There are many brands you can start off with for electric guitars, and they are all similar in quality at the entry-level; however, three brands have stood the test of time, and you can’t really go wrong with any of these three brands: Fender, Gibson, and Ibanez. Like anything, you will have a good, better, and best option. For electrics, it comes down to where the instrument was made, hands-on craftsmanship, the quality of the wood, and pickups. There are definitely many other options, but these are the prominent features that affect the price. Here is a breakdown of which guitars I would get per level:
Entry Level ($150-400)
Mid Level ($400-800)
Pro Level ($800+)
Now, after you get your electric guitar, one of the next things you’ll be asking yourself is “what kind of amp do I need?” I can tell you, hands down, the Fender Mustang series is the PERFECT practice amp. It’s literally all you need…so much so, that it is the official practice amp of the Freeway Music locations. One of the best ways to ensure that you get all you need is to purchase a package. So, let’s get that out of the way and talk about it. Here are some packages our friends have at Sims:
The good, better, best for acoustics is generally found in how much solid vs. laminate wood is involved. Entry level guitars tend to have a laminate top and back and sides. Mid-level acoustics have solid tops. The reason they do the top is because that’s where most of your sound resonates. So, if you have a solid top, it makes a difference. Pro-level guitars are generally solid all the way around with solid tops, sides, and backs. For the most part, you’ll run into the usual suspects for guitars. Here are some recommendations for various guitars at each level:
Entry Level ($150-400)
- Fender FA-15 (3/4 size guitar great for a smaller student)
- Fender (pretty much any)
- Ibanez (pretty much any)
Normally, I’d tout Martin and Taylor pretty hard in this range…especially the Taylor GS mini as it’s literally the perfect 3/4 guitar, but they are low in stock. So, I’d check out the Ibanez Artwood Series. They are great mid-level guitars.
Ukes make for AMAZING holiday gifts because they are portable, easy to learn and play, and very affordable. Ukes tend to range between $50—$300, but float around that $50-150 mark for decent ones. Here are some brands to check out:
- Ortega *This is a newer brand that Sims recently started carrying. They look, sound, and play amazing. I just bought one for Sara Ann for Christmas. Don’t tell her ;)…She’s not reading this is she? :/
So, if you’re looking for a serious acoustic piano, check out our friends at Rice Music House. They’ve got a great selection of acoustic pianos and will be of great help to you. The acoustic pianos at Freeway Music are from Rice. You can buy or rent.
If you are in the market for a Digital Piano, I like the Casio and Yamaha brands. You can’t go wrong either way. We stock the Casios at Freeway for our voice lessons.
There are also a slew of portable keyboard options available.
Okay, I JUST started playing drums…so, give me a little grace in this department. It’s okay, I spoke with Justin at Sims, and he is an expert…so we will be alright! Here are some opinions of ours:
**Side Note: The cajon has been a popular instrument for drummers as of late for acoustic sets. Check out the LP Americana cajon… it was designed by our very own Justin Sims! 🙂
So, you wanna ease into recording. The best way to get started is by grabbing one of the Scarlet Focusrite Packages They have two different ones. Both come with a mic, mic cable, headphones, and an intro version of Protools. The only difference is one is solo and has one channel ($219), and the other is a duo with two channels ($269).
There are a ton of accessories such as capos, tuners, string winders, polish, cables, slides, pedals, shakers, tambourines, sticks, picks, and most importantly…Music Lessons! 😉
Whew…That was a lot of information. I hope this was helpful and Happy Holidays from the Freeway Family! 🙂
Recently, one of our Freeway Music rock band classes was opening up for a band from Nashville called Dedsa. They were great guys that watched and supported every student. They complimented what we were doing with our students. One thing really stood out though. The manager said, “I really love that you are teaching you students stage etiquette!” It never really occurred to me to focus on that. I just shared it with our music students as practical advice. So, here are a few things that could improve your performance etiquette.
1. Give Props
Always give props to the bands that have played before you and the ones that will play after you, even if the bands don’t return the favor. It’s important to have the reputation of being supportive. Sometimes people didn’t catch the name of the last band. It also encourages your friends who came to see your band to stick around and check out the next band. Almost always, the other band will return the favor and give you props to their fans. Also, give props to the venue and its workers.
