10 Great Gift Ideas for Young Musicians

Are you looking for some great gift ideas? Christmas gifts – the annual dilemma of almost every parent, grandparent, aunt, uncle, friend, etc. What should I get so-and-so? So many things to consider when choosing a gift for someone! I mean, we all want to choose the perfect gift for someone. We are always looking for something they will love, something they will use, an appropriate gift, and one in a suitable price range.

I know I always try to choose gifts for others that fit their interests, hobbies, skillsets. So, if you are selecting gifts for young musicians, I have 10 great gift ideas for you. Consider your gift-giving lists simplified. You are welcome!

10 Great Gift Ideas for Young (or not so young) Musicians

Great Gift Ideas

Sturdy Music Stand

Except for keyboard players, music stands are the bane of every musician. Either the stand is wobbly, or it collapses entirely. Or the music stand slowly sinks out of view. Sometimes the desk of the music stand flops and sends all the music flying onto the floor. At some time or other, every musician has fought at least one losing battle with a music stand. Do your young musician a favor and gift them a sturdy, reliable music stand.

Metronome

Almost every musician hates metronomes! At the same time, nearly every musician NEEDS to use a metronome! Metronomes are helpful tools to help young musicians learn to keep a steady beat, a steady tempo, and learn to play at tempo. They can also aid musicians in learning complicated rhythm patterns. Despite the protests, help your young musician by gifting them a reliable metronome.

Colored Pencils/Erasable Highlighters

Marking one’s music is a helpful learning technique. Of course, after time, a piece of music can begin to look unreadable because of all the markings. So a young musician should learn to color-code the markings on his music. Use one color for problem passages, another color for key signatures and accidentals, the third color for time signatures, etc. You get the idea. So get your young musician some quality colored pencils or some light-colored erasable highlighters. Those unreadable pages of music will transform into logical color-coded works of art!

Spotify/Pandora/iTunes/Amazon Music Subscriptions

Who wants their music listening interrupted by annoying commercials? Not me! And probably not your young musician either. And why is it that the ads always seem to play much louder than the music? Bless that person with an annual, commercial-free subscription to their favorite music-streaming app.

Music-Themed Apparel or Accessories

If your favorite young musician is genuinely devoted to his instrument or music, he will want to share that passion with the world around him. So, give that musician an easy way to share his devotion– music-themed clothing. An instrument-themed hoodie, a music-themed graphic shirt, some instrument earrings, a keyboard scarf, shoelaces – all are ways your musician can demonstrate his musical passion. Your young musician will appreciate a way to show off their music devotion to the world.

New Music

Let’s face it; sometimes lesson music can get boring. Band or orchestra music may be too easy. Maybe your student is just looking for different music to play for fun. Get your young musician some new fun pieces to play, to challenge themselves, or to enjoy.

It might be a book of arrangements by their favorite band or the music from a recent popular movie. Maybe you can find them a book of hymn arrangements they can practice and play in church. Be sure, however, to find music that is close to their ability level, or your young musician will not find the selections so enjoyable. You could even consult with the music teacher for some suggestions.

Music Bag/Holder/Notebook

Many kids are notoriously disorganized! And young musicians are no different. Have you ever watched kids assemble their music or school papers? Books, papers every which way, half out of folders, things falling on the floor. I’ve had kids – believe me, I know what I am talking about! Help them get organized with a cool music bag, a music holder, or a great music-themed notebook. Your young musician will love the design of the bag or notebook, and the music teacher will appreciate the organization!

Music-Themed Artwork/Poster

Art or posters are another way for your young musician to declare their passion for their music. Find art that features their instrument. Look for posters with inspiring quotations over a music-themed background. Hey, hunt for inspirational posters about practicing. Have the art help you win the practicing battle! Framed comics about music could be just the right gift for them. (Schroeder from “Peanuts”?) Gift your young musician some artwork to help inspire their musical passions.

Concert/Event Ticket

Does your young musician have a favorite band/group/choir/orchestra? How about a performance hero? Are they passionate about a particular opera or symphony? Get them a ticket (or two – one for you!) to an upcoming concert/performance. A concert could be just the inspiration they need to hone their talents and move on to the next level with their instrument.

Upgraded Instrument

Why is this included in a list of 10 great gift ideas? I know most Christmas budgets aren’t that big! But, hear me out. Most of us start our children on “beginner-friendly” instruments. Really, who pays thousands of dollars for an instrument that a 5th grader might forget on the school bus? Or accidentally sit on (buried under something on the bed). But as children grow, improve their musical abilities, and become more responsible, many need upgraded instruments. (Yep, time to put out some real $$$.) So maybe an upgraded or better instrument could make its way to your young musician’s gift pile.

