What is the Right Choice for My Child – Group or Private Piano Lessons?

I have been asked this question many times, but I now feel very compelled to write about it after receiving this email.

I have played the piano before I was 5, and have had years of classical. My granddaughter wants to learn, but she won’t let me teach her. My daughter in law insisted that a group piano teaching was available this past fall and wanted to sign her 6 yr. old daughter up for it–I said I’d pay for the lessons. (and you pay for 4 months all in advance!) My G.daughter loves it, but I don’t see any progress when she plays–mostly one hand–no note reading, etc. I’m VERY unhappy about it. What is your opinion of “group lessons?. There are 9 in the class. thank you. J> “

Firstly, I want to start by thanking you for your honesty and sharing your frustrations with your grandaughters music lesson. Let me say right from the beginning, that this is a similar frustration that all grandparents, parents, children and even teachers share in many learning experiences and you are certainly not alone. If I was seeing this in my own daughters music lessons, I would be feeling the same emotions and reconsidering if I had made the right choices too!

So how do you?

a) Help your granddaughter continue to enjoy piano lessons- From what you wrote in the email, this sounds like it is important to her and your daughter in law,

and

b) Ensure she achieves- You are the paying customer and want to see some return for the money you need to continually payout (and I know that it adds up quickly!). You have also had the experience of playing the piano from a very young age, so you feel that she will give up if she becomes bored or starts to underachieve. It is important to have common ground with your grandchild and it seems like piano playing is certainly strong common connection you would like to have with her.

From the outset, I want to let you know that this post won’t make a decision for you. However, I know it will encourage you to make the right course of action to support yourself and your family in getting the most out of her music sessions in an environment that best suits you all at your grandaughters age. I have thoroughly considered the research available to me and have thought about my own experiences on this topic. I want to let you know that I really care that this blog will help your grandaughter thrive in music.

I would love to hear how you get on in due course and I would love for other grandparents, parents, students or teachers to add to this discussion and share their own experiences. If you would like to take part and share your stories, just fill in the comment box below.

So let’s get to it…

In my experience as a teacher and business owner in my own music school and as an Aunty to or 5 nieces and nephews (at the time) who all learned through our music school system, I learned that every child is different. Everyone has different needs to fulfill and have different learning styles and abilities.

You see, I thought I knew it all. With my experience in studying music for my school years, then completing a university degree, then teaching classroom music while spending every extra minute I had with ensemble, band and choir rehearsals, then teaching group and individual lessons, then to going back and teach a classroom in different countries…I thought I knew all there was to children learning music.

When I started to work in our own music school, I soon discovered I was incredibly wrong!

I forgot one important point in my teaching and the courses I taught. I forgot that every parent, grandparent, child and teacher has very different needs. The amazing thing about human needs is that no two people are the same and they all play music for different reasons.

In the beginning of our new music school, there were times that things started to feel like they were going well. We ran groups of junior level piano courses such as the one your grandaughter participates in and it worked for some, but for others, it just didn’t work and they dropped out quickly.
At first, we believed that’s just the way it was – that not everybody was cut out for learning music and so there was a natural drop out rate after the first few lessons. After a while, our belief started to change and we started to say to ourselves that wasn’t good enough. We started to believe that anyone can enjoy music at any age as long as it completely fulfills their needs and their caregiver or parent needs. If it was not compliant between a parent or the caregiver and the child then it almost always didn’t work out. If the parent or caregiver agreed with the type of course undertaken and supported it- it always worked out.

So at our school, what we found ourselves doing was re-learning what was important to each individual family and tailoring our courses to their needs and wants. So we started to ask each individual family “What is it that you want to get out of your music lessons?”
This one question changed everything..we asked this to every family that ever came through our doors and it completely revolutionized our business from one that some people just loved to one that everyone just loved and raved about, because it met our students and families needs.

That’s great, but How does this help me? I hear you ask…

My advice would be to find out what’s important to your grandaughter and to her mother. Ask them “What is it that they might want to get out of their music lessons”. You may find that they have a different reason for it than you do.

