When Is The Best Time To Start With Which Instrument (Part 1)?

The Guitar

Lately, I had many requests for private guitar lessons for children around 6. Usually at that point, the fingers are not strong enough and dexterity is not evolved enough to press down the strings in the right spot with the right amount of pressure with one hand while performing a different action – strumming or picking – with the other hand. Starting to play the guitar is quite tricky and having patience is definitely helpful. Parents expectations for young guitar students can sometimes be a little high.

The young student definitely can have a fun, meaningful music experience and already learn various techniques and play singe string melodies and riffs, though learning full songs and relatively complex chords is usually out of reach for the student at that age. From the age of 8 or 9 onward, the fingers and hands and dexterity in general has developed to a point that the private guitar student can learn full songs and start practicing scales.

 The Piano

The piano is entirely different in this respect. Anyone at any age, regardless if they are 3 or 93, can press down a single note on the piano and make a pleasant sound. Private piano lessons can start at the early age of 3 – I have friends who started playing recitals and competitions at the age of 4 (not that I am a huge proponent of music competitions for most students) and enjoyed the process. Students are able to play melodies, simple pieces and easy songs from an early age on.

The piano brings together elements of rhythm, melody and accompaniment and could be described as the most “complete” instrument, which teaches the student about many aspects of music in practice and in theory. Private piano lessons can focus on playing and also introduce the element of reading music quite early on.

 The Drums

Having said that, the piano requires the student to sit down for longer periods of time and concentrate on small finger, wrist and hand movements. Especially for many boys, a more physical instrument which requires more of the body to engage with the music are the drums. Just to clarify – I have many good female drum students, but speaking from personal experience and taking into account the findings of studies, a greater percentage of boys have have a harder time to sit still and focus on a “small” task.

The drums engage the whole body and bigger movements are needed. They teach the music student about rhythm, tempo and also about listening to music and engaging with other musicians, as the drums are primarily not a solo instrument. Playing songs with recorded music or performing music tracks with other musicians are part of the learning process. Similarly to the piano, hitting a drum or a cymbal produces the “right” sound right from the start, so starting at the age of 3 or 4 is made easier.

When, What And How To Practice

I used to practice drums with music only – playing along with different songs. Later on I got interested in practicing specific drum beat, groove exercises and snare drum rudiments. My friend Andy practiced guitar scales for hours at a time and later on got into learning his favorite tracks and guitar solos. Now, we are both pretty good at our instruments. In general, the important thing is that you practice, but in hindsight, both our practicing regiments could have been more effective.

Getting more into the details of practicing, newest research shows that the repetition of the same exercises does not bring the same good results as switching up the way you practice – in other words, not all practice is effective practice. For the guitar, for example, rehearsing scales one day, learning a song on the next and practicing new chords and transitions between chords on day three would be a more effective way of practicing in comparison to going over the same scales for a whole week, then repeating the same song for another week and so on.

It seems our brain and body like to stay engaged and enjoy challenges rather than repeating the same patterns and exercises. Similar findings are affecting the way that children are taught at schools. Mindless repetition of facts is taking a backseat to engaging critical thinking and finding solutions to problems.

 What Tickles Your Fancy?

Another thing that is important when practicing is to find material that engages the student. The most important thing to me is that the student stays engaged and excited by music. If scales, exercises and rudiments are exciting to a student, great. If they become a chore, then I would suggest practicing them a lot less and switching to areas of the instrument that are of interest.

This is where good private music lessons can come in and be of service. Gently guiding the music student through the material and remaining open and receptive to the individual private students interests can be very valuable and also make the difference between staying with music or dropping the instrument altogether. I have encountered many students, who have been turned off by following a predetermined teacher’s lesson plan, which does not reflect the individual student’s needs and likes. Effective private one-on-one music lessons are the best way to start and, more importantly, continue a meaningful and fun music education.

 Weekend Or Everyday Practice?

I have found for all students that everyday a little practice is way more valuable then practicing for hours on a Saturday and Sunday. As mentioned above, it is not necessary to practice the same thing over and over again, but rehearsing for 15-30 minutes everyday is better for the brain, for muscle memory and dexterity also. It also keeps the mind connected to music making and the brain active, which is valuable in its own right.


