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.


Posted by on January 16, 2014 with 1 Comments

The music industry has changed beyond recognition in recent years. Here are 10 rules that used to be sacrosanct if you wanted to be a musician, but today you need to break every one of them if you want to be noticed.

1. Your music is your life blood:

Treasure it and never give it away freely. Whether you’re launching a new chocolate bar or washing powder, the best way to grab market share is to flood the market with free samples. If people like the product they’ll come back for more. Music is no different. Lots of bands offer a free track or two on their website, but those that offer a larger selection will really grab the attention.The Civil Wars offered a Live Album via NoiseTrade for anyone willing to swap an email address.This created a buzz that ultimately got their songs on primetime TV shows and earned them 2 Grammy’s. Radio sessions and internet sites like Daytrotter will help expand your fan base, and will start getting other organizations promoting ur music for mutual benefit.

2. The best musicians don’t struggle to be recognized!

We are fortunate to live in a world where there are a great number of fantastic musicians. If you’re not any good you’ll never get far, but if you’re great it doesn’t mean that everyone else will move aside and let you through to the front. Of course you may be spotted by a major artist who’ll pull you up and invite you onto their next album & tour – but don’t wait for that to happen! As well as being a great musician you also need to be an excellent marketer. You need to develop your fan base by engaging with them through websites, newsletters and every social media device that there is. At the same time you need to identify & engage with key people in the music industry. You want to make them think that they’ve discovered you – whether they are radio dj’s, venue managers, journalists or fellow musicians.

3. Get on the List.

12 songs every 2 years is simply no longer enough to make your career in music. A constant drip feeding of new songs will keep your name on the radar and provide content for your website. EPs are your best friend. Fans are more likely to buy your new EP at your show than the album you released last year. Produce 4 EPs and you can market a box set. This is what Larkin Poe did successfully with their All Seasons box set. A Christmas album is a must-have. Try to develop something original, or at least some interesting covers – avoid the same 10 songs that appear on every other Christmas record. One great seasonal song will give you an income for life! Record a live album and a stripped down acoustic album – or step it up and re-record your best songs with a philharmonic orchestral – like Brandi Carlile did!

4. If you don’t get signed your career is over.

Getting signed might be the worse thing you ever do. A tiny fraction of signed artists succeed – and those that do are always keen to renegotiate their contracts and regain control of their music. The music industry has become more niche based. If you sign with a major label and record an album with a top producer you might sell 20,000 copies, earning yourself $2 per copy. The label will take control of your music and say what you can and can’t do.  Alternatively you can self produce an album in the style that you want and sell 5,000 copies at shows, but earn $10 per copy. Do the math – what would you prefer? This doesn’t also mean having a management is less important.

5. Respect your Music.

The best way to get yourself noticed is to put out a great cover version of a classic song on to YouTube, and promote the link as much as you can. Word of mouth will then take over and if you hit viral gold, then you’ll have as many views as a Top 40 artist. It’s best to pick a song where your cover is slightly ironic, but not a parody. Like The Civil Wars playing ‘Billie Jean’ or D’bank, ‘Alpha & Omega’. Up and coming band, First Aid Kit, recorded a version of the Fleet Foxes, ‘Tiger Mountain peasant Song’ in 2008. 2.6 Million views later they have played with the Fleet Foxes and have an album release with an international headlining tour.

6. Dream BIG, Start small.

We live in a global town with the internet and you need to market your music on a global level. The music industry is so diverse
that you don’t know where your fans are. The second most important asset you have (after your music) is your email list.
Swap free downloads for email addresses and make sure that you sign everyone up to your newsletter at your shows. Use this
to keep in contact with your fan base and make sure that you tell your fans about every show and marketing opportunity. The downside is that your touring schedule is extensive and arduous. This is the less glamorous and most lonely side of the business, but one that will give you as many great experiences and inspiration for your music.

7. Your Income will Come.

Consequently you’re not going to sell a huge number of CDs.Unless, of course, you’re Adele who is STILL selling a copy of ’21′ every 6 seconds! Your CD sales will – if you are lucky – cover the costs of recording, duplication, artwork, distribution and the associated costs of running your website and general expenses. Touring 50 – 100 shows a year will give you some income but travel is an expensive business and your income will quickly be absorbed into the overheads of basic survival. Therefore you need to diversify to make any money. You need to turn yourself into a brand. If you are an artistic artist as well as a musical artist then you can use your talents to create a design for T-shirts, hoodies, bags, caps, buttons, pins and anything else you think you can customize and re-sell. It’s simple economics again. Buy a T-shirt for $6 – $8 and sell them on for $20 – $25 — your profit margin is far greater than for CDs. And you’ve got people promoting your music at the heart of your demographic. Say that you’ve got 5,000 fans – not an unreasonable number. You need each one to spend $20 per year (on average) on CDs & merchandising to gross $100k, which will give you a net income (pre tax) of about $ 50,000. It won’t make you rich but it is enough to enjoy the life of a musician. Of course this only works for a solo act – duo’s and bands have to have a corresponding multiple of fans. It’s tough but financially you’re better on your own. There is also no room for a manager or booking agent to take their cut. Like every other small business owner musicians need to wear lots of hats and it is a lot of work.