By the way.. the most common response to the question was “We just want to see (our child) enjoy and have fun with music” – in this case, every time the group lesson structure always worked remarkably well. Both parents and children always enjoyed their lessons immensely and always finished the remainder of the course. Paying in advance was a wonderful way to ensure that the family knew when the beginning and the end of the course occurred. If they chose to end lessons after the duration of the course there were no hard feelings from the teacher – and in almost every case after implementing this pay in advance program more families actually continued after the duration of the course on to the next levels.

Very rarely was it an answer such as they wanted their child to learn Fur Elise within a year of starting- and if it was, we suggested a private lesson so that this could happen- it kept everybody happy- happy parents and children are all that matters in a child’s learning and development and the achievement then comes naturally.

So that’s it. I know it’s not rocket science, but its that one question that will help you know where to go next with your grandaughters music lessons are whether group or private lessons are best for her.

Choosing The Best Drum Lessons For Beginners

I will start this article in a rather unusual way by saying that drums are NOT an easy instrument to learn and play. Now don’t get me wrong, I don’t want you to get discouraged, quite the opposite actually – I want you to be well prepared before you embark on your journey towards drumming mastery.

I have seen way too many beginners fail, not because they were not talented enough, but because they had quite unrealistic expectations. And I certainly don’t want this happening to you. Drums are not easy and if you’re looking for shortcuts, you won’t get very far.

At this point, it’s important for you to understand that there is a right and a wrong approach to learning drums. If you choose the wrong way, you’re headed for frustration, disappointment, and ultimately, resignation. My advice: do it the right way from the get-go. So…

What Is The Right Approach?

First you must understand that learning drums is a step by step process. It’s important to start with the basics and work your way up. It’s also important to develop good habits from the very beginning. This will ease your way to becoming a good drummer.

All good drummers must possess certain basic skills such as how to setup and tune a drum set, how to correctly hold a drumstick, how to count time, how to read drum notes, and so on. All this may sound a bit daunting at first, but if you break it down into manageable steps, it’s quite…well…manageable. Don’t neglect any of these.

Next, you will need a consistent teacher. Yes, you do need a teacher. By that I mean some sort of structured lessons that will guide you every step of the way. 1 on 1 tuition is obviously the best way to go, but don’t worry, you don’t have to spend a ton of money on private instructors. There are other, much more affordable options, for example – DVDs.

The word to remember when looking for lessons is – consistency. Many beginners, most actually, completely ignore this. They are all over the place, they neglect the fundamentals, they don’t follow well-structured lessons, they get some instructions here, some advice there and then they try to figure things out by themselves. More often than not, they bite off way more than they can chew. The result? Frustration and discouragement.

Believe me, you do need lessons and you need high-quality, well-structured lessons. They will save you time, money, and aggravation, especially if you stick to them from the very beginning. So the main question now is…

Where To Find Them?

I’m going to tell you what I tell all aspiring drummers – Learn & Master Drums with Dann Sherrill. These are the best drumming lessons for beginners and beyond that I have seen so far. And I have seen quite a few.

My advice to you is: don’t waste your time and energy looking for bits and pieces of information all over the internet – if you’re serious about drumming, get yourself some serious instructions and stick with them. If you’re a beginner, choose lessons that are suited for beginners. But remember, even the best drum lessons for beginners won’t help you, if you’re not committed to following them.

The Importance of Warm Up and Stretching Exercises Before Drumming

Drumming is as physically demanding as it is mental. Without the proper warm up and stretching exercises, one might find themselves with a serious injury, or even worse, a bad practice session or performance. Although the drums require the use of the whole body, some parts are used more frequently than others and should be taken care of first.

The arms should be extended from side to side and swung back and forth until the shoulders feel loose. The hands should simply be rotated in small circles until the wrists feel lax, but at a slow pace, not too fast. The forearms should also feel slack as you work the wrists, making sure to pay attention to the speed so the full effect of the work out can be gained.

