Tag Archives: instrument choice

How to get kids interested in music Part 3 – Teenagers

If your child already plays but is finding it increasingly hard to stay interested, read our top tips for getting them to practice here.

If you’re still hoping to get a teenager to take up the opportunity to learn an instrument before adult life takes over, some serious inspiration is required! Young people aged 11-16 have many more pre-conceived ideas about music than younger children. Any barriers they create are normally driven by peer pressure and the need to fit in. Playing an instrument is often labelled uncool or swotty and it can be hard to keep up when what’s ‘in’ or ‘out’ changes daily.

Live music is probably the biggest inspiration so tickets to a favourite band are a good place to start. This can be very expensive however so if you can’t stretch to it, remember that local bands usually play covers and find someone who is playing music that your teen will enjoy. This often works out well as most musicians you will see playing in coffee houses, shopping areas and pubs/clubs are really approachable and would be very happy to have a chat about what started them off in music and offer some tips. If you’re in the North-East of England, check out On The Case Music’s Gig Guide.

Often, teenagers who take up an instrument are motivated by a desire to learn to play a particular song that they love. You can definitely implant this as a goal if you suggest it casually and/or respond positively if they mention it. Find an online video tutorial if you can which covers the song or artist they’re interested in and offer to rent an instrument or buy a cheap one so they can have a go. Or speak to a teacher about booking a starter block of lessons as a birthday or Christmas gift. If a teenager is going to start taking lessons, it’s really important to find a teacher who is sensitive to their student’s goals and knows how to keep them interested. Your local music shop will be able to help you with this.

If you already have instruments at home, it can seem most economical to try to push your child into learning one of those (especially if you’ve always had a vision of them doing so!). However, teenagers who don’t feel really connected to the instrument they play hardly ever continue long term. If they have a real interest in a particular instrument, try to accommodate it by borrowing or renting initially.

How to get kids interested in music Part 2 – Primary School

Remember that children aged 6-10 tend to have a very narrow view of what ‘music’ is. So far, they have really only experienced classroom singing and whatever artists you enjoy listening to at home. If you would like your child to take more interest in music, take time to explore different styles and different instruments with them and look out for what gets a strong reaction. As well as listening to classical, rock, pop, jazz, film and choral music, watch videos online of people playing instruments and name them together so your child starts to build a picture of how an orchestra, rock band and choir are built and which instruments make the sounds they are most attracted to.

Your primary school child is the perfect age to begin taking weekly lessons on an instrument so once you’ve identified the main candidates, see what opportunities are available through their school. There might be group lessons or a guitar/keyboard club, for example. Schools also increasingly offer ukulele lessons, steel pans and world drumming so listen out for what’s inspiring your kids at school and see if there is a ready made opportunity you can help them to make the most of.

All good music shops will be able to point you in the right direction for private teachers of many different instruments and be able to help you choose someone who is good with children. Often, teachers can offer taster lessons or a meet-up where you and your child can get to know more about them and the instrument they teach to make sure it’s the right one. Also, consider rental schemes through school or your local music shop if you are concerned about buying an instrument straight away. Many children dabble with several instruments before settling on the right one(s) for them.

Playing an instrument isn’t the only route into music. Your child might prefer to sing in a choir or join a stage school to explore their musical potential. Dance is another great creative outlet, and often leads to taking up an instrument later on.

If your children are interested in taking up an instrument and you have any questions or concerns, here at enjoymuzic – your North East Music Shop we’re open 7 days a week and we’re always very happy to have a chat with you.

Can Boys Play Flutes?

Back in 2008, I wrote a blog about how gender stereotypes affect young people before they even play their first note and the influences of parents, peers and the media on choosing an instrument (Read ‘What’s The Right Instrument For Your Child’ here). According to a recent study commissioned by the Royal Albert Hall, nearly a decade later, the steering of boys towards ‘masculine’ instruments such as guitars, trumpets and tubas and girls towards more ‘ladylike’ options such as the flute, is still just as common.

