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The Story of Neo Soul

Posted by divajune under Music

It’s often hard to keep track of the names we give emerging musical genres. Sometimes, however, a style is so distinct it deserves a second listen, and gathers a big enough following to carve its own place in an already crowded market. That seems to have been the case with neo soul: a genre that combines elements of R&B, 70’s-era soul, and hip hop. The resulting sound is mellow yet catchy, both a modern beat and a throwback to classical, genre-defining music.

Although it’s actually been around for a few decades, neo soul has ridden a renewed popularity in its parent genres, as well as a general thirst for meaningful music. One of its key characteristics is more profound, sometimes poetic lyrics compared to modern R&B. It’s also known for having a more soulful, personal sound than most contemporary creations.

Tony! Toni! Toné!, the band made famous by musician Raphael Saadiq, is credited with putting neo soul on the map in the mid-1990s. However, the likes of Erykah Badu and D’Angelo are likely the ones that helped give it its current status. Indeed, Badu’s style has become an unofficial blueprint for the sound of neo soul. Lauryn Hill, Alicia Keys, and similar acts all show traces of Badu’s influence, albeit with a distinctly American twist.

One of the reasons it took so long to take hold in the U.S. is that neo soul has a far smaller commercial interest. The first—and most “authentic”—neo soul artists are more about expression and creativity than making it big. Therefore, they never really sought out the record companies and remained largely unheard even as their followers brought the music to the big cities. That’s all starting to change, however: as music fans start to value individualism and seek out more unique sounds, many are picking up neo soul, and big-name artists have started adapting their styles accordingly.

As is often the case in the music industry, there are those who aren’t as ready to embrace the new genre. A few artists have actively, and sometimes publicly, dissociated themselves from the movement, as the term neo soul been used by record labels to attract a growing niche of fans. Many prefer to refer to their music as soul. But labels will always stick—and for most fans of the genre, the label doesn’t matter as long as they’ve got a good connection with the music.


Is Learning To Read Music Worth It?

Posted by divajune under Lessons

If you’ve ever had to take a music class at school, you know how tedious it can be: reading notes, memorizing symbols, and learning to associate what you see with what you hear or produce. People who don’t have the skill don’t usually see the point in learning to read music; after all, some of the most famous musicians of our time have never done it. So why should you learn it yourself?

There are some pretty strong arguments for music reading, especially when you’re learning to play an instrument. For one thing, if you’re a beginner, reading music can help you become more familiar with your instrument and get a better feel of what movements create what sounds. While the effect is most easily seen in piano playing, it applies to any instrument and even voice training. When you know how to play things by ear and read notes, you’re not dependent on anything but yourself, and that can give you a boost of confidence when you’re performing.

Reading music also allows you to play a wider range of songs, sometimes even after hearing them once or twice. Sheet music for a wide range of pieces, from classics to pop and everything in between, are readily available on the Internet. If you know your whole notes, quarter notes and half notes, you can learn these songs in minutes, whereas other learners will need several days to master it. You don’t even have to take lessons for the basics; there are lots of books and websites where you can learn the symbols and practice reading simple pieces. And the more songs you can play, the more variety you can incorporate in your practice and the faster you will improve.

Start by choosing the right sheet music. A Rachmaninoff masterpiece may not be your first choice, but simple ones—even nursery rhymes, if you’re a complete beginner—can be just as rewarding when you find that you’re able to play it right off the paper. Eventually this will become second nature, and you’ll be paying harder and harder pieces before you know it.

Playing by ear is still important, but good musicians are always willing to explore techniques. Even if you reach a certain level without having to read music, knowing that you can when you need to may be just what you need to take more risks and bring your craft to the next level.


Tips for Guitar Beginners

Posted by divajune under Lessons

Learning a new skill is always intimidating, but the guitar remains the favourite among new and amateur musicians. Part of the reason is instant gratification: when you make your first few strums, you know that those few awkward notes have the potential to become beautiful music. But learning music has its challenges, and it’s important to prepare for them if you want the most out of your learning experience.

Here’s one tip you probably wouldn’t expect: start with what’s difficult. This doesn’t mean attempting a rock-star riff on day one, but never settling into a comfortable level. Determine your skill level right away and always try exercises that are just beyond that point. Once it’s gotten easy for you, move up one more level. It’s tempting to stick to the easy pieces and play them well, but it’s only by failing at harder tasks that you master any craft.

