People may choose to take music lessons later in life for a variety of reasons. Some seek to play an instrument for the many health benefits that studies show music can provide for older adults. Others may learn to play because the hobby has been on a lifelong “bucket list” of things that they want to accomplish. Still another reason that an adult may decide to become a musician later in life is the desire to join a band - an experience that can provide a fun opportunity to engage in a hobby while socializing with likeminded individuals.
Adults who want to learn how to make music with the goal of becoming a member of a musical group should consider taking lessons in any of the following instruments commonly used by people in bands.
While some forget to think of the voice as an instrument, vocals are a key element in a majority of music. The lead vocalist is often the focal point of a band, holding the responsibility of interpreting and delivering a song’s lyrics to the audience. A lead vocalist sings the lead line or melody part of a song, and in some cases, is supported by backing vocalists, who complement the lead with harmony parts.
Those who want to provide vocals in a band should enroll in singing lessons. These allow a beginning musician to strengthen his or her vocal muscles and learn to sing in a way that is best suited to the tone, range, and natural style of that person’s voice. Some people who choose to provide vocals in a band supplement their contribution to the music by learning another instrument that they can play while singing, or learn how to write the songs that the band plays.
The keyboard is an excellent instrument for an adult beginner who is drawn to the sound and graceful nature of the piano, but wants to take his or her talents to the stage. While some bands may choose to incorporate a traditional piano, the keyboard is not only transported more easily between gigs, but also offers a more versatile set of sounds for a musician to work with.
On a keyboard, a musician can produce everything from melodic, classical grand piano sounds to synthesizers and warm, electric tones. The keyboardist in a band typically plays supportive parts that deftly complement the work of the other musicians and set the tone of the song in the background.
To learn to play keyboards in a band, an individual can choose to take traditional piano lessons or may opt for lessons specific to keyboards. Though lessons vary stylistically by teacher, keyboard lessons tend to focus on teaching a student to play melody notes with the right hand while forming block chords with the left. Conversely, piano lessons tend to give students a greater range of ability by training them to play melody and block chords with both hands.
The bass may be the most underappreciated instrument in music. According to an article published on Guitar World Magazine’s website, a recent study found that the bassist may be the most important player in a band. Studies on test subjects’ abilities to detect discrepancies in low and high frequency tones in music indicated that listeners are more likely to notice flaws in the bassline compared to those in the scales played by the lead guitarist. This requires bass players to be extremely competent at providing rhythmic and harmonic foundation to a song.
The standard bass has a body similar to that of a guitar, but is equipped with four much thicker strings that emit low tones. Adult beginners who take bass lessons will learn to play single, root notes that provide the integral support other musicians need to create balanced, well-rounded music.
Like the bass, the drums do not receive the level of recognition that they deserve, but have an indispensable role in the creation of quality music. The drummer is commonly known as the “backbone” of the band, and his or her ability to perfectly time a song by playing a steady beat is what enables other musicians to play together cohesively.
Some beginners will select drums as their instrument of choice because they have natural rhythm and coordination that lends itself to developing a true talent on the instrument. However, many professional instructors within the music industry assert that almost anyone can learn to play the drums well with proper lessons and a dedication to regular practice.
5. Electric guitar
The electric guitar is the instrument that springs to mind first for many people when they think of the instruments in a band. Since it was first invented in the early decades of the 20th century, the electric guitar has changed the course of music, transforming the pop genre specifically through the work of legends like Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton, and Chuck Berry. It is an iconic instrument that is one of the most popular among music students in the United States.
Bands often have two electric guitarists - one who plays the rhythm part of a song, and one who plays the lead, or a pair of guitarists who share both roles. The rhythm guitarist is the one who fills out a tune by playing full chords that are on beat with the rest of the musicians. This provides a strong layer of music for the lead guitarist to play over. Accomplished lead guitarists have a significant influence over the music’s overall style, and must develop strong technical and improvisational skills that allow them to blend guitar solos neatly into the tune created by the rest of the band.
Though much has already been written about the effects of music on child development, researchers continue to discover new benefits for babies and children who are exposed to music from an early age. To better understand the ways that music can have a positive, lasting impact on the lives of children, parents should be aware of the following seven facts.
1. Children can distinguish between types of music before their first birthday.
Though most children have only just begun to develop the ability to speak words at 12 months of age, researchers from Brigham Young University have discovered that babies as young as 9 months are able to recognize a difference in music that is upbeat and happy and music that is gloomy and sad.
Another study from Canada’s McGil University showed that babies as young as 8 months are capable of differentiating between types of instruments, noting that they showed an awareness of difference between the sound of a piano recital and that of an orchestral performance. The same research also indicated that babies of this age had the ability to recognize a piece of music two weeks after they were first introduced to it.