Whether headlining or opening, get out there and listen to the other bands, even if just for one song. Don’t be the “diva” band that is too good to get out and listen to the opener. At the same time, don’t be the band who plays and rolls. A music community needs to support each other. The bar for the level of support should start at the top with the musicians who are actually playing. Don’t set it low; lead by example!
3. Never Assume
Don’t assume anything, but be clear and communicate in advance. This applies to sharing gear, set time, sound check, the money breakdown, etc. Always iron out all details before the gig happens.
4. Sound Check
I could probably write a whole blog on soundcheck alone. Follow these three P’s: be punctual, prepared, and polite. Come to the venue on time or early. Have all the gear you need there and ready to move on stage. Cooperate with the sound guy and let him run the show. Whatever you do, don’t noodle incessantly or try to showcase your skills to the bar. Testing your gear for tone and volume is one thing, but everyone hates a “noodler.”
5. Moving Gear
If you aren’t a rockstar touring with roadies, don’t act like it. When you are finished, get your gear off stage as quickly as possible, as to help the other band get on. I like to offer to help bands move their gear on and off, whether I am opening or headlining; however, never assume that someone wants help. Some people are weird about other people touching or moving their stuff. It also can come off as though you are pressuring or rushing a band to get on or off stage. So, always ask!
6. Don’t Abuse Perks
If a place gives you one guest member per band, don’t try to stretch it or sneak people in. It’s their policy and they have a business to run. Again, don’t act like a rockstar when you aren’t. This applies to anything such as beverages or food. Don’t try to use your tab for friends or abuse how many beverages your or your band are drinking, as to leave none for the other band or band members.
7. Market Your Show
Blast the event on social media. Email your contacts and let them know about the event. Text everyone that you think might want to come. Put out posters. In general, just get the word out. It WILL make a HUGE difference. The club/venue owners will notice.
8. Be Cool
This sounds simple, but it’s so easy to screw this one up. Simply, be cool to other bands, the venue employees, fans, etc. Develop relationships with them. You will be surprised how this helps the future of your career.
9. Be Positive on Stage
It’s a blessing to be able to play and a blessing to share that with others. If that’s not your attitude, you are in the wrong business…move on! Whether or not you enjoy a gig is entirely up to you! Your energy will bleed over into your bandmates and the crowd. I’m always more impressed with guys that play for two people who give it their all, than a guy who plays for thousands and is half-hearted.
10. Do NOT Overreact to Mistakes
Mistakes WILL happen…so how will you react? The best players are “professional mistake cover-uppers.” Learn to take your mistake and make it seem intentional. Use the moments as opportunities for genius. It’s like drawing a three when you wanted to draw a 9. Turn it into a 9! When it happens, let it roll and think forward. NEVER reflect on it and think backwards. Typically, people will react more to your reaction of a mistake, than the actual mistake itself.
I hope these principles sink into you and that you will apply them to your next performance. You have a large responsibility to set the standard and make performances a better experience for everyone.
Check out my blog on Sound Check Etiquette
Matt Nelson’s Wisdom
My friend referred me to a guy named Matt Nelson that lived in Columbia, SC who used to hang with jazz legends. He said I should spend some time with him. So, I got his number and gave him a call. I drove over to his house near the airport. It was such an amazing time! Apparently, Matt was friends with two of jazz’s greatest guitar players, Wes Montgomery and Grant Green. He even showed me Grant Green’s autobiography, where Grant mentioned Matt. Matt shared stories from meeting Wes Montgomery at a local jam to running into Charlie Parker at a candy store. He spun record after record, and shared so many great jazz artists with me.
Then, it came to play.
We went it to his music room where he had an array of beautiful and expensive guitars.
He generously placed a Benedetto in my hands and asked me to play. So, I launched off into a Thelonious Monk jazz blues song called “Blue Monk”. I was walking the bass line, while Comping the chords in between. Just as I thought I was doing a good job, he stopped me and said, “no, no, no…you are doing it all wrong!”. I was super confused. I thought I was playing it right. He said, “You need to be tapping your foot on 2 and 4.” I was tapping my foot on each quarter beat, which is what I thought you were supposed to do. Then, he demonstrated and asked me to try it.
