Gift Ideas for Music Teachers

Posted by on March 21, 2014 with 0 Comments

Practice is a complicated and oftentimes political subject for music students. We all have “that friend” who constantly exaggerates how many hours he or she practices (FYI: eating dinner in the practice room beside your instrument doesn’t count as practice). Then again, there’s also always the one we know practices an incredible amount every day, but who pretends to barely practice, perhaps hoping to trick his fellow musicians into falling behind.

Practice becomes even more complicated as the semester rolls by. We often go into the new year with a resolution to practice more, only to find ourselves a little too tempted by distractions once spring arrives. As the semester comes to a close, there are so many things going on that it can be tough to get everything done.

It can be hard to diligently keep up with obligations and responsibilities throughout the year. That’s why you should take care of the little things now, so they don’t haunt you come May. One such little thing would be a finding gift for your music teacher. Nothing is more awkward than receiving a gift from your teacher, only to respond, “Wait a second, I forgot to get you something!” Here are some creative gift ideas for music teachers so you can check that little item off well before finals, juries, and end of semester concerts:

Instrument-Themed Jewelry and Other Handmade Delights

Instrument-themed jewelry? Something tacky like a treble clef pin your grandmother might wear? Nope, not at all. You would be surprised at the amount of available specialty jewelry. I once bought a pendant-style necklace built from a flute key. Yes, pieces of instruments–cool little accessories that only those “in the know” will understand. This is the sort of jewelry that music teachers will appreciate. Now if your music teacher happens to be an 80 year old woman, go ahead and buy her that treble clef pin, but for the more young and hip, unique jewelry would make a perfect gift.

Even if your music teacher isn’t a jewelry sort of person, you can find a lot of great music-themed gifts on Etsy. Anything from beautiful one-of-a-kind paintings and sculptures to knitted hats featuring song lyrics or your music teacher’s instrument(s) of choice is all available on Etsy. If you can’t find what you’re looking for, you can ask one of the many talented sellers on the site to make something for you!

Take the Utilitarian Approach

What if your music teacher is more of a minimalist and doesn’t want “useless clutter?” In that case, I’d recommend more utilitarian gifts with a friendly touch. One great example of such a gift is one I received; a custom printed towel from Towels and Home with a picture of a snare drum and my initials on it. As a percussionist, I regularly place woodblocks, triangles, claves and other small instruments on music stands during performances. The towel keeps everything quiet as I switch between instruments, and I appreciate the personal touch. Plus the towel is thoughtfully black (as it should be), making it blend in easily with the music stand, but the personalization ensures that mine won’t get mixed in with everyone else’s.

Whether your music teacher values aesthetics, utility, or any combination of the two, the guidelines outlined above should get you started in picking that perfect gift. And remember, now is the time to get those pesky little obligations out the way, so you can better focus on practice throughout the year.

Filed Under: MusicLearningCommunity

Make Your Own Percussion Instruments

Posted by on February 13, 2014 with 1 Comments

Percussion instruments can be extremely beneficial for helping music students develop rhythm while having fun at the same time. You don’t even have to make a significant investment in order to provide instruments for players; good news if you’re on a tight budget. Performers from the Blue Man Group and Stomp have built entire careers by playing instruments made from creative objects like trashcan lids. Keep reading to get inspiration about how to make percussion instruments with items you may already have at home or in your classroom.

Create Bongo Drums From Empty Cans

It’s simple to make bongo drums out of a few washed and emptied cans, such as those that contain canned foods at your local supermarket. The cans can also be connected if you drill a small hole in each and slide in a small piece of wood, such as a chopstick. One advantage of this type of instrument is you can use the activity as a cultural learning experience, and teach your students about cultures that have a rich bongo tradition.

