Professional songwriters are the backbone of the music industry, creating original content for musicians and singers to perform. If you’ve ever dreamed of writing songs for the world’s most popular musical acts, these tips can help you get started:
1. Take up a musical instrument.
You don’t need to know how to play an instrument to write lyrics, but you will have to be able to play one to compose a melody. Learning to play an instrument is a rewarding hobby that can make the songwriting process much easier, and options like the piano, guitar, and keyboard are common choices for aspiring songwriters. If your primary motivation for learning to play an instrument is so you gain the ability to write songs, it may be helpful to focus on learning to play chords on your instrument rather than practicing scales. Mastering the major and minor chords on an instrument can provide you with a solid foundation for building catchy song melodies.
2. Listen to a lot of music.
One habit that many accomplished songwriters have in common is listening to a lot of music written by other artists. Routinely exposing yourself to new music can help inspire new ideas and help you develop a writing style that is uniquely your own. Listening to others’ music can also help you identify new chords to play on your instrument, which broadens the tools you have to work with when writing. If you’re not sure how to find new music, try using an online music streaming service like Spotify to explore the work of bands and artists from many different genres.
3. Become familiar with basic music theory.
Though it’s not mandatory to study music theory in order to write a song, being familiar with some of the basics can make a big difference. For example, studying the roles of chords, scales, and keys in a song can help you learn how to determine which notes naturally go together and allow you to create the most pleasing chord progressions. Reading up on the different types of chord progressions can also help you better understand the way that song melodies are typically structured.
4. Know the parts of a song’s lyrical structure.
In addition to understanding the structure of a song’s melody, an aspiring songwriting should also understand the different parts of a song’s lyrical structure. Knowing the difference between a verse, a refrain, a chorus, a pre-chorus, and a bridge—and how these components all fit together—can create a blueprint for your own songs and help you write them in a way that makes sense to your listeners.
5. Practice writing on a regular basis.
As with any hobby, you need to practice songwriting in order to improve. Therefore, you should regularly set aside time that you can exclusively dedicate to songwriting and stay on task, even if you can only manage to find half an hour in your daily schedule to do so. On days when you’re not feeling particularly creative, you can explore the many online songwriting blogs, which are full of suggestions for songwriting exercises that will help you get the most out of your writing session.
6. Get feedback.
Although songwriting is mostly about satisfying your own need for self-expression and creativity, it’s always a good idea to get feedback from others. Asking for the opinions of fellow musicians or well-intentioned listeners can help you understand the parts of your songs that people enjoy while allowing you to gain perspective on aspects of your songwriting that could use improvement.
If you don’t feel comfortable asking for feedback from friends or family, you can find musicians willing to provide honest opinions of your work at a number of websites, such as Frettie.com, which are dedicated to the songwriting community. Wherever you choose to solicit constructive criticism from, remember not to take any judgments too personally. It’s better to view critiques as an opportunity to grow in your craft.
7. Write with others.
Sometimes, songwriters produce their best work when they partner with another musician. Choosing to write with others can help you learn new methods that change the way you approach the songwriting process and improve your technique. While some attempts at co-writing may not result in a completed song, every writing session will give you more experience and make you a little bit better at songwriting.
8. Don’t give up.
Learning how to write great songs is a process that requires a lot of time and dedication. No matter what your songwriting goals are, it’s important to not become discouraged if you can’t immediately produce songs of the quality you were hoping for. Try not to judge yourself too harshly as you navigate through the learning process. You can even take a break from songwriting on days when you feel too frustrated or creatively “stuck” to produce anything that is meaningful to you. It’s okay to step back from your work when you need to, as long as you don’t give up entirely.
If you’re an adult who wants to learn to play an instrument for the first time, you may be eager to get started, but have a few questions about what the learning process will be like. Before you pick out your first instrument, read through the following FAQs to gain useful information about becoming a musician later in life.
Q: How should I choose which instrument to play?
A: One way to decide which instrument you would like to play is to consider the music genres you most enjoy listening to, and then choose an instrument that fits within that style. For example, if you enjoy rock and roll, electric guitar might be a good choice, whereas if you have an affinity for classical music, you might consider the violin.
It’s also important to consider factors like the availability of practice space. If you live in an apartment, learning to practice the drums can cause problems with neighbors, whereas a keyboard or flute may not. Ultimately, you should choose an instrument that you truly feel excited about learning to play. The enthusiasm will help keep you motivated to move forward with lessons, even when they become difficult.
Q: What are the easiest instruments to play?
A: While all instruments will require you to dedicate time and effort to become proficient, some instruments may be simpler for an adult learner to master than others. The ukulele is an instrument commonly considered to be both fun and relatively simple to learn in comparison with other stringed instruments.
The harmonica is also thought of as a moderately easy, yet versatile instrument for new musicians. These types of instruments can offer you a musical outlet through which you may be able to play well in a much shorter time period than more complicated instruments.