Starting To Learn How To Play The Drums (Part 2)

Building a solid and effective basis for the drums looks like this in my view – in no particular order:

- Learning snare drum exercises (good for technique and speed).

- Creating a vocabulary of drum beats and drum fills to play existing songs and to create new music.

Most lay-persons and drum lesson beginners have an idea what a drum beat is – anything from the “boom-boom-cha” of “We Will Rock You” to the four-on-the-floor bass drum of “Gangnam Style” can be considered a beat. The snare drum is well-known to many, especially when they learn that the snare drum is used extensively in marching bands and whenever we think of Military parades etc. But what are drum fills?

Drum fills mark the transition from one section of music to the next – for example from the verse to the chorus of a song. Drum fills really do “fill the time” hence the name. Often drum fills happen when the singer has stopped singing, for instance, at the end of vocal lines or also at the start of a song. A good example for a drum fill is right after the guitar starts “Smells Like Teen Spirit” by Nirvana – the fill comes in at 0:07:

Beats, Fills and Then?

At the start, the private drum student is  learning the beats, drum fills and exercises separately. After mastering a few of these elements the next step is to bring them together to form a cohesive whole. This can be challenging – going from a drum beat into a drum fill and back out of the drum fill into a different drum beat is not an easy task. The brain and the extremities are performing many tasks at once, many of them fairly new to the body and the mind. Having patience with oneself and with the student is helpful. In the end of the day, I have never encountered a student in my private drum lessons who has not mastered these transitions, but every drum student has his/her own pace.

Learning a simple song from beginning to end complete with some transitional drum fills can be a valuable project, which gives the student confidence. Being able to play a whole song from start to finish with the recording of a band is a great feeling. When doing that, the student not only learns to play beats and fills, but also to keep time and follow other musicians – an exercise which builds important listening skills.

Following and Leading

The drums do follow, especially when playing along with a recording and/or a metronome, though in a “real” band situation the drummer functions as the conductor of the band in many areas, especially when setting and maintaining the tempo and marking the transitions with the drum fills. It is a very important position and many musicians state: a band is only as good as its drummer!

Starting To Learn How To Play The Drums (Part 1)

No, I don’t think the most important thing to start drums with is proper technique – I believe the most important thing to begin with is fun! Without excitement, passion and fun, studying and learning is not enjoyable and without joy there is no real growth and no “staying power”. If a young student has to be enticed to practice by applying pressure or punitive measures (“If you don’t practice, you can’t play *video games* (insert here whatever it is the student really likes)”) this pressure will make the student resent music and put it in the same category as chores he/she does not like to do.

As soon as the student is old enough to have his/her own mind, he/she will say “no” to music lessons and drop them and music altogether. How many parents of my students tell me this kind of story: “I used to play piano, but dropped it when I was 12. I wish I would have kept going.”

Offering money for practicing (using “the carrot” instead of “the stick” approach) will teach the young student that making money is the most important thing, not the passion for music they had at first. So to go back to the “joy principle” – if I, as a private drum teacher, can figure out where the passion of my drum student lies, I can access what will make the student practice and make music their “own”.

What To Start With?

Most of the time, it is not hard to figure out. Especially drum students like the drums not as a solo instrument, but as an accompanying instrument. They have heard a song, where they thought the drums “sounded cool” or saw someone playing drums in a video in a band, and it “looked like fun”. These drummers did not play by themselves, they played with other musicians and performed songs.

90% of the time, learning songs is the key to learning the drums. Choosing the right songs to start with is important, as they should be easy and not too fast. A pretty perfect song in that regard is, for example, “7 Nation Army”.


Not everyone likes rock, though. So, for instance with Claudia, a young female drum students, we found some songs by Taylor Swift and Bridgit Mendler that worked better for her  (this is, of course, a specific example – I teach many female drum students who like to rock!).

So – No Snare Drum Exercises?

In my private drum lessons, I use mostly songs, which teach the student about timing, dynamics, drum beats and drum fills and groove. I also make sure that we do touch on the snare drum rudiments in every lesson, but not too much, as I have yet to experience a drum student more excited to learn a Paradiddle (one of the first snare drum rudiments) then to learn the beat to “Back In Black” ;-)

Starting To Learn How To Play The Guitar

When is it a good time to start to play the guitar? Let me answer the question this way: When is it NOT a good time to start the guitar ;-) Seriously, the only not-so-good time is when the student is under 5 years old, because usually the smaller hands are not yet strong enough and the hand-eye coordination is not quite as advanced. At some of the music schools I have taught the recommendation is not to start before the student is 8 years old, and I used to agree with that assessment, but just lately I have started with two new students who both just turned 6 and they are doing a fine job learning the basics. As always – there are no hard and fast rules for everyone.