OK, perhaps that a new instrument might significantly slim down the gift pile, but hey, that’s how life works sometimes. Maybe you could get all the grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, neighbors to all pitch in together and gift your young musician that new trumpet, or flute, or violin, or piano. If this idea resonates with you, please consult with the music teacher to ensure you get a quality instrument. You may need to give a certificate as a gift, and then let the child help you shop for a new instrument.

If you are considering a new instrument, these buying guides for piano, strings, woodwinds, and brass instruments might help you out.

Paid Registration to a Music Camp

This idea is your bonus for today. I listed ten ideas but then thought of this one. Gift your young musician an upcoming trip to a music camp. Ask your music teacher for appropriate suggestions. When I was a kid, my annual trip to music camp was a highlight of my summers!

A trip to a music camp could ignite your child’s passion for music. Music camps offer campers instruction by musical experts, grant small group experiences, critiques by people other than their regular music teachers. Registration at a well-run music camp would be an excellent gift for any young musician.

Banish that Christmas shopping brain fog! I just helped you finish your gift lists for every musician in your family. Any one of these 10 great gift ideas is sure to please, delight, motivate, or inspire any musician on your list. Happy shopping!

Are you looking for a few additional ideas? This post might help you out.

And don’t forget about gifts for your music teacher! Get some ideas here.

5 Tips for Better Practice

Practicing is hard work! And practicing is not usually fun. So why practice? Because it is the ONLY way to become a better musician. If being a better musician matters to you, practicing is a must! But don’t waste your time when you practice. Be smart about it. Follow these 5 tips for better practice.

Better Practice Tip #1 – FOCUS

You must focus while you are practicing if you want to be a better musician. Eliminate the distractions! Silence your phone, turn off the TV, retreat to a quiet space, and concentrate on practicing. You must be able to listen and think while you practice.

You can accomplish more in a short amount of time when you have a focused objective.

Better Practice Tip #2 – ISOLATE

Isolate the problem spots in your music and intensely work on those spots until you can play them correctly every time. Don’t spend your time just playing through a piece hoping that your errors self-correct. Not going to happen! Find the problem spots, identify the mistakes you are making, and correct them! This is efficient practicing!

Mistakes are . . . immensely useful. . . they show us . . . where we are right now and what we need to do next

William Westney

Better Practice Tip #3 – RHYTHM

Learn to play all the rhythms in your music correctly. Music is more than just quarter notes and eighth notes. Conquer all those weird and tricky rhythm patterns! How? Mark the places in your music where the rhythm confuses you. Write out the counting if you need to. Clap the rhythm patterns to cement the correct pattern in your mind. Then, practice playing it slowly. Gradually work the passage up to tempo. If you need help, ask someone – your teacher, band director, orchestra conductor, another musician.

Be better than you were yesterday.

Better Practice Tip #4 – SLOW

Spend time practicing slowly! I cannot emphasize this enough. When you play up to tempo, it is easy to fool yourself into thinking that you are playing everything correctly, especially when you are playing in a group. But when you do slow practice, you can hear every section where you have troubles. Are your eighth notes uneven? Do you skip over some of the notes in a sixteenth note passage? Slow practice will make all those errors obvious – and then you will know exactly what you need to work on. Remember this: If you cannot play a passage well slowly, you will not play it well at a faster tempo. Slow practice points out all your deficiencies so you can correct them.

If you can play it slow, you can play it fast.

Better Practice Tip #5 – MUSICIANSHIP

Playing all the notes correctly and perfectly performing all the rhythm patterns does not make you a good musician. You may be good technically, but musicianship goes far beyond that! A good musician turns the notes on the page into art for the ears and transforms the score’s black and white into beautiful colors that speak to our hearts. So, practice the dynamic changes. Perfect the expressive elements of your music. Give every note a sense of direction. Pour passion into your music by practicing it that way. Give your music some love!

You practice and you get better. It’s very simple.

Phillip Glass

If you add these 5 smart strategies to your practicing routine, you will make your practice time more efficient, escalate your musical progress, and become a better musician. So, go for it! Go forth and practice!

For more information about practicing see the following articles:

I Don’t Know What to Practice

Practice Like a Pro

When Your Child Doesn’t Want to Practice

The Importance of Review

Make Friends with your Metronome

Most music students seem to have a love-hate relationship with their metronomes. What about you? Do you have a metronome? Do you use your metronome? It’s time for you to make friends with your metronome!

What is a Metronome?

A metronome is a small device that produces a steady beat. Originally metronomes were similar to small pendulums with a way to adjust the speed of the pendulum. Today you can still purchase mechanical metronomes, but more likely, musicians will use digital metronomes or even metronome apps on their phones.

