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10 Ways to Maintain Musical Form During the Summer

10 Ways to Maintain Musical Form During the Summer
School’s out and band directors aren’t  hounding anyone to practice, but that doesn’t mean kids should put their instruments away. It’s very important to maintain your musical skills during the summer. Don’t put off practicing until “tomorrow,” because soon tomorrow will become the first day of the new school year and the musical “lip” will be lost.  Once the lip is lost,  it’s hard to find it again.

It only takes 10 minutes a day to keep up musical momentum, particularly if honing skills, rather than halfheartedly playing familiar songs over and over is the focus. Seriously, ten minutes! While it may not seem like much, it can be very effective. We have many ideas to help keep up the musical skill level that kids have attained during the school year.

The 10-Minute Practice

Spend 10 minutes a day on one of the following exercises, or a combination of exercises, can help keep a musician in tip-top musical shape.  Note, if using a combination of exercises, spend at least 2.5 minutes on each exercise to benefit musical muscles. Alternating days on exercises is fine, too. Any practice is better than no practice.

1. Long Tones

Long tones are exactly what the term sounds like: holding tones for a long time. Starting off in the easiest range of the instrument (voices count!) is best, and the note chosen should be held as long as possible. Seeing spots means it’s too long, but having a lot of air left over means the tone isn’t held long enough. Long tones help keep the embouchure in shape and the lungs strong.

2. Practice with Volume

Playing high notes softly requires quite a bit of control on an instrument, and even the most non-musically inclined person can instantly tell the difference between a “good” high note and a “bad” one. If a high note is played with too much volume the sound will distort and crack (and babies will scream, dogs will bark, and glasses will break).  Keep the corners of the mouth firm when blowing high notes and, over time, notes will become easier to play and nicer to hear.

3. High Note Practice Using Register/Octave Key (Woodwinds)

The best method for woodwind players to practice high notes and keep control is to play a low note first, and then add the register or octave key for the higher pitch. Start with the lowest note, then lift one finger at a time while blowing from low to high. For a challenge, start from high, then play to low.

4. Blowing High Notes (Brass)

A common mistake younger brass players make is thinking high notes mean a LOT of air and a LOT of pressure, when the opposite is true. Low notes use more air than high notes on all wind instruments. The secret to playing well-controlled high notes is using a small amount of air while blowing out a fast and narrow air stream. One way to test air flow is to hold the index finger 8 inches in front and try to blow on the fingernail. The air on the nail will feel like a small breeze blowing all around, and if it were a real candle, it will remain lit.

There is a noticeable difference in air flow when putting the same finger less than an inch in front of the lips and blowing at the fingernail.  The air will feel like a straight, narrow, pointed beam of cold air. Notice how the embouchure changed when blowing far away and close to the lips. When playing high notes, aim for the thin, stream of cold air.

5. Buzzing (Brass)

Brass players can “buzz” into the mouthpieces to keep up facial muscle strength. Putting the lips tightly together and blowing to make a “bzzz” sound is the first step in learning the instrument, and keeping up the embouchure. It’s not as easy as it sounds, as the lips need to remain straight, and the “bzzz” sound should sound consistent. This needs to be done through the mouthpiece while taking breaks when the lips become tired.

6. Silent Fingering

Need something quiet to do? Try silent fingering. The mouthpiece or reed is not needed for this exercise. The instrument should be held with proper posture, while the fingers move up and down the keys. Use the same pressure on the keys as if this were “real” playing. Moving the fingers up and down the keys will build up muscle strength and technique. This can be done with or without looking at music.

7. Silent Tonguing

Silent tonguing doesn’t mean sticking your tongue out at anyone, but rather instrumental tonguing practice. This can be done with just the mouthpiece while watching TV, or with just the mouth alone. If using a mouthpiece, blow softly. Combine this with silent fingering for a double challenge.

8. Learn a New Piece

Open up to the challenge of learning a new piece of music this summer, one that is at a higher level than normal.  Work through a small section at a time until it is mastered. Working small instead of playing the piece from front to back over and over will ensure a better understanding of the music. Picking different sections to work on at a time rather than playing the music in order can help stave off boredom.

9. Sight Read

The lungs, hands, fingers, lips, and tongue aren’t the only things that need practice, the brain needs it too! Sight reading is the ability to read through music correctly (or close to it) upon first sight. Some musicians are better at this than others, and this is because they can read music differently than others. Many musicians look at every note individually, rather than ahead at each measure. Instead of seeing four eighth notes, think of 2 sets of 2 notes. Four groups of sixteenth notes are easier to grasp quickly than counting sixteen eighth notes. Grab some new music and play through it without stopping. Do this a few times over a week, and then go back and look at the music and notice any patterns in rhythms or notes.

10. Have a Recital or Talent Show

Arrange a recital in the garage or back yard for friends and neighbors. A month ahead of time invite friends to play or perform, and invite other friends to be in the audience. Throw in a few programs, punch, and cookies and there’s one happening music party.  Not only will this be memorable and fun, but the crowd will be wowed by the techniques that have been practiced!

