Swing into Summer with Brass, Percussion or Strings

Annie Qiao and Jenny Won

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Half a dozen lights beam brilliantly to the stage, illuminating the smooth lines and curves carved into wood and the polished majesty of brass. For musicians, practices, rehearsals and performances may seem like another part of a packed schedule, and picking up a new instrument can appear overwhelming. Here’s our guide to learning a new instrument over the summer, from first encounter to maintaining your skill level over the school year.

Purchase, rent or borrow an instrument. Local music stores like Tim’s Music offer many instruments to try out and rent. The two biggest obstacles in becoming a musician at the start are fear and procrastination. Instead of shying away from the first few dissonant notes, take pride in your own inexperience.

“Just jump right in. Find that instrument and get your hands on it. Whether you rent it, you buy it, you borrow it from a friend, just do it,” music teacher Desmond Stevens said. “I see a lot of people who wait for an opportunity that forces them to do it, and that causes some issues with just procrastinating and waiting to do it at some point later. You really just need to do it and know that when you start it you’re going to sound terrible. It’s going to sound awful, but you can work through it, and it’ll continue to get better.”

Focus on one or two ideas at a time. Acquaint yourself with your new instrument. It might take weeks to figure out where your fingers are supposed to go on the strings, what shape your mouth needs to be in to make a sound, or how to hit a bass and snare drum at the same time.

Be patient! The internet offers valuable resources including fingering charts, online tuners, video tutorials and sheet music. IMSLP.org, for example, is a free database offering centuries’ worth of sheet music. Once you’re familiar with your instrument and can play simple tunes, you can begin to tackle more complex pieces.

When analyzing music, the various dynamics, articulations, syncopated rhythms or accidentals can seem like a mass of ink on a page. To address that, we recommend focusing on one or two specific ideas during practices and being extremely specific focused in examining how to arrive at an achievable solution.

If you’re struggling with rhythm, put down your instrument and clap out the rhythm until you’ve memorized it. If you’re missing notes, play your piece as slowly as you need to and gradually increase the tempo as you practice. Slowly but surely, you will be able to get the hang of not just note accuracy, but also intricate details of musical pieces like phrasing and timbre.

Schedule regular practice. When the summer comes to a tragic end, keeping up with consistent practices may be difficult to juggle with school and other extracurriculars. However, even half an hour to an hour every other week will dramatically develop your musical capability.

The tricks to consistency are setting aside an allotted amount of time every week and having a goal-oriented mindset when practicing that will push you to greater heights as a musician.

“Don’t give up. Trust in yourself and put in the work,” music teacher Kyle Traska said. “It won’t happen on its own, and it won’t happen immediately but instead with time and practice that is both consistent and regular.”

Most importantly, it’s never too late to pick up an instrument of your choice. Don’t compare yourself to other musicians who might have been playing for years; focus on yourself and how you are improving every day.

Within our school and our community, there is no shortage of resources for aspiring musicians. As the saying goes, music feeds the soul; learning a new instrument is an incredibly rewarding and worthwhile experience.

“You will get better. Anyone can play music, and anyone can play any of the instruments,” Traska said. “It’s about patience and personal drive. Come and hang out and talk to myself and Mr. Stevens. We’d love to meet you. I would love to help you out.”