Percussion instruments are perennial favorites of both children and their teachers within any music education program. The variety of percussion instruments available for purchase by educators and parents is rivaled only by the wide range of such instruments that school groups and families can make from relatively simple materials.
Here is a summary of the fascinating history and educational uses of drums and other percussion instruments.
Why keeping the beat is important
Babies and young children love to shake, rattle, and roll a variety of musical instruments and common household items. The “aha!” instant when a young child discovers the ability to manipulate objects to make sounds can be a joyful and momentous one.
So rhythm instruments solve one perennial classroom problem: Ensuring an orderly environment conducive to learning while at the same time respecting young children’s innate need to make noise and enjoy movement.
While learning the words to a new song can be challenging and involve a great deal of memorization, making music with rhythm and percussion instruments is so simple that it can be enjoyed by children with a wide range of abilities.
For shy children, having a musical instrument in hand can increase their self-confidence as they join musical activities that demand only that they make noise.
One study after another has shown that learning to make music supports the full range of intellectual, artistic, social, and emotional development in young children.
Early education programs that make good use of rhythm and percussion instruments can be particularly helpful in strengthening spatial and kinesthetic awareness, as well as to develop young participants’ coordination.
Some simple examples of percussion in the classroom
You can instruct children to shake their rhythm instruments alternately high, low, to the left, and to the right, in front of themselves and behind their backs. Children can make the big motions that reinforce gross muscle development while shaking their instruments, or small movements that build fine motor skills.
Real-time verbal commentary (“Shake it to the left! Shake it to the right! Over! Under!”) adds another layer of language learning to the mix, while rhythm and music can help to anchor memories of new words in children’s consciousness.
Young musicians can easily learn to adjust their movements, ranging from vigorous shaking to delicate jingling, as they learn more about the concepts of “loud” and “soft.”
The history of drums reverberates to the present day
Civilizations throughout recorded history have made use of drums. Military maneuvers and marches have been accompanied by drum beats. Ancient tribes frequently used drums to broadcast signals and send messages back and forth.
Many students of music history believe that the snare drum arose in medieval Europe, at a time when a wide range of drum types were used, although the ultimate origin of drums was likely in Asia.
The Middle Ages also saw the extensive use of the timbrel, an early type of tambourine with jingling attachments, and of the frame drum or tympanum, whose body was a wooden frame with an open underside. Itinerant performers would often pair a timbrel with a pipe held in one hand.
Medieval Europe also saw a proliferation of various types of drums, with no standard way of referring to them. “Tabor” or “tambour” was another term used to describe a drum, with various linguistic variations. The phrase “trommel” was a 12th century coinage from Germanic languages that linguists believe to be the source of the current English word, “drum.”
In medieval Europe, the bass drum followed the snare drum into wide use, even as drum sticks evolved to the point where they were carved from a range of wood types. Beef wood was a popular drum stick material in the 18th century, while military bands of the following century favored ebony.
The era of European colonization led to the adoption of bongos from African and Afro-Cuban populations into Western cultures in the 1800s, as well.
The early 20th century witnessed the sale of entire sets of drums as a unit, with innovations adding cymbals and other percussion to the standard set. In the 1950s, Joe Calato introduced the nylon-tipped drum stick, and electric drums appeared for the first time in the 1970s.
Homemade rhythm instruments can be all you need
Homemade rhythm and percussion instruments can provide hours of fun. And they can be as simple as a small, sealed container filled with rice, beads, or other items that produce sound when shaken.
Other, more elaborate shakers can be made by using strong packing tape to attach two clear plastic cups together after filling them with percussive material. To add flair, you can attach shower curtain rings to either end of this type of shaker with more packing tape. Then you can attach ribbon to the rings to serve as colorful streamers.
A discarded coffee can might become a drum, or unused window casings or wooden rectangles can be cut to various sizes and assembled as a xylophone. A garbage can is just waiting to become a steel drum, while a series of jars filled with water of varying depths can create cascading, delicate melodies when struck with a light mallet.
For those who would rather purchase their instruments, a wealth of online shopping sites offer inexpensive, child-friendly egg-shaped shakers, rhythm sticks, whistles, small drums, tambourines, and more.
Across the world, dedicated musicians have helped nurture the talents of new generations of young performers in the classical tradition through a variety of youth symphony orchestra experiences. These organizations, regardless of their location, share a set of common goals: to train young men and women in the rigors of musical interpretation while helping them develop vital life skills such as cooperation, self-discipline, goal-setting, and professionalism.
Here are summaries of the histories and work of only a few of the world’s many youth orchestras active today:
1. The Children’s Orchestra Society
In 1962, Dr. Hiao-Tsiun Ma established the Children’s Orchestra Society (COS) as a means of teaching children to appreciate and perform music, and to understand the values of collaboration and teamwork. Since then, the New York-based nonprofit organization has transformed the lives of numerous young people by helping them gain skills in musicianship and performance that have had lasting positive effects on their lives. Thanks to the training COS offers, young musicians can perform at high levels as members of groups dedicated to classical and chamber music, and play alongside established adult performers.