Keep it Up!

Practicing shouldn’t be a drag or a chore, but rather a fun challenge. It’s easy to become frustrated when playing an instrument, and everyone fumbles and occasionally makes mistakes. By working through trouble spots diligently, progress will be quickly made.  Practicing 10 minutes a day, five days a week, for two and a half months, clocks in 500 minutes worth of practice, which is almost eight and a half hours! Adding just a few more minutes to the day will make even more of a difference.

3 Ways to Use Music in the Classroom

3 Ways to Use Music in the Classroom
Music education plays an important role in schools. Music classes help students build focus and discipline, rhythm and coordination, and creative language and thinking skills. With all the benefits music offers, it shouldn’t just be relegated to the music classroom. Teachers in all grade-levels and subject areas can reap the benefits of bringing music into their own classrooms.

1. Music to Jog Memories

In the 70s, 80s, and 90s, elementary students learned how a bill became a law by listening to “I’m Just a Bill” and learned the purpose of words such as and, but, and or with “Conjunction Junction.” Schoolhouse Rock songs were a staple in classrooms and helped kids learn a lot of fun new concepts.

Today, lots of musicians have branched out into the world of educational song writing. Even popular groups such as They Might Be Giants and Barenaked Ladies have albums written designed to help kids learn. Other popular educational music collections include:

A YouTube search will likely produce even more educational songs from amateur artists. For example, you may find a song to help you teach digraphs or short vowel sounds.

If you can’t find a song that fits your topic, make one up on your own set to the tune of a popular children’s song.

In the classroom, you can use educational songs to spice up the content and give students a way to remember important concepts. If you can’t find a song that fits your topic, make one up set to the tune of a popular children’s song. For example, this song uses the tune of “The Farmer in the Dell” to teach students about long vowel sounds. Singing about the planets to the tune of “The Wheels on the Bus” or rapping the parts of speech may not win you a Grammy, but it will likely help your students tell the difference between a noun and a verb or remember the order of the planets.

2. Music as an Example

From language arts to social studies, music can be used to help spark discussion, provide illustrations, and enhance your discussion of a topic. For example, if you’re studying the Civil Rights Movement, bring in some protest songs. Often songs from a particular era or related to a particular topic can provide more specific examples and convey deep emotions. They’re also a great way to open a lesson and hook students from the very start.

3 Ways to Use Music in the Classroom
Even popular music can serve as an example in the classroom. In the language arts classroom, you can pull songs with lyrics to represent different types of figurative language. You can also find songs that relate to particular themes. In math and science, you can also pull out lines from songs that have to do with particular concepts students are learning. You might be surprised where you’ll find a reference to isosceles triangles or the periodic table. Steven Galbraith, a member of the Mathematics Department at the University of Auckland, has even put together The List of Unintentionally Mathematical Songs to help you start finding songs to use in your classroom and Scientific American and NewScientist have highlighted a few pop songs inspired by science.

Encourage your students to bring music into the classroom too. They’re likely to notice a lot of references to what you’re learning in the songs they like to listen to. For example, rap songs are chock full of allusions and clever one liners, pop music is full of metaphors and similes, and country music offers a lot of imagery. While a song may have nothing to do with what you’re learning, one or two lines may fit perfectly in a lesson. Just be sure to preview a song before playing it in class as some music your students enjoy may not be entirely school appropriate.

3. Music for Energy and Relaxation

If you want to keep students’ minds sharp for a particularly important lesson, put on an upbeat tune and have them get out of their seats and dance before getting to work.

Beyond helping students learn specific information, you can use music to help improve the learning environment. Both upbeat and softer music play a role in stimulating students and improving their focus. If you want to keep students’ minds sharp for a particularly important lesson, put on an upbeat tune and have them get out of their seats and dance before getting to work. This will help wake them up and increase their attention before getting down to business. An upbeat song also works well as a way to transition between two topics or to re-energize students after they have been sitting for a long time. You can even play upbeat songs as students enter the classroom to get them excited about learning or play farewell songs at the end of class as a creative way to end the day and signal to students that it’s okay to start packing up.

When you want students to feel calm and relaxed, try playing softer music. Classical music has been shown to be as effective as Valium for heart patients and has been attributed with lowering crime rates in dangerous neighborhoods. With these examples, imagine how much it could improve classroom management and focus in your classroom. Play classical music during tests to help reduce the amount of anxiety in the room or during seatwork time to remind students to be calm and focused. While students may push to listen to more popular music during these times, the softness and steady rhythms provided by classical pieces are more ideal and less distracting to students.

Do you have any favorite songs you like to play for students? If so, we’d love to hear about them.

8 Great Apps for Musicians of All Ages

Great Apps for Musicians of All Ages
Not too long ago a music “app” could have been a windup metronome and a tape recorder (remember those?). Those days are gone, and apps have the capabilities to allow musicians to record music, tune their instrument, keep a beat, learn notes, learn an instrument, and more.  While there are hundreds upon hundreds of apps to choose from, the following apps are helpful, educational, and fun for musicians. The summaries are for iTunes apps with a comparable Android user app to follow.