So, I did, and I immediately felt a difference. It was way groovier! From that point forward, I began tapping my foot on two and four for a lot tunes, making them way groovier. I’m just thankful that I was able to spend time with Matt Nelson, because I my groove was forever changed that day. If you aren’t tapping your foot on two and four ever, go try it. It will blow your mind!
You might recognize Shawn Pelton as the drummer with the Saturday Night Live band. Regardless of whether you’ve heard of him or not, he’s held down the SNL gig since 1992, so he knows a thing or two about how to make it as a professional drummer.
I attended the Modern Drummer Festival in 2010 and enjoyed seeing his band, House of Diablo, but I thoroughly enjoyed when Shawn stepped out from behind his kit to give some advice to the drummers in attendance. He did just that in an entertaining, creative way (much like his drumming). Shawn at MD Fest 2010
What follows is his list of 12 points/questions/topics/Zen koans (and my thoughts) on how to “get a gig, keep a gig, and get called back for more gigs.”
Are you a pain in the a**?
We drummers have a reputation for often being “less than professional.” Showing up on time, wearing appropriate attire, and with a positive attitude will go a long way to stop propagating any negative stereotypes associated with drummers.
Can you take direction?
Being able to execute drum parts suggested by people that aren’t drummers can sometimes be especially challenging, either because the part might be impractical to pull off or because it goes against all of your training. Whatever the case might be, when a 12-year-old artist gives you her drum beat to the song she’s paying you to record, do it with conviction and enthusiasm!
Do you have ideas (for drum parts)?
Focused listening to lots of music is the best way to build your personal library of groove ideas. The classics, as well as modern songs, are a great source of inspiration for not only grabbing specific ideas, but also to rethink/interpret a groove and put a new spin on it. Have something to offer that is the result of your creativity. “Come Together” is a perfect example of an “out of the box” drum part that could have been more straightforward. Brilliant, huh?!
Do you know when to shut up?
Shawn quoted a musician friend of his saying, “I hate somebody with a good idea.” What he meant was that often a musician will be so enthusiastic to share a great idea of theirs that he/she doesn’t allow the artist to express his/her idea. Listen and pay attention FIRST. As a matter of fact, developing a sense for when to speak up and when to be quiet is one of the best attributes of any well-liked musician.
Actively develop YOUR approach to the drums. Be aware that you are projecting it every time you play. Own it and be proud of it.
Transparency (it’s not always about the drums)
As much as drums add energy and groove to songs, sometimes the best goal for a drum track can be to make it as unnoticeable as possible. Supporting a song often means not drawing any attention away from the melody. Notice this approach in some of the music you listen to, as well as some of the biggest hits of all time.
Are you flexible? Can you hang?
You’ll be put in many pressure-filled situations, some directly related to you, some not. How you handle those situations will determine your reputation as much as any of your preparation. Observe these challenges and be honest with yourself about your performance.
THERE ARE NO RULES.
Just like Neo in “The Matrix,” the enlightened drummer discovers that all bets are off when determining how best to use your abilities to fulfill your destiny. While there are guidelines for how to be useful to other artists, sometimes those guidelines are too restrictive or don’t apply at all. There is no spoon!
RULE #1: TIME/FEEL/GROOVE
Take care of business when it comes to this non-negotiable aspect of playing drums. NOTHING ELSE MATTERS AS MUCH.
Shawn referred to “that tradition of drummers that can sit on something simple and just make the walls sweat.” There are numerous approaches to playing the drums, all with their advantages in various situations, but the most timeless and useful approach is what occurs when your singular goal is to get to the center of the groove you’re playing and dig deeper. That method all but guarantees satisfied fellow musicians, as well as producers/engineers.
Develop the ability to put yourself on the other side of the glass.
Don’t be the drummer that goes into a situation where time is limited and insist on getting sounds from several snare drums, etc. Shaw calls it “wiping your own butt.” In other words, put yourself in the producer’s/artist’s shoes and make some useful decisions that propel the session/situation forward.
PLAY FROM YOUR HEART
Give 100% of yourself to any session for which you’re hired. Your reputation or connections got you the gig. Add to your rep by giving the session your unbridled participation. People will sense if you have a “soulful trip about where you’re coming from.”
That about covers it.