The COS continues to operate under the principles of its founder. Dr. Ma, a musicologist and teacher in his native China and in the West, was the father of world-renowned cellist Yo-Yo Ma and of Dr. Yeou-Cheng Ma, who currently heads the COS. The society’s child-centered philosophy aims to provide a supportive environment optimized for the unfolding of each student’s own innate musical gifts, with parts written specifically to enhance individual competencies.
2. The Los Angeles Youth Orchestra
The Los Angeles Youth Orchestra was founded in 1999. Originally funded with grant monies from the local Jewish Community Federation, the organization—then known as the Los Angeles Jewish Youth Orchestra—focused on Jewish-themed liturgical and other music. Its mission soon widened to include performance of the full range of music from the world’s musical heritage, both classical and contemporary.
Under the leadership of composer and music director Russell Steinberg, who arranged several symphonies by Franz Joseph Haydn and created original compositions specifically for the group, its musicians’ talents blossomed.
As its repertoire grew and diversified, so did the orchestra’s membership. By 2003, its performers included some five dozen students from a variety of backgrounds and representing about 50 Los Angeles-area high schools. In acknowledgement of this broader focus, that year Steinberg renamed the group the Los Angeles Youth Orchestra. In 2008, the group earned official nonprofit status.
Since its debut, the LAYO has hosted West Coast and world premieres of a number of original compositions. Its schedule includes regular public performances, and it has planned a 2019 Argentina Tour, in which its members will perform four concerts in Buenos Aires, including an outreach concert in one of the city’s most poverty-stricken communities.
3. Chicago Youth Symphony Orchestras
The Chicago Youth Symphony Orchestras has served the community as a nonprofit group providing music and performance education since 1946. Today, CYSO works with hundreds of young people from the primary grades through high school. These youth take part in a variety of ensembles including four full-scale orchestras, several string orchestras, jazz and steel orchestras, and chamber music groups.
Prominent Chicagoland professional musicians serve as teachers and mentors to the youth as they train to present major performances. Former CYSO participants have gone on to distinguished careers in music and other fields. Many today perform in well-known orchestras and other ensembles around the world, while others have used the skills they learned with CYSO to become lawyers, physicians, and community leaders.
Thanks to CYSO’s Community Partnership Programs, more than 8,000 young people have had the opportunity to gain musical training through neighborhood-based groups and through other venues over the course of the 2017-2018 season. These programs focus particularly on serving youth in under-resourced parts of the community, with the goal of making a strong music education a core part of the life of every Chicagoan.
4. The New York Youth Symphony
The New York Youth Symphony was founded in 1963 to highlight the talents of young people ages 12 to 22. Today, after winning numerous awards and earning praise as one of the most prestigious of the world’s youth orchestras, the symphony continues its program of preparing young people for careers in music, and for becoming lifelong students of—and advocates for—the art.
Over the half-century and more of its existence, the New York Youth Symphony has benefited from the guidance of world-renowned music directors. It has also served as the training ground for some of today’s most in-demand composers and performers, and has for almost 35 years actively commissioned new compositions from young musicians themselves.
5. The Recycled Orchestra of Cateura
In Paraguay, young people with few material resources have established themselves as a remarkable orchestra playing exquisite music on instruments made from garbage. The 2016 documentary film Landfill Harmonic takes viewers inside the creation of this extraordinary youth orchestra, founded by renowned maestro Luis Szaran and led by music director Favio Chavez for the benefit of the children living in the slum of Cateura, Paraguay.
The orchestra has thrived thanks to the dedication of Szaran, Chavez, and a local recycler whose family has sustained itself by collecting and recycling trash. Now, the area’s youth have become skilled musicians playing violins, double bass, wind instruments, and more, all made from scrap metal, old barrels, discarded spoons and buttons, and other trash. And Szaran’s organization, Sonidos de la Tierra, or “Sounds of the Earth,” continues as an instrument workshop and worldwide musical touring ensemble supporting the orchestra.
While numerous examples of lively, well-crafted contemporary music composed especially for children exist, educators and parents also have at their disposal a wide range of classical compositions that can foster a love of music. While not written specifically for young people, a variety of individual short works—and movements or pieces of longer works—from the classical repertoire have proven over the years to be as enticing for kids as they are for adults.
These works include pieces by composers ranging from the towering, august Ludwig van Beethoven to popular 20th-century masters such as Aaron Copland. However, as diverse as these composers are, their compositions all feature strong melodic lines and rich tonality that can paint colorful stories across the canvas of a young listener’s mind.
The following are a few suggestions for album collections, composers, and individual recordings that can enrich any child’s musical education:
1. Beethoven Lives Upstairs
Beethoven Lives Upstairs is only one in the Classical Kids series of CDs and DVDs showcasing child-friendly pieces by great composers while emphasizing that these artists were also real-life human beings. This particular recording offers movements from Beethoven’s Symphony No. 5 in C minor and Symphony No. 7 in A major, as well as pieces such as the composer’s Flute Serenade (Opus 23) and his popular piano composition Für Elise.
The children’s media review organization Common Sense Media has praised this series as particularly suitable for kids ages 5 and up. The website’s review of the video version of Beethoven Lives Upstairs notes the vividness and accessibility with which it portrays the composer’s complex personality and depth of artistic expression.
