the opportunity to develop the skills needed to interact with one another and understand themselves.


Belt Mix Untangled: A 5-Step Guide

Have you ever tried to learn a new song and found yourself straining to reach certain pitches, resorting to “shout-singing” or flipping into your head voice? It’s an incredibly frustrating feeling to not be able to seamlessly maneuver through the middle part of your vocal range and sing with the freedom you want—enter the belt mix.

microphone for singing

 

What Exactly is Belt Mix?

larynx and vocal maskTo clarify belt mix, we must first talk about belting as an independent vocal technique. Belting is simply the act of singing in chest voice past where the singer’s natural break, or passaggio, occurs and higher into the vocal range. We frequently hear singers belting in contemporary music, from pop and rock to musical theater. While many current professional singers use belting, that doesn’t mean that belting is always the most successful way to sing higher in the range and can actually cause a great deal of damage to the vocal cords if used incorrectly. As a voice teacher, I’ve never taught a student to belt unless belting already came naturally to the student and was produced in a healthy, natural way. I do, however, teach students who wish to sing repertoire that requires belting and have trouble singing fully above their breaks to use belt mix.

 

Belt mix occurs when the singer negotiates singing in chest voice and head voice simultaneously through the middle of the range (the part of your range above your break), hence the “mix” of the two resonators. The result of using belt mix is a well-supported voice that feels easy and free for the singer and sounds like belting to the listener. The technique specifically alleviates the pressure felt in the throat and neck that occurs when belting while still maintaining a fullness of sound. If done correctly, belt mix will provide accessibility to many of those songs that previously felt too hard, or too high, to sing and will add longevity to the voice, allowing the singer to keep practicing and performing safely for years.

 

How to Use Belt Mix in Five Steps

It should be emphasized that learning to use belt mix, like any other vocal technique, takes a lot of time and patience and should be done with the help of a teacher. Just remember that you are belt mix lessonbuilding the foundation for healthy, sustainable vocal production.

 

  1. Take a quick mental body scan—are you holding tension anywhere in the body unnecessarily? Are you locking your knees? Hunching forward? Gripping your jaw? If so, take a few minutes to do some gentle stretching to release tightness and set up a sense of good, natural posture in the body. In order to achieve the best results when you are singing, your body should feel as free and uninhibited as possible.

 

  1. Set up your breath—take a few large, slow inhales and exhales (keeping the shoulders and neck relaxed!) to get the breath going. A little trick I like to use when setting up my breath is to imagine the origin of my inhale in the bottoms of my feet, and then I inhale up through my legs, torso, spine, and out the top of my head before exhaling completely. Breaths that start low in the body and helps ground you will make a huge difference in your practice.

 

  1. Find your break (or passaggio)—use the following vocal exercise to identify where your break begins. You are specifically looking for the point in which you can no longer sing in your chest voice with ease: beginning on A3 (A below middle C), sing Do-Re-Mi-Re-Do (A-B-C#-B-C). Then, move up the scale by half step (for example, the next round of the exercise would start on B♭) until you’ve reached your break. Once you’ve found the break, flip into head voice (to avoid pushing the voice) and continue up the scale for a few pitches. Maybe try coming back down the scale and observing whether the voice transitions from head to chest in the same place (oftentimes, we can carry the head voice lower in the register when singing descending scales). The key at this point is to feel very clearly when you are in chest voice and when you are in head voice.

exercise to find passaggio

 

  1. Find your forward placement—the next step is to bring the voice forward. Finding a forward placement in the face (sometimes referred to as “the mask”) achieves a belt mix sound most easily. Here’s a little trick to find forward placement: hum the exercise mentioned in Step 3 from A3 until you reach a few pitches above your break on an “ng” hum (tongue raised, mouth open). You should feel very little transition through the break and more flexibility than when you sang during the previous step. Now try the singing the same exercise once again on an “Ee” vowel (like the word, “knee”), keeping the voice resonating in the same places in the face as when singing the “ng” hum.

 

  1. Engage your full breath support—yes, we are coming back to the breath because it’s THAT important for successful results. Start by taking a low, long inhale, imagining that you are filling your entire torso with air (front, back, sides). Then, sing the exercise from Step 3 and Step 4 from A3 through your break one more time on an “Ee” vowel. As you sing each phrase, imagine someone squeezing your sides down near your hipbones (low in the torso) like someone would squeeze a plastic ketchup bottle. Using this engagement in the torso, your voice will have the support it needs to carry it through the break without causing any tightness or feeling of pushing in the throat. The sensation in the body while singing the exercise at this point will feel more similar to singing in head voice than in chest voice—this is exactly what you want to feel. If tightness or pushing occurs, go back down the scale and try again with fully engaged breath.

word breathe

 

When you try out these steps to learn how to use belt mix during your next practice session, please remember that you are learning to coordinate and use your voice in a completely new way. It’s not easy, but your singing will feel so much more effortless and flexible once you can sing with belt mix. Record yourself every now and then to track progress and adjust your practice as needed. With some patience and diligence, you will be singing more freely and fully than you ever imagined in no time!

 

 


Cremona Violins: Innovative and Artistic Instruments

cremona italy map

What is a Cremona violin? Well, you’ve probably heard of a Stradivarius. Maybe one of your favorite professional string players uses a Guarneri, or an Amati. But did you know that all three of these violin makers were from the same city in Italy?

Cremona: this is where the modern violin was first created and popularized. Why Cremona? For a couple of good reasons.

 

The Beginning of the Modern Violin

nicolo amati

Nicolò Amati By Jacques-Joseph Lecurieux [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Modern violin making seems to have started with Andrea Amati (1507 – 1577)[1]. Roger Graham Hargrave, a violin maker, cites that Amati was an accomplished luthier (violin maker) by 1525.[2] And many sources record that Amati was pivotal in the shaping of today’s current instrument. John R. Waddle, a luthier (maker of stringed instruments) in St. Paul, Minnesota, explained in a telephone interview that Amati’s creation of the arch in the top and back of the violin, as well as the modification of other elements of the instrument, contributed to the new violin’s success. This was the start of the Cremona violin legacy.

Andrea Amati passed on the luthier skill to his sons. His grandson, Nicolò (1596–1684), is credited as being the most famous instrument maker of the family. And it was in Nicolò’s workshop that craftsmanship was taught. Andrea Guarneri (c. 1626 – 98) was an apprentice in Amati’s violin workshop. Antonio Stradivarius (1644?-1737) might have worked there too.

 

 

Cremona: Pivotal Center for Music

Cremona, at the turn of the sixteenth into the seventeenth century, had a thriving culture of music. The composer Claudio Monteverdi (baptized in 1567, died in 1643) was born in Cremona and trained at the cathedral with the director of music, Marcantonio Ingegneri. Monteverdi published two full books of music as a teenager. By 1590, Monteverdi was employed as a string player for the Duke of Mantua.

And this is exactly how the Cremona violins were promoted throughout Europe. John Waddle noted that “Cremona [was] where the musicians were. They were good.” From Cremona, these musicians and their instruments went all over Europe – Vienna, Paris, and Prague, to name a few. Catherine de Medici (Queen and later Regent of France) was a great promoter of the arts, and her son, Charles IX of France, ordered 38 instruments from the Italian Amati.