Most drum sets will come with a bass drum and peddle, so after a good five minute warm up of the arms… the legs, feet, and ankles should be focused on. The same rotation calisthenics can be used for the ankles as were with the wrists. The lower legs, up to the knee, should also feel the tightening and loosening of the muscles as the ankle is moved in a loop.

Make sure to keep a steady pace for the same amount of time, as was used for the arms and wrists. Next the legs should be lifted to work the thighs and gluts, along with a few jumping jacks for cardio, whole body extension, and blood flow. Once the ten minutes of warming up are done, you should be fully prepared, and limber enough, to sit down and start to work the most important part of the body – your fingers.

A practice pad should be used when working the fingers – they are light weight, can be used anywhere, and dampen the noise just enough to not exasperate anyone who might be around you; also preparing for the performance or show. Start lightly by doing a simple cadence, nothing to vigorous, and continue your rhythm, moving ever more vigorously into a crescendo.

If the body still feels stiff at this point, stop practicing, and repeat the previous exercises until the body feels loose again. Then, repeat the same practice beat, moving faster and faster into the crescendo to see if the arms, wrists, and fingers are working properly. Eventually you will want to work the feet into the equation. Again, start off light and slow, progressing into a more enthusiastic tempo; gauging the body for any more tightness.

Once the feet have thoroughly been worked, you can carry on with the dynamic rhythms, making sure to work both the hands and the feet until you feel confident enough that you are fully warmed up and the body has no tightness whatsoever. Don’t be fooled by the simple physical appearance of the warming and stretching exercises. They are also for preparing the mind; the mind must me clear, serene, and “in the zone”, just as the body must be warmed up and loosened before any performance.

How To Read Snare Drum Music

How To Read Snare Drum Music

If you are a drummer and want to learn how to read snare drum notes, you’ve come to the right place. An ability to read basic drum notation is a very important aspect in drumming.

Understanding drum notes brings you to a whole new level of drumming. In this hub we’ll go through the basics of reading drum notation, with a special emphasis on snare drum. Don’t worry, learning to read notation is not as hard as most people think.

If you’re really serious about learning how to drum like a pro, I would highly recommend taking a look at Learn & Master Drums. You’ll learn everything – from the very basics to the most advanced techniques.

How To Read Snare Drum Notes

Snare drum is often considered the most important part of a drum set.
It can be part of a larger drum set, or it can be used as a stand-alone instrument like in marching bands.

Although drum music is written on a traditional music staff that has five lines and four spaces, there is an important difference. In drum notation different lines represent different drums. The notes, rests and time signatures are exactly the same as in standard notation.

The musical notation for a snare drum is usually on the third line, that is – in the center of a traditional bar of music.

Lets take a look at the following image:

At the left of the bar you can see a time signature (a fraction – 4/4) which indicates the number of beats per measure. In our case we have 4 beats or 4 counts per measure. Measures are divided by a line. Our image shows only one measure. By counting the measures and notes you get an idea about the beat.

In drum notation you will see two types of notes. A regular oval shaped, like in our image, or circle shaped with an X in it. The common note values are whole note, half note, quarter note, eighth note, and sixteenth note.

The X note stands for cross-stick technique (crossing one hand over the other to create the distinctive cross-stick sound). Snare drum can be played using cross-sticking.

The best way to learn how to read drum music is by practicing it. It’s definitely the most effective way to learn. Remember, musical notation cannot be learned in a single practice session.

Why You Must Learn to Play the Piano

A piano player enjoys what s/he does, can sight-read and has a good enough knowledge of music to be able to self teach. Thus opening up plenty of avenues such as accompaniment for school assemblies, small choirs, and even school musicals. A piano player has a good ear for music and can pick up and play most things once heard a few times.

A pianist is quite simply a professional with a great talent who gets paid for what they do. They play music exactly as it should be played, with grace, skill and above all understanding. They’re worth the money you pay to hear them.

Now that we’ve cleared up the definitions, we can go onto the nice bit. The bit about why it is so marvelous to be able to play the piano.