2. Classical Wonderland - Classical Music for Children
The album Classical Wonderland - Classical Music for Children, produced by Sony Music, offers a compilation of 11 recordings by various artists. Selections range from staples of the classical repertoire such as “The Flight of the Bumblebee” from Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov’s opera The Tale of Tsar Saltan to “The Swan,” one of the creatures portrayed in The Carnival of the Animals by Camille Saint-Saëns. The former piece depicts the antics of the prince when he disguises himself as a bee, while the latter paints a musical portrait of one of nature’s most graceful and elegant creatures.
3. My First Tchaikovsky Album
Available online at the Met Opera Shop and in other venues, My First Tchaikovsky Album, from Naxos Records, offers kids some of their favorite melodies from the composer’s Nutcracker Suite and excerpts from The Sleeping Beauty, Swan Lake, and other works. A companion recording, My First Mozart Album, similarly extracts some of the most listenable tunes from that composer’s oeuvre.
Naxos also offers kids My First Classical Album, featuring 21 Hungarian Dances by Johannes Brahms, Slavonic Dances by Antonín Dvořák, and Edvard Grieg’s Peer Gynt Suite.
4. Stories in Music
The Stories in Music series, produced and sold by the music education company Maestro Classics, aims to make learning about great music even more fun through highlighting the entertaining tales its rhythms and beats tell. In albums of recorded music performed by the London Philharmonic Orchestra, Maestro Classics offers retellings of works with extra-high kid appeal, such as the rollicking magical hijinks of The Sorcerer’s Apprentice by Paul Dukas and Peter and the Wolf by Sergei Prokofiev.
The genesis for these productions was a series of family classical concerts by the late Stephen Simon and his wife Bonnie Ward Simon. Mr. Simon was a well-known conductor who established, among other programs, an annual Handel festival at the Kennedy Center in Washington, DC.
5. Various Recordings for Play and Rest
The youngest children often respond enthusiastically to classical compositions cause them to whirl, twirl, leap, and kick up their feet to a rapid beat. Music educators often suggest playing to toddlers’ need to move by using recordings of such extra-lively pieces as Brahms’ Hungarian Dances, Grieg’s “In the Hall of the Mountain King” from Peer Gynt, and pieces from Gioachino Rossini’s comic masterpiece The Barber of Seville.
The Barber of Seville offers even greater opportunities for nostalgic fun when parents share with their children the vintage 1950 Looney Tunes cartoon version. Called “The Rabbit of Seville,” the cartoon short features characters Bugs Bunny and Elmer Fudd in their now-classic bit.
Other favorites to get the blood flowing for toddlers and their families include the “Hoe-Down” section from American composer Aaron Copland’s iconic ballet Rodeo, the energetic Russian Dance “Trepak” from Tchaikovsky’s The Nutcracker, and the whirligig rhythms of “Sabre Dance” from Aram Khachaturian’s ballet Gayane. “Sabre Dance” continues to enjoy broad recognition in popular culture as a common theme played in movies and television shows.
Soothing music at bedtime can contribute to more restful sleep, as well as to an increased appreciation for music among children and their families. Music educators often recommend playing pieces such as Bach’s Suites for Solo Cello as lullabies. These collections of dance compositions—featuring gavottes, sarabands, minuets, and more—are among the most frequently performed works for the resonant instrument. Recordings such as Janos Starker’s Bach: Complete Suites for Solo Cello on the Mercury Living Presence label, for example, offer the slow, steady beats and flights of fancy that promote focused relaxation for parents and children alike.
One of the most serenely lovely compositions ever created may be the Concerto for Flute and Harp by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. Among suggested recordings of this dream-like piece is that featuring violinist Sir Yehudi Menuhin as conductor with the English Chamber Orchestra, available in various recorded editions.
There are a number of methods and sets of practices, some generations-old, for teaching the techniques - and the enjoyment - of music to children. Here are brief summaries of four of the best-known and most widely used of these methods throughout much of the world.
1. The Kodály Method
In 2016, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization placed the music teaching method devised by 20th-century Hungarian composer and musicologist Zoltán Kodály on its UNESCO World Heritage List. The method’s ability to help preserve traditional folk music and make it easier to learn earned it a place on the list of Intangible Cultural Heritage practices.
This experience-based teaching method is comprehensive in its teaching of how to read and write music as part of a basic musical curriculum. Singing, folk songs, and solfège - training the ear to understand pitch and pattern - are all central components of the curriculum. Kodály believed that learning to express oneself through singing the songs of one’s native land should be a foundation stone of a child’s musical education.
The Kodály Method begins with helping children develop a sense of rhythm, and with teaching sight-reading and basic pitch through a series of hand signals that assist in demonstrating the relationships between musical notes.
Kodály, a collaborator with his fellow Hungarian composer Béla Bartók, gathered and published major collections of Hungarian folk songs. He was an important figure in the spread of music education throughout Hungary. His method puts such strong emphasis on folk songs because he believed the genre possesses every quality necessary for inculcating a deep love of music in each child.
2. The Suzuki Method
The Suzuki Talent Education Method starts music training early, with teachers striving to ensure that children learn mental focus and fine muscle control when they are young enough to make these skills an integral part of their personalities.
This method involves parents in their children’s music education as co-educators and co-learners. Parents may learn to play an instrument before their child does, and they serve as reinforcing influences in the home for the lessons provided by the classroom teacher.