 

The Cremona Violin Tradition Continues

cremona violins

Il Cannone Guarnerius, the Guarneri violin used by Paganini, now on display in Genova, Italy. By Sailko (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Guarneri and Stradivarius were well prepared for this culture that appreciated fine instrument making. Andrea Guarneri passed on the skill to his sons and his nephew. His nephew, Giuseppe Giovanni Battista Guarneri, (1698-1745), became the best known luthier of the family, and is today commonly known by the nickname “del Gesu” because he would print I.H.S. (Latin abbreviation for “Jesus, Savior of Man”) on his violin labels.[3] According to Encyclopedia Britannica, the virtuoso violinist Paganini enjoyed the ‘robust’ tone of Guarneri del Gesu’s instruments – Paganini’s Guarneri violin is now displayed at the Palazzo Municipale of Genoa.

 

Stradivarius:  The Peak of Perfection

Antonio Stradivarius also had a very long and fruitful life as a luthier. His original birthplace and birth date are unknown, according to the 1915 edition of the Groves Music Dictionary. Due to an outbreak of plague in Cremona, Groves suggests that Antonio Stradivarius’s parents and older siblings may have fled to a different town in order to escape the illness that wiped out much of the Amati family.

However, Stradivarius was making violins by 1666, when he was 22 years old. Groves explains that Stradivarius had the habit of including his age on the label when he would finish an instrument. For someone who marked his age as “89” in 1736 and “93” in 1737, we can tell that this artist didn’t let age slow down his skills.

Stradivarius is believed to have perfected the modelling and reshaping of the violin that Andrea Amati started back in the 1500s. Stradivarius’s instrument designs varied over time – he changed the type of varnish, the styling of the bridge, and the proportions of the violin body, for example. But his later Cremona violins are generally thought to be his best, and these are the instruments upon which many modern violins are designed.

 

How the Secret Vanished

antonio stradivari workshop

Painting of Antonio Stradivari’s workshop by Edgar Bundy, 1893.

What made Stradivarius’s violins so good? For many years, it was thought that the varnish was the key. Grove says that Stradivarius evidently wrote the recipe for the varnish “on the fly leaf of a family Bible.” A relative, Giacomo, destroyed the recorded recipe but reportedly kept his own copy, in case a later family member wanted to try his hand at violin making. But where that secret recipe went, no one knows.

However, today experts also believe that at least two other factors affect the quality of the Stradivarius sound. Those factors are the condition of the tiny pores within the violin’s wood and the thickness of the back and front of the violin. That, and the varnish all contribute to the construction of these magnificent violins (Encyclopedia Britannica).

Stradivarius died in 1737. His sons, Francesco and Omobono, kept the business going until they died in 1743 and 1742, respectively.

In his lifetime, Antonio Stradivarius created or supervised the construction of approximately 1,100 stringed instruments. World Book Encyclopedia says that “about 635 violins, 17 violas, and 60 cellos still exist.” As a comparison, from the Guarneri family, only about 160-170 violins are left that bear the true “del Gesu” imprint (Hargrave, “Amati, Stradivari and Guarneri”).

 

Where the Instruments Are Today

Some Cremona violins are in museums, like the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. The Library of Congress began its collection of fine violins with the donation of four Stradivarius instruments in 1935 from Mrs. Gertrude Clark Whitall. More instruments have been added to the collection since that time. Today, the Library maintains a collection of Amati, Stradivarius and other valuable instruments which are used by the Library’s string quartet in residence.

And some of the Cremona violins are kept by collectors and musicians. The Stradivari Society maintains a program that links owners of valuable violins with promising musicians. The program began when teacher Dorothy DeLay wanted to find a high-quality instrument for her preteen pupil, Midori. The young violinist was given the chance to play on the “David” Guarneri del Gesu. She won the right to borrow the instrument, and went on to a world-famous career in violin.

Today, in order to borrow one of the Stradivari Society’s instruments, the musician is contracted to use the instrument only if he or she can pay for the insurance on it. The borrower is also required to perform three concerts per year for the sponsoring patron. The instruments are subjected to three exams every year, by the restorer and curator of the Stradivari Society. That way, the Society can assure both the lender and the borrower that the instrument has been kept in the best of care. And the number of famous musicians who have been a part of the program is quite impressive – Gil Shaham, Hilary Hahn, and Sarah Chang are just a few of the names on the list.

Frequently, the musician who owns or plays the Cremona violin (or viola or cello) leaves his name with his instrument: the Ex-Gingold Stradivarius, for example, was played by Josef Gingold, who also taught at Indiana University. His instrument is now a part of the International Violin Competition of Indianapolis, Indiana. Fritz Kreisler’s Guarneri, the Ex-Kreisler, is now kept in the Library of Congress collection.

 

The Violin: A Piece of Practical Art

Why are the Stradivarius, Guarneri and Amati instruments still revered today? “That’s a great question,” Waddle said. “It’s similar to why people talk about Rembrandt or Picasso. These men were

stradivarius violin

Stradivarius violin in Museum cita de la Musique in Paris, France
Editorial Credit: Denis Kuvaev / Shutterstock.com

masters of their art – they put their whole souls into their [work],” he explained. “[They were] innovators.”

The thing to keep in mind, though, is that each instrument from the old masters is a unique creation. The makers were testing new ideas as they created their instruments – and some experiments worked better than others.  “They were not all created equally…” Waddle explained. “Each has its own personality.”

For example, today, a standard full-sized violin will have a body that is 14 inches long. However, the neck and other parts of the violin can definitely be different, so that people of different builds can find a comfortable instrument that fits.

The same concept of fitting the instrument to the player was also true for the Italian masters. There are still small and large models of the Cremona violins. It is possible that some of the smaller-sized instruments could have been made by special request, perhaps for the use of an aristocrat’s child. (Although there were student or child-sized instruments during that time, not many have survived to this day, Waddle noted.) Other instruments were probably made to order, based on the unique needs of each customer, like tailoring a coat to your specific measurements. “There’s a whole lot we don’t know about these shops,” Waddle said.

It is important to keep in mind the fact that no single luthier made all the instruments. “It wasn’t just one guy – sons and more workers [helped out]” Waddle clarified. Likening it to a DaVinci or Rembrandt painting, he explained that the master might have made a part of the instrument, but other people in the shop probably completed the rest of the work.

“It’s amazing how many [instruments the Stradivarius shop made]” Waddle commented, explaining that that shop was turning out a new instrument every two weeks. And instruments were not limited to violins – violas, cellos, harps, guitars, bows and instrument cases were also manufactured there. “I think he was a total workaholic!” Waddle laughed.

 

Modifications for Modern Times

Many of the Cremona violins that are still around today have been modified to suit the needs of the modern musician. For example, violin strings now are made of wire instead of gut, which requires stronger support inside the violin. Violin finger boards have grown longer, and chin rests have been added. With these modifications, the instruments are better able to compete with modern orchestras and concert venues.

But for a very few of the Cremona violins, modifications have gone backwards. These instruments have been restored to be more like they were when they first were used – the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s “Gould” Strad is an example.

Whether a musician is able to use a modified or a restored instrument, the fact remains that playing and listening to any of the early Cremona violins is a rare opportunity. Cremona, Italy, had a wonderful opportunity to bring a new and improved musical instrument to the world. And her citizens – Amati, Guarneri, and Stradivarius (and their families) – did well.

 

 

[1][1] Roger Hargrave uses these years, while Encyclopedia Britannica gives Andrea Amati a shorter life span, c. 1520-c.1578

[2] See Roger Hargrave’s history of Andrea Amati: Source

[3] See Hargrave’s article, “Amati, Stradivari and Guarneri,” Source


Recording a Demo at Home

The greatest part of being a musician is sharing your music with others. While live performance is the most fulfilling means of exhibiting your talent, being able listen to or pass someone a recording of your music at any time is a fantastic convenience that can open many doors—including more opportunities to perform.

sharing music demo

As an aspiring musician, you’re bound to find yourself in need of a demo at one point or another; it’s inevitable. Unfortunately, musicians are often limited in time and funding when producing a demo record, and the only viable way to make one is by doing it yourself at home.