2. Music can help children develop stronger literacy and language skills.
Regular exposure to music has been shown to have a significant impact on literacy and language development in children. The human brain takes an approach to processing music similar to the one it uses understanding language. As a result, listening to music from a young age can help children develop the skills necessary to decode and link words - a key factor in learning to read.
Music further contributes to the development of literacy skills by helping children to develop cognitive skills like auditory discrimination and sequencing, and vocabulary expansion.
3. Social and emotional skills can be developed through music.
Along with providing cognitive benefits, music can also positively impact children’s socio-emotional development. A study of preschoolers showed that activities that required children to move and listen to music were likely to promote cooperation, group cohesion, and positive social interaction among the participants.
Preschool-aged children who participated in dancing and singing activities together also showed greater signs of empathy for the children with whom they engaged in the activity. As with adults, music also provides children with a way to bond with peers, and a love for the same songs or type of music can encourage social connections. Overall, music can also help children with emotional development by giving them a tool to use in the process of self-expression and the recognition of new emotions.
4. Children can begin taking music lessons at a very early age.
Though many parents prefer to wait until a child is at least 5 or 6 years old to begin music lessons, some pediatricians suggest that children may begin formal training on an instrument at an age as young as 3. The capacity to take lessons this young primarily depends on a child’s physical size and dexterity. This is because some children at 3 years old are not large enough or have yet to develop the motor skills necessary to manipulate certain instruments, such as the piano.
Research shows that children who participate in formal lessons from a young age have a better capacity for memory and show brain development that is different from children who do not receive musical instruction.
5. Music can benefit children with disabilities.
Children with special needs also benefit from regular exposure to music in many of the same ways as typically-developing children. This includes children living with autism, cerebral palsy, childhood apraxia of speech, and learning disabilities.
Therapists have found that music’s capacity to help people bond, communicate without words, get motivated, and express themselves give it the power to improve quality of life for children with disabilities. It has also been shown that music may improve the emotional state of children who have experienced trauma or have undergone major medical procedures, and may even ward off the effects of anxiety and depression.
6. Children who take music lessons may get into less trouble.
As children grow older, statistics show that those who participate in school-sponsored music programs such as band or orchestra are less likely to use tobacco, drugs, or alcohol than their peers. Children with a history of music instruction also tend to have higher levels of academic achievement, higher SAT scores, and earn more awards and academic honors than their counterparts.
7. Some smartphone apps can help children develop music skills.
While it isn’t the case for all games available on iOS and Android, some smartphone apps can help children develop music skills in a fun, easily accessible way. Groups like Common Sense Media and online periodicals like The Guardian have designated apps like Loopimal, Crayola DJ, ABC Music, Toca Band, and Mini Piano as educational apps. This is because they provide children of all ages with the opportunity to explore their creativity and compose music of their own.
While new musicians often learn to play instruments through lessons and independent practice time, one of the most exciting ways for a musician to improve his or her abilities is by practicing alongside other players during a jam session. These informal gatherings allow a group of people to gather together and create music in a relaxed setting, where improvisation is encouraged, creativity is developed, and new skills can be learned.
To put together a jam session that is enjoyable, low key, and productive for everyone involved, musicians should avoid making the following mistakes during the process.
1. Playing with musicians who don’t share your goals.
When it comes to playing with other musicians, the benefit for beginners is that jam sessions can only improve their skills, even if they are among people with far more experience in practicing an instrument. A beginner does not lose out by working with people who are far more advanced in the practice than he or she is, and it’s almost never too early for a new musician to participate in a jam session.
The most important thing that musicians need to remember when choosing people to jam with is that everyone involved should be upfront about their level of skill and their goals for the session before getting together. A relatively inexperienced player who is looking for someone to casually play with for practice and recreation should not agree to pair up with an experienced player who wants to form a band with someone at the same level of ability.
Prior to setting up a session, all musicians should be clear about their experience and what they wish to gain from jamming with others. Direct communication allows musicians to find a group of people with whom they have musical goals in common and keeps group members from getting frustrated while practicing together.
2. Committing to something you can’t follow through on.
Musicians who agree to take part in a jam session need to be prepared to follow through on the commitment. Reliability is important when practicing with others. This is because jam sessions require everyone involved to coordinate schedules and decide on mutually convenient block of time to get together.
Apart from committing to showing up, all musicians should arrive at the session prepared and ready to give the practice full effort. Being prepared means bringing any necessary gear and having all instruments tuned and ready to go. This prevents delays that cut into practice time.
In addition to arriving on time and ready to play, all musicians should focus on paying close attention to what is going on during the session, even when it isn’t their turn to solo. A player who gives the meeting all of his or her focus will have a more enriching experience. Additionally, this also shows respect and consideration for other members of the group.
3. Being unwilling to play unfamiliar songs.
Another important way to show consideration for other musicians during a jam session is to be amenable to playing songs that one has not played before. Every player in the group should arrive at the session with songs in mind that he or she would like to practice. However, everyone must also be prepared to play along to songs that other group members choose.