Recycle Scrap Metal

Metal is a common material used for musical instruments, due in large part to its ability to create pleasant ringing sounds when struck. For help in sourcing metal you’ll eventually turn into musical instruments, contact companies that specialize in working with the material. In high school, I used scraps from McElroy Metal to create my own instruments. They’re a family-owned business that has dozens of sites across almost twenty states, so there’s a good chance there’s an establishment near your music school. My friends and I loved digging through the scrap to see what sorts of noises we could make from someone else’s junk.

To get an idea of just what can be accomplished by using scrap metal, check out the efforts of a group who play under the name Scrap Arts Music. The brainchild of musician Gregory Kozak and architect Justine Murdy, the group formed in 1998 and has since been impressing audiences everywhere with the notion that metals most people may see as junk can actually be transformed into vehicles for musical expression.

Build a Bucket Drum Kit

You may have seen people, especially in metropolitan areas, creatively using empty buckets as drums. If you’re interested in proposing the same idea to your students, start by collecting a range of buckets of different sizes and thicknesses. Larger buckets create deeper, bass note sounds as opposed to smaller varieties. Small metal buckets work very well for creating the bright sound associated with a snare drum.

As you collect buckets to use as instruments, aim to choose some that can nestle inside one another. That’ll make transport much simpler and give you the opportunity to showcase your students in public so they can get used to performing for crowds.

There are also songs already written to be played on trash-cans. Lids is always a student and crowd favorite. My students were thrilled to play this piece and had so much fun with it. They even scheduled their own rehearsals to work on it because they enjoyed it so much. Check out this group having a blast with it:

As you can see from the suggestions above, it’s easy to depend on commonly available materials to create percussion instruments. These ideas are ideal if you’re eco-conscious, because they all involve creating something new out of things others would likely throw away. Use these possibilities as future lesson plans to demonstrate how music can happen anywhere, courtesy of some unlikely materials.

Filed Under: MusicLearningCommunity

Learn a New Instrument in 2014

Posted by on February 3, 2014 with 0 Comments

It’s February already. How did that happen?  Groundhog Day has come and gone, the Super Bowl is over (if you watched it you might say it was over in the first ten minutes), and chances are you’ve already broken your New Year’s resolutions. So how about a new goal: Learning a new instrument.

There are a lot of instruments that are very beneficial for your music education and career or that are at the very least easy to learn. Not to mention, here are lots of good reasons why you should drop your weight loss resolution and pick up one of these new musical talents instead. (Okay, maybe try doing both.) Still need convincing? Read on.

Picking Up an Instrument is Good for Your Health

If you’re putting off jumping on the treadmill to accomplish this task, there are a few reasons you don’t have to feel quite so bad about it. One study found that non-musicians who took two weeks of piano lessons saw healthy brain changes that can delay or prevent age-related problems with speech production and recognition. Other studies have found that children engaging in musical training increased their IQ, verbal memory, and linguistic abilities when compared to their non-musical peers. Still other studies have found that picking up an instrument and playing music reduces stress, lowers heart rate, lowers blood pressure, and can even decrease your likelihood for depression. What are you waiting for?

There Are Benefits Even for Musicians

What if you’re already a musician, and you play another instrument (or your voice)? Well, there are benefits of picking up a new one to you, too. Learning an instrument is, in a way, like learning a language; it opens new doors, and as you familiarize yourself with the learning process, each new one gets easier to master.

Broaden your horizons and open new doors for yourself by filling in the gaps of your musical understanding. Do you play a string instrument but want to experience another type of sound? Try picking up a wind or brass instrument next. If you don’t know how to play piano yet, it will be easier to learn if you already have a basic understanding of music theory and how to read music. Or, if you are particularly enamored with another culture, go all the way and pick up an instrument unique to that part of the world. You never know; maybe picking up the erhu could give you a new understanding of Chinese culture.

Some Instruments Are Easier to Learn Than Others

Okay, so if you live in rural Ohio, attempting to master the erhu might be a little beyond you. But if you are serious about this resolution, you can make it a little simpler for yourself by choosing an instrument that is easier to master.

