So you’ve told yourself you want to pick up that instrument you’ve always wanted to play, or one that you’ve neglected for too long. Re-invigorated by a New Year you start to play and… Oh! It’s not as easy as you thought.
Fear not! With a bit of hard work and some tips from us you’ll be a virtuoso in no time!*
*perhaps only 2-5 years
Although the following refers mostly to instrumental lessons, the whole thing also applies to learning how to sing.
Tip 1: Work with a Teacher
There are SO many advantages to this it’s hard to list them all, but the main ones, especially for beginners is that:
a – Getting started will be much, much easier.
For lots of instruments getting that basic technique right can mean the difference between actually making a note, or falling into bad/uncomfortable or damaging technique. With a bit of guidance from someone experienced you’ll be much more likely to pick up enough to play a few tunes, have something to show for your work, and be more motivated when you hit an obstacle.
b – You have someone else to work for.
Having a teacher gets you more invested in the process of learning an instrument. You become financially invested (especially if your teacher lets you book blocks of lessons in advance) and socially invested: you don’t want to turn up to the lesson without having done any practice, and it’s encouraging when your teacher wants you to advance and enjoy the instrument.
It’s worth getting at least a couple of tester lessons, as getting a teacher that you have a rapport with can really boost your learning.
Tip 2: Little and Often
The key to advancing in any discipline is practice. With musical instruments there is a certain amount of muscle memory that you can build on.
Set aside 10 minutes a day where you can consistently practice. Put it into your calendar and give yourself a reminder or set an alarm to remind yourself to start.
10 minutes a day doesn’t sound like too much, but it’s enough to refresh the knowledge of the last lesson, and with a bit of luck you’ll naturally play for a bit longer without noticing the time.
Tip 3: Remove Obstacles
Having your instrument, music stand, music set up ready to go can really encourage you to play it more often. If you can put it in a space you use often, you might see it several times a day, a nice reminder of your goal.
You can get lots of different types of instrument stands (or even wall hangers) that will help you display your instrument a bit more safely, and maybe even add to the decor.
If you’re nervous about being heard, many instruments have a mute available, to quieten down the sound to room-only levels. This can remove the obstacle of feeling like you’re annoying the household/neighbours.
Tip 4: Don’t worry about failure – just keep going
We all slip up. Unexpected life events get in the way of our best intentions. The worst thing you can do is think ‘I haven’t played in weeks, I’m just not cut out for this.’ A few weeks off will have such a small effect compared to getting back to playing for months or years to come.
If you’re finding it hard to play, make the action as easy as possible, even if it’s just a playing a scale in the morning. Turning up is the most important part, the rest is a bonus.
Tip 5: Get Social
One of my personal favourite ways to play music is in a group or duet. Playing together is another skill to master, but when you get it right, the results can feel fantastic.
There are so many opportunities for making music together. Find a friend to play duets with. Join a local amateur orchestra or choir. Sit in on a pub folk-night or ukulele group.
Being surrounded by people with similar interests, and similar enthusiasm can give you an extra boost. Joining a weekly/monthly meeting will be another way to make music-making a part of your lifestyle.
Tip 6: Have Fun!
Don’t feel like everything you play has to be ‘progressive.’ It’s good to try and stretch yourself, but it’s important to not get so frustrated with difficult pieces that you lose touch with the joy of playing music.
It’s good to take a break, so have a few easy, fun, satisfying pieces to go to when you need a bit of light relief.
Hopefully with these in mind you’ll have the right tools to take your instrumental playing to the next level, and beyond. Thanks for reading!
The holiday season is truly upon us, and for some it comes with a sense of dread. “What am I going to get for…?” If you have a musician in your life, then here’s our quick recommendation for a musical gift for them.
Here are some picks for musicians of all types.
Musidoku – Musical Sudoku Puzzle Book
A change of pace from your normal sudoku puzzles!
Fun and educational these dominoes challenge your rhythm reading.
Music Note Pasta Shapes
For food and music lover’s alike – from Rigatoni to Rigoletto!
The 200th Anniversary Beethoven Diary 2020
This superb diary is packed with details from Beethoven’s life, a must for the avid Beethoven fan!
Mozart/Beethoven Bust Kitchen Timer
Want a perfectly boiled egg and a composer’s bust but have a tiny kitchen? Look no further.
Chopin Liszt Shopping List
When you run out of eggs, pop them on your Chopin Liszt!
Hand-cranked music boxes (20 songs to pick from)
These adorable little music boxes feature all sorts of famous pieces, from Pink Panther to Yellow Submarine to Stairway to Heaven
Learn to play Harmonica – Book and Harmonica Pack
Shake off those holiday blues with the perfect introduction to Harmonica playing
Frozen Music Book and Recorder Pack £8.08
Perfect for all those children you know you’re not going to see on Christmas Day!
Treble Clef Earrings
These lovely earrings are perfect for a night at the opera.
1930s Clarke Original Tin Kazoo
Anyone can play the kazoo. Brighten up Christmas morning with a Kazoo choir of Merry Wishes!
Music Note Necklace
This silver and crystal necklace with surely bring a sparkle to your Christmas.