The Suzuki Method concentrates on teaching music the same way that children acquire language: through listening and repeating. Every day, a Suzuki student listens to recordings of the same piece of music he or she is engaged in learning. Regular review allows students to incorporate new techniques into material already mastered. Reading music waits until the student has begun to master actually playing an instrument.
The method’s inventor, Japanese violinist Dr. Shinichi Suzuki, based his method on the way children naturally acquire spoken language, calling his program a “mother tongue” approach. He emphasized the joy involved when children, parents, and teachers participate in studying music together. He was less concerned with training professional musicians than he was with enriching children’s lives so that their natural sensitivity and awareness of the world around them would blossom.
3. The Orff Method
In the Orff Method, a child learns music through movement, singing, and acting out musically-themed stories. Students may use xylophones, drums, maracas, tone blocks, and numerous other percussion instruments to practice melodies within a learning framework that emphasizes the importance of play and fun.
Teachers also encourage their students to compose their own pieces of music, and to practice improvising already-known pieces. Student improvisation is, in fact, one of the cornerstones of this method, as children have the chance to follow their own creative ideas during lessons.
The Orff Method is known in the original German as Orff-Schulwerk (Orff Schoolwork), and also called simply “Music for Children.”
The 20th-century composer Carl Orff is today best known for his 1937 oratorio Carmina Burana, a work that exemplifies his passion for strong rhythm and movement. He also assisted the gymnast Dorothee Günther in establishing a school focused on music, gymnastic training, and dance. During his time working with the school in the 1920s and 1930s, he came up with the ideas that would form the basis for his own musical education system.
His book, entitled Orff-Schulwerk, which appeared in English translation as Music for Children, is based on the lessons he devised in collaboration with Gunild Keetman, a former student at the Günther school. The method is now taught in dozens of countries and is the subject of increasing interest around the world.
Teachers using the Orff system create their own lessons based on the needs of their individual students. A typical lesson might begin with a teacher reading a poem aloud to the class, followed by students acting out a short drama based on the poem. The students then repeat the poem, this time adding sound by accompanying the story with musical instruments.
4. Dalkroze Eurythmics
Dalkroze Eurythmics is a music instruction method anchored in using ear-training, movement exercises, and improvisation to awaken and develop a child’s inborn gift for music and rhythm.
Created by Emile Jacques-Dalcroze, a 20th-century composer and professor of harmony in Geneva, Switzerland, the method is centered on its author’s tenet that rhythm-based, ear-training process cements musical concepts into a student’s muscle memory. This increases musical proficiency and builds a deep understanding of the physical demands on the musician. Dalcroze believed that students learn best through engagement of multiple senses, and that in order to gain a true understanding of his method, it is necessary to actually experience it.
Dalcroze designed his method to teach music on a deep level, building an understanding of how it works to express a range of meaning and emotion, as well as how it relates to other arts and to the daily life of human beings. His work has been influential in the development of the performing arts and art therapy.
Music offers a direct channel to human emotions, and this connection can be surprisingly useful in changing mood, attitude, and lifestyles for the better. Many people use music to relax after a stressful work or school day, and educators all over the world have opened the doors of their classrooms to its ability to promote an atmosphere of focused calm.
Here are seven ways that the power of music can aid human mood and performance:
1. Music helps relieve depression, stress, and emotional pain.
When psychologists use music therapy with their patients, they concentrate on the ways in which it can facilitate feelings of comfort and relief from stress and trauma. People report feeling better able to self-regulate their emotional states and becoming more aware of their own emotions, as a benefit of listening to music.
According to the American Music Therapy Association, therapeutic programs anchored in music can help improve a person’s resiliency in the face of stress. That’s because music can trigger the release of body chemicals that act as natural stress reducers. One study reported that listening to music was as relaxing for the test subjects as having a massage.
Older adults exposed to music have shown themselves to become less depressed and to experience increases in self-esteem. For children, particularly those who have undergone trauma or who live with disabilities, the mathematically ordered rhythms of music can produce a sense of increased personal security.
Music genres often make a big difference. Research shows that loud, discordant music can make symptoms of depression even worse, whereas classical music and gentle nature sounds are uplifting.
2. It also decreases physical pain.
Music even helps alleviate symptoms of physical pain. Surgeons who allow their patients to listen to soothing music before and after their procedures tend to need to prescribe less pain medication. Some experts recommend that anyone about to undergo surgery should have the opportunity to enter a state of relaxation through music.
And for people coping with chronic conditions and diseases such as cancer, music has demonstrated its capacity to heighten feelings of life satisfaction. Physicians who administer palliative care specifically focus on alleviating pain, and understand the importance of music in promoting a sense of peace and wellbeing for their patients.
3. Music fosters a better overall mood and greater productivity.
Slow-paced classical music has gained particular renown among researchers for its ability to induce a pleasant state of relaxed attentiveness. Classical music can reduce a person’s pulse and heart rate, and can even reduce blood pressure levels.
When people lower their levels of stress through music, their productivity at work and at home can both increase. One particular study, for example, showed that overworked students in a nursing program experienced less intense feelings of burnout after listening to music.
4. “Sad” and “happy” music both have their place.
