No Excuses – It’s Time to Learn an Instrument!

Everyone wants to play an instrument right?  Well this is your chance. You’re stuck at home and that dusty old keyboard or guitar sitting in the corner is taunting you now isn’t it? It is silently berating you, saying that all those old excuses of being too busy are now gone. But stress not, we are here to help.

I don’t mind saying that being able to play an instrument is a pretty cool skill to have. I mean you’ll always be invited to the parties…if you bring your guitar.

Even before my life took a musical detour I loved live instruments. I was never encouraged to play anything as a kid because my schedule was so full of dance that there literally was no time for anything else! We had an innately happy and (so it seemed to my 8-year-old self) unbelievably old lady with the jolliest named who would come in and play the piano for dance class. Trixie was eccentric and charming and was always smiling away in another world with a hundred kind words and head pats to be dished out to us all before she left and she played the piano like a dream.

ballet
Ballet days!

As a kid I always wanted to play the piano. It’s accompaniment was the best partner in energising your tap dancing performance or softening your ballet recital. I loved the rich powerful sounds and the way it extracts emotions so twinkly and soft that one minute you could cry and the next it switches to booming, heavy and dark so that you’re half expecting Dracula to jump out of the curtains! Utterly brilliant!

Later, in my twenties I moved to Canada. Those were my hippy travelling years and it seemed that everywhere I went someone would pull out a guitar and we would all be singing along or just appreciating the musicianship. It was around then that I was totally convinced it was time I learned to play the guitar, after all, it fitted perfectly with my hippy travelling lifestyle.

canada
A picture of my very first guitar, long ago when it lived in Canada!

The Hippy Gods must have been listening as not long after I was gifted a beautiful acoustic guitar from a Canadian friend. It belonged to his dad in the 70’s and it was the perfect size for me. I threw myself in to lessons at the local music shop and was soon strumming away (stutteringly) any chance I could. My fingers were raw but I was learning the classics such as “House of the Rising Sun”, “Born to be Wild” and Pink Floyd’s “Wish You Were Here” just like a million others. Sadly, though, it was a short lived love affair. Even though I had no case for this newly stringed beauty I bubble-wrapped the crap out of it, boarded my flight and bundled it back home to Bonny Scotland where it sat at my mum’s (then my aunt’s) house for around 10 years. Next trip home though I am bringing that bad boy to Dubai!

Now getting back to you and your dusty old instrument. Don’t worry, we are here to help but ermm not personally!

I can’t count the amount of times I have had people ask me how I know how to sing, could I teach them or do I know a good singing coach. I know the same is true of each of my band mates too, but sadly none of us have ever been the teaching kind. Since most of us are self-taught it’s not something we ever feel comfortable doing. But, it is a skill you can keep adding to in an aid to honing your craft.

So that said, I thought that as no one is really going anywhere anytime soon, we might pass on our borrowed wisdom if you like and help you access some super cool tools to help you on your merry musical way. Who knows you may find yourselves rolling out the door after this quarantine with some pretty impressive musical chops added to your belt!

Gary –  Lead Guitar

“Guitar – I don’t ‘learn’ guitar anymore, but I commonly use Ultimate Guitar Tabs which has over 1,100,000 songs catalogued and it’s free! I use it when I need to learn a song for work or just for fun. There are always good tutorials on YouTube for songs if you can’t make out the chords by ear, but then again you need to be selective with that too because there are also a lot of very bad players just playing the wrong stuff, so check out a few to make sure they sound right. However learning an instrument is all about making mistakes and getting better, so my advice is just play and then play some more.”

Ultimate-Guitar-Chords-Tabs-PRO-Apk

https://www.ultimate-guitar.com

Will – Piano

“Well to be honest, I’ve only tapped into some of the features my Roli instruments can offer. The flagship keyboard ‘Seaboard Grand’ was actually used at SoundStruck Studios when we recorded our album ‘Home’. I featured it on our track “City of Mirrors”. It’s a cool instrument and probably like nothing you’ve seen before. You can see me play it here:

https://youtu.be/uhS8GLVnfFk

Because it’s not your conventional keyboard/ piano, it takes time and dedication for a pianist to adjust to the sensitive keys which allow me to gracefully slide from one note to the next. Imagine playing a piano like a guitar…sliding a finger along the neck, getting into a higher note range without releasing any finger pressure.

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Size comparison next to wee newborn Luke!