So why, when we have come so far in the last 10 years in our general attitude to sexism (women fighting on the frontline for example) do we still feel uncomfortable when a pink and dainty little girl announces she wants to play the drums?

Read more about the results of the Royal Albert Hall research here.

Choosing a guitar for an adult beginner

Opinion is split as to whether an electric or an acoustic guitar is better to begin with so if you don’t feel strongly about which you prefer, try both before you decide. Don’t buy a classical (nylon string) guitar unless you intend to play classical/folk music. Although the strings are kinder to your fingers, they tend to have a very wide fret board which isn’t ideal for most styles of music and the sound quality is very different from steel strings.

Electric Guitar: The Pros:

The strings are closer to the neck than the average acoustic meaning you don’t need to press as hard. This also makes it easier to change chords at first.

Many amps have headphone sockets so, although one of the main concerns about electric guitar is the noise, in practice, they can be significantly quieter than an acoustic. More practical if you have small children or grumpy neighbours!

You can add effects pedals to recreate the exact sound you are looking for.

A small amount of ability can sound very impressive!

Electric Guitar: The Cons:

Due to the need for amp/lead etc as well as your guitar, the initial spend is significantly higher.

They are much heavier than an acoustic because the body is solid. The weight also varies massively between brands and body shapes so don’t buy one without holding it first.

If you’re going to lessons, bear in mind that, unless you can just take your guitar and use your teacher’s amp, there is a lot of gear to lug around. This also applies to taking your guitar away with you or going to buskers nights etc. (Although, for portable practice, Vox Headphone amps are pretty cool!).

In general, greater accuracy of playing is required as everything is magnified by the amplifier.

What to check before you buy:

What do you get with it? Although many electric guitars, particularly beginner ones, come with everything you need, don’t assume it’s included, or that it’s not! If it’s not included, is there a discount available for accessories?

Does the shop test the amp when it arrives? Most shops test and tweak guitars on arrival but if the amp hasn’t been tested, ask if it can be checked before you leave to avoid any potential issues.

Acoustic Guitar: The Pros

You can pick up a decent quality starter acoustic guitar for less than £60.

Acoustic guitars are far more convenient and portable. This applies both to playing at home and to taking it out and about.

They encourage good technique and start strengthening your fingers straightaway.

There are several different body sizes including Dreadnought, Folk, Cutaway and slimline among others so there’s a good chance of finding one that’s comfortable for you to play.

Acoustic Guitar: The Cons

It’s a bit harder to pull fancy moves in the beginning.

The tone quality is harder to play around with (unless you have an electro-acoustic).

If you do need to play louder, you can use a mic or a clip-on pick-up but the sound is never as good as a built in pick-up. Again, if you think you’re likely to want to do this, consider investing in an electro-acoustic guitar to avoid any inconvenience.

What to check before you buy

The more you spend, the better you can expect the action to be. Make sure that you can press the strings down all the way up the frets and they aren’t too high (too far from the fret board) to play comfortably.

As you go higher up the price scale, the quality of the workmanship and the component parts should be higher too.

If you are spending £150 plus, the guitar should probably have a solid top.

Do you get any accessories or can you get a discount on extras like a gig bag, strap and tuner?

Ready to buy your first guitar? Pop into enjoymuzic – your North East Music Shop to try some and let us help you choose the right guitar for you today!

Which is the right size violin for my child?

Violins are one of the hardest instruments to size correctly. Ideally, we love to see you in store with your young violinist so we can measure them up and give you complete confidence that you’re buying the right size violin. However, if it’s a surprise, we understand that’s not always possible. Here are a few things you can do to give you a great chance of choosing the right size AND keeping a fantastic present secret until the right moment:

1) If your child is renting or borrowing a beginner violin from school already, tell us what size it is when you come in, or bring it with you. There is usually a little tab on the case with the size on and many brands have it inside too.