A great example is the melodica. As the harmonica’s simplified cousin, the melodica is also called a “blow organ” and is essentially a mini, one-handed keyboard that you operate by blowing into a mouthpiece. It does away with the complicated two-handed motions of a harmonica, and there is no real mouth technique to blowing into it, unlike with brass or woodwind instruments. Plus it’s fun to whip out at parties!

The xylophone is a fun and easy instrument to pick up on. Things get more interesting when you learn chords and use several mallets to make more than a single note at once, but it can be easy to start out on it.

The bongo is another instrument you have surely heard of. Simply sit with the two drums between your knees and pound it out. It’s especially great if you have a friend playing an acoustic guitar along with you.

Create Your Own

My next article is going to be all about making your own percussion instruments, but here’s a little teaser for you. You can have a LOT of fun building your own drums out of pretty much anything. I once made an entire song using old sports equipment, including football helmets, hockey pads, and longboards. It was a blast, and everyone loved it. Check back next week and I’ll expand on this topic.

Picking up a new instrument is a fun and can be easy. Sure, we’re a month into 2014, but challenge yourself to learn something new by the start of 2015. You’ll be surprised how rewarding it is.

Filed Under: MusicLearningCommunity

How to Promote Your Music Online

Posted by on January 22, 2014 with 0 Comments

As a music student, you are no doubt aware that there is a nearly infinite supply of young talent out there competing for the relatively small number of music careers available. Therefore, raw talent alone is not enough to stand out in 2014. A strong Web presence is essential if you want to have a successful career in music. Here are four ways to promote your music online.

1.    Network Using LinkedIn

LinkedIn is a valuable tool in making connections within the music industry. It goes without saying that you should connect with fellow music students and faculty that you know at school, but you can also do much more. If there are professionals in your field of study, trombone for example, check if they are on LinkedIn and if so, send them a message. You never know when an idol could become a mentor, someone who could give you and your music quite a bit of publicity.

Groups are also a great tool on LinkedIn. By joining large groups of like-minded musicians, you will have a place to not only share your ideas and music, but also to scope out the competition. Groups can provide helpful critiques, free of the harshness or trolling of more anonymous communities.

2.    Use Facebook to Advertise Your Services

As you may know, almost everyone’s on Facebook. Create a Facebook page to not only advertise upcoming gigs, but to also advertise your services through uploaded recordings of past performances. Additionally, don’t be sheepish; while it may seem pompous at first, it is foolish to not mention every gig you have scheduled on your timeline. You never know when a friend might decide to show up and later put in a good word for you.

They key to using Facebook is to make sure that you don’t live a one-sided Facebook life. Become active on the pages of other music students and local musicians, and even attend their gigs occasionally. This way they will see you as more of a part of the community than simply competition.

3.    Upload Samples to SoundCloud

One of the biggest and often overlooked benefits to using SoundCloud is that nearly everybody browsing the site is there to listen to music. Unlike YouTube, where your music is likely to get lost in a sea of cat videos, SoundCloud is all about sound. While classical and jazz don’t have the largest user bases on the site, there are still many active members involved in these genres and many more interested in listening to them. A carefully maintained SoundCloud account can become your primary portfolio, a place to showcase your great performance talents.

4.    Bring it all Together on a Professional Website

Last but not least, make sure to consolidate your various Internet homes on a personal website. This website doesn’t have to be anything particularly fancy, but it would help to include a short bio, contact information and links to your other Web presences. If you want to go for a more professionally designed site, WebpageFX has a great page showing how much a website costs. You can always start out with your own WordPress website and then upgrade to a professional design as you work your way up.

There are many more useful tools out there on the Internet that you, the musician, can use to promote your music, but these four steps should help get you started.

Tips for Going on Tour

Posted by on January 16, 2014 with 0 Comments

Music teachers often seek out performance opportunities for their students in order to help them get accustomed to playing for audiences. In turn, such concerts could help teachers gain reputations for being solid instructors in a community.