Metronomes have been around for centuries! I guess that means that musicians have had issues with tempo and rhythm for centuries as well! (You aren’t the only one!) Historical records exist for a device similar to a metronome as far back as the 800s. The first successful musical metronome appeared in 1696. By the early 1800s, metronomes similar to what we use today were developed and patented. Beethoven was probably the first famous composer to write metronome markings in his music.

Why Should I Use a Metronome?

Use a metronome to practice keeping a steady tempo throughout a piece.

Too often, it seems, students tend to play the easy parts of a piece of music at one speed but then slow down during the hard parts of the music. Are you one of those students? Do you even know if you tend to do that? A metronome will provide unbiased proof of whether you slow down the hard parts or speed up during the easy parts. It is important to keep a steady tempo throughout both the easy and more difficult passages of your music.

Use a metronome to play at the correct tempo.

What does it mean when your music’s tempo marking is adagio? Or allegretto? Or largo? What if your music says mm = 120? What does that mean? MM=120 written in your music means you are supposed to play 120 beats of music in one minute. Your quarter note (usually designated by a written quarter note with the mm marking) should beat 120 times a minute. That is equal to two beats per second. If your metronome marking is 60, that means one beat per second, so a marking of 120 equals two beats per second. A marking of 90 means to play 1-1/2 beats per second. Confusing? It’s all about the math! Set your metronome to the marking listed in your music, and you will know exactly how fast or slow you should play.

And if the markings use words instead of numbers, your metronome has you covered there as well. Most metronomes provide ranges of beats for each tempo word. Largo means about 45-50 beats per minute (BPM). Moderato is 86-97 BPM, and Presto is considered 168-177 BPM. I remember seeing a piece marked “As fast as you can play.” Metronome markings can go up to 208 BPM.

Use a metronome to practice hard passages with lots of notes.

One effective way to use a metronome is when practicing a passage of music with lots of notes – 16th notes, 32nd notes, etc. The tendency for students is to slow down to play all the notes. Another tendency is to “cheat” your way through the passage – play all the notes but unevenly, or play the notes that come out and skip the rest. However, a good musician will work until he can play every note evenly and up to tempo.

Use your metronome to help you accomplish this. Start slowly, setting your metronome to beat for every 16th note. Then, when you can play the passage well slowly, little by little, increase the tempo. Then set your metronome to beat 8th notes. Again, little by little, increase the tempo. Set your metronome to beat quarter notes, and again, gradually increase your tempo with your metronome settings. You will “soon” (or eventually) master the passage and be able to play it well and up to tempo – without any “cheating!”

Use a metronome to challenge yourself to practice some things faster.

Some things = scales and arpeggios, for starters. I hope you have figured out that much of your music comes from different scales and arpeggios. So, if you routinely practice those, when you come across them in your music, your fingers will know what to do! Playing scales and arpeggios should become almost automatic for you. Your director says to play a D Major scale – your brain and fingers should know exactly what to do without much thinking at all.

Use your metronome to help you get better and faster at playing scales and arpeggios. First, be sure you can play a scale correctly and evenly at a slow tempo, like a quarter note = mm 90. Then increase the tempo to 120. After mastering that, go back to a setting of 90 and practice your scale in 8th notes, then triplets, then 16th notes. Then increase the tempo settings again and go through the process once more. You get the idea. Gradually increase your tempo until you can play the scale well at increasing speed. Sound boring? Maybe so, but it will pay off in the long run. The better you can play all your scales and arpeggios, the better you will play your music.

But what if I want to play rubato, or take some liberties with the rhythm?

Remember this – Your metronome is a tool, not a master. Use this tool to practice steady rhythm, conquer tricky rhythm, to master even playing. And then, set your metronome aside and play with musicality and feeling, with musicianship. Your metronome is a training tool to master the rhythm technique. Remember when you learned to ride a bicycle? You probably started with training wheels on your bike. After you mastered riding with training wheels, someone took them off, and you learned to ride your bike on your own. Think of your metronome as like training wheels. You can remove the training tool and rely on the skills you already learned at a certain point.  

Where Do I Find a Metronome?

You can find metronomes at most music stores, or you can easily order them online. Pendulum-type metronomes can be cool to have sitting on your piano or in the room where you practice. Small digital metronomes are much easier to carry with you, however. Or you can skip the physical metronomes and get a digital one as an app on your phone. Which kind of metronome you have doesn’t matter much. What matters is that you use one!

So, make friends with your metronome. Your band or orchestra directors will thank you; your fellow musicians will be eternally grateful, and your accompanist will eternally bless you. Even your music teacher will be thrilled with your new rhythm capabilities. And your overall musicianship will improve, which should make even you happy!

Looking for more suggestions about practicing? Check out the following articles:

Practice Like a Pro

I Don’t Know What to Practice