5 MIGHTY good reasons

  • Piano playing gives you a ticket to the land of zen. It allows you to leap out of monotony for just a few moments. You sit down, open a book (or don’t depending on how you like to play) and just disappear into a musical place. Now this is dependent on a few factors, primarily your ability and secondarily your mood. You cannot enjoy yourself if you’re dreadful, or more so if you’re in a foul mood. Having said that, there are a few pieces which lend themselves wonderfully well to a temper tantrum (although perhaps not to your cat)
  • There is no tuning required, no assembly of the instrument, (aside from sweeping the mass of papers and picture books, Lego and teddies which seem to breed on it
  • The piano itself is a lovely piece of furniture which lends itself to most houses. We live in one of those Victorian terraced houses, although luckily we’re on the end, therefore with our smart little upright pushed against the wall, we can’t upset the neighbors too intentionally.
  • It’s a great party piece to be able to leap onto the piano in times of need and pick your way along with some tune or another to the uproar of cheers and back thuds. “I never knew you could play the piano…. Why you’re actually quite good!” (This sporadic praise is super medicine for one’s ego) Also, having small children in tow leads to no end of piano playing opportunities, such as Christmas carol services for mini angels, shepherds, and twinkly stars. (It’s our little girls first nativity this year!!)
  • It presents endless challenges so you never have the excuse to succumb to. “I know… I’ll watch an episode or two of Friends/Antiques Roadshow/X-Factor” Instead you march meaningfully to the piano stool and whisk out some Schubert, Mozart or Chopin, and sight-read it, so excruciatingly slowly that the pieces may as well be The Hokey Kokey or chopsticks. Nevertheless, you are doing a constructive, character building, soul developing, thing. Yes you are, (Do not smirk)

There end my 5 pillars of wisdom. Therefore, if you do not play already, get thee gone and find tuition. It will be an enlightening experience I promise (after a good few years of plinky plonk learning music) No not really, I have to say that because the piano is an instrument that stands alone, it really shouldn’t sound too dreadful in even the early stages of tuition, quite simply because it is in-tune, unlike the screechy violin or the farting trumpet, the thunderous drums or the shrieking whistle.

Thank you for reading!

Cloud Exercise for Guitar

In this article, I am going to share with you a very simple visualization exercise for guitar. It’s so easy that anyone can do it, even if you’ve never played the guitar before in your life. (If you’ve always wanted to play the guitar, this is your chance! The Cloud exercise is a wonderful way to begin your relationship with the guitar.)

As you practice Cloud, you will be developing a clear and powerful understanding of the guitar neck that even most professional guitarists do not have. This understanding will lead to very exciting abilities in the future. But there is nothing difficult about practicing it. You just need to relax, give your full attention to what you’re doing, and enjoy each step as you move through the Cloud.

One finger per fret

The trick to visualizing anything the guitar is use your left hand to “control” the territory. Your left hand is not just for fretting the notes so you can play them. It’s also a powerful reference point that helps you keep track of where the notes are. To take advantage of this, you need to line up your fingers properly with exactly one finger per fret. No matter where your left hand happens to be playing on the guitar neck, your fingers should always be aligned in the following way:

The key to developing your visualization skills is to always use this exact fingering, at least in the beginning. If you find it uncomfortable to keep your hand stretched open the whole time, then just relax your hand after each new note that you play. But make sure you play each note with the finger shown in the drawing above. This way your fingers can just drop down like pistons, and you don’t need to even look at the guitar neck in order to feel complete confidence.

Visualizing the Cloud

No matter where you place your left hand on the neck of the guitar, the entire set of notes available to you at any time (or what I call “The Cloud”) takes the following form:

Don’t be overwhelmed by all the numbers inside the circles. I just put them there to show you the order of the notes in pitch from lowest to highest. Imagine yourself playing these notes one at a time, starting with circle 1 and ending with circle 29. This is how we visualize the entire range of notes available to you on the guitar.