A student signs up for guitar lessons. They initially are fired up, they fizz out, and quit. How many times have you heard this story? I have witnessed it over the years, and we all have done this, or know someone who has. So the question remains: How do you maintain your enthusiasm for Music Lessons?
Let’s face it…showing up to your lesson unprepared is a drag. You feel let down, it’s frustrating for the teacher, and you have to go over the same material again, making no progress. Simply getting into the routine of practice goes a long way towards maintaining your interest. You and others will see the improvement in your playing. This growth will inspire you to practice more. The more you put in, the more you will get out.
Find an outlet for your music. One of the things I love about Freeway Music is the performance opportunities that we offer. We have showcases, recitals, camps, rock band classes, and community outreach opportunities. These public performances give students specific goals to prepare for. Play for a school talent show, your church, with a group of friends, etc. Get plugged into your local music scene. Watch people play, join a songwriter’s guild, sit in at open mics, etc. If you aren’t plugged in and playing somewhere, it will be very hard to maintain interest.
A lot of who you become is directly related to those you associate with. One of the people that spurred me on as a kid was my friend Eric. He would come over and we would play guitar all night together. It was so great for my growth as a young musician. I have constantly challenged myself by putting myself in situations where I played with musicians that were better than me. These situations pushed me and inspired me to be a better guitar player. I have surrounded myself with people that have the same passion that I have for music…including my guitar teacher.
Find the Right Teacher
Finding the right instructor is key. An instructor should be passionate about teaching, inspiring students, presenting opportunities for students, the local music scene, and the community. Music instructors should be qualified, professional, and enthusiastic. It’s very important that you take the time to find a great instructor that fits you. A teacher can make or break a student’s learning experience. If your music teacher is not actively studying, or plugging in, you may want to consider a different teacher.
Metallica was the reason I started playing guitar…not a m7(b5). It’s different for everyone, but we all have music that inspires us. I once asked my good friend Jerry Sims for the best advice to grow as a player and he answered, “Learn a tune that you like each day.” It makes sense. If you wanted to lose weight, you should exercise. So, it makes sense that learning tunes is a great way to maintain your interest in an instrument. I have also learned over the years that each song presents a new challenge, forcing you to stretch in ways that you wouldn’t stretch ordinarily.
My friend Sue is an amazing singer/songwriter. I was feeling uninspired once, and I asked her what I should do. She gave me a harsh reality check. Sometimes you are trucking along and you hit a wall. Then, you pick yourself up and go again. She said that the passion never leaves and you will always go again. Even if you are doing everything possible to stay inspired, you will go through ups and downs. You will continue upward, though. Just make sure that you have realistic expectations, and don’t let a downswing keep you heading down!
If you aren’t maintaining that fire for studying music and continuing your pursuit of musical growth, look within. Are you practicing? Are you plugged into something that will make you grow? Have you surrounded yourself with people that will support, challenge, and inspire you? Have you gotten away from the spark that got you inspired in the first place? Be real with yourself, answer these questions, and weather the natural ups and downs. Then, you will have a much smoother musical journey. Good Luck!
We briefly touched on this benefit of music in a previous post 5 Benefits of Music Lessons and we will delve into that a little more here.
In doing some research on this subject, I found out something really cool.
Drum roll please….
Music is INSANELY good for your brain. (No pun intended.)
But seriously, the fact that something so fun/creative is as good for you as school is? WHAT? Not that it negates the need for a good education, but I was really happy to know that I’ve been doing my brain a huge favor by choosing to have music be such a vital part of my life.
Let’s start with some basic science…for those of you who like evidence to back things up. If you don’t care to hear the science, feel free to skip to the next paragraph for some incredible stats on the effects of music on the brain (we all love some good stats). 10 different parts of our brain process music, and I will spare the names as they are complicated. The point is, music stimulates our brain in multiple areas, the majority even, not just one small part.
A simple explanation would be this, about half of those areas of the brain have to do with the effects of LISTENING to music. Music can help shape our emotions, identify feelings, help predict our personalities, and even help us be better drivers (when not too loud, of course). The other half has to do with what PLAYING music does to our brain, which is the main focus of this post.
Playing, teaching, learning/listening to music does the following:
Improves motor and reasoning skills, i.e. better performance on tests, school work, analysis of visual information, etc.
