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    5 Tips to Singing the National Anthem

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    Two hundred years ago today, Francis Scott Key witnessed British soldiers firing on Fort McHenry as they tried to gain entry into Baltimore during the War of 1812.  American soldiers, however, remained fearless and defeated the British. To celebrate their victory they hoisted the U.S. flag and seeing those stripes and stars inspired Key to write “The Star-Spangled Banner.”

    Since then, the song has been immediately cherished by the country, proudly sung during the Civil War and as act of patriotism in the days after September 11.

    As much as the song is beloved by millions, the national anthem poses some problems for singers. It is one of the most challenging songs for a singer due to its high notes, lyrics that use antiquated words and wide-ranging melody. In fact it’s common for a singer to feel honored and utterly frightened upon being asked to perform the song publicly.

    In honor of the 200th anniversary, we are offering some tips on how to successfully sing the national anthem.

    1. Learn what the song is about and what the words mean, says the National Association for Music Education. The song was written 200 years ago when people spoke differently and it’s easy to butcher the lyrics if you don’t know the definition of “o’er” or the meaning of  “rampart.”

    2. Now that you know what the song is about, sing with meaning. In so many ways, singing is like acting. You cannot just recite the words, they have to be sung with emotion.

    3. Start the song slightly lower than your normal range to avoid singing out of your range when the song’s high notes approach, advises singer John Legend.

    4. This is a song to honor your country, not to show off your vocal talents. Unless you have the vocal range of Whitney Houston (see video above) most singers are criticized for excessive embellishments and flourishes. Just keep it simple.

    5. Remember that other people like singing the song too. If you have ever attended a sports game you’ve seen a lot of people singing along, proudly taking off their hats and placing their hands over their hearts. If you improvise too much the crowd won’t be able to follow along with you causing them to lose interest or be unhappy with your performance.

    The Music Junction offers piano and voice lessons at our Burbank and Hollywood locations. Call us today to learn more.

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    Memories and Music

    Chances are if you play a contemporary pop song in front of someone from a different generation, he would complain about the state of music today. Yet, don’t blame the music companies and don’t judge the artists.

    In fact, you can tell him his low opinion about today’s tunes is all in his head and you’d be right.

    Research continues to show the influence music has on neurological activity and the powerful connection between music and memories. It turns out we like music from another time because it brings back memories of our life.

    “Familiar music is also a much more reliable way for people to induce good moods in themselves — in fact, the emotional centers of the brain are more active when one listens to familiar music,” states a Music.Mic article.

    Researchers have noted that when they played songs familiar to the test subjects they saw more activity in the area of the brain related to autobiographical memories.

    “What seems to happen is that a piece of familiar music serves as a soundtrack for a mental movie that starts playing in our head,” Petr Janat was quoted in a Psychology Today story. “It calls back memories of a particular person or place, and you might all of a sudden see that person’s face in your mind’s eye.”

    While we might not be fan’s of Madonna’s “Crazy For You” someone who danced to the tune with their high school sweetheart might disagree. While a John Phillip Sousa march might seem rigid and old-fashioned to some it might bring a smile to the face of someone who was in her high school marching band.

    The next time you play in front of your loved ones or in a recital, remember the power of music. You may not know it but your music could help create someone’s special memory.

    The Music Junction offers piano and voice lessons at our Burbank and Hollywood locations. Call us today to learn more.

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    Stars Wars Without Music

    It is hard to imagine Star Wars movies without John Williams’ iconic music full of blazing trumpets and crashing cymbals.

    Well, it’s not so hard now.

    Thanks to some work by The Auralnauts, a group that refers to itself as audio sorcerers who love to edit Star Wars movies, we have a better understanding of Williams’ role in this much-loved film. The group removed the music from the final scene of “Star Wars Episode IV:  A New Hope” in which Princess Leia awards medals to Luke Skywalker and Han Solo.

    In the altered scene the movie is slow. Painfully slow.  No one talks. Instead we are left with Chewbacca’s roars and R2-D2’s shaking as well as half-smirks and knowing glances from the humans.

    After watching this clip, it’s clear that Williams’ music brings a sense of grandness and injects the feeling of importance that the movie needs. Without it the film feels, well, silly. Although sometimes we take it for granted, this is a great example on the power of music. It has the power to communicate and entertain without uttering words.

    To get another sense of the power of Williams’ music, see the movie’s original 1977 trailer that did not include his music.

    For now, all we can do is wonder what type of music will be heard for the newest installment of “Star Wars Episode VII.” Once again, John Williams has been asked to compose!

     The Music Junction offers piano and voice lessons at our Burbank and Hollywood locations. Call us today to learn more.

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    Cows Like Pop Music Too

    Oftentimes we’ve wondered if the enjoyment of music is unique to humans.