One recent survey of Finnish and British subjects showed that, for many people, even music with a sorrowful tone can increase positive feelings and foster a sense of wellbeing. Researchers found that many people preferred to listen to sadder music after an emotionally significant loss. For some, this experience was similar to talking with an empathetic and insightful friend who is a good listener.
Not surprisingly, one 2013 study found that joyous, upbeat music acts to elevate a person’s mood. Research subjects who listened to “happy” music actually became happier after a period of two weeks.
General happiness offers positive effects that reach far beyond mood. Thanks to the mind-body connection, the greater an individual’s sense of happiness, the more likely he or she is to be healthier, earn a higher income, and build more satisfying personal relationships.
5. Music aids meditation and sleep.
For people who meditate, music acts as an anchor to help prevent distracting thoughts. “New age” music and recordings of sounds taken from nature, like rushing water or birdsong, have shown themselves especially suited for this purpose.
People also tend to experience more restful sleep when they listen to classical music, as researchers have found when studying college students who suffer from insomnia.
6. Catchy tunes fuel workouts and sports fitness.
One study found that adult male subjects who listened to fast-paced music during sessions on an exercise bike performed better and worked out harder. Runners and sports enthusiasts in general have long used upbeat music to improve their motivation and endurance. People even tend to better recoup their physical and mental energies post-workout when they listen to positive music.
And when the stakes are high, people listening to music can increase their winning performance. Basketball players previously identified as becoming less effective under pressure gained in their ability to make crucial shots after listening to music with a positive mood.
7. Students study better with music
Music with slower-paced beats, such as that of Baroque composers like Johann Sebastian Bach, has even been found to alter brainwave patterns, resulting in a state of relaxed alertness.
Students can use music to increase their ability to retain all types of information. For example, one group that listened to classical music during a professor’s lecture did better on a series of test questions about the material.
Based on the research of a wide range of experts, the musical styles most conducive to study and to the retention of information are classical, Baroque, and similar genres. Researchers advise students to select works by Bach and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, for example. Slow-paced lute or guitar music is also helpful for concentration, as are gentle piano compositions by composers such as Claude Debussy.
Over the years, numerous educators and other experts have weighed in on the importance of music education to the intellectual, emotional, and social development of young people. Yet the depth and breadth of music education programs as part of the standard school curriculum varies significantly from one nation to another. Following is an overview of the state of music education in selected countries and regions around the world.
The Scandinavian countries—Denmark, Norway, Sweden, and Finland—offer robust music education programs both in and out of the classroom, all supported through government funding.
One example of this commitment to music education is the fact that Finnish instructors training to teach the subject receive 350 hours of government-supported education.
Finland’s commitment to music education is also notable in that it blends the great music teaching traditions of the Russian and Hungarian educational systems with the full complement of financial support available through the modern Finnish democratic social welfare state.
Finnish music programs integrate the teaching of the subject closely with other academic disciplines with a focus on quality. Music teachers and students also enjoy the advantages that come with Finland’s long-standing respect for the value of music and art. Young children study music as a form of play and exploration within a systematic curriculum that has earned worldwide renown.
Australia offers an example of how a national music education program can look when there is inconsistency in funding and support for it.
One study, administered under the auspices of The Music Trust, an organization that advocates for better music education programs, found that more than 60 percent of the schools that responded did not provide access to music education. Of the schools reporting that they did offer it, less than one-quarter of government-run schools were led by teachers with specialist qualifications in music. The figure is at variance with that of privately supported schools, of which 88 percent of the music programs were taught by specialist instructors.
Australian music education typically focuses on developing students’ general knowledge of the history and practice of music, as well as the ability to express themselves creatively within a musical tradition. Moreover, there is an emphasis on the country’s own musical traditions of the past and present, including those of the Aboriginal people.
In order to increase the quality of Australian music education, a national organization for teachers of music has initiated a government-supported program designed to narrow the gap between private and state-run schools. The program aims to expand the ability of music teachers to obtain ongoing professional development through a mentoring program.
Music education in Canada, like that in the United States and the United Kingdom, presents an inconsistent picture in that the level of commitment to it can vary widely from one school district to another. For example, more than one-third of Canadian schools responding to a recent survey reported that they either had no music program or had one taught by instructors without any background in the subject.
Canadian experts have pointed to several roadblocks that stand in the way of further development of the music curricula, including a lack of funding and qualified teachers, as well as time to develop music programs properly. As in the US, parent groups often hold fundraising events to support their schools’ music programs.
Additionally, Canadian schools typically emphasize the development of music listening skills for younger elementary students, the expansion of the curriculum to include learning performance skills, and visits to local musical performances for older students.
The United Kingdom
In the UK, financial constraints can also be a problem. Yet recent progress includes a 2012 nationwide government initiative that established more than 100 hubs for music education to provide more than 1 million students with the opportunity to use musical instruments.
Critics of the UK’s music education programs have noted that the emphasis on learning to play an instrument takes up most of the average student’s time. Consequently, few students actually study music theory, music history, or the role of music as a vital cultural product.
As in the UK and Canada, many public school districts in the US are inadequately funded. And when budgets do need to be cut, music and arts education are often the first programs to be discontinued.