2) It’s a great idea to ask the violin teacher whether they think the current violin will be the right size for a reasonable length of time. You don’t want to buy one and then find the teacher recommends moving up to a bigger size next term!

3) Come up with a sneaky way of measuring your child’s reach (pretend it’s for their school uniform!). If you do manage to do this, the perfect position is with the arm stretched out ahead, palm upwards, from the crease of the shoulder to the base of the middle finger.

We offer a great selection of student and intermediate Stentor violins in store and also on our website at http://www.enjoymuzic.com/acatalog/buy-violins.html

Girl Playing Violin

Learning music is cheaper than you think!

This time of year is a worry for many parents whose children are fired up with the idea of starting to play an instrument. There’s no need to spend a fortune however. Here’s a quick idea of the starting prices for beginner instruments at enjoymuzic this year. And remember, a bit of friendly advice is free so if you have any questions before you buy, just pop in!

Ukulele packages from £16.99
Recorders from £3.50
3/4 Guitars from £34.70
Flute & Clarinet outfits from £120 (or rent for just £36 for 3 months!)
Trumpet outfits from £135 (also available to rent)
Violin outfits from £79.99
Touch Sensitive Electronic Keyboard outfits from £139
Digital Pianos outfits from £324

There’s loads more to see instore and we’re open every day!

Check out our more detailed tips on buying a guitar, choosing a beginner flute or which ukulele to buy!

Top 10 music blogs and review sites

1) If you play ukulele, check out this fab blog packed full of tips, tricks and reviews by the well-known ukulele author and teacher Brett McQueen. http://www.ukuleletricks.com/blog/

Being the online presence The Guitarist magazine, it seems only natural that Music Radar would host some of the best guitar resources online, including these two….

2) Learn something new and improve your technique at http://www.musicradar.com/guitartechniques

3) Don’t buy an expensive piece of kit until you’ve read the reviews at http://www.musicradar.com/reviews/guitars

4) Everything you need to know to be a healthy and happy gigging musician from http://www.musicianwages.com/

5) Everything from creating a fab website for your band to tips on dealing with an agent http://www.musicthinktank.com/ deals with the big issues of the day affecting both professional and amateur band members.

6) If you enjoy supporting new artists and want to know about the next rising star before everyone else, surprisingly one of the best places to be is the BBC! http://www.bbc.co.uk/blogs/introducing

7) Stay in touch with the Classical music scene at http://www.theartsdesk.com/classical-music – CD reviews, performer interviews and brilliant snippets of trivia.

8) All the latest gossip from the Jazz world http://thejazzbreakfast.com/

9) Although it’s the blog of Alex Ross (the music critic at the New Yorker), http://www.therestisnoise.com/ also features reviews of the most influential productions and performances happening around Europe, as well as fascinating articles about musicians old and new.

10) http://www.soundonsound.com/ is one of the most informative music technology websites with an active and friendly forum for all your questions on set-ups, recording and software.

Which ukulele should I buy? (Part Two)

So you’ve read ‘Which Ukulele Should I Buy Part One’ and hopefully you have a clear idea of what size you need to buy but there are soooo many brands, finishes and price ranges out there, so here are a few of our preferred ukes for you to consider….

Things to look out for:

Friction pegs v. machine heads – Ukuleles, like most folk instruments, all had friction pegs until relatively recently and many well respected brands such as Ozark have stuck with this tradition. If you’re new to playing a stringed instrument however, we would always recommend that you look for one with machine heads (like a guitar) as friction pegs tend to slip and require some maintenance. Ask the shop to explain the difference if you’re not sure.

Laminate v. wood – There’s nothing wrong with starting out with a cheap laminate ukulele and seeing how you get along but be wary of paying too much for one. Real wood ukes are surprisingly inexpensive and sound so much better.

Accessories deals – You will need a tuner and maybe a bag or a stand for your ukulele. Ask the store if they offer any discounts or accessories bundles.