When students start to learn the guitar, a private guitar teacher can guide the student through the basics like learning to play some chords and basic strumming techniques, finding out about the string (note) names, playing some first, easy scales. All these exercises can help the student to find his way around the guitar, help her finger strength and dexterity and build a basis for soloing in the intermediate lessons.

Apart from these more “dry” examples of basic “exercises”, I incorporate “real” examples of music as soon as possible and pick songs to learn together with the student. It makes learning a lot more fun for the student and encourages her/him to be creative and to bring in his/her own ideas. All this helps the student to make the instrument their own, which is a very different feeling from trying to please parents or teachers or doing it because the student “has” to. Of course this principle is true for all students, young and old. More control over the material encourages most students to practice more.

Which Style Works Best?

Various students may want to concentrate on different things. Some may want to learn to play fast lead guitar licks, others may want to jam along with their favorite music. Some might have a desire to write songs or to perform with a band. The kind of genre and type of instrument the student veers to also can vary. It can be one private guitar student’s wish to shred some Metal riffs on an electric guitar while another student wants to strum chords to Singer/Songwriter or Pop/Rock songs on an acoustic guitar. Whichever it is, private guitar lessons can help the student to achieve his or her goal. All genres ask different techniques from the guitar student and they are all valuable.

Starting with the guitar can be challenging. The hands and fingers will have to use muscles in a way they have not done before. There also is a lot of hand and eye coordination involved and the student often has to decide where to look first – right or left hand?

How To Teach?

Gentle guidance, patience and encouragement is the best way forward here in my view. Gentle guidance, because most students do not excel with harsh and strict treatment. Patience, because the brain has to be given time to absorb the new information before it can become muscle and body memory. How long that takes varies from one student to to the next. I use encouragement in my private music lessons, because negative feedback will lead to negative emotions connected with music and music-making and will eat away at the student’s self-confidence. We want self-confident music students and people!









Starting A New Instrument

Starting any new instrument can be challenging. Most likely, the body will have to use muscles and extremities in a way it has not done before. If the student and/or their parents have big expectations and are looking for fast results, the process can quickly start to feel like a chore and the student can feel like a failure. Of course experiencing all these feelings is valid, but if we give the natural process of learning some time and some room, everything will fall into place with more joy. Which means that applying pressure will have the opposite effect – it will most likely take more time to learn the new craft, the student might drop the instrument, music might leave a bad aftertaste and possibly cause stress. Who needs that in today’s world?

Think about it – regardless if you are 7 or 37 – to hold a guitar string down on the neck of a guitar in the right place with the right amount of pressure and the right finger and, at the same time, try to make sure the right string is plucked is a skill the body has to familiarize itself with. Now think about putting three fingers in the right spot and strumming the right strings. All these processes need brain power first until they become part of muscle memory.

How To Learn Best

It has been shown that the brain learns at the greatest speed when the person who is doing the learning is mildly frustrated – I would disagree with the choice of word in expressing “frustration”, because frustration does not have to be part of the process, and depends on the private music lesson student and his or her choice. The student can approach each new challenge with resistance or with a positive expectation. To learn any new skill is challenging. Learning how to “learn with ease” can be one of the valuable side-effects of private music lessons.

Part of the learning process for the private music teacher is to find out what excites and makes a student “tick” – if the teacher can find out what that specific thing is – great! It will make the student more interested in practicing, and practice makes better, not perfect – we are all already perfect as we are ;-)   And seriously, 10 minutes practice every day will beat 2 hours on the weekend. Making the music practice part of the daily routine is a good strategy – for example after or before homework, or right when the student gets home from school or work (depending on the age of the student, of course).

Special Needs

Making goals and working towards them is a good thing, and a more fixed structure in the lessons also can work, though not always. It depends on the student – that is one big reason why private one-on-one music lessons can work so well. A private music teacher can gear the lesson plan toward the needs of an individual student and in that regard everyone is a special needs student in my view. We all need special attention in one form or another.