Inexperienced musicians may feel averse to playing unfamiliar songs out of fear that they lack the ability to improvise, but those who find themselves in this mindset should instead elect to see the situation as a learning opportunity. Less experienced players should follow along with unfamiliar tunes as best they can. They may also choose to play along quietly until they become accustomed to the structure of the song. Musicians should also be comfortable asking for guidance from other group members as needed.
4. Not taking cues from other musicians.
As stated previously, being considerate and respectful to the other musicians is crucial to having a productive jam session. Taking cues from other members of the group is a key part of that process. Those who are jamming with other musicians should avoid becoming so focused on their own playing that they lose sight of what everyone else is doing during a song.
One of the most common mistakes that inexperienced players make during jam sessions is playing solos for too long, or having an instrument’s volume turned up so high that it drowns out everyone else. These things can be avoided if a player recognizes that a jam session is a collaborative effort meant to give everyone a chance to play, and is not a place where one person is meant to shine above the rest.
A player should take cues from other musicians during a song to determine when to play and for how long. This can be achieved through regular eye contact during the performance, and by paying attention to other players’ body language. The musician who knows how to take cues from others is always a welcome addition to a jam session because he or she helps create free-flowing music that allows for everyone to take part equally.
According to data collected by Gallup, over 50 percent of American households have at least one person over the age of four who plays a musical instrument. Of this group of musicians, over three-quarters of people began to play their chosen instrument before they reached age 11. Taking up an instrument in childhood can be a rewarding and developmentally beneficial experience, but in order to make the most out of it, parents should make sure that their kids know these important facts before beginning music lessons.
1. Let children know that they have a say in which instrument they get to practice
Depending on a child’s age, he or she may have already expressed some interest in learning to play a specific instrument. In these instances, parents should consider allowing their children to pursue chosen musical passions freely, no matter how untraditional the instrument may be. If children are forced to study music in a way that does not interest them, the experience may cause them to reject the study of music altogether.
If a child is younger or has never developed a particular interest in one type of instrument, it is important for parents to help the child choose an instrument based on the child’s age and personality. In these cases, it’s important that new music students understand that they are allowed to have input in the decision, and should be allowed to explore as many options as possible before settling on one instrument. Research shows that the students most likely to give up on music lessons are those who are paired with instruments that they don’t enjoy learning to play. Essentially, giving children some autonomy over music lesson choices may help them feel more invested in the activity.
2. Make it clear that learning to play well will not happen immediately
Young music students may become discouraged and disinterested in an instrument if they do not understand that learning to play proficiently requires practice, time, and patience. This is especially true of perfectionist children, who are often frustrated when they make mistakes. Parents must make sure to explain to young musicians that learning to play an instrument requires skills that must be built over time, and failure to master these skills right away is an expected part of the process. It can be useful for parents to stress that there is no reason to feel bad about errors, and pushing through the difficulties they experience makes them better learners in general—and better musicians in particular.
3. Establish that learning an instrument is a long-term commitment
New musicians should know before they take up an instrument that music lessons must be a long-term commitment. Research shows that the mindset young students have when beginning music lessons can have a significant effect on how accomplished they eventually become at playing the instrument. A new musician who agrees to take music for more than a single year can see up to a four-fold success rate in performance compared to students who commit to only one year of lessons. However, a long-term commitment to music lessons does not necessarily mean that they must continue to play an instrument that they are not enthusiastic about. Parents should be open to allowing their children to switch instruments if, after several months of practice, they have lost interest in playing the initial instrument; as long as they continue to take some form of music lessons over the long term, they should be allowed to explore new musical opportunities as desired.
4. Convey that working hard is more important than natural ability
Whether or not a child is inherently musically inclined, parents should make sure to focus on praising the child’s efforts rather than his or her natural abilities. Praising effort and hard work may motivate children to take more risks and learn from the mistakes that they make along the way, whereas focusing on talent alone may cause them to avoid risk in an effort to maintain their appearance as a “natural.” Stressing the importance of dedication and hard work can also drive a child to practice more often and with more focus than those who are told that they have natural talent. Ultimately, the hardworking child who engages in dedicated, thorough practice will become more proficient than a child with natural abilities who practice infrequently and without direction.
5. Share your own feelings on music with your child
In addition to providing children with a platform that allows them to develop a stronger capacity for self-expression, better social skills, and improved cognitive function, music also serves as an excellent way for parents and kids to bond. A parent’s influence on a young child is strong, and those who relay their own positive experiences with music to their children may strengthen the budding musician’s resolve to develop their own musical talents and tastes. Parents should look for opportunities to expose their children to favored songs and instruments before music lessons begin, and allow children to share their own thoughts and preferences on the subject as well.
