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
£4.99

A change of pace from your normal sudoku puzzles!

Musical Dominoes
£9.99

Fun and educational these dominoes challenge your rhythm reading.

Music Note Pasta Shapes
£5.99

For food and music lover’s alike – from Rigatoni to Rigoletto!

The 200th Anniversary Beethoven Diary 2020
£7.46

This superb diary is packed with details from Beethoven’s life, a must for the avid Beethoven fan!

Mozart/Beethoven Bust Kitchen Timer
£16.99

Want a perfectly boiled egg and a composer’s bust but have a tiny kitchen? Look no further.

Chopin Liszt Shopping List
£2.99

When you run out of eggs, pop them on your Chopin Liszt!

Hand-cranked music boxes (20 songs to pick from)
£7.99

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
£9.49

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
£7.99

These lovely earrings are perfect for a night at the opera.

1930s Clarke Original Tin Kazoo
£5.99

Anyone can play the kazoo. Brighten up Christmas morning with a Kazoo choir of Merry Wishes!

Sterling Silver
Music Note Necklace

£40

This silver and crystal necklace with surely bring a sparkle to your Christmas.

Leather Academy Music Case (Various Colours)
£45

These beautiful hand-crafted music cases are ideal for taking to your ensemble or lesson.

Overscore – Removable Manuscript Tape
£6.65

We all make mistakes. Maybe that bit is too hard? Re-write the rules with this fun gift.

Cassette tape notepad
£7.00

For those of us who remember making the perfect mix-tape.

Mozart Rubber Duck
£8.99

Love baths? Love Mozart? Well there you go…

Guitar Bottle Opener
£7.99

This handy little guitar comes with its own gigbag.

Treble Clef Cufflinks
£10.00

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!

Classic Christmas Songs Quiz

November 29th, 2019 | Posted by Brian Ackerman in Uncategorized - (0 Comments)

The Secret of Fresh Strings

November 2nd, 2019 | Posted by Brian Ackerman in Uncategorized - (0 Comments)

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.

Corroded strings

Now for some spectral analysis. We went for the extremes and recorded the top E and the low E:

Low E (Old)
High E (Old)

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:

Low E (New)
High E (New)

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.

Low E (Combined)

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.

High E (Combined)

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.

Match Four

November 1st, 2019 | Posted by Brian Ackerman in Uncategorized - (0 Comments)

Octoberfest Quiz

September 30th, 2019 | Posted by Brian Ackerman in Uncategorized - (0 Comments)

Firsts and Lasts

September 4th, 2019 | Posted by Brian Ackerman in Uncategorized - (0 Comments)

Summer of ’69

July 26th, 2019 | Posted by Brian Ackerman in Uncategorized - (0 Comments)

Plastic Fantastic?

July 3rd, 2019 | Posted by Brian Ackerman in Uncategorized - (0 Comments)

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.

_nstruments Quiz

July 3rd, 2019 | Posted by Brian Ackerman in Uncategorized - (0 Comments)

Another year, another Eurovision, another last place. Have we lost our touch? The UK sit in joint third on the list of Eurovision winners (for the time being) with 5 wins, but none since 1997.

These days our relationship with Europe is all over the news (don’t worry, we won’t be getting political here!) and yet music is one of our biggest exports worldwide. Today I’m going to look at the current state of affairs when it comes to our recent Eurovision entries (and with my usual armchair expertise, suggest areas of improvement!)

1 – The Song

This year the UK entry “Bigger Than Us” was written by another performer at Eurovision, Sweden’s John Lundvik (John performed another of his own songs, ‘Too Late for Love” and came 5th.)

In the UK’s selection process, we held a songwriting competition and 3 songs were selected by an international jury. These 3 songs were performed by 6 different artist, with Michael Rice being selected by public vote.

Many other countries have a much longer shortlist to choose from. Sweden this year had 28 entries to pick from. Second place Italy had 24 entries. Norway’s 6th place finish was selected from over 1000 submitted songs.

In past years (especially the late 60s) we had much more support from record companies, and more mainstream coverage of the song selection process, leading consecutive top 4 finishes between 1967 and 1970 (including 2 wins!)

How to fix it:

Let’s open the net wider in the future. Give the UK the best songs we can muster and let the public pick from those. Most selection competitions are spread over 5-6 episodes, more than enough to pick from 20-30 entries.

2 – The Staging

In some cases simple is better. Netherland’s winning performance mostly comprised of a singer, a piano and a lamp. Portugal’s delicate winning song two years ago wouldn’t have been enhanced by dancers or an elaborate set.

Other songs benefit hugely from having a visual spectacle alongside the music, from dancing with your reflection in a mirror, floating in space on a bendy pole or climbing up a giant chair, there’s more to music performance than just a singer on a stage.

How to fix it:

The UK approach of late has been pretty uninspired. Although Eurovision is a song contest, you have to appreciate the value of the theatrical side of stage perfomance. I’d like to see our next entry accompanied by a striking visual performance, to add more impact to our song.

3 – The Singer

I really like Michael Rice, and I was impressed with his performances on BBC’s ‘All Together Now,” (Which he won.) However, he’s very young, yet to release any music professionally, and therefore a complete unknown to the vast majority of people in Europe.

Talent show winners can be a good choice, as the Dutch winner, Duncan Laurence and runner-up Mahmood both featured in their respective countries, but both have had at least 5 years since then to develop and hone their craft since then.

Many successful Eurovision performers are established artists, with hit singles and albums under their belts, as well as some with multiple Eurovision performances.

In the golden years of UK at Eurovision we weren’t just sending experienced performers we took global pop stars to the competition and won handily.

Our best recent entry was the performance by Andrew Lloyd Webber and future Sugababes’ Jade Ewen who came 5th.

How to fix it:

Let’s try and get record companies on board, with the promise of boosting those European tour dates. in 2017, UK artists accounted for 22% of European music consumption. If we can get our best, current pop stars into the competition we could have a fighting chance. Who wouldn’t love to see someone like Adele or Ed Sheeran representing their country?

Key-Change into the Conclusion!

It seems that over the past couple of decades we’ve fallen out of love with Eurovision, but I know there are many of us out there who still care, and still want the UK to shine on the European stage.

Will we ever win for a 6th time? Who knows. Here’s hoping.