 

The options are limitless when it comes to home recording. But “limitless options” is just another way of saying “many decisions to make.”

 

Let’s look at the whole process of recording a demo at home, from start to finish, how to sort through all of the options and make a quality recording without wasting more time or money than necessary. And most importantly, how to have fun with the process!

 

Prepare Thoroughly

 

taking notes on sheet musicThe first and most important step in making any recording—be it DIY or otherwise—is to be thoroughly prepared. If you aren’t absolutely ready to record, then you are going to burn through money and time until you’re frustrated and overwhelmed. Although the process of recording a demo at home is incredibly time consuming, it can be among the most fun experiences of being a musician so long as you go into it with adequate preparation.

 

 

 

 

Know exactly what you’re going to record and how

I’ve wasted countless hours trying to decide whether I should be recording one song or another. If you’re undecided on what you should or shouldn’t be recording, you’re likely to find yourself starting songs, scrapping them, starting other songs, and wasting hours of your own time and the time of whomever is helping you. If you know exactly what you want to record, then the process is simple- perform it until you get a take that you like.

 

Know whether you will be recording instruments one at a time and then layering the recordings over each other or if you will record everything together at one time. There are advantages and disadvantages to each, but tracking individual instruments is typically seen as the more professional option. Although it takes longer, it allows you to capture each instrument more clearly.

 

Be able to play the songs flawlesslysheet music on stand

Before you even think about getting into recording a demo at home, you should be able to play your songs perfectly every time. While it’s possible to fix minor mistakes in post-production, it’s much easier to record it right the first time. Practice, practice, practice, until you can play the tunes in your sleep. It will make recording a breeze, and save more time and headaches than you can imagine.

 

 

Do your research

There are so many resources available to learn about recording a demo at home, there is no reason not to spend some time learning about the theory and techniques of audio engineering. A book on recording will go a long way in simplifying the process and will allow you to put out the highest quality demo possible. Also, spend time learning how to use whichever equipment you choose to record with. Audio gear often has a number of features and options that can simplify your recording tasks if you know how to use them effectively. Preemptively learning the inner workings of all the gear you have will save a lot of time down the road.

 

Get Help

Making a recording that accurately captures the music that you’ve put so much of yourself into is more than a science; it’s an art. There is much to know on the subject and there are many skills recording a demo at homethat can help make a demo sound more professional without excess gear. Musicians and aspiring recording technicians typically run in the same circles and have many of the same friends. As important as it is for a musician to have a demo, it is equally important for an aspiring audio engineer to have a portfolio of work. If you can find friends who are trying to work in audio, you can easily develop a symbiotic relationship where you help each other develop your portfolios. Audio techs will typically have the gear and skills to make your recording higher quality and make the experience more productive and valuable. If nothing else sound-geeks always have a wealth of knowledge to share, and they’ll usually be happy to offer some guidance and advice to a novice who’s going into their first home recording.

 

Decide How You’ll Be Recording

 

There are two main options for recording a demo at home: you can either get an all-in-one recording device, or you can buy the individual gear necessary to set up a home studio. While the former is much more cost effective, the latter offers a great range of options for many different budgets.

 

Systems like the TASCAM DP-008EX or BOSS BR-800 are simple plug in and record options that can offer decent-enough quality for an at-home demo. You will, however, need to purchase the necessary microphones, and depending on which device you are using, you may need a computer in order to put the recordings on a CD.

 

Seen as the more professional option, setting up a home studio can be expensive, but the value that it can provide is worth the cost. There’s an overwhelming amount of recording gear available, the majority of which is optional. There are a number of pieces of gear that are absolutely necessary in order to make a simple recording. For a bare-bones home studio setup, you’ll need:

 

Microphones and cables

dynamic microphone

Shure SM-57 Dynamic Mic.

 

While a major recording studio will use dozens of microphones on one recording, it’s possible to make a decent sounding demo with just a couple versatile mics. The microphones you need will depend heavily on what you’re recording and how much you want to spend, but for the simplest of setups you will want one dynamic microphone and one condenser microphone.

 

Dynamic microphones are capable of tolerating a huge range of input levels, are very durable, and are the most versatile microphones. They have a fairly wide frequency spectrum that they record, so they are good for many different instruments. The Shure SM-57 is the most iconic and versatile microphone of all time. It is a great, basic mic for vocals, guitars, and certain frequencies of drums. The SM-57 offers immense value for its low cost which makes it great for recording a demo at home.

 

Condenser microphones are more sensitive than dynamics, and they are capable of picking more subtleties in a recording. In a simple setup they are typically used as a room microphone to capture the ambience in a performance. They also make great vocal microphones, and a common technique is to use a condenser and dynamic mic together, blending them to get the best tone.

 

 

Computer and software

The industry standard for recording professionally is ProTools software with a Macintosh computer. This is an expensive setup, but there are many other cost effective options. The entry level ProTools software does include an audio interface, allowing you to plug the microphones directly into the computer. As third party audio interfaces can be quite expensive, this makes it a good value. There is a considerable learning curve with ProTools, or any software. Whichever software you choose, there are countless guides available to learn the basics of operating the programs.

 

Once you have all of the gear set up and ready, recording is as simple as pressing record and playing the song. As long as you prepare thoroughly and research the gear you’ll be using, you’ll be able to get started with recording a demo at home with decent sound for much less than it would cost to go to a professional studio.

recording microphone

 

 


Learn the 3-Octave G Major Scale On Guitar

If you’re new to the guitar, the idea of learning how to play scales might seem like a waste of time. After all, a scale isn’t a chord that you can play in a song. For a complete beginner, scales like the 3-octave G Major scale can also seem really difficult to learn—if they’re taught wrong, that is. So, if you’re learning how to play guitar why should you take the time to learn scales?

acoustic guitar

Why Scales Are Important

 

Scales boost muscle memory by forging powerful connections between your brain and your fingers. These newly-built connections have massive positive effects on your ability to press down on frets, thus improving your tone. Scales allow a musician to explore and memorize which notes fit within a key. Memorizing scales will help musicians improvise, craft melodies, and improve ear training. Important technical skills like alternate picking and left hand fingering are taught and reinforced when a guitar player takes the time to memorize scales.

 

Having a working knowledge of how to build scales can give a student an important window into how music theory works and why it’s important. The pattern of frets that are played in a G Major scale contain the same exact pattern behind every other major scale on the guitar. Taking the time to master the 3-octave G Major scale will essentially teach you how to play major scales anywhere on the guitar. Are you sold yet?

 

How To Play The 3-Octave G Major Scale

 

Start on the 6th string, 3rd fret with your middle finger. It’s important that you follow fingering instructions here. Once you memorize the 3-octave G Major scale you’ll be able to use the same finger patterns for any other major scale. Go slow and never rely  on your left hand index finger to press down all the notes. That’s an easy short-term fix that will end up hurting you in the end. Check out the tabs and instructional video below:

 

3-Octave G-Major Scale (Ascending)

3 octave G Major Scale Ascending

3-Octave G-Major Scale (Descending)

3 Octave G Major Scale Decending

Once you’ve memorized this scale, try moving it up a fret, and you’ll soon be playing the Ab Major scale. Happy scaling!