Counted among the oldest instruments in the history of mankind, drums have long been established as a crucial component of many modern musical genres. From rock music to funk and even some classical compositions, drums have been providing rhythm and influencing the style of bands for centuries. These common questions and answers about drums will inform those who want to learn more about playing the versatile instrument.
Q: What does a standard drum kit setup look like?
A: In general, drum kits are assembled to reflect the personal preferences of individual drummers. However, most standard-size drum sets generally include a snare drum; a high, mid, and low tom; a crash cymbal; a ride cymbal; a hi-hat cymbal; and a bass drum (also known as a kick drum). Both the hi-hat cymbal and the kick drum are played using a foot pedal. An essential, non-musical component of a drum kit is the stool that a drummer sits on, also known as a throne.
Q: Is there more than one kind of drumstick?
A: Yes, there are many different types of drumsticks that players can use to generate different sounds on a kit. Sticks tend to fall into one of three main categories: classic sticks, brushes, and dowels and rutes. Classic drumsticks may be made of oak, maple, or hickory wood, and feature natural, nylon, or plastic tips in different shapes that correspond to the genre of music a drummer is playing.
Brushes, on the other hand, are primarily made with a collection of wire bristles attached to a rubber, plastic, aluminum, or wood handle to create a gentle, swooshing sound commonly used in jazz music. Rutes also create a lighter sound than classic sticks, as they are most often fashioned from a collection of birch dowels bundled together and attached to the handle of a drumstick. Rutes and dowels may be used in acoustic sets to prevent the drums from overpowering the instruments of other musicians.
Q: What can new players do to develop their drumming skills more quickly?
A: The only real way to become proficient at the drums is through practice—but the way that one approaches practice can have a significant impact on the speed at which new drumming skills develop. One of the most common and efficient methods that drummers can use to improve their abilities is to take video of their practice sessions. When they watch the playback, they can see aspects of their playing style that they were not aware of before, giving them the opportunity to correct mistakes before they become bad playing habits. Video helps not only to highlight inaccuracies, but to provide musicians with a steady record of their progress on an instrument.
Q: How do different types of drum shells impact the instrument’s sound?
A: The shell of a drum plays a major role in the instrument’s sound. Shells may be made of various woods, metals, or synthetic materials, and each type of drum shell creates a sound with different high, mid, and low frequencies when struck. The most popular woods used to create shells include maple, birch, beech, oak, mahogany, poplar, and basswood, while the most popular metal materials include steel, brass, aluminum, copper, and bronze.
Q: Are there any personal benefits to learning the drums?
A: Research has shown that playing the drums can actually have a positive impact on mental health. Scientists who have studied the neurological effects of playing drums note that drummers experience a process called “hemispheric synchronization”—a process that causes both the left and right hemispheres of the brain to work simultaneously. The professionals involved in the study compare this kind of neurological activity to the mental state of a person who is in a state of deep meditation, as it allows the drummer to be both relaxed and full of energy at the same time. The study indicated that the positive effects of drumming even had the capacity to lessen the effects of conditions such as post-traumatic stress disorder and Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases.
Q: What should new musicians know when purchasing their first drum kit?
A: The primary factor to consider before choosing a first drum set is the style of music that it will be used for. Musicians who want to focus on playing songs in genres like blues, acoustic, or jazz should look for smaller kits with fewer drums than musicians who have a desire to play heavy metal, rock, and other loud styles.
Those who are unsure of which genre of music they would like to play can easily purchase an affordable beginning drum kit with the basic toms, bass drum, snare, and cymbals. A beginning drum kit is a moderate investment that allows new drummers to explore the instrument and make a decision about the direction they would like to take after they have had the opportunity to develop fundamental skills. For young beginning drummers, it may be prudent to invest in a junior drum set to give the child the opportunity to practice on a kit that is suited specifically to their size.
Opera is a rare form of performance that brings elements of music, drama, and visual art together to create one incredible experience for its audience members. First developed more than four centuries ago, opera today is written and performed in many languages in countries around the world. To better understand and appreciate the art form, one must be familiar with the unique set of opera voice types among men and women, as listed here.
Female voice types
There are typically seven different types of voices among opera singers: three standard female voices and four standard male voices. An opera singer’s voice often influences which role he or she plays in the libretto, or the story, of the opera. For female opera singers, the highest voice is the soprano. Sopranos sing at a range from around middle C to about the C two octaves above, C6. Because of their sweet, high voices, sopranos often play the love interest or heroine of the story. They may also play characters notable for their youth and purity. Famous soprano opera roles include Cio-Cio-San from Madama Butterfly by Giacomo Puccini, and Violetta from La Triviata by Giuseppe Verdi.