If you still have to buy your instrument, don’t go for the best just yet. Good equipment is important, but when you’re a beginner there is such a thing as too good. There’s the practical point that you won’t be wasting money if you lose interest later on. But more importantly, all the bells and whistles of a fancy guitar can cloud the basics you’re trying to learn. Modern guitars often have correction abilities that hide your flaws, and this can interfere with your improvement.

Another trick is to tune your guitar on your own, using a tuning fork instead of an electronic tuner. This helps you become more sensitive to sound and frequency, an important quality for any serious musician. Also, at some point during your training you may find yourself working with other musicians, and being able to tune your instrument with everyone else’s can be crucial. You can rely on an electronic tuner for occasional needs, but try not to get too dependent on it.

Next, don’t stick to just one style. Everyone goes into a guitar lesson with a general idea of who or what they want to play like, but it’s important to experiment because each style focuses on one skill. For example, rock music places lots of emphasis on power chords, while minor and major chords are best addressed in country and folk music. Although you probably won’t be using them all equally, practicing them will make you a more well-rounded musician and give you an edge in terms of creativity.


Changing Guitar Strings for Beginners

Posted by divajune under Instruments

Many first-time guitar owners have their strings changed—and get all other maintenance work done—by a professional or at a local shop. As you become more experienced, however, it’s often useful to learn how to do it yourself. For one thing, it’ll save you a lot of time and money. For another, you want to be able to feel your way around it and know when it’s time for a new set of strings.

You can change your strings using just a pair of pliers. Some people use a tuning fork or tuning winder, which you may find useful if you’re new to the craft but aren’t really imperative. Always start by removing the top three strings—the bass strings—so that some tension is left on the guitar to help you finish the job. Use the pliers to loosen and then pull out the pegs holding the string to the surface.

Once the strings are off, clean the area underneath using a good-quality guitar polish. Use a soft, smooth cloth to avoid scratching the surface. Make sure to clean not just the fret board and the wood under the strings, but also the head, neck, and the space next to the bridge. Many people just do a quick swipe over these areas, but they actually tend to collect a lot of dust and they can be hard to clean if there’s too much buildup.

When installing the new strings, start with the bass strings again and then move down. Starting with the E, place the string with the nut end in the peg hole, then follow up with the A and the D. Then replace the peg and push it down to hold the string in place. Next, thread the other end of the string through the peg tuner or machine head, keeping it just loose enough to wrap twice or thrice around the tuner. Place a finger on the part being tuned to keep it flat until the string has tightened enough. You may want to use a hand-held winder to speed things up at this step.

Finally, wind up the string, starting over the threaded end to keep it in place. Make sure you’ve strung inside the peg tuners. Do the same with the next three strings, starting with the G and followed by the B and the E. Pluck the strings individually to make sure they’re properly tuned, using your other tools if necessary, and your guitar is good as new!


When Should You Change Your Guitar Strings?

Posted by divajune under Instruments

Not everyone likes changing guitar strings, but it’s well worth doing—and doing regularly—if you want consistently good performance. Strings on both acoustic and electric guitars go through regular wear and tear, although some wear off faster than others depending on how much they’re used. The problem most musicians have is knowing when it’s time to change strings; often, the change in sound quality and playability is so gradual that you don’t hear it yourself.

First, what makes guitar strings lose quality? Much of the damage comes from your own hands. When you play, you transfer dirt, oil, and sweat from your hands onto the strings, whether or not you use a pick. Strings will then start sounding dull or out of tune. At first, you may notice that you need more force to get the right sound or volume out of them. Most players will take this to mean the guitar needs tuning, but you know it’s time to change the strings when you need to retune more often than usual.

Another factor in string wear-out is humidity. This is especially true with metal strings, which corrode when exposed to wet or humid conditions for too long. Avoid playing with sweaty hands, or wipe your hands on a clean towel before playing. Of course, this would be unavoidable during long performances. Your best bet in this case is to take breaks as often as you can, and try to play with lighter hands—heavy-handed playing can strengthen the damaging effects of humid air.

Most guitar strings, when played regularly, will last a few months before the quality gets drastically altered. If you’re not sensitive to changes in sound quality, try feeling for changes in texture. Dirty strings tend to feel more slippery than usual as oil builds up on the surface. You can also run a white rag or piece of paper over the strings; if it comes out a little discoloured, then there’s probably enough dirt to merit a new set of strings.

Sometimes you’ll even want to change the strings on a brand-new guitar. It’s safe to assume that an instrument gets tested by dozens of people every day—that’s dozens of dirty hands handling your guitar even before you start playing it. This tends to happen in large music shops. You can buy a new set of strings on the spot and have them put them in while you wait; at a decent shop you might even get this service for free.

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