Setting Up a Drum Set

So you’ve just bought your first drum set, and right now you just might be staring at the pile of pieces in bewilderment, unsure as to how it all goes together. In this article, I’m going to show you the basics of setting up a drum set, and explain why we do it the way we do.

setting up a drum set

Components (and variations)

At its most basic, a typical drum set consists of:

1. Snare drum

This drum typically has a shallower shell than the other drums you have received, and is so named for the system of wires that run along its bottom head (the ‘snares’ or ‘snare wires’)

2. Bass Drum

This is the largest, lowest pitch drum that sits on the floor and is played with a foot pedal.

3. Tom toms (rack and floor)

These are deeper shelled drums, in a variety of sizes; there are usually two or three (including the floor tom, which stands on three legs), but there may be more- though I do not recommend more for the beginner!

4. Cymbals

You should have at minimum, one ride cymbal, a crash cymbal, and a pair of high-hat cymbals (which are mounted in such a way as to be played with the foot as well as the sticks).

5. Hardware

This includes the high-hat stand, stands for the cymbals, any mounting hardware for the toms, and the bass drum foot pedal.

 

This illustration shows the standard arrangement for a basic set:

setting up a drum set

 

Most left-handed drummers prefer to reverse this setup, but some do not! Ringo Starr is a classic example of the latter, while Phil Collins is an example of the former.

 

A few basics to consider when following this model:
Your snare should sit between your thighs and knees, with your throne positioned so that both arms (relaxed) are equidistant from the center of the snare head. Your feet should land in a relaxed, natural way on each pedal, with no angling of feet or legs being necessary. Snare and floor tom should be at the same height, and most people these days recommend they be positioned flat (with heads parallel to the floor) or minimally angled. A good rule of thumb for all the drums played with sticks is to ensure that you are able to play a rim-shot (stick striking the head and the rim simultaneously) with both hands (and don’t worry if you can’t do that yet, just put both sticks on each drum, touching the head and rim- if you cannot do so comfortably, you’ll need to make some adjustments).

Principles of setting up a drum set properly

Assuming we are going to adhere to convention as far as basic setup goes, there are a couple of considerations regarding optimal setup. We want your drum set to be optimized for:

 

1. Comfort and conservation of energy

2. Total control of, and access to, the full palette of sounds the drum set offers

3. Minimization of risk

Thankfully, most of the things we will talk about just happen to do all three at once! We’ll begin with:

 

At what angle should my drums and cymbals be?

Aside from the bass drum (the angle of which is inherently fixed), this is a very important consideration, and one which all too frequently is not addressed early enough. It is very common for the beginning drummer to have her toms- and even her snare- angled sharply towards her (with the batter head essentially facing her). This approach is problematic on many levels, and in fact violates all three of the aforementioned principles. When a drum is struck with the stick, generally speaking, it is the side of the bead of the stick that should be making contact with the drum head, as in this illustration:

level drum stroke with stick

If a drum is too steeply angled, it will result in the tip of the bead striking the drum, as shown here:

wrong way to set up drum set

This is likely to lead to poor tone production, an increase in risk of damage to the drum head (as seen in the pitted heads of so many beginning students), and potentially, excessive strain on the wrist. Furthermore, rim-shots are impossible on such a steeply angled drum.

 

Toms that are positioned too high result in wasted energy and potential strain. Correcting this is pretty simple- just place them within the easiest reach that doesn’t result in steep angles, and where they do not come into physical contact with other elements of the drum set (which obviously would result in unwanted noise and wear).

 

Similarly, cymbals should be easily accessible- not too high (remember, conserve your energy- drummers need all they can get)- and additionally, should be angled for access to the wealth of different sounds each cymbal can produce. A steeply angled cymbal will drastically reduce that palette. The drummer should have access to every area of the cymbal with both the bead and the shoulder of the stick.

stick on cymbal

Further considerations when setting up a drum set- make sure the wingnuts are not too tight- cymbals should be free to move on their rods (you’ll need to check for other parts of the set obstructing this, and adjust carefully). Clamping your cymbals down too tightly chokes the sound that they produce. Also, make sure to head down to your local music store and get a handful of plastic cymbal sleeves- these slip over the threaded rods that cymbals rest on, and prevent the hole of the cymbal from rubbing against the rod, or worse, the threads! This will save a lot of cymbal life, and improve the sounds they produce.

 

So in short, when setting up a drum set, ensure that you have easy and comfortable access to every element!

 

Hardware and other elements

Each of your cymbal stands has an adjustable tripod base (there are some exceptions, but it’s more than likely this is what you’ve got). The key to setting these at the optimal base width depends on a couple variables, and depending on your particular setup, some trial and error will be necessary. Fundamentally, each base should be set as wide as possible given space limitations (the reason for this I hope is obvious). Smaller base widths are fine for lighter cymbals, and the widest you can manage for heavier, larger cymbals, or very heavy-hitting drummers (relax cowboy, they have microphones at the club)! Adjusting the high-hat stand can take some getting used to, but the main concern is having the foot pedal flat on the floor.

cymbal with snare

And finally, the throne. Opinions vary on throne height- some like to sit high, some low- so I’ll give my opinion based on my experience. I believe that the optimal height allows your knees to be directly over your ankles when placed on the pedals, with your thighs more or less parallel to the floor. This allows you to center your gravity on the throne, resulting in all your limbs being free to move independently. From this point, you may need to readjust your snare and floor tom heights based on the aforementioned rim-shot principle.

 

Hope this has helped you in setting up your drum set; here’s wishing you happy and safe drumming!


The Bass Trumpet- A Brief Overview

The Bass Trumpet

Where it came from and where it is now

Richard Wagner Ring Cycle

Richard Wagner

The composer who wrote a 16-hour opera cycle and dreamed up the black sheep of the tuba family (the Wagner Tuba) has contributed more to the low brass world than you think.

 

Wagner also helped propagate the development of the Bass Trumpet, for better or for worse.

 

Maybe you already knew this and maybe you didn’t—either way, few instruments share a background as murky as the Bass Trumpet, and even fewer suffer as much confusion in the modern era as to how and where it should be played. The bass trumpet didn’t start with Wagner, and it didn’t end with him either; let’s try to shed some light on the subject.

 

“What is a Bass Trumpet?” The Basics

The bass trumpet is fairly self-explanatory; it is a trumpet set a sixth, ninth, or an octave below a traditional trumpet. The determining factor is which key the bass trumpet is set in—the bass trumpet is most often made in C or B♭, and every once in a while you will see an E♭ bass trumpet. Most professional orchestral bass trumpets come in the key of C.

 

the bass trumpet

Bb Bass Trumpet

As an example, the B♭ bass trumpet is set an octave below the normal “soprano” B♭ trumpet.

 

The B♭ bass trumpet usually comes with three valves, whereas the C bass trumpet commonly has four. This allows the C to dip slightly lower in the range—down to a D below the bass clef. The mouthpiece is larger than a trumpet mouthpiece, but it is still smaller than a trombone’s; therefore, trombone players are most often charged with performing the bass trumpet parts in orchestral literature.

C Bass Trumpet

C Bass Trumpet

 

You may notice some strong similarities in sound between the bass trumpet and the valve trombone, but think of the bass trumpet as having a harder tone (it really is a trumpet, just down an octave or two!). The confusion between the two can also be blamed on some modern instrument manufacturers who make versions of the bass trumpet that are nothing more than valve trombone tubing bent in a different shape.

 

Think of it this way: if you buy a cheap model of a bass trumpet, you are likely getting a re-fitted valve trombone (and there isn’t necessarily anything wrong with that).