What musician doesn’t need a metronome at some point? MetroTimer is a fantastic app that allows the user to program the beats per minute. It also has a tapping function where the user can tap the beat desired on the device and MetroTimer picks it up almost instantly.  It comes with multiple practice timers ranging from 1 to 30 minutes worth of practice time to the beat chosen. The beat can be both seen and heard, and there are 8 metronome sounds.

For an one time upgrade fee of $2.99, MetroTimer Pro comes with additional features such as the ability to customize time signatures, adding accents, and a beat editor. It’s a very handy app, especially when combined with a tuner.

Android users: Digital Metronome

Tuner Lite

The free Tuner Lite app is available for iPhone and iPad. This chromatic tuner and pitchpipe can be used with any instrument anywhere. The tuner plays and holds any note picked until it is turned off.  While it is calibrated to A 440, the musician can any note they want to tune by using the half step up or down options until they get to the note desired.  The paid version at $2.99 adds in capabilities to adjust temperaments, language, calibration, solfege, and more.

Android Users: DaTuner (Lite)



The GarageBand app allows the user to create and record their own music using a variety of instruments including smart guitar, keyboard, organ, synthesizer, drums, and an audio recorder. There is also an option of  sampler smart strings, bass, drums, and keyboards that costs$4.99. Guitarists can actually plug in their guitars and play through amps.

When picking an instrument, the user is taken to a screen that allows them to record music. There are many settings to adjust volume, the sand of the instrument, and there is an option to combine recordings. Songs can even be uploaded to iCloud if desired. This is a fun app for putting together different sounds with the option of playing them on the PC.

Android Users: Learn GarageBand

Ratatap Drums Free

This fun app has rated 4.5 stars from over 7,700 reviewers. This is a simple app featuring a drum set with cymbals, bass, snare, tri-toms, cowbell, and suspended cymbals. This app is very basic (and has ads that never disappear at the top), and there is no option to record, it’s just for tapping out beats. If  musicians need a little more than just a beat maker, Ratatap Drums provides the ability to create your own sets with many more features for $1.99 and no ads.

Android Users: Real Drum

Virtuoso Piano Free 2 HD

Virtuoso piano comes with two sounds, Grand Piano, and Broken Pub Piano – which is slightly out of tune and brash sounding instrument. The piano ranges from C1 to C8 (C1 being the first C on the piano, while C8, is the 8th C on the piano). Sliding your finger left to right produces the rolling sound, and the user can play up to 5 fingers at a time. A simple press of an arrow key allows musicians to scroll to the next octave.  It begins with 8 keys, but you can adjust the keyboard to add at least 7 more (making it extremely hard to play if you have anything more than baby sized fingers.)

There is the option of labels on the keys, background glow, which note to start from, sustain, and volume. It does not record, unfortunately, but it can be a fun learning experience for younger students, along with something to pass the time for older ones. It can also help with ear training.

For Android Users : Piano Teacher

Piano ∞

Piano Infinity is for the more involved musician. It comes with a tutorial and options to Play, Create, Learn, and Jam. The keys are touch sensitive and can all be played at the same time – if you like that sort of sound!   The keyboard shows all 88 keys in a narrow row at the top of the app with a shaded area, showing the user what keys are being played at the time.  A click of an arrow moves the keys up or down.

There are many options such as: key labels, highlighting, double row, finger slide, and key width. In “Learn” mode there is the option of lit keys and tempo adjustment depending on skill level. Volume, metronome, and reverb options are also available. Piano sound options are: grand, pub, organ, electronic, and harpsichord.

There are a few songs available to help learn to play piano, with or without piano accompaniment, and there are the options of using both hands, right, or left. The keyboard is displayed and each note is highlighted ahead of time to stay in tempo.

Creating songs are easy, but the drawback to this is paying $4.99 for a download to save them. To Jam, there are song options and a bit of a different type of background. White and black circles drop down and pulsate when it’s their turn to be played. It can be a bit of a challenge. Over all, for being (mostly) free, this is a great app.

Android Users: Piano Instructor


While this app isn’t a learning tool, AutoRap is fun to try. There is one free background beat (with opportunities to gain free plays by watching or downloading ads/games/commercials) but 100’s to choose with a fee. A page appears with a large red button encouraging the user to “Say Anything”. When the user is done, the app mixes the voice – now mostly autotuned –  in with the rap beats, creating an original rap. Young children will get a kick out of hearing their voice being mixed to a rap beat.

Android Users: AutoRap

Pocket Shaker

The Pocket Shaker is great for teachers and percussionists. It features 26 different auxiliary percussion instruments. The name of of the instrument is matched with a picture. Tapping on the picture produces a beat and sound of the instrument. It is very simple, but effective if teaching a younger group. Pair this with a friend using Ratatap drums, and a percussion concert is born.

Android Users: Shake Instruments

There are so many apps centered around music it would be impossible to list them all. If an Android or Apple user can think of something, it’s most likely available for download. The capability of learning, hearing, creating, tapping, playing, and performing music via apps literally right at your fingertips.


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