The finger indication is very important. No matter where you are on the guitar neck, for now you must always use the exact fingering indicated above. Notice that your little finger or pinky has the “double duty” of covering all the notes on two different frets. If you found it difficult to align one finger per fret as I showed you in the first drawing, then you may be wondering how the heck you are supposed to pull off this new stretch! But don’t worry. In the future we won’t even play the guitar in this way, so don’t worry if you don’t feel agile.This is only a visualization exercise. It teaches you to see the neck of the guitar in a particular way, and this vision is the foundation for a complete mastery of the instrument. So just play slowly, take your time and feel free to be as clumsy as you need to be.

Later on, once you have mastered moving around within the Cloud, you can move on to the second part of the exercise, which is called Mobility. In Mobility, you will see how to apply what you learned in Cloud in a much more abstract way, allowing for complete freedom of movement all over the guitar. So just take comfort knowing that soon you will learn a much easier way to move all over the guitar neck and play any note that you can imagine. Take your time to learn the Cloud concept deeply. It is here in the Cloud exercise that you will build the visualization skills you need for Mobility.

How to practice

The important thing about the above drawing is that this “cloud” of notes always looks the exact same no matter where your left hand is on the guitar. If you are playing way down low on the guitar then your index finger might correspond to the 1st fret. If you are playing way up high then your index finger might be at the 9th fret. But in both cases the notes available to you take on the exact same form, the one represented in the above drawing. So just place your left hand anywhere you want on the neck of the guitar, align your fingers to have one finger per fret (or as close as you can come) and do the following exercise in a calm and meditative way:

Step 1: Pick a note, any note.

We start every exercise this way. You shouldn’t always pick the same note. But don’t think too much about it either. Just pick a note completely at random. This is a great way to practice one of the most essential skills of the improviser, which is the ability to orient oneself instantly with a single note. You never know where you are going to be when you will want to paint a particular musical shape on your instrument. So it’s important that each exercise begin with a moment of complete disorientation. Just place your left hand anywhere on the guitar neck and align your fingers properly so that each finger corresponds to a specific fret. Choose any string at random and play any note on that string, using the appropriate finger.

Step 2: Enjoy this note for a moment.

With your eyes closed, can you also visualize all of the rest of the notes in the cloud drawing above?

Step 3: Move to the note exactly one half step below.

A “half step” is the smallest interval in our musical system, and it corresponds to exactly one fret on the guitar. For example if you started on circle number 22 (played with your ring finger) then the new note would be circle number 21 (played with your middle finger). Try to keep your hand perfectly aligned with one finger per fret, if you are able to. Keep your eyes closed for this and all remaining steps.

Step 4: Continue moving down in half steps as far as you want to.

(In our example, this would mean moving down to circle number 20, then 19, then 18, and so on…)

Step 5: Whenever you decide, change direction and begin to move upward.

Step 6: Continue playing as long as you like, changing direction whenever you feel like it. Keep your eyes closed the entire time, and visualize the Cloud in your mind.

This is just one of many ways to practice “Cloud” but it’s the most important, and it is the foundation for everything else I teach in my method. So don’t rush. Stay with this simple exercise until you can do it in your sleep. Even after you understand the exercise, keep practicing it at least once every day so that you continue to reinforce the concept. You might “get” the idea intellectually right from the very beginning. But your subconscious mind needs time to reprogram itself to imagine this cloud of notes as your “musical universe.” So take a few minutes each day to perform this simple relaxing exercise.

The Dirty Trick Hidden Inside Every Music Class

The biggest difficulty that both beginners and advanced musicians alike have with understanding harmony is the atrocious naming system that we use. Our system of naming notes is so stupid and poorly thought out that most beginners simply can’t believe it. They just figure that music must be very complicated since the language we use to talk about it is so complicated. But there is a dirty trick hidden inside every music lesson, and it has to do with the actual names we use for the notes. They are so misleading that it is almost impossible to see even the simplest relationships between them. This is one reason why people can study music all their lives and never even notice that they are always playing the same seven notes. It’s as if our entire society were under a spell that prevents us from seeing what is right before our eyes.

To begin with, you should understand that music is relative. The absolute pitches of the notes in any song do not matter. What makes the song sound the way it does is the relationship between the notes. You could transpose the entire song up or down a half step and nobody would even notice, even though the name of every single note would change in the process. In fact any piece of music can be perfectly reproduced in any key you want, whether it be a simple blues or the entire Requiem Mass of Mozart.