 

The Bass Trumpet’s Origins

While the modern bass trumpet bears closer resemblance to the valved bass trumpets being invented in Germany in the 1820s, Anthony Baines brings up an interesting discussion of natural bass trumpets in his book, Brass Instruments: Their History and Development. According to Baines, Prussian cavalry—and military bands altogether—used 9 foot B♭ bass trumpets to round out the bottom end of the ensemble. Furthermore, there was usually a 13 foot bass trumpet in E♭ that didn’t see as much action on the score, but it was present nonetheless. These instruments were looped—we aren’t talking about 9 and 13 foot herald-style trumpets.

 

The inventive spirit within the brass community accelerated towards the end of the 18th century, and by 1814 Heinrich Stölzel had invented (or invented at least one important version) of valves on a horn. The Allgemeine Musikalische Zeitung reported in 1821 a performance using Stölzel’s Chromatische Tenor-trompetenbass—what we would refer to as the “bass trumpet.” It is safe to say that these are the origins of the bass (also known as “tenor”) trumpet with valves, and it is this set of instruments that so inspired Richard Wagner to write for them.

 

Orchestras and the Bass Trumpet

Anthony Baines writes, “Deep trumpets of the above kinds would not have escaped Wagner’s keen eye in course of his not infrequent dealings with military bands.” As a result, the bass trumpet soon became the figure of Wagner’s imagination. By the time Wagner immersed himself in the composition of Der Ring Des Nibelungen (throughout the 1850s), the bass trumpet would have been fairly well known in Europe. The bass trumpet had emerged at the perfect time; Wagner’s wide use of the leitmotif demanded both unique instrumentation and uncommon sounds to get the desired result.

Orchestra Pit at Bayreuth, Wagner's Opera House. The first complete performance of the entire Ring Cycle was performed there between August 13th and August 17th 1876.

Orchestra Pit at Bayreuth, Wagner’s Opera House. The first complete performance of the entire Ring Cycle was performed there between August 13th and August 17th 1876.

Wagner ordered a custom bass trumpet from famous instrument maker Johann Gottfried Moritz, and a horn in the key of C, with A and B♭ crooks supplied. Wagner had actually wanted to use one of the preexisting bass trumpets for the opening of Das Rheingold, but the part simply went too high.

 

Around the time that Moritz sent his bass trumpet to Wagner in Munich, Alexander started offering a similar alternative, only his looked and sounded more like a bigger version of the traditional trumpet (Moritz’s looked similar to the modern marching baritone). While opera houses of the mid to late 19th century used both the Moritz and Alexander models interchangeably, modern bass trumpets follow the Alexander tradition more closely than Moritz’s style.

 

Probably due to Wagner’s influence, composers like Stravinsky, Janacek, and Schoenberg began to write works with bass trumpet parts; other than Wagner’s Ring Cycle, the Rite of Spring by Stravinsky is the most well-known work to use the bass trumpet. Schoenberg’s Gurre-Lieder—one of his few tonal romantic works—may be the most challenging work in the orchestral bass trumpet repertoire.

 

Some tips for the lucky bass trumpet player in the Wagner: “It’s best to use a C bass trumpet for Wagner, as you play with trumpets more than the low brass,” said Bach-Conn-Selmer Trombone Artist Dr. David Begnoche. “The low brass use C, but fingerings are different, and intonation is always a challenge even on the best bass trumpet.”

 

Bass Trumpet and Its Use in Jazz

Cy Touff was a pioneer in bringing the bass trumpet to jazz music—up until that point, the role was filled primarily by valve trombone. Elliot Mason of Wynton Marsalis’ band at Lincoln Center is well known for his use of the bass trumpet, and Rashawn Ross has recorded with the bass trumpet as well. Ross is known for his studio work and his tenure with the Dave Matthews Band.

 

For a better idea of how the bass trumpet sounds in jazz, watch this video of Cy Touff in his Octet and Quintet CD.

Also, here is a video of Elliot Mason performing with Janek Gwizdala.

 

Different Styles of Bass Trumpets, and Where to Buy Them

Bass trumpets come in different forms, qualities, and valve orientations (some are piston and some are rotary). Here is a quick “buyer’s guide:”

 

  1. 3-Valve Piston horns are the most affordable option, and they are also the version you are most likely to see in jazz. They sometimes venture out of the jazz parameters, and you may see them quite often in non-professional settings. Bach, Conn, Kanstul, and Getzen all provide reasonably-priced offerings.
  2. Rotary Valve horns are usually German or Austrian and they are intended for more traditional forms of music (take a polka, for instance). Cerveny, Gopp, Schagerl, Dotzauer, Kuhnl & Hoyer, and Miraphone all offer rotary versions of the bass trumpet. These horns also have a wider bore and build, so the sound will be more mellow. They very well may be the closest relative of the horn Wagner ordered from Stölzel.
  3. Orchestral bass trumpets are offered by Alexander, Thein, Latzsch, Helmut, and Voigt. Meinl-Weston also builds horns in this category. They are keyed in C, and you will likely find a professional orchestral player using one of these during a performance of Rite of Spring or Wagner’s Ring Cycle. Thein manufacturers arguably the most accurate version of the bass trumpet.
    cimbasso

    Cimbasso

 

You won’t find many people looking to purchase a bass trumpet, and you certainly won’t encounter a band director offering one to students at “choose your instrument” day. We live in a time where historically-informed performances matter, though—just ask your tuba player friends who have to record with a cimbasso! You probably can’t get past any of the aforementioned orchestral literature without being able to hold your own on the bass trumpet.

 

Trombone players in particular should put in some time familiarizing themselves with how to play the bass trumpet, since you never know when the conductor will pull out Strauss’s Macbeth. Furthermore, you may find that the unique sound of the bass trumpet enhances what you bring to the table as a gigging musician.

 

For your reference, here is a playlist of some orchestral bass trumpet playing— enjoy!

 

 

 

 


Cello Technique Exercises

Cello technique exercises are part of every cellist’s practice routine. Different teachers will suggest various approaches and methods, but there is a consensus about the importance of basic fundamental cello technique exercises by most teachers and professional musicians.

cello technique exercises

Triangle Practice Routine

Before talking about how to practice, it’s important to outline what essential cello technique exercises should be practiced.  After studying music most of my life, talking and studying with professional musicians from various backgrounds – classical and jazz, and having used many technical books on music instruction, I recommend and use what I call the Triangle Practice Routine (think of the three points of a triangle) which consists of three parts:

cello practice triangle

 

Fundamentals

Fundamentals include scales (major and the three minor forms: natural, melodic, and harmonic), international scales from other musical cultures, arpeggios, thumb position octave scale, scales in octaves, and improvisation of a given scale to hear what kind of music might be created from it.  Scales allow the cellist to warm up, clear the mind, and get into the mode of listening and concentrating. They also facilitate the hearing of the smallest intervals – whole steps and half steps. A musician must be able to hear intervals to play well and in tune – playing scales every practice session promotes and reinforces “hearing” the smallest intervals. Just as playing darts requires seeing the target in order to hit the bulls eye, a musician must “hear” the target notes in order to play them well.