Parents and music teachers are well aware that their fundraising efforts are often the most significant factor in determining whether their schools can offer a high-quality music program—or any music program at all.
For musicians, buying an instrument is an exciting—if slightly stressful—process. While many people choose to shop for instruments at brick-and-mortar stores, modern technology provides musicians the alternative of buying online, which offers the benefit of a wider variety of choices and more competitive pricing.
Musicians who are thinking about using an online retailer to purchase their next musical instrument should take the following steps to enjoy the best possible experience.
Set a budget and choose a style
Similar to what one would do when buying an instrument from a physical store, individuals should begin the process of buying an instrument online by establishing a budget. Great gear can be found at all price ranges, and one of the best aspects of buying online is that musicians are likely to get more value for their money. Strong competition between online retailers typically creates lower prices than those found in brick-and-mortar stores, so musicians’ budgets are likely to get them better-quality instruments online.
Once a budget is established, it’s important for shoppers to conduct thorough research before settling on a specific brand, style, and model within their price range. Specific preferences will make the process of finding the right instrument at the right price online easier, as the Internet offers significantly more options than one would find when buying from a physical store.
When deciding on an instrument to buy online, it’s important for musicians to pay attention to the small details that may not have occurred to them if they were purchasing the instrument in person. For example, when buying an item such as a digital piano, one should make sure to research specific characteristics such as key action, which will dictate the degree to which playing a digital piano feels like playing a standard instrument. Alternatively, when purchasing an instrument such as an electric guitar, it’s important to research features like neck shape and fret size, which will affect how a musician plays.
Find the right retailer
One of the most important things for musicians to consider when purchasing an instrument online is the reputation of the company that they buy from. While there are a variety of reputable online music marketplaces to meet the needs of musicians at all levels of experience, the following are among the three most popular options, with each one offering its own distinctive benefits.
In operation since 1979, this company is known for its customer service. People who choose to buy their instruments from Sweetwater are set up to work with a specific sales engineer for all of their music gear needs, and every employee at the company is trained to handle any questions that customers may have about their instruments. Sweetwater is a great option for musicians who want the same level of support that they would receive when shopping at a brick-and-mortar store. The company also offers free shipping in one to five days throughout the contiguous United States, depending on where the buyer is located, along with a wide range of financing options.
2. Musician’s Friend
The company, which began operating out of garage in 1983, now ships between 9,000 and 10,000 orders per day from its distribution center in Kansas City, Missouri. The company offers free ground shipping to 48 states plus Washington, D.C., and boasts a catalog of over 1.7 million music items. As an additional bonus, Musician’s Friend offers price matching for new instruments bought from authorized American dealers for up to 45 days after an instrument is purchased, which makes the company a great choice for musicians looking to purchase on a tight budget.
3. Guitar Center
While Guitar Center is more widely recognized as a brick-and-mortar retailer, the company also operates as an online marketplace and offers its customers an array of benefits. Guitar Center’s online services include international shipping options, a pro coverage policy that protect instruments in the event of damage, and the ability to ship to stores. In some cases, items that musicians are looking to buy can be picked up from a local Guitar Center storefront on the same day, making the retailer a great option for those who want the immediate gratification of purchasing from a physical store along with the ability to compare prices online prior to purchase.
Review your retailer’s policies
Before finalizing an online instrument purchase, musicians should ensure that they have a thorough understanding of the retailer’s return policy. Musicians should avoid buying online from a business that has strict or conditional return policies. In the event that you receive an instrument and find that it does not suit you, then you should be able to return it for a refund within a reasonable amount of time. A quality online retailer will typically allow at least 30 days for a return without restrictions or complicated procedures. Musicians can avoid getting stuck with an instrument that they don’t like by thoroughly reading the fine print of the retailers’ return policies before making a payment.
A simple yet important thing that musicians can do to ensure that their online buying experience is positive is to take their time during the shopping process. They should carefully consider their options, compare prices within different online marketplaces, and avoid impulse purchases. An instrument is a long-term investment that you will likely to rely on for years, and the time that you take when purchasing gear should reflect that, especially when buying over the Internet.
The guitar has captured the interest of both young aspiring musicians and older learners alike since it first gained popularity in its electric form during the mid-20th century. Arguably one of the most popular instruments in the world, some people choose to take up the guitar as a form of relaxation or creative expression, while others choose it because it allows them to entertain both solo and with other musicians.
Still another reason that people choose to play the guitar over other instruments is because the guitar allows musicians the freedom to play and sing at the same time. There are few better instruments to learn to play for a musician who wants to sing along to music, but doing both at the same time can be difficult for beginners. Listed below are seven useful tips that can help new learners develop the ability to play the guitar and sing along.
1. Focus on your guitar-playing first.
Before you attempt to play and sing at the same time, you must first focus on developing the ability to play basic chords. As a new guitarist, your ability to recall the fingering for standard chord structures without much thought and to change quickly between these chords are the first steps in singing along to a song on the guitar.
2. Work with a metronome.
Keeping rhythm while performing a song is crucial to sounding natural—and it also makes singing along to the guitar easier. One way that guitarists can work on this form of timing during a song is to strum an easy pattern along to a metronome for about 10 minutes each day. If you’re committed to this practice, you’ll see a gradual improvement in your ability to play a song on beat over time—sometimes in as little as a few weeks.
