What’s the Right Way to Learn Music?

October 16, 2011 at 3:32 pm | Posted in music education | 2 Comments
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The right way to learn music really depends on what you want to learn what your interests and goals are and to what level of skill you want to develop.

I think when a person says “I want to learn the right way” they may be thinking they have to suffer through a long drawn out tedious frustrating process learning how to read music and practicing scales and arpeggios for hours a day in order to be able to play the guitar. Nah, this is not necessarily so.

Now I’m not anti-music reading or anti-scales and arpeggios but if your interest is to learn a very basic skill like strumming and being able to play and sing your favorite songs or being able to jam in rock and blues you don’t necessarily have to learn how to read music. If chords are to difficult to jump into right away you could take some preliminary steps to build up your finger strength or try smaller chord formations and just get started learning how to strum.

Sometimes for beginners that are in that direction I do recommend learning to read music in a good method book only for the development of the basic technique and it’s an easy step to take when getting your fingers use to the strings and the frets. I also let them know that it’s not absolutely necessary to finish the method completely and we’ll get out of the method as soon as they gain a little more control over the fingers and can handle chords. This way the learning process can be less frustrating because if you do start with chords and the chords are too difficult then you could struggle for months rather than developing the skill you need by taking small systematic steps.

Most songs in the blues, rock and country genre are really not that difficult and only require a minimum of skill. Really, I’m not kidding, I’ve had many students who only after a few weeks or months were able to either begin playing or were enjoying the experience of playing along with their favorite songs on a CD or even getting together with friends and jamming.

If you want to learn classical or jazz than that would require more serious study and practice and I would definitely learn how to read music because it will increase your ability to learn at a faster pace. Classical requires good technique, without it there are pieces that would be impossible to play while jazz requires a good working knowledge of music theory in order to develop the ability to spontaneously improvise.

If your desire is to be a more skillful or professional musician the more you know the better off you are. Let me digress and make some further distinctions, a professional musician is a musician who gets paid for what they do. That doesn’t necessarily mean that they are skillful.

On the other hand, I know some musicians who are not professional but they are very skillful. Another popular myth is that if someone is famous they must be good or skillful and that is not necessarily true, many times it’s just a matter of someone’s opinion or they look cute or whatever and there’s nothing wrong with that. So there are different levels of skill and if you want to increase your skill than there are some very specific things that you can and should learn that will do just that which I will save for another article.

I’ve had many students who started by learning how to read music and then they gradually moved into the area of their interest and I’ve also had many students who started without learning to read music and after learning how to play the style of music they liked decided to learn how to read music and they increased their skill even further. So there are many ways that you can learn how to play the guitar what’s important is to find the way that works best for you.

About the Author

Ed Kihm is a guitarist, teacher, arranger and composer with a Masters in Music Degree from Combs College of Music in Philadelphia and a Conservatory Diploma for graduate level studies from Neupauers Conservatory of Music. He began learning the guitar at the age of six, has been teaching guitar since 1987 and it’s his full time occupation with private students locally and around the world via web cam lessons as well as subscribers to his online video courses. He occasionally performs classical and jazz in fine dinning restaurants on weekends as well as contracting a variety of work in music production at his home studio.


Fun Apps to Teach Music With

October 8, 2011 at 4:40 am | Posted in Music Teaching Tips | 3 Comments
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In the 21st century, mobile communication and cloud computing are the norm for many young people. To increase interaction and student buy-in, music teachers have begun incorporating applications or “apps” for mobile devices into their lesson plans. There is a vast array of resources available, to meet almost any teaching need, even if they are not teaching in online schools. Almost all apps are specific to a particular platform such as Android or Apple. This article will discuss free apps; many of them are “lite” versions of paid apps. There are hundreds of apps available, but this is a sampling of the most useful ones for education.

For Pianists

There are so many great piano apps for instructors to choose from. Most piano smartpone apps are virtual keyboards. For Android, there are such titles as xPiano and PianoPro. xPiano has only a 4-octave keyboard, but can simulate 12 additional instruments. Additionally, the width of the keys can be adjusted. On the other hand there is PianoPro, which has a full-size keyboard which can be displayed in one row or in two rows. For iPhone there is PlayItYourself, a simplified version of the paid app. This game-like app shows both the score and upcoming notes, which are highlighted on the keyboard display. There is also Virtuoso Piano Free, a simplified version of a paid app, which has a 6-octave keyboard with color-coded key labels.

For Guitarists

Guitarists have a wide range of apps to search, and most are very useful for visualization techniques. For guitarists there are chord tab reference apps–dozens! For Android try Guitar TabApp, it searches for tablatures online, by band, and can save, add, or edit tabs. On the iPhone you can get Chords, which shows the tablatures for 28 different chord types.

For Drummers

Since drumming can be really tough to get without both audio and physical repetition, using apps for drummers can be really helpful. Virtual drums include G-Stomper for Android and DigiDrummer Lite or BeatBox Free for iPhone. All of these are demo versions of paid apps; they can perform live beats, but G-Stomper and BeatBox Free can unfortunately only save one pattern. DigiDrummer Lite offers 8 drum kits and can save multiple patterns.

Practice Aids: Virtual Metronomes and Tuners

In this category, Android has more app offerings for free than iPhone does. There is Mobile Metronome, which can beat from 2 to 20 beats per measure and from 10 to 230 beats per minute. Beats can also be subdivided and compounded. There is also DaTuner, a chromatic tuner that plays the desired note for tuning any string instrument. Practice Makes Perfect combines a metronome with a really useful sectionizer that can play parts of pieces. This dimension seems the most helpful for students who are trying to get the bigger picture, or who are practicing harmony.

Finally Android offers a guitar scale reference for help tuning. The user can select any scale and the app will show the fingering. There are also metronome apps and chord progression that allow students and teachers to find various chord progressions through interaction, such as Chord Bot for the Android.


There are many free “pocket music studio” apps for Android devices, but sadly none for iPhones. Uloops Studio Lite builds tracks as a sequence of loops and mixes synths, drums, recordings and modulators. Similarly, Tape Machine Lite Recorder offered by Android is a high-quality sound recorder and editor with a powerful waveform display and looped playback. Using recording devices from a student’s phone like this can let them take their recorded music home, so they can hear themselves and better understand what they need to work on for their next lesson.

Theory and Ear Training

For theory and ear training there are available apps as well, which can be offer more interactive approaches to theory than workbooks for students. There is KidMusicalToys, which contains five separate games for following rhythms and identifying sounds of various instruments, and is often used for young children. Learn Music Notes shows the notes on a staff and the player touches the key to identify it. It give auditory and visual feedback for correct or incorrect answers. Music Tutor SightReadLite shows random notes on a staff and the player must identify them. This is a timed game which keeps track of previous scores to show progress. Finally, Perfect Ear offers eight different types of exercises for different instruments for ear training, and can be a useful addition to other theory practice.

New technologies are allowing music to be introduced to a new generation in formats that young people can understand and enjoy. Music teachers can have a lot of fun exploring the interactive mobile options available and coming up with new ways to engage their students.

About the Author:

Natalie Hunter grew up wanting to be a teacher, and is addicted to learning and research. As a result she is grateful for the invention of the internet because it allows her to spend some time outside, rather than just poring through books in a library. She is fascinated by the different methodologies for education at large today, and particularly by the advent of online education. She also loves to travel and learn via interaction with other people and cultures.

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