Arpeggios (root, 3rd, and, 5th) are the notes in a simple chord or triad. Playing arpeggios gives the cellist the practice of shifting major and minor 3rds (C – E – G and C – Eb – G). Intonation is more difficult when shifting 3rds due to the natural tuning of that interval and must be practiced regularly. Arpeggios also facilitate hand shapes with reference points. A reference point is a finger that remains in place as reference for connecting other fingers which form an entire hand shape.

bass clef arpeggios

C Major, c minor, D Major, and d minor Arpeggios

 

Thumb position is usually considered a more advanced technique, but I suggest starting thumb position exercises as part of a cello technique exercises regimen sooner rather than later, so that the cellist/student gets used to using the thumb as soon as possible. Octave scales in thumb position are one octave scales played with the thumb on the root (thumb 1-2-3 fingers – thumb 1-2-3 finger patterns) on the A and D strings. Another benefit to playing octave scales in thumb position is clearly seeing a scalar interval pattern within a single hand shape (this can’t be easily seen in multiple octave scale exercises).

I also recommend playing scales in octaves on the A and D strings because the hand shapes are larger in the lower register and smaller in the higher registers of the cello. A sort of Alice in Wonderland effect! Start using the thumb as soon as possible so it is as natural as using the other fingers.

 

 International Scales

 

Most music students learn major and minor scales and arpeggios. But the good musician must go beyond these familiar scales. The study of international scales from other cultures – Asia, the Middle East, Africa, India, Eastern Europe, etc., expands the musical ear and gives the musician the opportunity to play other types of music and melodic combinations . . . and adds a creative element to the fundamentals routine. 

 

Hint:

It doesn’t take long to do the fundamentals portion of the practice routine – it can be accomplished in 10 – 20 minutes!

 

Technical Exercises

Cello technical exercises are the second part of the Triangle and involve etude books, methods, and exercises. Etude in French means “study.” Etudes usually focus on note and bowing challenges and patterns. There are countless technical etude books available for cellists of every level. Your teacher will guide you and suggest methods he or she feels are appropriate based on individual teaching philosophy. There are three main reasons musicians use and study etudes and technical studies:

 

  1. To facilitate fingering and bowing technique
  2. cello player in shadowTo practice reading music or sight reading
  3. To develop muscular strength and coordination

 

The increasing difficulty inherent in most etude method books also serves as a constant challenge which helps the musician attain a higher level of playing and technique. Technical exercises are of the utmost importance for making you a better cellist and musician. All serious trained musicians do them and have spent countless hours of practice time playing and studying cello technique exercises. It is fair to say that technical exercises and etudes are a universally accepted aspect of good musicianship.

 

Repertoire

The last part of the Triangle Practice Routine is playing repertoire, or real music. This is where you make all your cello technique exercises come together, express your emotions, prepare for recitals, concerts, orchestra performances, and gigs. The whole point of being a musician is to perform music. Finish your practice routine by playing real music with performance as the goal.  Try to express and communicate musical ideas and passion – an audience wants to hear you express yourself, play with confidence, and communicate the joy of music. By the time you are ready to perform and have practiced sufficiently you are there to express the music, not worry about technical details. Let it fly and feel the music and your audience will too!

cellist in orchestra

 

Conclusion

Cello technique exercises should be part of every musician’s/student’s regular practice routine.  The Triangle Practice Routine (my preferred method) is simple and elegant and allows you to focus on the most important aspects of cello technique exercises. The amount of time you spend practicing is not as important as consistency and how well you concentrate. If you play or practice your cello with consistency you will progress much faster and play with more confidence and precision. I advise against overly complicated practice routines because they are hard to keep up, like New Year’s resolutions to get in shape, and have over extended expectations that never last!  Keep it simple, focused, and fun! What you do in your practice session with technical cello exercises is the key to becoming a good cellist and musician.


Open-String Guitar Chords

Every guitarist, no matter what level or playing style, needs to develop a vocabulary of chords. After all, every song is made up of chords and a melody (sometimes with lyrics) played with a certain rhythm. For this article we’ll take a general look at chords, specifically, open-string guitar chords.

 open string guitar chords musika

 

What are open-string guitar chords?

 

First, we need to understand what chords are and the simple definition is two or more notes played at the same time. As you develop as a guitar player and musician this definition will take on a deeper meaning but, for now, this is a simple definition to help get you started.

What is meant by “open-string” guitar chords?

Simply put, the term means chords that use open strings and are played on the guitar. Chords can be played on a variety of instruments, but a piano, for example, does not have open strings. The nature of the guitar allows for certain “guitaristic” techniques that make the instrument special. In this case, open-string guitar chords offer a different sound and technique that is not available on other instruments. As you become more fluent on the instrument, these guitaristic chords will become part of your vocabulary.

Finally, open-string guitar chords are also referred to by other terms such as first-position guitar chords, open guitar chords, “cowboy” chords, “campfire” chords, etc. Let’s take a look at how chords are written and the various notation systems that we’ll use.

How to Read Chord Diagrams

 

Chord boxes, chord diagrams, and chord grids all mean the same thing. Basically, they refer to the illustrations that are used to present a quick and easy way to notate chords. Each diagram represents a section of the guitar’s fret board.

The bold, horizontal line at the top of the diagram represents the nut and the horizontal lines that follow below the nut point out the frets. The vertical lines describe the strings: the line to the left represents the 6th string, low E, and the line all the way to the right illustrates the 1st string, high E.

The “X” above the nut indicates that you shouldn’t play that string (you either avoid it or mute it). And, the “O” means that you play that string open.

In some cases, you’ll see a red dot, or a red circle with the number or note name inside. The “red” indicates that it is the root of the chord (or scale). The note name sometimes appears inside the circle and the number tells you which finger to use.

Don’t worry, this will become second nature to you fairly quickly.

how to read chords

How to Read Standard Notation

 

The standard notation system is how music is traditionally written and archived. It consists of a five-line staff and the notes are represented by note heads (dots) and stems (flags). There are many rules that apply to this system and are beyond the scope of this article. For more information on this system please see our article on reading clefs or search “how to read standard music notation.”

 

Author's Note
I believe in using both conventions when notating music examples. This way, the student gets familiar with seeing both methods and their similarities. It is recommended that you look at both conventions even if you don’t understand them. Music has a shape to it when written down—if the notes move up the notation reflects that and likewise if it moves down. Follow the shape as you listen to the music and you’ll find standard notation less intimidating.

music notation

How to Read Tablature

 

The tablature system, or TAB, has been around for centuries. It first appeared formally during the Baroque period and was used to notate lute music. Modern music notation has since adopted this system for contemporary and popular guitar music and, over the past few decades, this system has become somewhat standardized.

The six-line staff represents the six strings of the guitar. The numbers illustrate the frets that need to be pressed. A zero “0” indicates that that string should be played open and an “X” tells you to mute that string.

6 strings guitar

There are many other rules to this system however, this should be enough to get you started. The other symbols will need little explanation and, in many cases, will be self explanatory.

In the next section we’ll look at some examples of open-string guitar chords for various playing levels.

 

Absolute Beginner

 

If you’re just starting out, playing the guitar can be fun, exciting, and also overwhelming. You begin with some basic exercises but want to play songs as soon as possible. Here are some fundamental examples that will help you strengthen those finger muscles and develop coordination in both hands while learning something that you can actually play and enjoy.

Example 1: One-Finger, Open-String Guitar Chord Exercise

Take a look at the music example below. Don’t worry if you don’t know how to read music. You can follow along as you listen to the example.