Leather Academy Music Case (Various Colours)
These beautiful hand-crafted music cases are ideal for taking to your ensemble or lesson.
Overscore – Removable Manuscript Tape
We all make mistakes. Maybe that bit is too hard? Re-write the rules with this fun gift.
Cassette tape notepad
For those of us who remember making the perfect mix-tape.
Mozart Rubber Duck
Love baths? Love Mozart? Well there you go…
Guitar Bottle Opener
This handy little guitar comes with its own gigbag.
Treble Clef Cufflinks
Finish that tuxedo off in style with these extra-smart cufflinks.
We also have a whole bunch of Christmas books on offer this month, from the classic carols, to Christmas number ones, and some of the latest hits and musicals too.
Thanks for reading! Merry Christmas everyone!
We continue our intermittent study of the sonic properties of instruments with a look into how much the sound is effected by changing your guitar strings! It’s pretty fascinating (to me at least!)
For me, changing your strings is a bit of a chore, and at the end of the day does it make it sound really that much better? Well today let’s put that to the test.
We go a lot of guitar re-stringing in the shop so I took a moment to measure the sounds of a guitar with pretty old, corroded strings. New strings should be brilliant silvery nickel, but these were pretty black with corrosion.
Now for some spectral analysis. We went for the extremes and recorded the top E and the low E:
But what does this strange wiggly line mean exactly? Here’s a quick run-down: Every sound we hear can be broken up into the different frequencies that combine to produce it. The purest sound we can hear is a simple sine wave:
We can keep adding sine waves together to make any note we like. The different combinations of these will produce a different timbre, or texture of the sound. A flute is a very ‘pure’ sound with only a few sine waves needed to reproduce it, the human voice is much more complex, with many sine waves combining to add greater ‘texture.’
On the graphs we’re looking at today the low frequencies are on the left, going all the way up to the nearly inaudible high frequencies on the right. The higher the peak, the stronger that particular frequency is resonating.
A musical note is going to be a combination of it’s lowest pitch, which is usually the one we hear it as (the fundamental) and the harmonic overtones, the extra notes taken from the harmonic series, most strongly at an octave and a fifth. It these overtones that give the sound most of its character.
Strong peaks near the fundamental give us an impression of ‘deepness,’ the first dozen or so give more ‘richness’ and the upper section gives a feeling of ‘brightness.’ The shape of the peaks matter too, the more concentrated the peak are the clearer each note, and harmonic will sound.
Now it’s time to change the strings. One thing is certain: they look and feel a lot nicer!
Back to the spectrograph:
This is where is gets a bit tricky. From a side-by-side comparison there seems to be little in it. Let’s superimpose them, and see if the differences become more apparent.
Now the differences can be seen a bit more clearly. The old string is in white and the new string is in blue. For the low E there is a stronger fundamental note at 172HZ, as well as stronger harmonics between 500-1000. This will certainly explain a greater depth and richness of tone. There is also less of a drop off after around 4Hz, adding a little more brightness.
Again the old string is in white, and the new string is in blue. The differences in the high E are a bit more subtle. The two main points of interest seem to be a much higher peak around 750Hz and higher peaks at each harmonic from 2K upwards. These suggest the fresh string has more ‘brightness’ than the old one, which matches what we seem to perceive.
So that settles it! Changing your strings really does change the sound. Helping people understand how the condition of an instrument effects the sound is a big part of work here at Ackerman Music. If you’re near one of our shops and would like a free tune-up and some free advice on the condition of your guitar you’re always welcome!
I’d like to thank everyone who stuck around to read my interpretation of these strange looking graphs, and hopefully gained a little insight into how fresh strings make a difference.
Over the last few years, the plastic pollution crisis has been highlighted by several public figures, David Attenborough being a key example. With the government on board there has been a push to limit the amount of single-use plastic we consume, starting with the restriction on plastic bags.
So how does this impact musicians? This year’s Glastonbury festival, for example, restricted the sale of bottled water, with a reduction of more than a million bottles over the course of the festival.
For live performances of any scale this is something we can consider, but there are many challenges ahead. Many music venues rely on disposable bottles, cups, plates and cutlery. Much of the food we consume in these places has to be plastic-sealed or wrapped to keep it fresh, and keep costs down.
Many of the consumable accessories we supply at Ackerman Music come with plastic or foil, to maintain freshness. Guitar and violin strings, woodwind reeds all currently come sealed from the factory.
The key underlying factor is the vast majority or plastic uses is cost. It costs less to make things out of plastic. It costs less when you can waste less food when it is plastic-sealed. It costs less to throw plastics away, rather than employ someone to wash the re-usable alternative.
This is a huge problem, as businesses everywhere are incentivized to reduce costs as much as possible. It is a problem for consumers, who have to be more cost-aware than ever.
Just as with the change away from plastic shopping bags, with the right laws in place I’m sure we can find a way to further reduce plastic usage, whether it is finding an alternative material (a seaweed-based replacement is being researched) or adjusting the way we store and keep fresh produce.
How has plastic waste impacted you? Have you tried to reduce your plastic usage? Let us know in the comments.