Q: What are the most difficult instruments to play?
A: Many experienced musicians consider instruments in the strings and brass families to be some of the more challenging instruments to learn how to play for adult beginners. Choices like the violin and cello are fretless, giving musicians no visual guidance for the proper placement of the fingers. Brass instruments like the French horn require a musician to exert a high volume of air while correctly positioning his or her lips to play the right notes.
Others consider piano to be a more complicated choice of instrument, as a proficient player must have the ability to read music while moving each hand independently from the other across the keys. Whatever you choose to play, the most important thing to remember is that all instruments present musicians with difficulty during the learning process. Don’t be afraid to take up an instrument that seems intimidating - if you are determined to play it, you will.
Q: Am I too old to learn to play an instrument?
A: It is a common misconception that people can only become proficient on an instrument if they first took lessons as a child. The real answer is no, you are never too old to take up an instrument for the first time. In fact, learning as an adult may have its own set of advantages.
For example, as an adult, you likely have years of experience listening to music, giving you a basic understanding of its structure. Additionally, you may have a more developed sense of self-discipline, which is necessary to keep to a regular practice schedule.
Lastly, unlike many children who are made to take music lessons by well-meaning parents, your decision to learn how to play an instrument is your own. Those who willfully and enthusiastically take up a new instrument are likely to have greater motivation to practice and master the requisite skills.
Q: Can I learn to play an instrument without the help of a teacher?
A: There are many ways for a beginning adult musician to learn to play an instrument, and taking lessons from a qualified teacher is only one of them. If taking lessons from a teacher doesn’t suit your financial situation or lifestyle preferences, you can find many helpful resources online to get you started.
Video tutorials on YouTube are a great place for beginning musicians to learn basic skills, and there are many well-written blogs on the internet that offer instruction for free. The iTunes and Google Play store also have a collection of music education apps for free or for very low prices that can be extremely helpful in learning to develop your abilities on an instrument.
Q: How long will it take before I can play my instrument proficiently?
A: This is a question that cannot be answered, as the factors that influence your development are contingent upon your individual choices. The first factor is identifying what “proficient” means to you. Do you want to play well enough to perform a few songs on your instrument at social gatherings, or do you want to develop talents that near a professional level?
Another factor to consider is how much time you plan to dedicate to practicing the instrument. Dedicated, well-structured practice is the only way for a musician to learn how to play an instrument, and how fast you progress depends on how much time you put in.
One of the few music genres to truly originate in the United States, jazz was first developed in New Orleans, Louisiana. It was influenced by the sounds of the blues, ragtime, and traditional funeral music from the South. Generally a fast-paced genre, it is distinguished by its improvisational nature, syncopation, bent notes, and the “swing” created when musicians accent the beat by adding unexpected rhythm on the offbeat of a song.
To understand the spirit of jazz, one must understand the components that create its style. Listed below are the most common instrumental elements in the jazz genre.
Rhythm section instruments
To play standard jazz, a band needs rhythm instruments to provide percussion, a bass line, and harmony to its songs. The most common rhythm instruments in a jazz ensemble include bass, drums, piano, and guitar.
Though it can’t be heard as distinctly as other instruments, the bass plays a crucial role in jazz songs, laying a rhythmic foundation for the other instruments while simultaneously providing harmonic support. Early jazz bass lines were played on upright bass, though a majority of jazz bassists today prefer to play on electric models. Jazz bass is often played in the pizzicato style, in which a player forcefully plucks the instrument’s strings rather than strumming or tapping them.
As with many forms of contemporary music, the drums in jazz are responsible for pushing the movement of a song by keeping the beat. A jazz drummer, however, has the added responsibility of periodically altering his or her playing style to complement other musicians as they solo during a performance. This can mean that a jazz drummer plays softer in some parts of a song and then returns loudly in others, or may alter a beat mid-song in order to accent the notes of a soloist. Much of a jazz drummer’s performance is improvisational, as he or she must be able to react according to the improvisation of the lead musicians.
Jazz piano can be both a rhythm instrument and a harmony instrument. It can be played in such a way that it provides percussion to a song through a technique called “comping,” or it can be played softly, using single keys to create a melody. Jazz pianists often play rhythm with one hand while playing a melody with the other. The instrument’s 88 keys provide musicians with a wide range of notes to work with, giving it a dynamic role in jazz performance.
Like a pianist, the guitar player in a jazz ensemble can play a single-note melody in a song, or may play percussively, comping full chords to provide rhythmic support to the rest of the band. Some musicians will choose to use a solid body or semi-hollow body electric guitar in a jazz ensemble. However, hollow body archtop guitar has been a popular choice for jazz music since as early as the 1920s.