    We’ve heard rumors that termites like rock music and scientific research suggests that dogs living in shelters are calmer when listening to classical music but start to develop a nervous shake when heavy metal music is playing. There was also a study that showed dairy cows increased their milk production if they listened to country music.

    Well, maybe not all cows like country music.

    Farmer Derek Klingenberg has discovered his herd likes pop music and released a video to prove it.  In the video, which has gone viral, Klingenberg plays a trombone to Lorde’s “Royals” as a way to herd his cows. In the beginning, Klingenberg serenades an empty hillside.  As he countinues playing his trombone more and more cows descend the hill. This video is definitely worth a watch!

    We did some digging and discovered that Klingenberg’s cows do not have an innate love of teenage superstars. In fact, Klingenberg regularly plays Lorde’s tune before he feeds them and their eagerness to tread down the hill is likely due to the anticipation of their next meal. Still, we like to think that, in some way, the cows are enjoing the music. We wonder what song he’ll play next for the cattle.

    The Music Junction offers piano and voice lessons at our Burbank and Hollywood locations. Call us today to learn more.

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    Playing in a Virtual Band

    What if you played in a band but never once shook the hand of your drummer or only saw the pixelated version of your lead singer’s face? What if the only thing that kept your band together was the power of technology?

    We were intrigued by the notion of a virtual band after we read a proposal by musicians Harley Cross and Lauren Turk of The New History. They’re vying for a $100,000 prize from the Goldhirsh Foundation’s LA2050 campaign and proposed a tech-centered way of educating kids about music. With their Play With Music Platform, school children would receive music education as well as basic training in audio engineering and sound design and apply their new skills by playing in a virtual band.

    “Imagine kids in South LA creating ‘virtual bands’ with kids from Beverly Hills, interacting together to build something they love, with musicians they mutually admire,” the proposal states.

    We’re passionate about exposing children to the power and beauty of music and glad there are people like Cross and Turk to lead the way.

    We were also intrigued about the viability of a virtual band. We know this isn’t a new idea. Rappers Snoop Dogg and Dr. Dre performed songs with deceased rapper Tupac at Coachella a few years ago and that is certainly a type of virtual musical performance. Also, several bands rehearse in different locations thanks to providers like JamLink. However, has any band existed solely in cyberspace? Would you want to be in a virtual band? Recently, we wrote a blog post about how human-generated music is preferred over machine-powered beats because of mistakes in reading the music.  Indeed, it’s the minor mistakes that make music captivating. We think this will continue to be an issue as technology advances and we’re excited to see how it evolves!

    Learn more about the LA2050 campaign and, while you’re there, vote for your favorite proposal.

    The Music Junction offers piano and voice lessons at our Burbank and Hollywood locations. Call us  to learn more.

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    Singing Her Heart Out In Kansas And Everybody Is Listening

    This week we were captivated by a viral video of a young woman doing a beautiful rendition of Michael Jackson’s “The Way You Make Me Feel.” She wowed us with her vocals and we were also in awe that she was able to provide the song’s instrumentation with her own voice through a looper station. It’s an impressive performance and certainly worth a listen.

    Her talent has been recognized by the Huffington Post, Slate and Esquire, among many other outlets. At this point, the only living creatures unimpressed with her talent are her small dogs who adorably sleep on her bed as she belts out Jackson’s classic hit.

    We did some more research and discovered that she goes by one name — Kawehi — and that she has become internationally known all while living in Kansas. She sings covers from Nirvana, Nine Inch Nails and Radiohead as well as her own original music. She has successfully launched several Kickstarter campaigns to support her music and her latest EP, Robot Heart. Her latest endeavor features song lyrics that are from the perspective of a robot.

    What’s not to love about Kawehi!

    The Music Junction offers piano and voice lessons at our Burbank and Hollywood locations. Call today to learn more.

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    Piano Buying Guide

    Sometimes the hardest part about taking piano lessons is just beginning the process.  First, you have to find an instructor who is a perfect fit for you or your child, then you have to find an instrument to practice on. Given that a new, moderately priced acoustic piano can cost approximately $3,500, it can be quite an investment.

    Buying a new piano, however, is not your only choice. We’ve outlined some other good options for you.

     

    Used Acoustic Pianos: Search Craigslist and estate sales ads, and you’ll find lots of used pianos at decent prices. Given the thousands of parts that go into making a piano it’s difficult for novices to know if they’re getting a good deal or if they just bought a piano that’s beyond repair. If you see a used piano you’re interested in purchasing, have someone inspect it for you; either a friend who is a musician or piano technician.  To get a sense of all the different parts you need to examine to ensure a functioning piano, read this buyer’s guide.

    Another good option is to buy a used piano from a dealer. Often those pianos have been repaired, tuned and come with a dealer’s warranty.