First time players and children: If you’ve never played an instrument before and you’re going to take up the ukulele, then good on you! Keep it cheap and cheerful with a Mahalo soprano ukulele package. There are loads of cheap ones around but we really rate the Mahalo brand for good value playability. If you’re confident you’ve selected the right size for you and would like a better sounding one, Mahalo also do an entry level wooden ukulele with a smart padded bag which is available in all the standard ukulele sizes. Brunswick is a slightly more expensive but better quality brand which is worth a look. They do ukuleles in a popular shade of mahogany or the more unusual blond maple version.

For guitarists: If you or the person you’re buying for already play guitar then it’s safe to say that a soprano ukulele is likely to seem too cramped and fiddly. Go straight in for a concert or tenor size. Brunswick do some beautiful real wood ukuleles at a great low price and there is also an electro-acoustic option at less than £100. This is ideal if the person already plays electric guitar and enjoys playing through an amp.

Of course, if you want to hit the ground running, the easy thing to do is choose a baritone ukulele which is tuned like a guitar. Again, the Brunswick Baritone Ukulele is a good value buy but Ashbury do a great Baritone too.

Intermediate players: As you approach the £100 – £200+ price bracket, a whole new world of ukuleles comes into consideration. When you’re ready to pay this kind of money, you’ve probably been playing for a while so the best advice is to get out there and try as many as you can. It’s also a good idea to decide whether you think an electro-acoustic ukulele would be of any use to you, rather than finding your perfect uke and having to pay someone later to fit a pick-up for gigging or just experimenting with changing the sound through an amplifier.

Regardless of the brand, the ukuleles we really love are all made from Pacific woods like Curly Mango and Koa. The trees grown in that Hawaiian region are much sought after for ukulele building and tend to carry the specific twangy tone associated with original ukuleles.

One of the best brands at an intermediate price is Kala but you may want to look at some of the big guitar names (Martin, Gibson, Gretsch) who have all been outputting some great ukuleles recently. If you fancy something that looks a bit different, try Riptide.

There are plenty of other options including the pineapple shape and also the classic ‘George Formby’ Banjo Ukulele like this one from Barnes and Mullins which is often the first thing people picture when you mention ukes. Great sound but try before you buy! They’re heavier than they look and can be a bit awkward to keep in tune.

Top 10 tips for choosing a flute

1) If you have a flute teacher already, get some advice.

Your teacher can tell you which brands of flute would best suit your style of playing and also how quickly they expect you to progress. Remember though, your teacher wants the best for you and may be inclined to be idealistic – this often means suggesting flutes which are outside of the price bracket you are ready to commit to if you haven’t been playing long.

2) Try before you buy.

Even if you don’t play at all yet, you can gain something from just holding different flutes and taking into account the different weight and balance. If you already play, the tone quality and the action of the keys will be more pleasing on particular instruments. This is not a very exact science so you need to be prepared to listen to your heart as well as your head to get the right flute for you.

3) Does silver content really matter?

YES! The silver content isn’t there to make it look pretty, it drastically improves the tone of the flute. Any silver is a bonus but look out particularly for a silver-plated head joint in cheaper instruments or a solid silver one in more expensive flutes. The John Packer JP011 student flute is the only one on the market to offer full silver-plating at a beginner price.

4) Consider the pros and cons of second hand flutes.

You may be able to get a better quality flute by buying second hand. However, even if you buy from a shop, pre-owned instruments don’t always come with a warranty. The set-up on a flute is very delicate and the keywork or pads can become worn. Don’t buy second hand in a private sale unless you can take someone with you to try the flute who already plays well and would be able to spot any issues.

5) The technical stuff.

The standard requirements for a beginner flute would normally be:

– Closed hole (solid keys instead of rings with holes in the middle called ‘open hole’).
– Split E Mechanism (or ‘mech’). This just refers to the way of playing some of the notes and is by far the most common set-up on beginner instruments.
– Offset G key. The G key sticks out and is therefore considered easier for beginners to handle. Inline G is not a complete no-no – just make sure it’s comfortable and easy to find.
– C foot joint (rather than a ‘B’ foot).