Increases visual attention.
Makes exercise more efficient/even more frequent.
Increases lifelong memory skills
…I could go on, but it seems that scientists who have dedicated their lives to these studies say it a tad bit better than I do. P.S. Read them all if you can, b/c we obviously picked the coolest ones. 😀
“Adults who receive formal music instruction as children have more robust brainstem
responses to sound than peers who never participate in music lessons and that the
magnitude of the response correlates with how recently training ceased. These results
suggest that neural changes accompanying musical training during childhood are
retained in adulthood.”
— Skoe, E. & Kraus, N. (2012). A Little Goes a Long Way: How the Adult Brain Is
Shaped by Musical Training in Childhood, Journal of Neuroscience, 32 (34)
11510. DOI: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.1949-12.2012
“Young Children who take music lessons show different brain development and
improved memory over the course of a year, compared to children who do not receive
musical training. Musically trained children performed better in a memory test that is
correlated with general intelligence skills such as literacy, verbal memory, visiospatial
processing, mathematics, and IQ.”
— Dr. Laurel Trainor, Prof. of Psychology, Neuroscience, and Behavior at
McMaster University, 2006
Stanford University research has found
“Stanford University research has found for the first time that musical training improves
how the brain processes the spoken word, a finding that researchers say could lead to
improving the reading ability of children who have dyslexia and other reading
problems… ‘Especially for children … who aren’t good at rapid auditory processing and
are high-risk for becoming poor readers, they may especially benefit from musical
— From “Playing music can be good for your brain,” SF Chronicle, November 17,
2005 (article on recent Stanford research study linking music and language)
“Learning and performing music actually exercise the brain – not merely by developing
specific music skills, but also by strengthening the synapses between brain cells…What
is important is not how well a student plays but rather the simultaneous engagement of
senses, muscles, and intellect. Brain scans taken during musical performances show
that virtually the entire cerebral cortex is active while musicians are playing. Can you
think of better exercise for the mind/brain? In short, making music actively engages the
brain synapses, and there is good reason to believe that it increases the brain’s capacity
by increasing the strengths of connections among neurons.”
— From “The Music in Our Minds,” Educational Leadership, Vol. 56, #3; Norman
Nearly 100% of past winners in the prestigious Siemens Westinghouse Competition in
Math, Science, and Technology (for high School students) play one or more musical
instruments. This led the Siemens Foundation to host a recital at Carnegie Hall in 2004,
featuring some of these young people. After which a panel of experts debated the
nature of the apparent science/music link.
— The Midland Chemist (American Chemical Society) Vol. 42, No.1, Feb. 2005
Dr. James Catterall of UCLA has analyzed the school records of 25,000 students as
they moved from grade 8 to grade 10. He found that students who studied music and
the arts had higher grades, scored better on standardized tests, had better attendance
records and were more active in community affairs than other students. He also found
that students from poorer families who studied the arts improved overall school
performance more rapidly than all other students.
— From Catterall, UCLA, Fall 1997
Though it’s crucial to invest in math, science and engineering, as the president outlined
in his recent State of the Union address, there are other fields that hold more
promise…Prefer a more artistic career? Our economy is poised to create new forms of
entertainment, from rock ‘n’ roll and hip-hop to film and video games. Indeed, over the
next 10 years, jobs in art, music, culture and entertainment will grow twice as many as
jobs in engineering will.
— From “A search for jobs in some of the wrong places,” USA Today, February
12, 2006; Richard Florida
The moral of the story is this, if you enjoy music, play it, listen to it, whatever. No matter how well you do, no matter how advanced you are, the sheer activity that it produces in the brain will make you smarter, improve your self confidence, and increase your memory among other great things. And that you won’t be the one that forgets anyone’s birthday, anniversary, etc.
Go get em’ you musical genius, you.
A lot of music students come in with the question of “How do I write a song?”. So, I analyzed my own songwriting, and came up with three basic approaches to sparking the songwriting process. All three are important, and tend to lead into each other.