Horn section instruments
The horn instruments in a jazz ensemble are a collection of brass and woodwind instruments that are responsible for playing the melody of a song. The most common instruments in the horn section are the trumpet, trombone, and saxophone.
The trumpet is an iconic jazz instrument, first popularized by the likes of Louis Armstrong in the 1920s. Made from brass, the sound is controlled by three valves on the top of its body, which manipulate the notes created by a musician as he or she vibrates the lips and pushes air through the mouthpiece. Even with only three valves to work with, trumpet players are able to produce 45 distinct notes on the instrument, which they use to perform the energetic solos characteristic of jazz music.
The trombone is another brass instrument used to play melodies and solos in jazz songs. As with the trumpet, a trombone player vibrates his or her lips against the mouthpiece while blowing air into the instrument. A player uses a slide on the trombone’s body to change the pitch of the sound, producing loud, powerful notes that command attention during jazz songs.
Though it is made out of brass like the trumpet and the trombone, the saxophone is considered a woodwind instrument because of its single-reed mouthpiece. The saxophone’s brass body, combined with its woodwind mouthpiece, produces an intense vibrato in its notes, creating a popular, distinct sound. There are five different kinds of saxophone, including the soprano, alto, tenor, baritone, and bass sax, with tenor and soprano being the most frequently used in jazz bands.
The voice as a jazz instrument
Though ensembles within the genre are frequently instrumental, some of the most popular jazz songs of all time feature vocalists. Singers like Billie Holliday, Ella Fitzgerald, and Frank Sinatra all saw great popularity due to their work as jazz singers in the middle of the 20th century.
To perform jazz, vocalists sing at a pitch that is similar to a speaking tone. Professionals suggest that your singing voice in jazz should be a musical extension of the tone you use when talking. A jazz vocalist may also choose to employ an improvisational singing technique known as scat singing. To scat, a vocalist will periodically use emotive nonsense words or syllables to mimic a sound similar to that of a jazz instrument.
While the electric bass may not be culturally celebrated on the level of its cousin the electric guitar, the instrument plays an essential role in the creation of fluid, measured music that is pleasing to the ear. Read on for an overview of everything one needs to know about the electric bass.
The role of the bass in music
The Fender company first developed the electric bass guitar for mass consumption in the 1950s. Known as the Precision Bass, this electric, easily-transportable alternative to the stand-up bass had a fundamental influence on the evolution of popular music. The Precision Bass could not only be amplified to better blend in with other loud, electric instruments, but its physical design was also familiar enough that guitar players could learn to play it more easily than the quieter, acoustic stand-up bass.
Today, bass guitar is a core component of most modern music styles, including rock, pop, swing, funk, world beat, jazz, metal, and blues. While all instruments play significant roles in the creation of a band’s sound, the bass is arguably the most important. This is because the bass guitarist is responsible for creating a connection between the harmony of a song and its rhythm. Alongside a drummer, a bassist must keep time within a song, playing in a rhythmic pattern that establishes the pulse, or beat, of the music for the rest of the band to follow.
At the same time, the bassist must play notes that establish a harmonic foundation for the rest of the musicians. In this respect, the bass is also extremely important, because the human ear tends to hear harmonies created by multiple notes in relation to the lowest possible pitch. If a bassist plays the wrong foundational notes, it throws the harmony off and disrupts the music. This makes it much easier to notice when a bass player makes a mistake than when someone playing a lead instrument, such as guitar or saxophone, missteps.
Ways to play the bass
The bass guitar’s traditional four strings are tuned to the notes E, A, D, and G—one octave below the electric guitar’s four lowest-toned strings. The similarity between the notes and body styles of the two instruments sometimes leads guitar players to assume that learning to play the bass will be an easy task, but the transition is not usually so smooth. This is due, in part, to the fact that playing the bass requires a markedly different technique and technical skillset than people use to play the electric guitar.
Accomplished bass players may use a variety of styles to create the right sound for the genre of music they are playing. Popular playing techniques on the bass include palm muting, picking, fretting, and slap and pop. While many bassists choose to use only their fingers on the strings of the instrument, some prefer to use a pick. Famous bassists like Geddy Lee, Flea, and Duck Dunn are all notable for their abilities as finger-style bassists, while Paul McCartney, Chris Squire, and Mike Dirnt made notable accomplishments playing with a pick. Either choice is appropriate and depends solely on the preference of the bassist.
Useful bass equipment
Musicians who are interested in becoming bass guitarists need several pieces of gear to get started. Second in importance to the instrument itself is an amplifier. A bass guitar that is not plugged into an amp will not emit any notable sound. Beginner musicians can learn to play using a small, 100-watt amp, but more experienced bassists who are looking to perform shows should only purchase amps with a wattage of 200 or more. To connect a bass to an amp, all new musicians must also purchase an instrument cable with quarter-inch jacks on both ends.