An Eastcoast Tour And A Birthday

For the last two weeks I was away on tour across the East Coast – I played shows in New York City, Boston, Chicago, Cleveland, New Jersey, Long Island, and at the Mohegan Sun Casino. Every show was different, yet fun. Do you believe I was a better musician after the tour? The answer is yes, because I played my instrument every day for more than two hours.

Of course most people do not have the time to practice two hours or more a day, but the ones that do really excel. So, what I am suggesting to everyone is this: practice your instrument every day, even of it is only for ten or fifteen  minutes. It makes a world of difference.

Stereo And Mono

After the tour I had a birthday and I received a vinyl album – The Beatles “Rubber Soul” in Stereo. I mention that it was in Stereo, because in these first Stereo mixes (“Rubber Soul” is one of these) the instruments and voices are often panned hard left and right (in Mono, all instruments are placed in the middle). What that means is that you often, for example, can hear only the vocals and one guitar in the right channel (or your right ear when you are wearing headphones) and the drums, bass and piano in the other. Nowadays, almost all music is not mixed in this way.

Hearing the instruments clearly in one ear and the other actually makes it easier to figure out individual parts, so for ear training these older stereo recordings offer a great resource. For a more in depth look and listen into the world of stereo and mono mixing and how you can hear certain things more (or less) please look below.

If you would like to actually learn to play any or all of these Beatles songs, feel free to contact me ;-)



Intermediate Bass Lessons

The start of learning the bass guitar is over. It’s time to learn more interesting techniques, sound colors and rhythmic and melodic figures. More extensive practice of scales is important to give the player more options when playing with a song, for example, but also to build strength and stamina. Techniques like slapping and tapping can be part of intermediate lessons as will be left-hand muting, more exercises for finger picking and also playing with the pick.

The foundation for bass is quite comprehensive and prepares the student for easy songs and solo exercises. Branching out into different styles is also on the agenda for intermediate bass students. While many Jazz players use their fingers, Punk rock bassists use the pick extensively. In Rock and Pop bass players mostly employ their fingers and picks. and slapping is not really used nowadays – in Funk you might hear slap bass quite often, like in this slightly old-skool, yet fun and well-played video example.

Regardless of which style or genre, the major, minor and modal scales remain unchanged and can be of use in any style. It is also important for all genres to further lock in with the drums – specific exercises will show the bass student how to play with the bass drum, with the snare drum, a combination of both or against the drums – all these approaches have their place and can be effective.

The Role Of The Bass Guitar

The role of the bass often is to build a bridge between the guitar and the drums, especially in all areas of rock and pop/rock. The bass combines aspects of rhythm and melody and enables the guitarist often to venture of into counter melodies and progressions. A band like U2 shows how the bassist can lay down a simple, strong musical and rhythmic foundation, while the guitarist has space to play higher, and more delicate figures and melodies.

The bass can also be a solo instrument at times, like shown by pioneers like Jaco Pastorius and Stanley Clarke. Starting to learn simple solos will be part of the curriculum, if the student wishes to explore those areas.

More Freedom With Private Intermediate Bass Lessons

Private bass lessons with us allow the student and the teacher to plan and develop a curriculum together, which is one big advantage of one-on-one bass lessons. Sometimes the rigid structure of group lessons and the inflexibility or need to only follow a specific, predetermined lesson plan can take the joy out of the bass lessons, which should be avoided, as the bass is a fun instrument and learning is a lot easier when the student has a good time learning.

Intermediate Piano Lessons

After learning basic chords, the first scales, some easy songs and being introduced to a good technique and posture, the student is ready for more intermediate piano lessons. For example – getting familiar to read sheet music will allow the piano lesson student to visualize what he or she is hearing more easily and translate it to the piano more effectively. Piano music is represented on two sets of horizontal lines, called staffs.

We will also learn about another effective way of writing down piano music – chord charts, which are also called lead sheets. In normal sheet music, you will see the chord written as individual notes on the staff. A chord chart just has the name of the chord written above the staff. Many popular songs are notated in this way.