For this reason, the language we use to think and talk about music must also be relative. If you hope to make any sense at all of music, you need to look beyond the absolute note names like F# and Bb and adopt a language that corresponds to the way music really works. In every single key the seven notes of the major scale always sound exactly the same. So the first step to understanding music is to give these notes permanent names that do not constantly change depending on what key you’re in. You could give these seven notes any names you like, but I use the numbers 1 through 7 because it’s the simplest way I know to talk about seven things and easily remember their order:

It’s very easy to learn to visualize these seven notes anywhere on your instrument. But that will be the subject of another article. First we need to look at the entire set of notes in our musical system. This is where we come into contact with the very unfortunate naming system we have inherited. But don’t despair. They are only names. If you can learn to look beyond the names you will have no trouble at all.

In all there are 12 available notes in our musical system. They have the following names:

Notice that there is no sharp note between B and C, nor between E and F. This is an important detail. Now, the sharp notes can also be called the next note flatted. For example A# is the same as Bb. So we could also list the notes in the following way:

Notice that there is no sharp note between B and C, nor between E and F. This is an important detail. Now, the sharp notes can also be called the next note flatted. For example A# is the same as Bb. So we could also list the notes in the following way:

Because of this, our naming system makes it very easy for us to see which notes belong to the key of C. And this would be wonderful if we always played in the key of C. But the problem is that we almost NEVER play in the key of C! Do you have any idea how few classical pieces are actually written in the key of C? Hardly any jazz tunes are written in C either. The only tunes I know in the key of C are a bunch of country songs and some reggae. And most of those guys don’t even use sheet music!

The sad reality is that our entire naming system is designed to facilitate talking about notes in a key in which we almost never play. The key of C is only one of twelve possible keys, and yet we name all of our notes relative to this one key. This is why, for example, a perfectly simple melody in the key of E will appear to have all sorts of “sharp notes.” In fact there is nothing “sharp” about the notes at all. The notes themselves are just the seven notes of the E major scale, and they sound just as simple and sweet as the notes of any other major scale. The only thing complicated about them is their names, because we are stuck with this bonehead naming system which tries to describe everything relative to the key of C.

Unless you have been playing and thinking about music for some time, you may not completely follow what I am trying to say. But you can still understand the important point that you can take away from this article. For the moment we are stuck with this confusing naming system for our musical notes, but I want you to understand that they are only names. You should try to start thinking of every single note as a completely separate entity, exactly equal to its neighbors in value and importance. Bb, F# and C are all exactly equal. They are just three different notes among the twelve that exist in all.

Your concept of the notes on your instrument needs to become as clean and pure as the following drawing:

In the Improvise for Real method, developing this consciousness is the work we do in Exercise 1. You could start this work on your own by simply improvising freely in the chromatic scale. Practice dancing freely all over your instrument, moving only by half steps. It may seem like kind of a silly game, but what it’s really about is learning to relate to the notes on your instrument in a new way that is not complicated by their unfortunate names. This is the first step to breaking the spell that has prevented us from understanding music.

Should My Child Learn on an Acoustic or Digital Drum Set?

Having been a drum teacher for over 10 years, and using both Digital and Acoustic Drum Sets during that time I think that this is a subject which I can present some useful information for you.

Electronic Kits have their advantages, and their disadvantages – so in this article I’ll just outline the pros and cons of both digital and acoustic drum sets for students.

Firstly – Acoustic Kits:

Pros:

1) The entry-level price is quite low (you can pick up cheap, student model drum kits for under $300), however, that being said you won’t get much for that! An acoustic drum set that you gradually “add to” is like a money pit – you’ll add bits and pieces to it over the years, and you are really far better off buying a good one to start with! (there’s enough for another whole post on this topic, which I’ll do at a later date)

2) Your child can have an excellent musical expression with an acoustic drum set. The Acoustic drum set provides the best possibility for musical expression, as its dynamic possibilities are completely endless. You can play really soft, really LOUD and everything in between with acoustic drums

3) Your child can learn good sound production techniques. Sound production is really important for drums – the cymbals and drums have a large variety of sound possibilities that are infinite on an acoustic kit. On an electronic kit, the sound production is different – You don’t learn to place the cross sticks in the right place and play the bells of the cymbals in the different ways to make the variety of sounds.