Mezzo-soprano singers, sometimes referred to as simply “mezzos,” follow the sopranos as the next-highest voice, with a range beginning at A3 below middle C, and extending two octaves above, ending around A5. In some cases, a mezzo-soprano will be asked to portray young men or young boy characters, but when she doesn’t, she is most often the one to play a motherly type, a seductress, or the villain of the story. The most famous lead mezzo roles in the opera include Carmen from the opera Carmen by Georges Bizet, and Rosina from The Barber of Seville by Carlo Rossini, though the latter role can also be sung by a soprano.
The lowest and rarest of all female voice types is the contralto, known more commonly as the alto. Alto singers have a voice range that extends from the F3 below middle C up to F5. Alto voices are rich and have a much darker timbre than the other two types of female opera vocalists, and often play specialty roles such as goddesses or divine characters. Early on in opera’s history, however, altos were relegated to roles portraying grandmothers, older women, and witches. Women in the opera with true contralto voices are difficult to come by, and many times the alto parts are sung by mezzo-sopranos. Some of the better-known contralto parts in famous operas include Hippolyta in Benjamin Britten’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Giunone in George Frideric Handel’s Agrippina.
Male voice types
The highest of the male opera voices, the countertenor, is capable of reaching octaves in the range of female voices, generally singing notes similar to that of the mezzo-soprano, from between G3 and C4 up to either C6 or F6. These voices are the rarest of all singing voices, and for the most part waned in popularity from the 17th century until the singing style saw a renaissance in the mid-1900s. Famous roles for countertenors include the eponymous character in Handel’s Giulio Cesare as well as the role of Oberon in A Midsummer Night’s Dream.
The most common of the high male voices is the tenor, and singers who reach these octaves, between C3 and C5, most often play young men, the love interest, or the hero within an opera. The most popular operatic roles for tenors include Radamés in Aida by Verdi and Rodolfo in La Boheme by Puccini. Tenors sing one step higher than the most common type of male operatic voice, the baritone. Baritone singers have a range of between A2 and A4. Depending on the style of the voice, a baritone may play the hero, the comedic relief, or the villain in an opera. Papageno in The Magic Flute by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Count di Luna in Verdi’s Il Trovatore are both traditionally played by baritone singers.
Lastly, the lowest of all standard operatic voices is the bass, which extends from E2 to E4. Some bass singers have voices that reach notes even lower than E2, though operas are seldom written with notes at such a low register. Characters written for bass singers are often characterized as wise and noble, but on occasion may play humorous roles as well. Good examples of this include Sarastro in The Magic Flute and Dr. Bartolo in The Barber of Seville.
Irrespective of vocal range, all opera vocalists engage in certain behaviors to preserve their ability to sing. To begin, no opera singer ever practices or performs without first participating in a rigorous warm-up ritual to prepare the vocal cords for high-intensity use. Vocal warm ups for an opera singer are comparable to stretching for an athlete. Without warm ups, an opera singer risks doing significant damage to his or her voice. Vocal warm ups frequently involve practices such as singing scales, humming, and deep breathing to prepare the muscles for vocal work.
Another way that opera singers practice good voice care is actively avoiding situations in which they will need to raise their voices above speaking level to make themselves heard. Yelling can do significant damage to vocal cords over time, and prevents a singer from performing to his or her best ability. This requires opera singers to avoid places like sports games, loud restaurants, or parties where they cannot easily communicate at an average speaking level.
Lastly, opera singers of all voice types makes sure that they stay hydrated at all times. Well-hydrated vocal chords help singers maintain healthy mucosal membranes, which gives them greater flexibility while singing and prevents the damage that can occur through friction between swollen vocal folds.
Bluegrass is one of the United States’ truly original musical genres. Its origins lie in the music of early 17th-century English, Irish, and Scottish settlers, who began to write songs about their daily lives in areas such as the Carolinas, Kentucky, and West Virginia. Previously relegated to live performances in the mountain towns of the American South, this rural, acoustic genre first received widespread exposure after the invention of the phonograph and the growth in popularity of the radio, as well as the influence of African American gospel and blues songs of the 1930s and 40s. Its distinguishing sound is best identified through the presence of the following four traditional bluegrass instruments.
The term “fiddle” actually refers to the instrument that, in genres like jazz or classical, is simply called a violin. Fiddles and violins are built the same way—with the same traditionally wooden body styles equipped with four or five strings. Both are capable of reaching a range of notes between G3 and A7 and are played using a stringed bow. The only physical differences that may be present between a fiddle and violin are based on player preference. Where a violin player may prefer to use strings with cores made of gut or synthetic material, the fiddle player uses steel core strings to make music.
Another small difference can be the shape of the instrument’s bridge, which is typically arched in violins, but may be flattened when the instrument is played as a fiddle. This flatness allows for a fiddle player to use the double and triple-stop bowing techniques characteristic of bluegrass music. The only true and undeniable difference that distinguishes a fiddle from a violin is in the way that a musician plays the instrument. Musicians who play the violin have a style that is precise and technical, lending to structurally complex, traditional music. Comparatively, music played on the fiddle is less structurally complex, but necessitates fast, highly advanced abilities in areas like string-bending and multiple stop-bowing—key elements of creating lively music with rhythm and melodic lift.