     

    Rental: Renting acoustic pianos gives you access to some of the best piano manufacturers in the world without paying the total cost up front. Steinway Piano Gallery in nearby Pasadena and West Hollywood offers a rental program that charges approximately $45 a month for an upright piano, according to its website. Many other piano galleries also offer rentals.

     

    Digital Pianos: Playing on digital pianos isn’t the same experience as practicing on an acoustic piano but it can be a great alternative for those limited in space and budget. We recommend pianos with weighted keys so it feels similar the keys on the pianos you or your children will use at The Music Junction. We also recommend buying models with 88 keys.

    These are some basic guidelines. We would be happy to offer more in-depth advice to get you started on music lessons at The Music Junction.

    The Music Junction offers piano and voice lessons from our Burbank and Hollywood locations. Call us today to learn more.

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    Study Music … Become a Doctor

    Next time you want to break the ice with your doctor, mention Mozart instead of the weather.

    An often-cited study indicates that 66 percent of music majors who applied to medical school were accepted, compared to only 44 percent of biochemistry majors.

    We’re not totally surprised by this news. A few years ago, a member of The Music Junction attended a cyber security conference —  yes, we have varied interests at The Music Junction — and learned something interesting during a panel discussion.  A graduate student in attendance wondered aloud if her undergraduate music degree would set her back as she attempted to switch careers. A representative from the National Security Agency assured she had nothing to worry about. Many people in the NSA also have music degrees.

    Indeed, musicians are everywhere!

    It’s hard to pinpoint why music majors are so appealing to medical schools. We know that practicing music stimulates neural activity and enhances spatial-temporal skills that makes problem solving easier. Or could the reason be that musicians are generally better test-takers and simply scored higher on the MCAT, the required test to gain admittance into medical school? Or is being a musician an indication of a good work ethic, which is appealing to medical schools? What do you think?

    The Music Junction offers piano and voice lesson at our Burbank and Hollywood studios. Call us today to learn more.

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    Music As A Cultural Shorthand


    Everyone at The Music Junction firmly believe in the power of music; its ability to arouse emotions and to communicate without words.

    We think of these as mainly positive attributes but we recently listened to NPR’s Code Switch report and were intrigued by another — albeit disappointing — tool of music.

    The NPR piece focuses on a nine-note pattern whose first four notes repeat and uses the pentatonic scale. It has become a way to represent Asian culture to viewers and listeners.

    You know the pattern. It appears in the 70’s song “Kung Fu Fighting” and in the Disney cartoon the “Aristocats” among many other songs, movies and television shows. Click on the story above to hear it.

    NPR tries to find the origins of this tune we were astonished to learn that these notes can be traced centuries ago to the 1800s.

    “In the 1800s, men from China were coming to the U.S. to work in gold mines and on railroads,” NPR reports. “By 1880, there were 300,000 Chinese in the States — and there was a lot of anti-Chinese sentiment. In 1882, the U.S. banned Chinese immigration with the Chinese Exclusion Act. It took until 1968 for such restrictions to be lifted.

    “Think about it: Most people back then had limited interactions with people from China and other Asian countries. So playwrights and writers had to come up with a shorthand way of saying, ‘This is Chinese; this is Asian.’”

    It’s something to keep in mind when you’re playing music or fiddling around on the piano composing your own tunes. Music is a powerful tool and we should always strive to send positive messages.

    The Music Junction offers piano and voice lessons at our Burbank and Hollywood locations. Call us today to learn more.

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    To Walk Or Not To Walk

    We experienced a bit of guilty pleasure reading a recent New York Times article on audience members who walk out of performances.

    On the one hand, The Music Junction educators are trained professionals who have performed in front of live audiences. We also host recitals so our students can apply the concepts learned from their music lessons. We would be hurt if anyone tried to walk out of our performances.

    And yet, we’ve all wanted to do it at some point!

    “Wherever films are shown, plays are presented, operas are mounted and rock stars strut the stage, there are unhappy spectators squirming in their seats and working up the courage to bolt,” the New York Times article states.

    The New York Times polled its readers on social media and found the issues/problems that prompt a walk out.  We were not surprised to read that extreme violence was a common issue for movies and irritable, off-pitch performers were factors in musical performances.

    Generally, the etiquette is to remain seated during live performances and wait to sneak out during intermission. Sometimes, however, the thought of staying in your seat one moment longer is too much to bear.

    At least it was for Geoffrey Glick who told the New York Times what happened to him when he saw a production of “Macbeth”:

    “I stopped watching the actors and began looking at the audience. A significant portion were glancing at their watches or looking uncomfortable. As soon as I got up, another four or five did, too, and by the time I reached the lobby, there were about 20 or 30 people behind me.”

    We have to believe that’s one walk out that everyone noticed.

    The Music Junction offers piano and voice lessons from our Burbank and Hollywood locations. Call us today to learn more.

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