3. Start simple.
If you’re just starting out, don’t choose a song that requires you to play advanced chords or sing complicated lyrics. Instead, you should look for songs with simpler chords and a basic rhythm that is well-suited to the beginning learner. Of course, you can develop the ability to sing and play any song with enough dedication and practice, but choosing a song that is overly complicated from the start can lead to frustration, which may take the enjoyment out of the experience.
4. Memorize the music and lyrics separately.
You should know the chords and the chord changes by heart before you sit down to sing along to a song. You can gauge your familiarity with a song by how well you’re able to play the chords while you’re distracted, such as when you’re carrying on a conversation or watching a TV show. Likewise, you should be able to sing the lyrics and the tune of the song from memory. The more that both elements of a song are second nature to you, the easier it will be to combine them.
5. Take it slow.
The excitement of learning to sing and play at the same time can cause some beginners to try and perform the song as quickly as possible at the start, but this actually does more harm than good. Start out slowly, learning to play and sing the correct parts one measure and lyric at a time—performing with speed will naturally come with time. People who rush through chords, rhythms, and lyrics to try and learn extremely quickly risk developing bad habits that can be difficult to break. It may even be a good idea to start out humming the song along with the chords instead of attempting to sing right away. Humming can help you figure out where the chord changes are in a song, since they don’t always line up with the syllables of the lyrics.
6. Change the key if you need to.
Though you can learn how to play a song in its original form, the notes may not suit the range of your voice. In this case, it’s important to remember that you can always change the key of the song to suit your range. This can be done by transposing the chord structure to a higher or lower octave using a transposition chart. Alternatively, you can use a capo, which allows you to play the original chords further up the neck of the guitar while changing the vocal register. Both ways of altering a song’s key have their advantages, so choose the method that you are most comfortable with on a case-by-case basis.
7. Put in a lot of practice.
As with any musical goal, learning how to sing and play the guitar simultaneously requires practice and patience. Don’t expect to be able to accomplish this feat right away, and try not to feel discouraged if you can’t master this new ability as quickly as you had hoped. It’s important to avoid rushing the process. In addition, recognize that even the most talented guitar-playing singers did not develop their abilities immediately. As a beginner, you should consider this goal a long-term project, and remember to take pride in your accomplishments when you master a song.
Research proves the incredible effects that music education can have on the minds of children. Apart from aiding skill development in areas like language, test-taking, and spatial intelligence, learning music can also help children develop socially and emotionally, and allow them to explore their creativity in a way that is both fun and cathartic.
Today, it seems more imperative than ever for all children to have access to an education in music, but not all parents or schools can afford to connect kids to these programs. To help promote music education, consider donating to nonprofits and foundations dedicated to this cause. The following organizations are some of the most visible in this field, but many other groups exist as well.
VH1 Save the Music Foundation
Established in 1997 by the eponymous music television network, the VH1 Save the Music Foundation has since raised $50 million to buy new instruments for music programs at over 2,000 public schools. Altogether, this work has directly impacted the lives of roughly 2 million American children. The foundation believes that music is a key part of kids’ healthy development, and suggests that lessons in the subject can boost children’s interest in attending school, promote valuable life skills, and help kids grow into well-rounded adults. The group’s ultimate goal is to make sure every child in the United States has the ability to play an instrument if they want to. VH1 Save the Music Foundation encourages people to support its work by donating directly to the cause or by hosting a fundraiser on the organization’s behalf. Details about hosting or giving to a fundraiser can be found here.
Fender Music Foundation
Another nonprofit sponsored by a major music industry corporation, the Fender Music Foundation is a charitable organization established by musical instrument maker Fender in 2005. This grantmaking organization guarantees that 100 percent of all donations from supporters go directly to paying for instruments used in music classrooms around the country. To date, the foundation has helped more than 187,000 students by donating a wide range of instruments, including guitars, drums, keyboards, brass instruments, pianos, woodwind instruments, amps, and recorders. Supporters can donate funds and, in some circumstances, instruments to the organization. Monetary donations can be made online via the Fender Music Foundation website. Donors who give $30 or more receive a collectable metal keychain in the shape of a pick or a Stratocaster guitar.
National Association of Music Merchants Foundation (NAMM Foundation)
The NAMM Foundation is the philanthropic arm of the National Association of Music Merchants, which brings together professionals from the music, sound, and event technology industries around the world. The foundation was created in 2006 with a three-part mission: to advocate for music education, to fund and promote research on the effects of music, and to make music instruction accessible to people of all ages and backgrounds, including veterans and the elderly. The NAMM Foundation awards grants to a wide range of music-based organizations in need of support every year, and partners with groups such as The Kennedy Center, Americans for the Arts, the Music Achievement Council, and the aforementioned VH1 Save the Music Foundation. The group’s online donation portal can be found here.
The Roots of Music
A regional nonprofit focused specifically on the needs of students in New Orleans, Louisiana, The Roots of Music promotes the idea that music education can make a significant difference in the life of a child. Through the organization, kids between the ages of nine and 14 from disadvantaged backgrounds in New Orleans gain access to education in music history, theory, and instrumentation. Lessons provided by the group have a special focus on New Orleans’ rich musical heritage and its history as the birthplace of jazz. The most unique aspect of The Roots of Music, however, is that the group goes beyond music lessons to also provide participants with hot meals and transportation to and from classes—two things that could otherwise bar some children from participating in a music education program. To help the work of The Roots of Music, supporters can donate, check the website for volunteer opportunities, or attend charitable events throughout the year that benefit the organization.