The mandolin, a small, stringed instrument with a short neck, is considered to be a modern-day cousin of the Italian lute from the mid-18th century. It features eight strings paired in sets of two, with each set tuned to the same notes as the strings on the fiddle: G, D, A, and E. While the mandolin enjoyed initial success with the American middle class at the turn of the 20th century, it was largely forgotten by the time famed bluegrass player Bill Monroe brought his Gibson F-5 mandolin to the Grand Ole Opry Stage in 1939. Bill Monroe today is known as the “father of bluegrass music,” and his technique of picking leading melodies on the mandolin was almost as influential as his invention of “the chop”—a form of percussion performed by strumming muted strings. Today, these techniques are genre standards, and mandolin players may back up the music by chopping on the offbeat, or may stand in for the voice to fill vocal holes with tremolo or fast picking solos.
Though appearing to be simple in design, the banjo is a highly unique and intricate instrument that originated in West Africa. Its construction is made up of two main parts: the pot assembly and the neck. The pot assembly is essentially a drum, which today is stretched with a membrane made from plastic, but in the past was made from animal skin. Connected to the pot assembly is the neck, made from wood, and strung with five strings, only four of which reach the peghead at the top of the instrument. The fifth string is attached to a tuning peg halfway up the side of the banjo’s neck. This shorter fifth string is one of the elements that gives the banjo its unique sound. While other stringed instruments have strings organized in an order that progresses from low notes to high notes, the fifth string of the banjo plays the highest note on the instrument, but is located above the string that plays the lowest note. Because of this unusual string order, banjo players have developed distinct playing styles that are set completely apart from those played on the mandolin or guitar. In bluegrass, the banjo is typically played using roll patterns, in which a musician plays quickly using the pointer and middle fingers along with the thumb to quickly pick individual strings. This creates a fast-paced sequence of notes that help to drive the tempo of a bluegrass song forward, providing it with a characteristic sound.
The acoustic guitar didn’t become a major part of bluegrass music until later into the genre’s development, around the 1920s. It began as a mere backup instrument, establishing a base rhythm for the lead banjo and fiddle players to follow. As bluegrass guitar playing became more technical and diverse throughout the middle part of the 20th century, it earned recognition as a crucial background element of the bluegrass sound. However, it was still not until the 1960s that musicians like Doc Watson and Clarence White truly brought the guitar into the spotlight as a worthy lead instrument in the genre. Today, lead breaks for guitarists are much more common in bluegrass music, yet the guitarist is still likely to be playing rhythm throughout the majority of the song. The instrument is most often used in a supportive manner wherein the guitarist helps maintain a constant tempo that allows the whole band to play cohesively.
Many parents encourage their children to pursue music lessons, knowing that learning an instrument can have a positive effect on one’s academic ability, social skills, and self-esteem. Most often, young students take lessons to learn how to play popular instruments such as the piano, guitar, or violin. However, there are many less common options that can be equally as exciting. Here are five unique alternative instruments that prospective music students can learn to play.
The harp is one of the world’s oldest instruments. Art from the tombs of ancient Egyptians suggest that it was played as far back as 3,000 BC. Comprised of a triangle-style frame and equipped with 47 strings, the modern concert version of the harp is between 70 and 75 inches tall and can weigh as much as 90 pounds. To play the instrument, harpists sit down and lean the frame against their right shoulder, with one leg on each side of the frame. They then use their fingertips and the thumbs of both hands to strum or individually pluck the strings, which are tuned to the notes of the white keys on a piano. Seven foot pedals located at the base of the instrument allow harpists to alter the pitch of the strings and generate the notes of a piano’s black keys. Harps are often found in professional orchestras and are a key component of Celtic music. They are particularly popular in Ireland.
Although the ukulele is noted as being a popular part of Hawaiian culture today, the instrument actually traces its origins to a Portuguese island called Madeira. Madeirans played a similar instrument called a “machete de bragas,” which they brought to Hawaii when they immigrated to the Hawaiian Islands looking for work. Ukuleles, which are shaped like small guitars, are available in four sizes, ranging from 20 to 30 inches long. They have four nylon stings that are plucked or strummed, and are traditionally made from wood. Common woods used to create ukuleles include mahogany, koa, and spruce. The ukulele is a fun and relatively uncomplicated instrument to learn, and it has experienced a significant increase in popularity in recent years among people of all age groups.