8. Develop your music talent.

Of course it is important to spend time developing your artistic endeavors but it is just as important to spend time developing your relationship with your fan base. It doesn’t mean that you need to tweet every bowel movement, but you need to keep in contact with people so that they feel that they are part of your journey. You need to treat them like friends rather than fans – then they’ll make sure that they go out of their way to support you. Stephen Kellogg & The Sixers are masters at this. Not only have they developed a very loyal fan base (17,000 on Facebook) but they carry their fans/friends with them and have even created their own “Field Day” – a weekend of exclusive performances & games.

9. Manage your work and your Image.

Copyright law is outdated and outmoded. Modern artists need to let their fans have a far greater control of their image. YouTube is like a visual radio station and you need to get as much exposure on it as possible. Encourage your fans to video and upload your performances. Their friends will see your performance and the next time you come to town they’ll want to come to your show. It is ridiculous to suggest that someone recording a performance on a mobile phone is going to act as a substitute for someone buying an album – it is far more likely to introduce your music to new fans, who will buy your albums. You need to listen to your fans and let them influence the style of music that you play. You are on stage for them, and because of them, and you shouldn’t forget it.

10. Become a brand.

Some artists can pull off the silent serious look, but you’re more likely to fade into obscurity if you take yourself overly seriously. However if you have fun then the chances are that your audience will have fun too. If your audience has fun then they’ll remember the night and will come back next time — with their friends! . None of this will make you particularly wealthy, but if you’ve become a musician to become rich then you’ve started down the wrong path – you’d be better off joining a bank!

|Written by: CYRIL OGWU
(Talent Manager)

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»

Taking Care of Your Hands

Posted by on November 26, 2013 with 0 Comments

Take Care of Your Hands When You Practice

If you have started studying music, one of the most important things you need to start doing is taking care of your hands. No matter which instrument you have decided to study, each of them presents a challenge to your hands and your fingers.  Also, if you don’t take care of your hands properly, you’re going to limit yourself in terms of what you can learn and what you can do on your instrument. Continue Reading «Taking Care of Your Hands»

Lifetime Musician™ Curriculum

Posted by on August 21, 2013 with 3 Comments

Introducing the new

Lifetime Musician™ Curriculum

Although the games have been sequenced to various piano methods, as documented in the Student Pages, we have wanted for some time to have a general curriculum as well.

We are pleased to announce that our new Lifetime Musician Music Literacy Curriculum is now ready to use. The Lifetime Musician organizes the games by level — from beginning to end — in a sequence that matches most music teaching methods. You now have two choices for accessing the learning games: the original way by level and category or through the Lifetime Musician system.

This is the forerunner to our new e-learning system under development.

We have prepared a short video to further explain how to access and use the Lifetime Musician Curriculum.


“Beta” means that we are still editing! 

This is fully functional but you may find some games that don’t load and some graphics that are missing. Thanks for your patience!

Log in as a student and click “Lifetime Musician Beta.”

(Note: Wait for the blue bars to appear from Primary 1A to Level 5. With a slow internet connection, this could take several seconds.)

Click one of the blue bars to choose a level. There are 20 “Assignments” in each level with 5 to 8 games in each assignment. Every 5th assignment is a “skill check.” Click an orange tab to choose an assignment. 

Students will enjoy the new navigation

 This makes it extremely easy for a student to know which games to play and to see their progress. 

You can choose the Learn, Play, Quiz (and Challenge) stages of the game and you can see the target score right from there. When you finish the game, your score will appear under the target score. When you reach the target score on the Quiz, the gray check mark turns green so students can see that they have mastered that concept.

This will hopefully eliminate the need for some of the assignment sheets. Teachers can now assign a level and an assignment number. Returning students may be surprised to see all of their previous scores already displaying in the new system—complete with green check marks!

Please note that when a student finishes a game, the browser automatically reverts to Level 5. For now, please ask students to remember the level and assignment number they are working on. 

Teacher Guides 

The Lifetime Musician teacher guides are available as PDF documents in the Teacher Resource Center. Here you will see the games in each assignment. You will also find an alphabetical list of all games in each level that shows where to find each game in the Lifetime Musician curriculum and shows how to find each game by category.

Note: The “Games at a Glance” checklists have been updated and now include the reference to the Lifetime Musician curriculum. 

Starting a new student

We suggest that students new to start one level below their performance level and play the quizzes. If they don’t achieve the target score the first time, they should play the Learn or the Play until they have mastered that concept, then try the quiz again.


Landfill Harmonic: Turning Trash Into Tchaikovsky

Posted by on July 18, 2013 with 0 Comments

The Recycled Orchestra

Cola Landfill Harmonic


In Cateura, Paraguay, hundreds of gancheros, or recyclers, search through massive piles of rubbish dumped around the outskirts of their town every day. Amid tossed out washing machines, refrigerators, commercial insulation and more, they work tirelessly to locate scrap metal and plastic that can be traded in for enough money to feed their families. Meanwhile, the men, women and children of the impoverished landfill city must live among the garbage, facing the daily hardships presented by their environmental situation. Continue Reading «Landfill Harmonic: Turning Trash Into…»

You are Never Too Old to Learn Music!

Posted by on May 29, 2013 with 1 Comments

You are Never Too Old to Learn Music!

You are Never Too Old to Learn MusicI am a 68 year old woman learning to play the piano. I took music lessons as a child and learned the musical alphabet. Now, 50 years later, I sat down at the piano and decided that I want to play this instrument. I found the Alfred’s basic Adult Piano Course and started learning on my own. Then I found WOW. I was amazed that this comprehensive online learning program was available whenever I need it. This interactive program is chock full of hearing, seeing and doing interactive experiences that I find fun and exciting. Continue Reading «You are Never Too Old…»