 

guitar one finger chord

 

There are 4 chords.

one finger guitar chordsone finger guitar chord exerciseone finger guitar chordsone finger guitar chords

  1. The first chord is a G chord and will be played with the 3rd finger on the 1st string, 3rd fret. As you fret that note, strum the top 3 strings. Use down strums and strum each chord 4 times. Try to keep a steady rhythm.
  2. The next chord is a Gmaj7 chord. I don’t expect you to know the names, or what they mean, at this time. I do this to make you aware of the fact that there is a name or proper term for everything that we do when learning how to play the guitar. The Gmaj7 chord is played using your 2nd finger on the 1st string, 2nd fret. Same as before, strum the top 3 strings. Use down strums, strum each chord 4 times and maintain a steady rhythm.
  3. The next chord is a G7 and this is played using the 1st finger on the 1st string, 1st fret. Use down strums, strum each chord 4 times and maintain a steady rhythm.
  4. The last chord is a G6 and this chord is played by strumming the top 3 open strings. And, as before, use down strums, strum each chord 4 times and maintain a steady rhythm.
  5. You can repeat this cycle as often as you wish and finish with the first chord, the G.

Here’s a tip:

You can create your own variations on this: strum each chord 8 times, 2 times, etc.

 

Example 2: Two-Finger, Open-String Guitar Chord Exercise

 

two finger guitar chords

Many of you have noticed that the tricky part to playing chords is switching from one chord to the next.  Or, more specifically, maintaining a steady rhythm while switching chords. This next example offers you a chord-switching technique that will help you develop a few tricks:

  • Switching chords without looking.
  • Feeling your way from chord to chord.
  • Strengthening your fingers.
  • Developing finger independence.

 

The approach is called The Common-Finger Technique. In this example, notice that each chord has one thing in common: the 6th string, 3rd fret played by the 3rd finger. This finger is common to all four chords. The trick to developing this technique is to “anchor” that 3rd finger to the 6th string, 3rd fret and not move it at all.

 

In this manner, you can feel your way from the:

  • 4th finger on the 1st string, 3rd fret; to the,
  • 2nd finger on the 1st string, 2nd fret; to the,
  • 1st finger on the 1st string, 1st fret; to the,
  • 1st string, open for the G6, our final chord.

two finger guitar chord exercisetwo finger guitar chord exercisetwo finger guitar chord exercisetwo finger guitar chord exercise

 

Example 3: One-Finger G and One-Finger C Chord, Open-String Guitar Chords Exercise

 

one finger G and C

In this next example we’ll use the same techniques from the previous exercises. Here we’ll repeat the one-finger G chord that we learned in example 1 and add the one-finger C chord. These are two open-string guitar chords that go together quite nicely and appear together in many, many songs.

Let’s review the one-finger G chord. This chord is played with the 3rd finger on the 1st string, 3rd fret. As you fret that note, strum the top 3 strings. Use down strums and strum each chord 4 times.

One-Finger G Chord guitar

Next, we’ll learn the one-finger C chord. This chord is played with the 1st finger on the 2nd string, 1st fret. As you fret that note, strum the top 3 strings making sure that the 3rd and 1st strings sound clear. If you hear any buzzes or odd noises then you probably need to re-position your fretting finger. Use down strums and strum each chord 4 times.

One-Finger C Chord guitar

Example 4: Two-Finger G and Two-Finger C Chord, Open-String Guitar Chords Exercise

 

Two-Finger G and C guitar chords

As we begin to add fingers (and notes) you’ll notice that the chords begin to sound fuller. This next example introduces another chord-switching method called The Pivot-Finger Technique. There are two reasons for using a pivot finger:

  1. for notes on the same string, or
  2. for notes on the same fret.

 

Here’s how it works:

In this exercise will be focusing on the 2nd approach; i.e., notes on the same fret. Take a look at both diagrams side by side.

Two-Finger G Chord on guitarTwo-Finger C Chord for guitar

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  1. Look for notes in common: in this case, the 3rd string, open; and, avoid the 6th string.
  2. Identify the movement, see it before you do it. In this case, the 2nd finger moves from the 5th string, 2nd fret to the 4th string, 2nd fret.
  3. “Pivot” the 2nd finger from the 5th string to the 4th string. “Feel” your way from one string to the next.
  4. At the same time that you execute the 2nd-finger pivot, you need to lift the 3rd finger from the 1st string, 3rd fret and press the 1st finger onto the 2nd string, 1st fret.

As you can see, there’s a lot of moving parts to switching chords—even when they are using open strings.

 

If you’re having trouble then review the chords from bottom to top.

 

For the two-finger G, open-string guitar chord:

  • 6th string: Do not play.
  • 5th string: Use the 2nd finger to play the 2nd fret.
  • 4th string: Play open.
  • 3rd string: Play open.
  • 2nd string: Play open.
  • 1st string: Use the 3rd finger to play the 3rd fret.

 

For the two-finger C open-string guitar chord:

  • 6th string: Do not play.
  • 5th string: Do not play
  • 4th string: Use the 2nd finger to play the 2nd fret.
  • 3rd string: Play open.
  • 2nd string: Use the 1st finger to play the 1st
  • 1st string: Play open.

Example 5: Three-Finger G and Three-Finger C Chord, Open-String Guitar Chords Exercise

 

Three-Finger G and C guitar tabs

We may refer to these as three-finger chords but they are simply the full, open-string guitar chord versions of G and C.

Three-Finger G Chord guitar tabThree-Finger C Chord guitar tab

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

As in the previous example, building the chords from the bottom up is the best way to check that you are playing the chords correctly. Notice that we have a slightly different fingering for the G chord than in the previous example.

 

The three-finger G, open-string guitar chord:

  • 6th string: Use the 2nd finger to play the 3rd
  • 5th string: Use the 1st finger to play the 2nd fret.
  • 4th string: Play open.
  • 3rd string: Play open.
  • 2nd string: Play open.
  • 1st string: Use the 3rd finger to play the 3rd fret.

 

The three-finger C, open-string guitar chord:

  • 6th string: Do not play.
  • 5th string: Use the 3rd finger to play the 3rd fret.
  • 4th string: Use the 2nd finger to play the 2nd fret.
  • 3rd string: Play open.
  • 2nd string: Use the 1st finger to play the 1st
  • 1st string: Play open.

These last two open-string guitar chords are two of the most popular chords that you will learn. They appear in countless songs and, quite often, appear together. If you’re just starting out then you’re off to a great start. There are still many more chords to uncover, many strumming techniques to discover and a whole lot of enjoyment ahead. Take your time and have fun. Thanks for allowing me to be a part of your musical journey.


The Kodály Approach – More than Hand Signs

Zoltán Kodály

Zoltán Kodály

When thinking back on early music experiences, we often reminisce about the elementary school days. Those memories could be filled with costumed performances, recorders, games and dances, and a myriad of other things. What our memories don’t often reveal is the training and pedagogical approaches by which our elementary and early childhood music teachers taught us.  There are many pedagogues elementary music teachers draw inspiration from for music teaching and learning. One of which is Zoltan Kodály.

There are many preconceived notions about “The Kodály Method” and how it is used in music classrooms by music teachers. Often confused as “the one with the hand signs” (that weren’t even developed by Kodály, more on that later), there is so much more to this approach. The inspiration Kodály teachers find in Zoltan’s teachings is a starting point for facilitating students’ music learning in each and every individual, situated, learning environment

1. First and foremost, the Kodály approach is sequential

One of my great Kodály mentors says, “sequence is life, life is sequence.” This is particularly true when it comes to education, and is to essential music education. The spiral curriculum, based on a cognitive theory by Jerome Bruner, is another way to think about a sequential approach. Essentially, each concept builds upon one another, with early learning serving as the foundation for more complex concepts. Think of it in terms of a staircase: without the bottom step, you would not have a place to put the second, and so on and so forth. Music education functions very much the same way.

