By Amanda Mears, MusicWorx Intern
Have you ever seen a musician perform and think, “I wish I could do that, but I’m not that talented!” Or, music therapists, have you heard people tell you that they’d love to play an instrument or sing, but they don’t think that they can? I have heard this so many times, and I’m here to tell you that anybody can be a musician! As humans, we are musical beings. We have rhythm in our bodies through our heartbeat, our walking gait, and our breath; we listen and use different pitches through talking and listening to others.
Not only are we musical beings, but our bodies and minds benefit from playing music. Learning a musical instrument can help us build confidence, ease stress, and improve our memories. Especially now, these are needed benefits for us as we’re going through this pandemic. What better time to start learning some new skills than right now? Below I will give resources and some basics to get your musical journey started.
When people say they can’t sing, it’s usually because they either don’t know how to get enough breath support, or because they don’t think they sound good. One of the most important things about singing is having enough air to use. A good exercise to do is to take deep breaths with your hand on your belly. When you feel your belly expanding, that is a sign that you are taking deep enough breaths to have real support behind your singing.
Other useful vocal warmups and exercises can be found on YouTube. Simply searching “vocal warmup” will pull up plenty of videos to choose from. Here is an example of a ten minute vocal warmup:
Once you’ve done vocal warmups, it’s ready to sing! You don’t even have to worry about having accompaniment; just search the song you want to sing on YouTube with “karaoke,” and it’s likely that there will be a backing track available. Turn it up, remember to have good posture and breath support, and sing with the track!
If you have a keyboard or a piano in your home that is never played, now is a great time to take it out! They piano can be an intimidating instrument, but the first thing to know is that there are only twelve keys on the entire keyboard. When looking on the chart below, notice that at the beginning there’s C, then eleven notes going up to B. After B, the notes start over again with another C. These groups of notes are called octaves; an octave is basically the same note but higher or lower. Singing the first two notes of “Somewhere Over The Rainbow” is a good example of the same note an octave apart.
For someone starting out, I would recommend first playing around with the notes and how they sound. As you move to the right of the piano, they go higher, and as you move to the left, they go lower. Once you’ve done this, move on to playing two and three notes at a time. Three notes played at a time is a chord. From here, you can put different chords together to start playing a song. The chart below shows four chords that are all on white keys. Practice playing these chords separately, then you can put them together for a song!
For those who need more verbal instruction, here is a YouTube video that is helpful:
Have you always wanted to play that guitar in your closet, but didn’t know where to start? Take it out, and we’ll go over some basics to get you playing.
The first thing about guitars that can be daunting is tuning. You’ll notice that the guitar has six strings that go from thick to thin. Below is a picture of these strings and the tuning.
Starting out, you don’t need to know how to tune it by ear. Technology can help! There are plenty of online tuners available. Here is a website with a good tuner, and below is a good how-to video on tuning:
Now that your guitar is tuned, let’s play! I would recommend the same approach to guitar as I recommended with piano. Play around with it; play different strings, and put your fingers on the frets while playing the strings to play different notes. When you’re comfortable with that, try some chords. Below is a chart of three guitar chords that can be used to play a lot of songs.
Depending on what kind of learner you are, you can either match these to the above picture of the guitar strings, or you can look up YouTube videos to see someone actually playing these chords. Practice playing these chords, and you’ll be playing songs in no time!
If you don’t feel quite ready to tackle all six strings on the guitar, a fantastic instrument to start on is ukulele. Ukuleles only have four strings, and learning to play can give you a solid base to then pick up guitar in the future. I recommend finding a soprano ukulele to start out on. You can find affordable soprano ukuleles on Guitar Center’s website, or you can look at your local music shop.
When starting out on ukulele, I would recommend what I said above about starting out on guitar. Play around with each string and move up and down the frets to change the notes. When you’re ready to play multiple strings, start trying some chords! Below is a picture of four basic chords you can learn. As stated above about guitar tabs, these chord tabs directly correspond to your ukulele strings and fret. The C chord is played by placing your finger on the first string on the third fret, and leaving all of the other strings open, or not held down.
Again, YouTube is an extremely useful resource for learning instruments. If you type in “beginner ukulele,” hundreds of videos will come up for you to access. Here’s the link to one that shows you how to tune your ukulele, play three chords, and even start playing some songs.
Three Chord Songs
When playing songs, it’s a good idea to start by learning the chords behind them, then work your way up to singing while you play them. A great resource for learning songs is https://www.ultimate-guitar.com/. On this site, you can look at chord charts if you’re unsure of what to play, and the chords are placed over the lyrics so you know where they go.
A list of great beginner three chord songs is:
- Riptide by Vance Joy
- Three Little Birds by Bob Marley
- Love Me Do by The Beatles
- Wild Thing by The Troggs
- Sweet Home Alabama by Lynyrd Skynyrd
- Ring of Fire by Johnny Cash
- Brown Eyed Girl by Van Morrison
- Leaving on a Jet Plane by John Denver
- Bad Moon Rising by Creedence Clearwater Revival
- Twist and Shout by The Beatles
- La Bamba by Ritchie Valens
Other useful resources are music apps available for free in the app store:
Lastly, one of the best resources is friends and family. Reach out to someone you know who is a musician and ask to jam with them. Playing with another person can be motivating and can help you learn faster.
Have fun with your new hobby, and remember the benefits of playing music. This can be a new tool for you to use when you need to relax and let go of any stress you’re feeling.