Additional gear that is helpful for new bass players to have includes a guitar strap, which will allow a musician to learn how to stand while playing. Learning to play a bass while standing is more comfortable than sitting down with the bass propped on one knee, and will also be a useful technique for those who want to eventually join a band. New musicians should also consider purchasing a case for the instrument to protect it from damage, as well as an electronic tuner to make sure that they are playing in key.
Musicians, whether they are amateur players or professionals, occasionally have to bring their instruments on a plane trip. However, while air travel is an extremely safe method of transportation for people, it can often lead to lost or damaged instruments. Musicians who wish to make sure their instruments arrive safely should keep the following helpful tips in mind when planning their next flight:
Follow any Transportation Security Administration (TSA) rules
Before taking their instrument on a plane, musicians need to be aware of the relevant guidelines set by the TSA. According to the organization’s website, all instruments must undergo a security screening. Musicians who bring an instrument as a carry-on item must present it for a physical inspection at the airport’s security checkpoint. At this time, owners should communicate to TSA agents any special guidelines for handling their fragile instrument. If checking their instrument as baggage, individuals should be sure to label it with written instructions describing how TSA agents should handle the instrument while examining it and then restoring it to its case.
Arrive early if you plan to bring your instrument as a carry-on
In 2012, the US Congress passed a law requiring airlines to allow instruments as carry-on items without imposing extra fees, as long as the instrument can safely fit underneath a seat or in an overhead bin. However, the law does not state that airlines must give musicians priority space in overhead bins, and in the event that there is no room for an instrument in the cabin’s stowage area, owners will need to check the item at the gate. For this reason, it is a good idea for musicians to purchase priority boarding tickets to make sure that they are among the first passengers to board the aircraft. This ensures that there will be plenty of room to store an instrument in the overhead compartment.
Buy a seat for your instrument
Musicians with larger instruments like cellos and upright basses also have the option to purchase a seat for their instrument provided that it meets the weight and height guidelines established by the airline. The major US airline carriers all maintain different policies on instruments as cabin seat baggage, which travelers can find here. Even after establishing that a large instrument qualifies as cabin seat baggage, musicians should still contact the airline 24 hours ahead of time to confirm the viability of the special travel arrangement. In addition, any person traveling with a large instrument should arrive at the airport a half hour earlier than normal to make sure that he or she has enough time to transport the instrument through the airport and secure it safely in its seat before takeoff.
Take necessary precautions for instruments stored in the cargo bay
Musicians who check their instruments need to make sure their instruments are well protected while stored in the cargo bay. One way to do this is to purchase a quality hard case equipped with protective padding on the inside. It’s also a good idea to fill any empty spaces within the instrument’s case with newspaper, bubble wrap, foam, or soft fabric to prevent the instrument from moving around during transit. Musicians should label their case with an ID tag that clearly lists their full name and contact information to help prevent the instrument from becoming lost.
Additionally, whether an instrument is traveling in the cargo bay or the cabin, owners should make sure to tune down stringed instruments and drums before takeoff. The pressure changes that occur during air travel may cause increased string tension on instruments like violins, guitars, and cellos, which could cause the necks of the instruments to bend or even break entirely. Tightened drumheads may also be at risk for this type of damage.
Buy a cheap version of an instrument to take on trips instead
To avoid the stress of traveling with an expensive instrument, musicians should consider purchasing a lower-quality version specifically for use during travel. Owners should take steps to protect these cheaper versions the same way that they would for their standard instruments, but in the event of accidental damage, loss, or theft, the cost of replacement is much less. If obtaining a cheaper version of the instrument is not feasible, individuals can purchase travel insurance to protect them against the significant costs associated with replacing a lost instrument or repairing a damaged one.
Science has shown us that music has many positive effects on people from a mental, social, and even physical standpoint. To enjoy the benefits that making music has to offer, many people consider taking lessons on popular instruments such as the guitar, violin, or piano. However, they often forget that one of the most incredible instruments available to them is, quite literally, right under their nose. Singing provides many surprising benefits, including the seven listed here.
1. Singing lowers stress levels
It is commonly known that playing or actively listening to music can promote a general sense of well-being. However, those who sing gain the added benefit of releasing muscle tension. Singers who learn correct vocal techniques learn how to control and relax different muscles during their performance, which provides them with the ability to release muscle tension. This can lead to deeper physical relaxation in the body overall and diminish feelings of stress. Research also indicates that the act of singing reduces the level of cortisol in the body—a hormone directly correlated to elevated stress levels.
2. Singing can create stronger social bonds
Besides putting vocalists in a more relaxed state, singing with others can activate areas within the brain linked to empathy and help people become more in tune with the thoughts and feelings of others. When singers perform with other people, they tend to experience positive feelings toward those in the group, especially when the music requires the performers to synchronize. Interacting vocally with others can create more powerful social bonds and establish greater intimacy between individuals, leading to stronger friendships and reducing feelings of loneliness.