Regardless of how the piano music is written down, we will learn more about chords and will build on the major triad chords and their inversions. We will expand our “chordal vocabulary” to include seventh chords and also venture out to minor triads and also minor scales and more difficult major scales, complete with correct fingering. The regular, daily practice of major and minor scales will transform the scales into instinctual patterns that the student will be able to access in solos and improvisations without having to think about it.

The Piano Is A Rhythm Instrument!

We will also spend more time with the metronome in the private piano lessons. Each “click” of the metronome represents on quarter note and many piano pieces and songs are in 4/4 time, which is the most common time signature – it is so common that it is also referred to as common time. Common time (c) and 4/4 time mean that there are four beats in a measure and that each beat is a quarter note. We will also learn and play songs in 3/4 time, which is used in waltzes, for instance.

Getting familiar with notation means also learning the different note values in more detail. As we has spoken about the metronome before, each “click” counts one quarter note,and also two eight notes and four sixteenth notes. If this is starting to sound like math, you are right, but don’t be discouraged if math is not your or your childs strong suit. It will be easy and improve and inform math skills by playing music! In our study of notation we will also get to know rests  – often there are spaces in melodies and accompaniment, and these spaces (rests) make the music more interesting.

Private Piano Lessons

Having private, one-on-one piano lessons becomes even more useful, if the student has, or is perceived to have some “shortcomings” or “issues”. Establishing a comfortable, friendly rapport with the student can take the pressure off and change the dynamics of a lesson. In my view, a “lesson” is not meant to frustrate a student, but to empower him/her, build up confidence and learn about a subject in a way that is exciting, fun and worthwhile. Taking lessons in a school environment, possibly with other students, can be challenging and add unnecessary pressures.





Intermediate Drum Lessons

Somewhere, I read this quote about intermediate drum lessons: “After establishing a solid foundation, it is time to venture out into the eclectic world of drumming and rhythm.” I actually agree with what the author has stated, but what does that actually mean?

I would describe a solid foundation for drums like this: Able to play a variety of beats in 4/4 time at slow-to-medium pace. Familiar with basic snare drum rudiments. Starting to incorporate some simple drum fills. Reading basic drum notation. Knowing what the various bits and pieces of a drum set are called. Familiarizing oneself with songs that feature basic drum beats. Experimenting with the metronome.

After all these requirements are met, the private drum lesson student is ready to move on. Expanding the drum beat and drum fill vocabulary is one of the first points on the agenda. This means, for example, adding 16th note “offbeats” on the snare drum and/or bass drum to spice up beats and make them more interesting. In the world of snare drum rudiments it is time to add more complex exercises involving flams and also press-and-buzz rolls. Introducing drum “colors” into the playing is also fun and rewarding – open hi hats, sidestick/rimshots, cymbal stops etc. are examples of cool new sounds the student can learn in a private drum lesson.

The Metronome Is Our Friend!

Many drummers have a kind of love/hate relationship with the metronome and I feel the earlier it is introduced, the better. Especially at the intermediate level, using the “click”, as it is often called in the recording studio, is a great tool. You can, for instance, learn a new beat and then, when you are familiar with it, play it with the metronome and establish a tempo at which the drum beat is comfortable to play at. Let’s take 70 bpm (beats per minute) as an example.  Then, next time you practice the drum beat, bumop the temp up to 72 or 74, and higher again next time you practice. In a few weeks your speed and accuracy will go through the roof!

Why is this important? It keeps practicing fun and presents the drum student with a way of measuring progress. So often the student (and all of us) do not notice if we improve and might even think we hit a plateau. Measuring speed is one important way of seeing progress. Also – many times students want to learn songs they like, which is a great idea and keeps learning fun. Having said that, I have found that many of the songs that students want to learn are at a fast tempo. They are not complex, just fast. Breaking down the beats, playing them slowly and then, with the help of the metronome, slowly speeding them up over the course of a couple of weeks often is a great way of getting up to speed and learning one’s favorite drum tracks.


Recording Drums

Lastly, this is also a good time for the drum student to start experimenting with recording his or her efforts. It is good to hear oneself play to really assess ability more accurately. Being able to lay down a drum track with a metronome is another skill, which is more and more needed in the digital age, when many producers and engineers “comp” (compile) drum tracks from different takes. We will get into drum recording more in detail in the future, but let me just say that it is important for the intermediate private drum student to really get comfy with the metronome for so many reasons!