6) Look out for Rental Schemes.

Many music shops offer instrument rental so you can learn for a while before you commit to buying your own flute. If you rent your flute from enjoymuzic, we deduct the amount you have already paid if you decide to buy at the end of your rental. Ask your local store if they offer any similar incentives.

7) Don’t feel pressured to spend more than you can afford.

Everyone with an interest in music will have an opinion on the flute you choose but as long as you and your teacher are happy with it, all that matters is that it suits your CURRENT needs. A well regarded budget brand flute will take you to around Grade 5 (approx 4-6 years) and will last longer if you don’t plan to take exams.

8) What age can my child start playing the flute?

This depends, in part, on the height of the child and the length of their arms. Around 8 is the minimum age that many flute teachers will consider. However, if your child is petite for their age or you are planning to start younger then you can go for a curved head flute. This will bring the keys closer to them and is normally sold with a straight head to move onto as they grow.

9) Don’t get bogged down by ‘what-ifs’

What if I don’t take to it? What if my child progresses past the quality of the flute I buy? What if…. A well kept flute will always fetch a good second hand price. Whether you sell because you stop playing or to contribute to an upgrade, you will often find your teacher or school know someone who is in the exact position you’re in right now and will be glad to buy from you.

10) Don’t skimp on the accessories.

A flute is a big purchase and it’s understandable not to want to spend loads extra. However, keeping your flute properly on the inside and outside will have plenty of long term benefits. Ideally a flute mop or pull-through to clean the inside after playing and a silver polishing cloth for the outside will get you started. Also, if you don’t already have one at home, a music stand is essential to help achieve the correct posture while playing. On the flip side, don’t let anyone sell you any ‘extras’ you aren’t sure about unless you know exactly what it’s for and can see how you will benefit from using it.

And finally….

If you’re not sure, ask.

In a good music shop, you should feel able to keep asking questions until you feel confident about your choice. If you aren’t sure or you don’t feel your questions are being answered, walk away and try another store or sleep on it to give yourself time to digest all the info.

What’s the right instrument for your child?

Or ‘Can boys play flutes?’

It’s great when children become interested in playing music. They may have seen something on TV that captured their imagination or a friend at school might be learning. For parents, it can raise a few things to think about, especially as instruments and lessons can work out expensive.

How are they going to learn? If you play an instrument yourself, you might teach them at home, you could send them to a tutor for lessons or there may be lessons available through school. Often, schools operate an instrument rental scheme so that you can be sure they will enjoy it before making that initial outlay for the instrument, so what’s offered will influence the choice you make.

Obviously, the size of the instrument compared to the child is an important factor. Many instruments come in several sizes, including violins, guitars and drumkits, but for things like clarinets and flutes, the hands need to have reached a certain span to cope competently.

If you have a young child who has expressed an interest in music, the recorder is a great place to start. It’s cheap and relatively easy to learn and should give you a good idea as to whether your child has more than a passing interest in learning a more complex instrument. For older children, many tutors offer taster lessons which are a very ‘hands on’ way for them to see if they’ve made the right choice. Ask your local music shop to put you in touch with a good teacher.

Some subconscious influences strongly affect your child’s preference. There’s more info in this great article ‘Why don’t girls play guitar?’ where Prof. Sue Hallam explains that the physical aspects of the instrument can play a big part in the choice. Flutes, being lighter weight and higher pitched attract girls, whereas tubas being low and heavy are played overwhelmingly by boys. Is she right, or are we much more affected by gender stereotyping than we think? Clearly, it makes sense for girls not to lug around a big heavy instrument. But then, why are 90% of harpists female? What really affects the instrument we choose? Peer pressure and the lean towards pop music and ‘cool’ instruments means a bigger number of boys play guitar while the choices of girls seem much more complicated. What really matters is that the instrument you choose speaks to you and, most importantly, is suitable for the type of music you want to play.