3. Singing is good exercise for your lungs
Some people may be surprised to learn that singing can actually be a form of exercise. When employing proper technique, singers engage their core, using the abdominal, intercostal, and back muscles to push air out and upward from the diaphragm. Singing is also excellent exercise for the lungs, and it may help to alleviate medical conditions related to the respiratory system. When using proper technique, the diaphragm is activated, and performers are able to breathe more deeply than they would even when intentionally taking deep breaths. The byproduct is an increase in airflow to the lungs, which makes the organs healthier and may help combat the effects of illnesses such as asthma or bronchitis. As an added benefit, singing exercises the facial muscles, which can provide the face with a more toned appearance.
4. Singing can fight depression
While the act of singing is not considered to be a stand-alone treatment for depression, researchers believe that it can have a positive impact on the mood of people who live with this draining mental condition. Singing releases oxytocin into the bloodstream, a hormone that reduces anxiety and promotes feelings of trust. It also increases the amount of serotonin and endorphins in the body, both of which contribute to an elevated mood and feelings of happiness. Singing may also help people with depression to feel less isolated and encourage a more positive mental state when undertaken in a group with other vocalists.
5. Singing strengthens your immune system
As previously mentioned, research has shown that singing can lead to reduced levels of cortisol, which translates to a lower degree of stress. Less stress in the body can also mean lower blood pressure, less tissue inflammation, and higher oxygenation of the blood. In addition, some studies suggest that singing may raise levels of cytokines in the blood, which play a direct role in the ability of the immune system to fight off illnesses. All of these factors together contribute to the belief that singing may help keep vocalists healthy.
6. Singing can lead to better sleep
Scientists say that singers who regularly perform a specific set of vocal exercises can tone the muscles of the throat and palate, which may lead to reduced incidences of snoring and sleep apnea. Disorders such as sleep apnea have the potential to not only contribute to the development of diabetes, obesity, and heart problems, but also interrupt individuals’ sleep cycle, preventing them from sleeping fitfully. According to some researchers, singers who spend only 20 minutes per day engaging in a series of specialized vocalizations can significantly reduce the occurrence of snoring in less than a month, leading to better rest and overall health.
7. Singing improves cognition for those with certain ailments
Some studies suggest that singing may contribute to improved cognition and higher levels of happiness in people with dementia. While none of the study results indicate that singing can prevent the disease altogether, there is research to suggest that it may slow the advancement of cognitive problems related to old age. Among the other cognitive benefits of singing is its potential to help patients who have experienced a stroke to learn how to regain the ability to speak. Many people who have had a stroke cannot speak in sentences, but retain the ability to sing words. The medical community is using this discovery to develop new therapies to help people who have had a stroke learn to talk again.
Whether you’re a longtime fan of classical music or are just beginning to learn about the genre, one of the best ways to experience it is by attending the symphony. If you plan to attend your first symphonic concert, you should keep the following tips in mind to enjoy the best possible experience.
Show up on time
At a symphonic performance, showing up on time generally means arriving at least a half an hour before the show is scheduled to begin. Arriving 30 minutes early will give you enough time to explore the concert hall, find refreshments, pick up a program, and find your seat before the show begins. Conversely, showing up late to the symphony often means that you will be required to wait in the lobby during the show until an usher can find an appropriate point in the program to lead you to your seat.
Don’t leave your cellphone on
A symphonic performance is an immersive experience, but audience members can easily become distracted and unable to focus on the show when those around them use cell phones and other electronic devices. To avoid the risk of spoiling the performance for yourself and others, turn your cell phone off completely before the show begins, and check for messages during intermission, if needed. If you are a professional who works in emergency medicine or need to have your phone turned on for any reason, many concert halls are happy to have an usher hold your device for you and quietly alert you in the event that you receive any urgent calls or messages.
Do wear comfortable clothes
Traditionally, symphony musicians have been required to wear formal black tie or white tie dress. The audience, however, is free to dress in any manner they choose, in most cases. While the dress code may vary depending on the standards set by individual concert halls, many establishments simply suggest that guests wear clothing that is comfortable. Many people see symphonic performances as a special occasion and an opportunity to dress in more refined clothing than usual, with many opting for business casual or cocktail party-style dress. Always check with the concert hall ahead of time in order to ensure there are no specific clothing requirements. Otherwise, you should dress in clothes that make you feel positive and that will not be uncomfortable to sit in for several hours.
Don’t distract others from the performance
Once a performance begins, it is crucial that audience members refrain from any activities that may cause a disturbance or distract other patrons. The acoustics of most symphony halls are designed to naturally amplify the sounds of the instruments. An unfortunate side effect is that the acoustics may also make even the smallest sounds seem much louder than normal. While the musicians are playing, you should try to avoid coughing, unwrapping candy or cough drops, singing, humming, or frequently shifting in your seat. Above all, it is of vital importance that you refrain from talking during a concert, even at a whisper. Talking is considered to be poor manners and is disrespectful to both the musicians playing the instruments and the audience members around you.