Eventually, it becomes necessary for teachers to take their students on tour to enjoy increased exposure. That undertaking can feel complicated, particularly for teachers who are traveling with multiple people who are part of string quartets or vocal choirs. Keep reading for a few tips for going on tour: Continue Reading «Tips for Going on Tour»

Filed Under: Education, Tips and Tricks

The Importance of Music Theory

Posted by on December 30, 2013 with 1 Comments

The Importance of Music Theory

Musical students often view music theory as a chore, and some musicians wear their lack of music theory knowledge as a badge of honor. There is a reason that all music students generally take at least four semesters of basic music theory. It is because otherwise, we cannot communicate musical ideas to each other. While in school we learn how to read and write English, but when it comes to music, most of us only know how to read it and have little to no idea how it works. That is the point of music theory: to explain how music works. Continue Reading «The Importance of Music Theory»

How to promote yourself as a guitarist

Posted by on December 20, 2013 with 2 Comments

As a guitar player, you are regularly competing against thousands of other musicians who are doing the same thing as you in order to make a name for themselves. What can you possibly do to stand out? Here are some tips on how to promote yourself as a guitarist.

1. Get to Know Other Local Musicians

Post an ad on Craigslist or in your local newspaper describing your talents and musical interests and noting that you are seeking fellow musicians to jam with. You are sure to receive a number of responses. Sort through these to find people who jive with the sound you are looking for. Remember that by growing your network, you gain insider knowledge about the opportunities available in your area. And who knows, maybe you’ll discover your future bandmates amidst these jam buddies.

2. Utilize Social Media Continue Reading «How to promote yourself as…»

Filed Under: Guitar

7 Tips for Teaching Yourself To Play Guitar

Posted by on November 25, 2013 with 2 Comments

Learning any new skill can be as challenging as it is rewarding. While it might feel like certain people were born with innate talents, the truth is at once comforting and intimidating. True skill is the result of hard work and a lifelong commitment to learning. With dedication, you can teach yourself almost anything.

Playing the guitar is one of those skills that might seem daunting to learn, but there are quite a few long-term benefits to enjoy after you’ve adopted the proper mindset. Below are seven practical tips to help you learn the guitar in no time.

7 tips for teaching yourself guitar Continue Reading «7 Tips for Teaching Yourself…»

Filed Under: Guitar

How to Encourage Children to Practice their Instrument

Posted by on November 14, 2013 with 5 Comments

The ability to play a musical instrument is a gift that can last a lifetime, but sometimes children can view practice as a chore that takes a lifetime. It’s important for them to view practice as an enjoyable learning experience instead of a mandatory work session. There are many things parents can do to encourage children to practice their instrument of choice and instill a love of music.

Choose the Right Instrument  Encourage Children to Practice their Instrument

It should go without saying that your child should play the instrument they are interested in. Work with your child to make the right choice, but do keep in mind that some instruments may be difficult for children to play. For instance, the violin requires a certain degree of technical skill and large instruments like the tuba are simply too big for smaller children. You can talk to your school band director or music teacher for ideas. Some may let your child try an instrument out before you decide to move forward with lessons.

Set up a Place to Play

It’s best to have a place set aside for music practice, one that’s free of clutter and distractions. A pleasant and relaxed atmosphere is more conducive for creativity than a dark basement or messy bedroom. Make sure there’s a good light source and your child has everything he or she needs to practice, such as a music stand and all related musical equipment. You don’t need to get a construction estimation for a whole new room, just work with what you have.

Stick to a Schedule

If children adhere to a regular practice schedule, it will become part of their routine and will be easier to stick with. Determine the best time of day.  All children are different; some may prefer to practice in the morning before school, some may prefer after dinner.  Even if they only have 10 minutes, make sure to get it in. It’s better to have a short session every day than a longer session only a couple of times a week. This helps children form a better connection with their instrument.