Little Kids Rock
Little Kids Rock was formed by elementary school educator David Wish in 1996 as a response to a severe lack of funding for music education at the school where he worked. It began with Wish offering free after-school guitar lessons to students and has since evolved into a nationwide organization that provides 650,000 students from underserved communities with access to instruments and modern band classes. The nonprofit accomplishes this primarily through financial support for schools that have seen their music programs shut down and by training volunteer teachers to conduct the modern band lessons developed by Little Kids Rock. The program currently operates in 37 states and serves more than 200 school districts. Many celebrity musicians are public supporters of Little Kids Rock, including Carlos Santana, B.B. King, Bonnie Raitt, Lady Gaga, Bruce Springsteen, Joan Jett, and Gene Simmons, among many others. Interested parties can donate via the organization’s website at www.littlekidsrock.org or learn more about becoming a Little Kids Rock volunteer teacher on the organization’s FAQ page.
Though most music fans have a favorite genre of music, there are many benefits to listening to music styles from cultures unlike your own. Listening to music from different countries, even when performed in a language that you don’t understand, can help expand your perception of the world, bridge gaps between cultures, and even introduce you to a new favorite music style that you may not have otherwise discovered.
For those interested in learning about music outside of the western world, check out the following five international music styles that are widely enjoyed on other continents.
Already massively popular in its home country of South Korea, K-pop music has steadily gained a dedicated international fan base in recent years, including in parts of Europe, the Middle East, South America, and the United States. This upbeat music style is a blend of hip-hop, pop, and electronic music and is characterized by family-friendly lyrics with song hooks written to be blatantly catchy. K-pop music is almost always performed by all-female or all-male-fronted bands who release exciting, big budget music videos featuring extensive choreography and colorful, fashion-forward costumes. One of the first K-pop songs to receive widespread radio play in western countries was the song “Gangnam Style” by the artist PSY, who released the hit tune in 2012.
Calypso music is native to the Caribbean islands and most prominently performed in Trinidad. First developed in the early years of the 20th century, Calypso is influenced by both West African rhythm and European folk music. It relies heavily on stringed instruments like the guitar and banjo combined with steady percussion from instruments such as maracas or tamboo-bamboos. The lyrics of Calypso songs originally served as a way of spreading current events throughout the island of Trinidad in the early 1900s, especially news that was political in nature. However, the political climate at the time that Calypso music was first established required musicians to deliver the divisive subject matter through carefully-constructed lyrics that were typically witty and rooted in satire. This lyrical tradition continues in the genre today. Though not technically a Calypso musician, the singer Harry Belafonte helped popularize the genre through the release of “Banana Boat Song (Day-O)” in 1956.
The origins of qawwali date back more than 700 years to India and the south of Pakistan. Usually performed by Sufi Muslim men, the music is a tool through which the musicians, known as qawwals, can inspire congregations. It is a powerful form of music that incorporates poetic lyrics and percussive instruments like the harmonium, tabla, and dholak to move its listeners to a state of heightened spiritual union with God, or Allah. The typical qawwali ensembles includes one singer or pair of lead singers accompanied by a chorus of individuals who sing the song’s refrains and support the percussion with rhythmic hand-clapping. Though it remains predominantly religious in nature, the style has expanded beyond the devout Sufi demographic, in a manner similar to Gospel music in the United States. The late musician Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan is considered to be the individual responsible for expanding the popularity of qawwali outside of its traditional roots.
A style developed in the northern African country of Algeria, raï combines popular western-style music with that of the nomadic desert-dwelling people known as the Bedouins. While early versions of this musical style incorporated flutes and hand drums, the modern iteration of the genre is heavily influenced by pop and dance music and features a wide range of instruments, from saxophones and trumpets to drum synthesizers and electric guitars. One thing that has remained unchanged about raï music from its inception through modern day is the blunt nature of its lyrics, which are sung in Arabic or French. Song lyrics address the ups and downs of everyday life in a direct and occasionally vulgar fashion, and singers sometimes improvise during performances in the way of American blues musicians. The most famous raï singer of today is a performer named Khaled, who is commonly known as “the King of Raï.”
Known alternatively as baile funk, funk carioca is a beat-heavy music style that developed in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, in the 1980s. By bringing American funk music, hip-hop, and freestyle rap music together and combining them with older Brazilian songs, DJs in Rio de Janeiro created a new genre that became ideal for dancing and popular among the country’s youth. Lyrics in funk carioca music are known for addressing taboo subjects, including poverty, social injustice, sex, and the violence occurring within Rio de Janeiro’s favelas, or shantytowns. The melody of funk carioca songs is typically sampled from an older tune, and may be instrumental or feature rapping and/or singing, often in Portuguese. One of the more popular funk carioca-inspired artists to find success outside of the original fan base in Rio is the rapper M.I.A., who is not Brazilian but is heavily influenced by the style, as evidenced by many songs on her 2005 album Arular.