Do clap at the appropriate moments
The first time you attend the symphony, it can be challenging to try to identify the appropriate moments to clap. In general, applause is expected only after the completion of a full piece of music, which can be difficult to discern, as most full pieces are broken down into smaller segments known as “movements.” During a performance, there may be a quick break of 15 to 30 seconds between each movement, and the audience is only expected to clap after the last one, when the piece truly ends. You may be able to identify when to clap by following along with these movements in the symphony program. If you remain unsure of when to applaud, it is best to follow the lead of the other patrons and join in with the rest of the audience after the applause begins.
Don’t take pictures during the performance
While this is not always the case, most concert halls ask guests to leave their cameras and video cameras at home. Using a camera or a recording device during the performance takes you out of the moment and prevents you from enjoying the music the way that the conductor intends. It can also be yet another distraction to those around you.
Do take advantage of intermission
When the concert has an intermission, you should take the opportunity to use the restroom, speak briefly to others, and purchase refreshments. Using these 15 to 20 minutes wisely will reduce the likelihood that you will need to get up from your seat during the second half of the performance. Additionally, it will mentally refresh you so that you are better able to concentrate on the rest of the concert. Be on the lookout for signs that the intermission is nearing its end, such as flashing lobby lights or the doors to the concert hall being reopened. Make sure to head back to your seat as soon as you see these signs out of respect for the performers and the other audience members.
Despite its relative youth in relation to many other countries, the United States has a rich musical history. From the folksy mountain sound of Appalachian music to the energetic beat of rock and roll, American music has set trends that other cultures around the world have followed.
The importance of music in American culture is evident in the establishment of some of the most exciting museums commemorating music across the country. Listed below are some music museums located in the United States that everyone should take the chance to visit.
The Country Music Hall of Fame
Located in Nashville, Tennessee (also known by its nickname “Music City, USA”), the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum is a beautifully-designed, 350,000-square-foot building only a block away from the famous Broadway honkytonk bars where many classic country stars got their start.
The museum is home to more than 2 million artifacts collected since the earliest years of country music, including stage costumes, instruments, and early recordings of classic stars. It also features rotating exhibits on both early and modern musicians in the genre and offers numerous educational programs and instrument demonstrations to students and visitors who have a passion for country music.
The American Jazz Museum
Through performance, education, and research, the Kansas City, Missouri-based American Jazz Museum aims to help the public understand the value of jazz as an indigenous American art form, preserve its history, and drive the development of the genre forward.
The museum helps to tell the story of jazz music through art, film, performance, and exhibitions that shed light on the lives of legends like Charlie Parker, Ella Fitzgerald, and Louis Armstrong. Guests to the museum also have the chance to take in a professional performance from talented musicians at both the local and national level at the establishment’s Blue Room jazz club.
The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame
The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame was founded more than three decades ago in Cleveland, Ohio, by executives from Rolling Stone Magazine and Atlantic Records. It seeks to commemorate the significant impact of rock and roll music on American Culture.
The recognizable architecture of the museum includes a double-pyramid made of glass and a tower that is 162 feet tall, containing over 50,000 square feet of exhibition space dedicated to the music and histories of its members. Visitors to the museum are able to view items such as early drafts of iconic songs, original album artwork, and the personal instruments of some of the world’s most famous rock and roll musicians.
Each year since 1986, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame has awarded membership to a collection of new musicians voted on by a group of 900 music industry veterans, historians, and existing Hall of Fame Members. The first class included Chuck Berry, Sam Cooke, Ray Charles, James Brown, and Fats Domino, while the most recently inducted class of 2017 included Joan Baez, Journey, Tupac Shakur, Pearl Jam, Yes, and ELO.
The Musical Instrument Museum (MIM)
The Musical Instrument Museum is notable for being the only global musical instrument museum in existence. Located in the desert of Scottsdale, Arizona, MIM’s collection includes over 6,500 different musical instruments from early history to modern day that belong to a wide range of cultures from around the world.
Guests tour the museum wearing headsets and interact with video screens placed throughout the premises in order to understand what different instruments sound like and to learn more about their origin and use. On the building’s second floor, instruments are separated into five different galleries based on the continent from which they hail. On the first floor, guests can view items and memorabilia from the tours of American music legends in the Artists Gallery or experiment and play with an array of unique instruments in MIM’s Experience Gallery.
Graceland is a Memphis, Tennessee-based museum located on rock and roll icon Elvis Presley’s former 14-acre estate. Visitors begin by taking an interactive iPad tour of the eponymous mansion, where the Presley lived from 1957 until his death 20 years later.