Carry a notepad or take notes on your smart phone. Begin writing down interesting words, or things that you see. Be more tuned into the world around you, and keep lyric writing in the front of your brain. Once you have some words, you can either write a melody around them, or play chords and force the words to fit within a chord progression into a melody. The benefit of writing lyrics first is that you can say exactly what you want to say, and make the lyrics as rich as you want up front. Also, sometimes creating the words up front causes a songwriter to use phrasing that they normally wouldn’t use. These phrases can be very original and creative.
The garble approach is one of my favorites. I tend to do it alone because it can be awkward for other people to hear you “garbling”. The basic idea is to come up with a chord progression first, or a riff. Then, you begin singing nonsense over the chord changes or “garbling”. Soon, you’ll begin to form actual words and phrases. I love this approach because it is a very organic approach. There is very little thought in this approach and a lot of natural reaction. The benefit of this approach is that you will sing melodies, consonants, and phrases that naturally flow within the progression or riff that you are playing. Also, the words that come out will be a stream of conscious. You will say things that are in your mind already. This is great if you are at a lost for what to write about.
We all are guilty of humming in our cars. Typically, it’s other tunes we have heard, but sometimes a melody will just pop in your head. I tell my guitar students to carry some kind of recording device. Today, it’s easy to record yourself on a smart phone or an IPod. For this approach, you simply hum a melody and then lock it into chords and words. My guitar teacher, Robert Newton, told me one time, “Melody rules!”. He was speaking of the importance of melody. It is very true. Just go listen to the top hits. Typically, the words are pretty shallow, and the melody is very strong. So a strong melody can create a big hit! Also, if you have a melody first, you aren’t locked into a specific chord progression. One of my favorite things to do is to change chords under the same melody. It makes it sound like you are playing a different melody each time.
So are you a poet, garbler, or a hummer. I consider myself to be all three at different times. Here are three things you can do to spark your creativity and songwriting:
1. Carry a notepad, or use your smart phone, and write down lyrics.
2. Create a new riff or progression on you instrument and try to sing along.
3. Start humming and record your melody ideas on a voice recorder.
If you are a songwriter in Columbia, SC, here are some things to check out:
Wednesday- Lucky’s Burger Shack Irmo, 8 pm
Conundrum is a local music hall that features a lot of local & regional songwriters as well.
Good luck writing!
When parents signing for music lessons, often the first question is, “which instrument should I play”. So, here are a few things to consider when deciding:
What Does the Student Want Out of Music Lessons?
The student is the one who ultimately has to be happy with the instrument they play. So, ask the student! Most parents are shocked by what their children choose to study in music lessons. Everyone has different tastes, and that’s okay. Don’t fight a student’s natural inclination. Your child may not openly say what instrument they want to play, but they walk around beating on everything…maybe they should be a drummer! (Don’t be scared! They make practice pads and electronic drum sets…haha) Another approach is to thinking about what the student listens to. If a student loves music that is heavy with electric guitar, don’t buy an acoustic. Buy an electric guitar!
How Old is the Student?
If a student is very young, certain instruments might be too challenging for them. I generally recommend that children start guitar lessons at no younger than 6. Piano lessons are much better suited for a 5 year old. The technique required to press a piano key is much easier than creating notes on the guitar. Ukulele is actually a good instrument to begin music lessons on that is a nice transition to guitar lessons. The strings on a ukulele are softer, and the instrument is smaller. There are some methods that are very user friendly, such as the Suzuki Method. This is a very well respected method used to teach young children how to play string instruments. Some children are just too young for any one-on-one music instruction, and would be better off in a preschool music lesson program such as our Treble Kids program. Honestly, the maturity of the child and their attention span is a huge determining factor as well.
If the student is unsure about which instrument to choose, and you just want to get them started with a good foundational instrument, I recommend a rhythm instrument such as piano or guitar. A rhythm instrument has multiple voices and can create chords. This is really functional when playing alone or with others. One can sing while playing a rhythm instrument and be self sufficient. Also, theory is much easier to learn and see on a rhythm instrument. I personally think piano is probably the best foundational instrument. One must learn how to read music on both the treble and bass clef. The piano is laid out in front of you, making it easy to see everything. The technique required to make sounds on the piano is better approachable as well.
The bottom line is to decide what instrument interests the student, and whether it is age appropriate. If you are unsure, just make sure you set a good foundation.Hopefully this information will serve you well trying to find the right music lessons for you. Good Luck!
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