Cons:

1) Acoustic drum sets are LOUD! There is no way around this fact. In fact, if your child is learning Rock Music, they simply won’t be able to “play soft” due to the nature of the music they are working on. It’s very difficult to soundproof a room for a drum set – I’ve tried to do it and it’s very expensive and difficult to do. If your child is really serious about playing you’ll have to really find a way around this problem. A certain amount of soundproofing is possible by putting them in a room with solid walls and then lining the walls immediately around the drum set with Mattresses – but even still the drums will still be heard in the rest of the house, and even outside the house.

2) Acoustic drum sets are very expensive to get to sound good, and they require a maintenance budget! Sticks and Skins are the most important factor, and they are still really expensive. Just a full set of skins for a drum set can cost over $200 – and they really should be replaced every year, depending on the amount they are played of course!

3) With their metal rims, acoustic drum sets also are more wearing on sticks than electric kits. Rock Drummers have been known to go through a pair of sticks every rehearsal or gig, because of the Rimshot sounds they use on the snare drum.

4) if your child gets to doing Rock Gigs in a band you’ll have to deal with getting a good sound on stage – with Mics and PA systems… Its really not an easy thing to do to get an acoustic drum set to sound good, particularly in a small room with a budget sound system and no “sound guy” to look after it.

Electric (digital) drum sets

Pros:

1) You can use headphones to practice! This advantage is huge – this means that you can practice at Midnight if you really get the inspiration, and someone in the next room might hear one or two little thuds – but you certainly won’t disturb the neighbors!

2) Electric (digital) drums are really easy to amplify for gigs – you simply plug them in and you should be able to get a good sound through the PA system. Particularly if playing in a cover band this is a huge advantage – its quick to set up and you can get a good sound every time.

3) Electric Kits are pretty low on the maintenance budget! They usually don’t require replacement skins and they are quite easy on sticks (compared to acoustic kits and their metal rims!)

Cons:

1) they are quite expensive, even at the entry-level. The cheapest electric kits will still cost you more than an equivalent acoustic, or if they don’t they are just a toy! If you really want a good electric kit you want one that has mesh heads, rather than rubber, as these feel like real drums to play, and they don’t make much of a “hit”. Some of the rubber style drums make so much noise they’ll still annoy the neighbors and others in the household, even if the drummer is using headphones!

2) Students don’t learn the variety of sound production techniques that they can learn on an acoustic drum set. The musical expression that they can learn is severely limited by the sounds that the drum set can produce. Even though they are getting better and better there really is only one or two sounds per drum – and its impossible to reproduce the musical possibilities that the acoustic drum set provides.

So.. the bottom line?

If you’ve got less than $1000 – and you don’t live in an apartment, and you’ve got space to put a few mattresses around its still better for the beginning drum student to use an acoustic.

If however:

1) Money isn’t an issue and you would like to give your child a good practice instrument.

OR

2) you live in an apartment or situation where noise is going to be a major concern then a digital drum set may suit your child to learn with.

Which Musical Instruments Should I Buy For My Child?

This was a question I was asked a lot when I was a teacher, and now I’m a parent I still get asked it wherever I go. As a preschool music teacher for fifteen years I know what children need, and I have seen many “fads” come and go in that time.

Firstly, it is important to note that every situation is different. I cannot presume to know your child and your child’s needs when it comes to musical instruments.

Also, every parent has a different need for a musical instrument, and have different expectations and skill levels themselves. A parent’s own experiences and skills will definitely have an effect on the choices that are made for them.

My child wants to play the guitar!

The guitar is a tricky instrument to play, especially for a preschool child. The finger pressure required to actually hold down the string to play notes and chords is really beyond a preschool child. Also the guitar is too large for them to hold comfortably, even a half or quarter size guitar is too big for a four-year-old.