Let’s look at an example. In a Kodály inspired sequence, one of the very first concepts introduced in Kindergarten is “steady beat.” It is the fundamental musical concept by which all other music learning is built upon. Once a student has mastered steady beat, they can go on to read, perform and create rhythm patterns, melodic patterns, purposeful and creative movement, and play an instrument alone and with others. Without the foundation of a steady beat, it would be very difficult to do any of these things, or any other musical activity.

2. Kodály inspired teachers use repertoire from the folk song tradition.

The Kodály approach was developed by Zoltan Kodály, in Hungary, post war era, when the country was trying to rebuild its identity. Without going into too much historical context (that’s a

Bela Bartok ethnomusicology

Bela Bartok using a gramophone to record folk songs sung by Czech peasants.

completely different article), Kodály and his friend Béla Bartók were ethnomusicologists as well as composers and educators. Ethnomusicology is the cultural context of music. The cultural context Kodály and Bartók were interested in, was their own “mother tongue”, Hungarian. As they collected songs from near and far, they were able to analyze and categorize them by rhythmic and melodic elements (among others). This became the basis for Kodály’s pedagogical sequence.

A Kodály sequence in America functions much the same way. The folk song repertoire dictates the pedagogical spiral curriculum, beginning with the simple and building toward the complex. To give it life, think of this. What do you hear children sing or call on playgrounds all over? “Na, na, na, boo, boo.” Found in many children’s songs, that three-note motive makes up the fundamental call from which many Kodály inspired teachers build. In elementary school music class, many young musicians read and perform rhythm patterns containing “ta” and “ti-ti.” This is another example of a fundamental element, in this case rhythmic, by which many Kodály inspired teachers begin their spiral curriculum

3. Kodály inspired teachers use tools, like rhythm and solfege syllables and hand signs as an aid for teaching music literacy

When you first hear a Kodály inspired teacher sing, “do, re, mi,” I’m sure many of you are transported back to your childhood days of watching The Sound of Music with your family. As it turns out, those syllables are three of seven that designate pitches, collectively called solfege. Many musicians use solfege as a tool for reading melodic content, although the Latin syllables are more readily used by singers to read a melody prior to singing text. Since a child’s first instrument is their voice, singing is often the fundamental component to an elementary music classroom. This is certainly the case in Kodály inspired classrooms.

solfege building blocksLike any good educator, Kodály inspired music teachers use a great deal of tools that aid in music teaching and learning. In addition to solfege syllables, rhythm syllables (like “ta” and “ti-ti”) are an important tool to promote music literacy. There are two main types of rhythm syllables that are used in the music classroom. The first is a system based on note value. An example of this system would be the syllables developed by Chevé. In this system, the quarter note is “ta”, the eighth note “ti,” etc., no matter where the note is placed in a rhythm pattern. The second system of rhythm counting is a beat-based system.  Examples of this system include the “Ta-ka-de-mi” system, where the beat is always “ta” regardless of what its note value is, and the Gordon system, where the beat is always “du.” The most readily used example of a beat-based counting method is traditional counting (i.e. “one and two and…”). Although many musicians transfer to the traditional method of counting, they often begin their music education in elementary school with one of the other systems above, which highlights either note value or beat function.

Perhaps the most stereotypically “Kodály tool” is the use of hand signs when singing solfege syllables. Despite common misconception, Zoltan Kodály did not develop the hand signs used to accompany solfege; Joseph Curwen did. Kodály simply adopted this tool, like those listed above, to his pedagogical approach in order to aid in developing children’s music literacy. With the addition of the hand signs, students have an aural (singing and listening), visual (reading notation), and kinesthetic (using hand signs) component to music literacy.  These three modes of representation (aural, visual, and kinesthetic) are part of Jerome Bruner’s cognitive theory from which the spiral curriculum comes. Bruner highlights enactive (action), iconic (visual), and symbolic (language) representation as important attributes to children’s learning. The rhythm and solfege syllables, along with the hand signs and clapping rhythms, complete the triad needed to facilitate children’s music literacy

4. The Kodály approach emphasizes purposeful play and exploration through activities like singing games and play parties

Play is how children work. Regardless of what we are trying to teach children, particularly young children, it is essential for children to have the opportunity to play and explore before focused, high concentration learning takes place. This is one of the main tenants of the Kodály approach, and most elementary music pedagogical approaches. If you walk into a music classroom, there are times where it may seem chaotic or unfocused to the naked eye. So much learning takes place in ways that don’t feel like learning to students, which is the basis of their appeal.

Take for example, a game many children play inside and outside of the music classroom, “Ring Around the Rosie.” There are so many reasons to play this game, and not always for inherently Kodály approachmusical reasons. First and foremost, making a circle can be tricky. When it’s time to move in a circle? That is really tricky. Not only are students learning about self-space and shared-space, they have to think about what direction to move in, which is the opposite of those directly across the circle. Add to that the singing (of those three fundamental pitches we highlighted earlier), walking to a steady beat with the correct spacing so they don’t run into anyone, and hearing the final motive and home note when it’s time to “all fall down.” That’s a lot of stuff in a little nursery rhyme!

The moral of the story: even if students are “unsuccessful” during an exploratory period, playing and working with others is how they come to know the ways of the world, including the musical world. Kodály inspired teachers use a variety of games, folk dances, and play parties (another traditional genre of singing games and dances) to introduce, explore, and reinforce musical concepts with their students. This way of teaching and learning allows for students to not only be invested in their learning, but to find joy in music making experiences

5. A Kodály inspired pedagogical sequence lays the groundwork for incorporating improvisation, composition, creative movement, and many other musical possibilities

So far I have provided a very small amount of context and given examples of the plethora of tools that Kodály inspired teachers use in the music classroom. I find it important at this juncture to emphasize that while the Kodály approach was originally developed to aid in strengthening a nation’s cultural identity through music literacy, it does not end there. Although its inception was several decades ago, in a completely different country halfway around the world, a Kodály inspired philosophy and pillars of music education are most certainly applicable to modern day music education.

elementary music classBy building a strong foundation of musical literacy through aural, visual, and kinesthetic representation, young musicians are well equipped to not only exhibit music learning, but create music independently of a teacher.  Skills learned through a Kodály inspired sequence lend themselves to improvisation and composition, with either a “by ear” model, or with actual pen to paper. Understanding of musical form and interpretation can be extended to choreographed creative movement and instrumental accompaniment. These are only two examples of what a strong foundation can lay for lifelong music participation and creativity.

Now, to be sure, these five points outlined above are not exclusively unique to the Kodály approach or Kodály inspired music educators.  I would argue that all good pedagogy includes a sequential curriculum, whether in the music classroom or otherwise. Many music teachers derive curricular concepts and lesson material from a folk song repertoire, either exclusively or with the addition of other types of music. Solfege and rhythm syllables and hand signs are readily used in music classrooms everywhere in the world, not strictly elementary nor Kodály inspired classrooms. And finally, curriculum, music or otherwise, often does and should include both an exploratory phase and opportunities for students to exhibit their understanding of curricular concepts through higher order thinking skills.

My hope in outlining these tenants of the Kodály approach is to provide context and clarification to the philosophy in general terms. The Kodály approach is more than just “do-re-mi” or hand signs, it is a source of inspiration for music educators to model their curriculum and teaching to facilitate music literacy and creativity. This is in no way a comprehensive list, nor a complete explanation of how the approach evolved or is implemented, but will hopefully prove as a starting point for those who wish to know more. Every good sequence has to start with some sort of foundation.


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