In addition to a glimpse into his home, Graceland guests also tour other buildings on the estate, including the star’s trophy and racquetball buildings. Tours end at the meditation garden, where Presley is buried.
Afterward, visitors with upgraded tickets are taken onward to Elvis Presley’s Memphis, a 200,000-square-foot complex that encompasses several other museums, including the Elvis the Entertainer Career Museum, Presley Motors Automobile Museum, and the Elvis Discovery Exhibits. Shopping, restaurants, and a themed hotel are also available onsite for those who are interested in a fuller experience.
The Motown Museum is a testament to the legacy of Motown Records, an independent label that produced over 180 hit songs and changed the trajectory of American pop music with its distinct sound. Located in several buildings on West Grand Avenue in Detroit, Michigan, the museum’s collection contains rare photos, apparel, and items owned by major Motown stars.
Guests also can take tours of the famous Studio A, where many of the label’s greatest hits were recorded. Famous groups which contributed to the Motown sound and which are featured in the museum’s collection include Gladys Knight & the Pips, Marvin Gaye, Smokey Robinson & the Miracles, Michael Jackson, and Diana Ross & the Supremes.
The violin is among the most popular instruments for young music students around the world. Played by both high society virtuosos and working-class musicians since it was first introduced in the 16th century, this stringed instrument plays such an important role in classical music that the lead violinist in an orchestra or symphonic band maintains a position of significance in the group second only to the conductor.
While challenging to master, it remains a classic instrument that is beloved by people from varied musical backgrounds. Listed below are six surprising facts that everyone should know about the violin.
1. Violins come in different sizes to suit a player’s physical stature.
Though it varies based on individual characteristics, professionals suggest that children can begin to take violin lessons between the ages of 3 to 6. To accommodate the physical statures of players at all ages, luthiers create violins in eight standard sizes, measured by the length of the instrument’s body.
The smallest of these is the 1/16 size, measuring 9 inches long, and the largest, or full size, measures 14 inches in length. For the most part, adults and children 10 years of age and older will play a full-size violin. Choosing a correctly-sized violin is important, as it allows the musician to comfortably reach the notes on the instrument’s neck.
2. Violins are assembled from about 70 different wooden pieces.
To assemble a violin, a luthier uses around 70 individual pieces of wood from many different kinds of trees. The violin’s top is made from a strong, resonant wood that is capable of withstanding the tension caused by the strings, like spruce. The sides, scroll, neck, back, and bridge are often made from an even stronger wood, like maple. The maple pieces provide structural support and stability to the instrument.
The dark wood used for the fingerboard of a standard violin is almost exclusively made from ebony. However, more expensive models may be formed using rosewood, boxwood, or mahogany pieces which are stained black.
3. There are three main types of strings used on violins.
Strings have a significant impact on the sound and playability of a violin. A musician can choose from three main types of strings: gut, steel core, and synthetic. Gut strings are the oldest type of strings, used by the first violinists nearly 500 years ago. Made from the intestines of sheep, they are typically wrapped in copper or silver wire and give music a warm, full-bodied tone. While gut strings create a beautiful sound, they need to be replaced and tuned more often than the other two types.
The most common kind of strings, steel core, create crisp, vivid notes once they have been broken in, and last much longer than traditional gut strings. However, many beginners prefer to use synthetic strings, often made from nylon. They also produce notes with a warm tone, but are much easier to maintain than gut strings and can be purchased at a significantly lower cost.
4. There are major differences between student and professional quality violins.
Like most instruments, the level of craftsmanship that goes into creating a violin has a major effect on the kind of sound it produces. The notes produced by the handmade violins favored by professionals far surpass the quality of those created by the manufactured violin models often purchased by new students.
Though a budding violinist can practice effectively on any model, certain music brands are noted for their fair balance between affordability and sound quality. These brands include Yamaha, Hofner, and Cecilio.
5. Some of the greatest composers in history were noted for their abilities as violinists.
History is full of composers who gained notoriety in music as the result of their ability to pay the violin. Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart demonstrated a remarkable talent for the violin at the age of 5, and he later went on to compose famous pieces like Eine kleine Nachtmusik and operas like The Magic Flute. Johann Sebastian Bach first explored music on the harpsichord and in the choir before he was widely recognized for his skills on the violin in a German royal court. Italian Baroque composer Antonio Vivaldi was a composer who exclusively played the violin and was responsible for the creation of the three-movement concerto.
6. Violinists aren’t restricted to playing classical music.
Though the violin has a central and enduring importance in classical music, it is not the only genre for which musicians can play the instrument. Many modern music groups from a wide range of genres employ violinists to bring nuance to their work, including classic rock groups such as Queen and alternative pop bands like Mumford and Sons.