Give Positive Reinforcement

Try to be present when your child practices and express interest in what they are learning. Praise them for every step forward and encourage other family members to applaud your music student’s efforts. Positive reinforcement goes a long way and gives the child a sense of pride. On the other hand, keep any negative comments to yourself. It takes time to master an instrument, and your child’s teacher will help him or her with any problems that come up. There will be ups and downs, and your child may get discouraged at times. Just remind your child that her time and effort will pay off.

Don’t Bribe, but Do Reward

Avoid things like sticker charts that make music practice seem like a chore. Instead, reward your child for a job well done by taking him to see a musical performance of their choice. Concerts, musicals or even live music at a restaurant are all things your budding musician will enjoy. Make music fun, and your child will be more likely to stick with it and enjoy playing for a lifetime.

Scott Huntington is a writer, reporter, blogger, and percussionist, specializing in marimba. He currently lives in PA and with his wife and son. Follow Scott at @SMHuntington

How to Find Places to Play Your Instrument

Posted by on November 8, 2013 with 0 Comments

How to Find Places to Play Your Instrument

If you are studying music performance, you know how important it is to play your instrument for an audience, especially on your own. It can be intimidating to find these opportunities when you don’t have a lot of experience, but it is not impossible. Here are some surefire ways to find that solo gig you’ve been searching for.

Cello Player


Set Yourself Up for Success

To find performance opportunities, you need to make sure you are doing everything you can to be findable and easy to get in touch with. If you haven’t already, now is the time to build up your presence online. At the minimum you should have a Facebook page, but a Twitter account isn’t a bad idea as long as you keep on top of it. Connect with other local musicians or venues where you’d like to play.

On these social accounts, be sure to advertise the fact that you are seeking performance opportunities. Mention that you could play for local businesses, weddings and other events.

Set up a website where you can share your music on a platform like SoundCloud or Bandcamp. You can do this for free or, if you have a little money to put into it, buy your own domain name and tie it in with your account. You can use this website like a portfolio of your work.

Next, make yourself some business cards. You can get them printed someplace like VistaPrint or buy a kit to print them yourself.  Be sure to give them out at any opportunity. The more people who know you are looking for gigs, the more people are keeping an ear open for opportunities.


Play for Your Community

Many small or even mid-sized businesses that serve the public would jump at a chance to have a musician playing at little or no cost. Check with local coffee shops or other small, casual restaurants to see if they ever feature live music or would consider it for an evening.

Remember that it doesn’t hurt to start small. Get creative and volunteer at a nursing home or rehab center like 12 Keys Rehab. Your act of goodwill could end up in the local newspaper, showing that you’re caring and not just out there to make money.  At the very least, playing well and being reliable improves your track record, and will lead to wider exposure and bigger opportunities.

You’ll be surprised at how good you feel playing for people who normally wouldn’t get to hear music. I’ll never forget the time I was playing at a nursing home, and a deaf woman put her hands on the marimba to feel the vibrations. When she started to smile, a huge wave of emotion hit me as I knew I brightened her day. To this day, it’s one of the highlights of my career.

Other good places to start looking for opportunities could include your local library, church or community center.  Look for advertisements asking for musicians for different events. If you’re really enterprising you can even contact them regarding upcoming events and ask if they need some live music. Look for festivals and street fairs in your area, find out if there will be live music playing, and learn how you can get involved.

Start Small 

Go into this to better yourself as a musician, not to try and make money. Sure it’s nice to get a little extra cash on the side, but you’ll have a much more enjoyable time if that’s not your main goal. The more you play in front of people, the easier it becomes, and you’ll find out you’re not nearly as nervous when it’s time for your huge recital or other serious event.

Most importantly, have fun. Don’t go so overboard on searching for the perfect gig where it becomes a chore. Be creative, and you can find some great places to play, giving you new fans and followers.



Scott Huntington is a writer, reporter, blogger, and percussionist, specializing in marimba. He currently lives in PA and with his wife and son. Follow Scott at @SMHuntington