An instrument with an exceptionally distinct sound, the bagpipes can be heard predominantly in Celtic and traditional Scottish music, although some rock bands also incorporate them into songs. To play the bagpipes, musicians use a blowpipe to breathe air into a bag that is typically made from cow or elk hide, but they can also be made from a synthetic material today. The air from the bag is pushed through a pipe called a chanter, which may be equipped with either one or two reeds. The musician plays the chanter with two hands while routinely blowing air into the bag in order to allow the instrument to continuously produce sound. At the same time, air flows into one or more tubes equipped with reeds called drones, which emit a continuous note that serves as the base of the song. The chanter can then play the melody of the song over the top of the drone’s notes. The bagpipes are often played at important events and ceremonies in the United Kingdom and Ireland, such as weddings, military events, and parades.
Invented in Russia as a byproduct of research into proximity sensors, the theremin is unique even among the instruments on this list because it is fully electronic. Composed of parts used to build radio receivers, the theremin features a metal loop on its left side and a metal antenna on its right, between which it produces two high-frequency circuits. When a theremin player moves his or her right hand through the air in front of the antenna, heterodyne frequencies are created and then amplified through a speaker located in the body of the instrument. In order to control the volume of the sound, the musician moves his or her left hand to different heights over the top of the loop. The sound created by the theremin is comparable to that of the human voice, and although it can only produce a single note at a time, it does have a five-octave range. The theremin can be heard in the music of bands such as Led Zeppelin, the Bee Gees, and The Flaming Lips.
While many people associate the harmonica solely with American blues music, it is actually based on the Chinese “Sheng,” a free-reed instrument invented thousands of years ago. The harmonica that the world knows today first gained popularity in early 19th century Germany before it was brought to North America in the mid-1860s. The standard Western harmonica (known as the diatonic harmonica) is small and rectangular, and it has 10 small holes on its side. Inside the instrument are two reeds that vibrate and produce 10 distinct notes when a musician blows air into the holes. When a musician breathes inward, an additional 10 notes can be produced, giving the instrument the ability to produce a total of 20 notes. Apart from the diatonic form of the instrument, the harmonica is also available in chromatic, tremolo, and octave versions, which produce different ranges of notes and sounds. Harmonicas can also be designed to produce notes in particular scales, such as a minor scale.
The guitar, which is among the most popular instruments in the world, plays a significant role in many forms of Western music. Although the electric form of the instrument is often the preferred choice of younger generations, the acoustic guitar continues to enjoy popularity among people of all age groups. While opinions about the best brand of acoustic guitar will predictably vary depending on the guitar player that one speaks with, the following five companies consistently earn the praise and admiration of talented musicians everywhere.
1. C.F. Martin
C.F. Martin, known more commonly as “Martin,” is the oldest guitar company in the United States. Founded in 1833, the company originally operated out of a small shop on the Lower West Side of New York City, where the eponymous luthier sold music supplies, as well as a limited number of handmade guitars. The earliest Martins had several distinguishing characteristics, including the placement of all tuning keys on one side of the headstock, an adjustable neck, and bracing system along the top of the guitar in the shape of an “X.” Of these three features, only the X bracing system is still in use today, and its design continues to contribute to the standard sound of Martins—a tone that maintains both a strong bass response and a lively degree of treble. C.F. Martin is the only company included within this list that now focuses exclusively on the production of acoustic guitars, although it has experimented with the production of electric guitars at various points throughout the 20th century. Famous Martin players include Neil Young, James Taylor, John Mayer, Woodie Guthrie, and Kurt Cobain.
The Fender name has long been associated with rock and roll music, as its founder, Leo Fender, invented the world’s first solid-body electric guitar in 1951—a model that would eventually become the Telecaster. Although it is predominantly known for producing some of the world’s finest electric models, the company today designs and produces a wide range of instruments, including banjos, electric violins, and—naturally—acoustic guitars. While the company’s Fender brand of acoustic guitars is noted for being a great choice for beginning guitarists due to its low price and good quality, Fender is also the parent company of Guild, which produces some of the best acoustic guitars in the business. Guild particularly is favored by big-name artists such as Tom Petty, Johnny Rzeznik of the Goo Goo Dolls, and Hank Williams, Jr.
Founded in Michigan in the late 1800s by craftsman Orville Gibson, the Gibson brand first gained acclaim for its collection of acoustic guitars and mandolins. The instruments were different from competing models due, in part, to their archtop design that is meant to mirror the design of a violin. Most archtops are curved on top and sometimes on the back, with uniquely carved sound holes that create a rich, mellow tone and a low degree of sustain when played. Although the company is just as famous for its eventual electric models, such as the world-famous Les Paul, Gibson acoustics are considered by many to be the highest-quality acoustic guitars in the world, with many famous musicians favoring its instruments. Well-known Gibson players include Sheryl Crow, Keith Richards, Lenny Kravitz, and Bono.