Here are some recommendations, depending on the age of the child:

0-2 years:

You want a toy guitar, without strings! A 2-year-old cannot strum or pluck real strings, and if you try to give them a guitar with strings then they will end up breaking them, and it is dangerous for them, as they can get a string lashing back at them. There are plenty of “WigglesGuitars” and other plastics pretend guitars that will be completely safe for them. Try to get one that plays pleasing music or no music at all, as some of the ones that play heavy rock music will not do anything for their musical ear.

One that does not play music at all would be my preference, as this way the child can use their imagination and sing along to music from CD’s and tapes.

3-5 years:

This is where you as the parent needs to make a more informed choice. If the child is only just wanting to play around then a toy plastic guitar will be fine still, however, if they are showing more of an interest, then the instrument you need to look for is a ukulele. They need to learn to respect their instrument and learn that it is not a toy like all the others. A Ukulele has real strings, and if they are silly with it then the strings will break, and it could hurt them. If they are sensible with the way they treat it then a Ukulele is completely safe.

A Ukulele is really just a small-sized guitar, but it only has four strings, as opposed to six on the regular guitar. You don’t need to worry too much about tuning, but if you can get someone who knows how to play the guitar to tune it for you, and it will sound better. I usually tune the strings to a major chord – this is not the normal tuning, however, it works for preschoolers and it will sound pleasing to your ears when they strum all the strings together. Children can learn to strum it and pick each string without having to worry about placing their left hand on the strings – they simply hold the neck of the ukulele with the other hand.

You should be able to get a Ukulele for around $20 – you don’t need to spend more than that on it, as there is not any real advantage for a child in having a better one.

A real six-string guitar really is too big for most preschoolers, although I have seen some children play a half or quarter size guitar at 4-5 years old, so nothing is impossible!

6-8 years

This is where you need a real six-string Guitar. You should be able to get a small guitar suitable for your child’s height – but go into the music shop to find out what is available, and make sure that it suits your child’s height.

At this stage you can go for a slightly better one, but make sure it has Nylon strings – Steel strings take too much pressure for the little fingers to push down!

What about the drums?

Once again, safety should always come first, when buying anything like musical instruments, especially for the very young preschooler who hasn’t yet associated any difference between a musical instrument and a toy.

0-2 years

Once again, if your child is younger than two years, then a toy drum is probably the best thing you can get. Try and go for one that is made from durable plastic, which will outlast the biggest drumming sessions!

3-4 years

At this stage, you can go for a few more adventurous percussion instruments. The company “LP” makes an entire range called the “Rhythmix” percussion. These are specially designed for young children, and they even make a tambourine with the jingles all enclosed, so that they are safe for young fingers.

5-6 years

At this sort of age you can think about a more extensive child’s drum set if your child is really showing signs of being interested. They should definitely have a child’s size, as regular size drum sets are way too big for them at these early ages.

How about keyboards or pianos?

The keyboard or the piano is the single best instrument to teach a child from around the age of 3 and a half years old. It develops their musical ear and cognitive functions that are amazingly beneficial to later development. It isn’t however good to learn in the “old school style” of piano lessons – where you go and sit in a room with a teacher and prepare for examinations. There is certainly a place for this type of learning later in life, but at a young age, they should do small group classes and learn in a fun environment.

What is the ultimate best recommendation?

There is a new product which was released in 2019 called Piano Wizard, and this software is built into a product from Fisher-Price called “I Can Play Piano”. This has to be the single best product that you could buy a child if you want to get them started in music, as it lets them start in a really effective way through a computer game interface.

For the young child from 2-5 years “I Can Play Piano” is a perfect way to get started, and they can then graduate to a full Piano Wizard a little later. You will find some links to learn more about the Piano Wizard at the end of the article.

Conclusion

Everyone is different, and there is no reason to believe that because something is right for one child that it will be right for every other child. Whatever you do, make sure that you and your child both enjoy music-making, and enjoy the good times that it can bring.