And then there’s one of my newest toys the ‘Roli Songmaker Kit’ which was developed to write music on the go with either an iPhone or iPad. I can tap in some sick beats with the pad, create funky or groovy bass lines and sprinkle it with a little solo or melody – all conveniently with the loop function. But that’s not the hard part…there’s still the technical, scientific, computer programming side that most performers don’t know how to use. I’m talking about the sound manipulation of patches, use of plugins and numerous synth programs to create my own unique sound for a song – it’s sometimes overwhelming and time consuming. So now’s the perfect time (of course when my son goes to bed) to sit in my studio/ dungeon and get inspired to use all of the tools I bought over the years!

https://roli.com/products/blocks/songmaker-kit

Guitar Hero

A quick side note, I’ve been playing rhythm guitar for the band for a few years now (self-taught) and have been at a stand still in terms of my playing level. With some new rock songs coming out in the near future, it’s time to step up my game! And speaking of game, I like using these devices to assist my self-learning:

  1. For the PlayStation, an educational video game called ‘RockSmith’ (you literally plug in a real guitar and play along with built-in lessons) https://store.playstation.com/en-us/product/UP0001-CUSA00692_00-RS2014REMASTERED
  2. A favorite of mine for years, ‘Guitar Hero’ (increased hand/ finger coordination – essentially learning to press a button with one and strum with the other) https://www.playstation.com/en-us/games/guitar-hero-live-ps4/
  3. A fun (yet exhausting) video game for PSVR, ‘Beat Saber’ lets you wield two ‘Lightsabers’ that you have to swipe and swish around to the beat of the song, attacking items that come into view. This increases a sense of timing and rhythm.” https://www.playstation.com/en-us/games/beat-saber-ps4/

Thanks for that Will!

beginner guitar hq

We also wanted to add that if you hop on over to ‘Beginner Guitar HQ’ they have published an updated, comprehensive guide on how to choose the best instrument whether it’s guitar or keyboard piano. If you’re not sure what to buy to start off with and are feeling overwhelmed at the choices then these guys can definitely help you out by sorting through all the lingo and the needs and wants when it comes to picking what will work best for you.

It is completely free and you can find it here:

https://beginnerguitarhq.com/best-keyboard-piano/

Jean – Bass Guitar

“I signed up to Scott Devine’s website awhile back and I found it to be really useful. There is so much you can learn about playing the bass on that website. It’s really worth checking out if you want to work on technique, styles of playing, etc. I will sign up again while we are sitting here in self isolation too. Along with that, I will probably do what a lot of others do, that is, search YouTube for bass players to check out, learn from, or just be in awe of.”

jazz-bass-vs-precision-bass

scottsbasslessons.com

Gill – Drums

“I have spoken about Drumeo in previous blogs, but am still a huge fan and would recommend it to anyone learning how to play the drums as well as anyone looking to improve their skills at any level. Check it out!

www.drumeo.com

gills drums

It’s tough when we are stuck at home, a lot of people live in apartments where noise levels are a limiting factor. Some of us drummers are lucky enough to have electronic kits at home, but even if you don’t have a kit there are tonnes of exercises you can do on a practice pad or even a bunch of cushions and cardboard boxes. Get creative people!

Louise – Vocals

As for me I will be using my Master Class lessons that Gill and Will bought me for Christmas a few years ago. They do some great online classes with various artists in all sorts of genres. I have the Christina Aguilera singing course and the course from Usher on performing (thanks to my band mates) and now I have the time I can carry on with them.

christina new

https://www.masterclass.com

Alongside those classes I love the singing coaching sessions from Eric Arceneaux. He has clear concise and relatable warm-ups and exercises on his YouTube channel and I find myself using his warm-ups a lot. He’s also pretty nice to watch ladies! But seriously, check him out for some great content.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q5hS7eukUbQ

Another App that is good for singing beginners or any instrumentation actually is Yousician.

yousician 2

My settings are obviously on Vocals, but you can also change that setting at any time and do piano, guitar, ukulele or any other instrument you choose. I have the App on my phone and it has various exercises to practice pitch and sustaining notes, for learning songs and honing your skills, whether you are a beginner or a professional.

We hope that this blog has inspired you to pick up an instrument while you are home every day keeping safe. By the end of this you could be an accomplished musician, who knows?

Stay safe and stay home everyone!

Louise

The Boxtones

 

 

 

 

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