The violin is also almost as crucial to the folk and country genres as it is to classical music. However, when played with a folk or country group, many musicians call the instrument a fiddle. This term is used to distinguish between the more structured, technically complex violin-playing style used in classical music, and the rhythmic, spontaneous nature of the fiddle played in a folk, country, or bluegrass band.
Apart from listening to an album, one of the most enjoyable ways to appreciate music is to learn about it through inspiring documentaries. In the last two decades, the film industry has produced a collection of unforgettable documentaries centered on musical evolution and individual musicians alike. Try watching any of the eight works listed below.
1. 20 Feet from Stardom
This Academy Award-winning film, directed by music documentarian Morgan Neville, focuses on the careers of the backup singers who loaned their voices to some of the most beloved songs of the 20th century. Featuring interviews with stars like Bruce Springsteen, Stevie Wonder, Sheryl Crow, and Sting, 20 Feet from Stardom explores the professional triumphs and disappointments of the many backup singers who helped shape the sound of American pop music. From successful stars like Darlene Love, to lesser-known artists like Lisa Fisher and Merry Clayton, music fans of all generations will appreciate the power behind these women’s stories.
2. Searching for Sugar Man
Another Oscar winner, Searching for Sugar Man tells the tale of singer-songwriter Sixto Rodriguez. The film details his brief professional ties to a Motown record label in the 1960s before he gave up his music career in the subsequent decade to perform manual labor and provide for his family.
What makes this story worthy of a documentary is the surprising revelation that Rodriguez’s music rose to iconic status a world away in the country of South Africa, unbeknownst to him, more than four decades later. Directed by Malik Bendjelloul, Searching for Sugar Man is an incredible true story that incorporates elements of music, dreams, and mystery, all wrapped up with a modern-day fairytale ending.
3. Sound City
Sound City was directed by Foo Fighters front man and former Nirvana drummer Dave Grohl. The title of the documentary pays homage to the name of a now-shuttered recording studio in Los Angeles, California, where some of the most iconic albums of the last 50 years were recorded.
Broken down into what can loosely be described as three acts, the film tells the soulful story of Sound City’s rise and fall, supplemented with stories and interviews from many of the classic artists who recorded there. Musicians who make an appearance in Sound City include Stevie Knicks, Lindsey Buckingham, and Mick Fleetwood of the band Fleetwood Mac as well as Tom Petty, Rick Springfield, Neil Young, and Paul McCartney.
4. Muscle Shoals
Muscle Shoals is a film about the way that a distinct style of 1960s and 70s music evolved in a small town in the Deep South. Over the course of an hour and 51 minutes, first-time director Greg ‘Freddy’ Camalier gives viewers an insight into the creative atmosphere of Muscle Shoals, Alabama that inspired the creation of such classic hits as “When a Man Loves a Woman,” “Freebird,” and “Mustang Sally.” The story is supported by interviews from music legends like Aretha Franklin, Mick Jagger, Percy Sledge, and Bono.
5. What Happened, Miss Simone?
Released in 2015, What Happened, Miss Simone? details the life and musical career of jazz, blues, and soul musician Nina Simone, whose talent and passion for music was rivaled in scope only by her commitment to the Civil Rights Movement. Director Liz Garbus takes the audience from Simone’s earliest years as a classically trained pianist through her eventual voluntary retirement from the entertainment industry. Throughout the film, friends and family of the “high priestess of soul” give interviews to help viewers understand Simone as both an artist and an activist.
Yet another music documentary that earned an Academy Award, Amy is a film directed by Asif Kapadia. It follows the musical growth of renowned singer-songwriter Amy Winehouse, who passed away in 2011 at the age of 27. Through interviews with friends and home video footage of the artist herself, Amy focuses on the story of a musician with larger-than-life talent who struggled under the pressures of worldwide fame.
7. Runnin’ Down a Dream
Since he first formed the band Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers in the mid-1970s, Tom Petty has consistently written and performed music that continues to inspire new generations. Runnin’ Down a Dream paints a picture of the successes, troubles, and times of one of America’s great classic rock and roll bands.
The film, directed by Peter Bogandovich, premiered during the closing weekend of the New York Film Festival in 2007. It received high reviews across the board from major sources such as the New York Times, Rotten Tomatoes, and Variety Magazine.
8. The Beatles: Eight Days a Week
The Beatles: Eight Days a Week, directed by visionary filmmaker Ron Howard, focuses on the story of one of the most influential rock and roll bands of all time. Instead of building a story solely on the major events that occurred during the Beatles’ unprecedented rise to stardom, Howard chooses to fill the documentary with the more nuanced details of the band’s touring life between 1962 and 1966.
The film’s narrative is buoyed by footage and archival interviews with the members of the band. Additionally, it never loses sight of the joy that all four musicians found in making music amid the cultural frenzy that took them farther than any band had gone before.