Founded in the mid-1970s by luthier Bob Taylor and his partner Kurt Listug, Taylor Guitars is the youngest among the world’s top guitar companies. Based in Southern California, the company creates guitars that are known for their playability, bright sound, and warm tones. Due in part to its debut in the later decades of the 20th century, Taylor guitars eschewed some of the more traditional design elements employed by the world’s most famous acoustic guitar companies. The end result was an instrument with a slimmer neck for easier playability, a more precise method of attachment between the neck and the guitar’s body, and an internal expression system that allows Taylor pickups to create a remarkably natural sound when plugged into an amplifier or soundboard. Taylor Guitars is also among the most sustainable of the world’s guitar makers, and its instruments are favored by musicians such as Jason Mraz, Dave Matthews, Taylor Swift, and Steven Curtis Chapman.
Out of any company on this list, Yamaha produces the widest range of instruments, beginning with pianos in the late 19th century and later expanding to guitars, brass, woodwinds, drums, strings, percussion, and specialty instruments. Yamaha first released its line of handmade FG Series acoustic guitars in the 1960s, and the tradition of creating quality acoustics fit for players of any level continues to this day. Yamaha sells instruments that suit the budgetary needs of musicians within any price range, and in return it provides players with guitars that evokes an even balance between bass and treble. The design of these guitar is unique in that they incorporate dovetail neck joints and are available in a variety of sizes, shapes, and styles to suit the unique needs of different musicians. Famous guitarists who favor Yamahas include Edwin McCain, Chad Kroger, soloist Andy McKee, and 3 Doors Down guitarist Chris Henderson.
While many people around the world will take music lessons at some point, far fewer pursue an instrument to the point of becoming highly proficient. Those who do choose to make music a significant part of their lives work hard to the meet their goal. Here are eight habits proficient musicians don’t do.
1. They don’t get discouraged easily
Learning to play a new instrument can leave people feeling frustrated when progress seems slow or a piece of music is particularly complicated. However, people who become proficient musicians always find a way to push through the difficulties that often accompany the process of mastering an instrument. Great musicians recognize that playing well requires determination, and they don’t give up on the art form when they encounter adversity, choosing instead to see it as an opportunity for growth.
2. They aren’t lazy about their approach to learning music
People who become great musicians know that proficiency does not come without hard work, and they don’t expect to find a shortcut to greatness. Proficient musicians recognize that plenty of practice is the only way that they can learn to play an instrument well, and they are purposeful when they go about it. To become a talented musician, great players set realistic, achievable goals for their practice sessions rather than lazily running through scales or idly playing through whole songs.
3. They don’t hate to practice
In addition to practicing often and purposefully, the best musicians also find enjoyment in the process of practice. For great musicians, practice isn’t seen as a chore or merely another task to be completed, but instead as a positive, personal time that they are dedicating to an activity that they like. To be a truly brilliant player, a person must genuinely love the art of music, which makes practice less of a forced task and more of a pleasant, therapeutic one.
4. They don’t forget the importance of humility
No matter how proficient great musicians become, they remember that there are always new things that they can learn from others. The best musicians recognize and respect that other musicians may have something to teach them, and they remain open to gaining new skills from players who are more experienced than they are or who play in a style that is different from their own. Humility is a crucial part of being a great musician, and those who remain humble about their abilities allow themselves to be open to the development of a more diverse set of musical skills.
5. They don’t see high-quality instruments as a wasteful investment
While beginning musicians can start out by practicing with an instrument of generic quality, musicians who become highly proficient recognize the benefits of investing in a high-quality instrument. Instruments that meet high standards hold tune better, are easier to play, and produce better sounds than their cheaper counterparts. Owning a quality instrument also allows a musician to perform to the best of his or her ability. Additionally, great musicians dedicate effort into the care and keeping of their instruments in order to keep them in prime playing condition.
6. They don’t try to replicate what others are doing
Great musicians don’t aspire to play exactly like everyone else. Instead, they develop their abilities well enough to discover their own unique style and aim to set themselves apart from others. Combining skill and creativity can yield the kind of music that people are enthusiastic about, and it allows a musician to take his or her work from uniformly good to outstanding.
7. They don’t take criticism personally
To be a great musician, one must have a thick skin. The best players do not take constructive criticism personally and find value in the opinions and advice of professionals. Musicians who cannot handle criticism are limited to their own subjective view of their abilities, and will never be able to see their music from a well-rounded perspective. Rejecting constructive criticism can prevent musicians from improving their craft, something that the greatest players always strive to do.
8. They don’t take bad advice to heart
Just as important as knowing when to listen to criticism is knowing when to ignore it. While some suggestions will have merit and allow a good musician to become even better, others rooted in personal opinions will do nothing to improve a musician’s abilities. Great musicians are masters of separating the good advice from the bad and ignoring critics who want to tear them down rather than build them up. The world would be missing the music of some of history’s most beloved performers if those who were rejected for their style, like Elvis Presley, Lady Gaga, and the Beatles, had simply given up.