Category Archives: Review

Brass instruments for beginners and pros

 

As one of the broadest categories of musical instruments, there’s a lot to consider when pursuing playing a wind instrument. Brass or woodwind is just one if the many questions a musician must ask themselves, then it’s on to narrowing it down to the instrument itself.

Like with any other category, there are myriad options to choose from. To help narrow down the search, here’s a guide to the some of the most popular brass instruments for all levels of skill. 

 

Trombone 

 

Dating back to the 15th Century, the trombone is one of the oldest brass instruments there is. Its sound is solid and unmistakeable – even in a symphony orchestra, a bold blast from the trombone player is never missed. It’s a little less trendy today than it once was and is considered more of a marching band look than a rock star one with kids and teenagers. That’s not to say it isn’t a valued. In jazz circles, the trombone dominates and its masters, like J.J. Johson and Carl Fontana, are worshipped.

Beginners can’t go wrong with Mendini’s B Flat Tenor Slide Trombone for $129.99. Players love its easy slide and the white gloves that come with it.

 

Mendini B flat Tenor slide trombone

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A more experienced trombone player may want to consider a more expensive piece of kit like a King. At $2,249, the King 2166 3B Valve Trombone is a treat for professionals who want the sleek, shiny comfort of a valve section. It’s a beautiful instrument and one which will stand the test of time if cared for properly.

King 2166 3B Valve Trombone

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Trumpet 

 

The trumpet offers a sharper, brighter sound than the trombone and often adds moments of levity and lightness to darker arrangements. It shines in the middle register between a G3 and G5.  The earliest instruments which resembled the trumpet were used as battle horns and date back to 1500BC. Today, it remains popular in schools and normally takes a dignified backseat to glorified guitarists and vocalists in mainstream bands.

Mendini’s MTT-L Trumpet Bb is a hugely popular trumpet for $89.99. The friendly price point makes it a go-to for kids or other beginners who are eager to take up an instrument.

Mendini's MTT-L Trumpet Bb

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pros are may want to look to a more sophisticated model like the Bach Stradavarius Series Bb Its price ($2,829) reflects its heightened quality. The trumpet comes in silver and with an elegant brown leather trunk for transporting it.

 

Bach Stradavarius Series Bb

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

French Horn

 

With its wrapped brass tubing and dramatic flared bell, the French horn certainly grabs the eye. Its the third highest sounding instrument in the brass category beneath the trumpet and the cornet. Its normally reserved for classical music.

Beginners can’t go wrong with Ammoon’s B/BB Flat 3 Key horn for $179.99.

Ammoon’s B/BB Flat 3 Key Horn

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

For a fuller bellied sound and higher quality, Hans Hoyer makes show-stopping pieces with startling price tags including its uble French HornHeritage 6802 Bb/F Do for $5,035.

 

uble French HornHeritage 6802 Bb/F Do

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tuba

 

The largest and lowest pitched instrument in the brass family, the tuba is one of the most show-stopping pieces of the band. Next to the cello, there are few instruments which command so much attention because of its size. Its younger than others in the family, finding its origins in 1835.

Because of its size, it’s more expensive than other brass instruments. Again, Mendini makes a great option for beginners with its $399 Brass B Flat model

Mendini Brass B flat tuba

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Schiller make more advanced models including its rotary 4-valve BBb tube for a reasonable $1,930 and its 4-valve Piston tuba in a nickel finish for $1,292.

Schiller silver 4-valve BBb tube 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

For a more modern take on the brass look, Cool Wind boasts a collection of coloured finishes on its 4-valve BBb tuba for $1,245.

Cornet 

 

The corner is similar to the trumpet but is smaller and has a conical bore. Its tone is mellower and less piercing than the trumpet and it’s not as well known by non-musicians. Still, it’s a unique instrument which can add vital undertones to any piece of music.

To hear the difference, check out this video comparing the two:

The good news about this lesser known instrument is that, like the trumpet, it’s cheaper than a lot of other members of the brass family. A decent beginner item, such as the Tristar which comes with a case and MP, will set you back just $100.

Tristar cornet

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

More sophisticated versions are offered by Ravel for $343.

 

Ravel cornet

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

If a brass instrument isn’t for you, you might want to consider wind or a different family altogether. Check out our guides on the ukulele, drums, bass guitar and violin for inspiration.

10 of the best drum sets for beginners and kids

Choosing the best beginner drumset is no easy feat.  It’s the heart of the band and if you go the wrong route, it can be the source of many household arguments. There’s no shortage of options out there but sometimes this makes the search all the more overwhelming.

The importance of a good set has never been lost on the music world. Buddy Rich, the iconic New York jazz drummer who died in 1987, said famously: ‘Any young drummer should get himself a great teacher and learn all there is to know about the instrument.’

To help you with your search, here’s a list of some of the best five piece sets that are available today for adults and kids alike.

Need inspiration or just curious about the drums? Check out percussionhowto.net for some titillating material.

1. Best Choice Products

Best choice 5 piece adults drum set

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This five-piece set is a fail safe beginner drumset for any rookie. It comes with high hats, a throne and dual cymbals, giving the drummer everything they need to get going. The shiny black gloss finish also gives it a versatile look for any band or home. Drummers love how easily the set is to tune and the $199 price tag is hard to beat.  It’s not a forever set and some felt the need to upgrade some elements, namely the cymbals, within a year of practice but if you’ve never owned a percussion set before and don’t yet know your limit or potential, it’s a great starter option for adults.

Get a great deal on yours here 

 

2. Rise by Sawtooth

Rise by Sawtooth five piece

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This student/beginner drumset is crafted out of Poplar wood and comes in an array of jazzy, sparkly finishes. It’s priced reasonably at $249.95 and drummers seem to appreciate how easy it is to assemble. As for the sound, it’ll do the job without shattering any windows. Some musicians complain that the drum set’s two cymbals are a little tinny and thin so you might want to consider upgrading those once you develop a more sophisticated sound.

Get a great deal on yours here

 

3. Gammon

 

Gammon full size 5 piece

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Gammon is a brand name that’s commonly associated with the beginner drum set and the reason for that is its beloved 5-piece battle drum set.  At $250, it’s hard to beat price wise. Its hardware is light weight which can give off the impression that it’s cheap, but the shells and heads are well received.

Get a great deal on yours here

 

4. Mendini

Mendini 5 piece adult drums

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Medinini prides itself on being one of the most affordable brands for beginner drumsets and drummers in general. Its five-price set offers the same as the others listed above and comes in a variety of bright colours. It’s particularly popular among kids and in schools.

Adult 5 piece,  $209.99 here.

Junior 16 inch, $139.99 here. 

Kids 13 inch, $79.99 here.

 

5. Pearl Roadshow

Pearl Roadshow

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pearl is a well respected name in the drum world and for good reason. Its the brand of choice for Tico Torres, Bon Jovi’s revered drummer, and some of the products in its masterworks range are simply spellbinding. For the less experienced, the American drum specialists’ roadshow five-piece set is a stealthy option. It’s more expensive than the more basic alternatives at $432, but what you pay for you get back in the quality and sound that Pearl is famous for.

Get a great deal on yours here

 

6. Alesis Nitro

 

Alesis Nitro 8 piece

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ever considered an electronic drum kit? They’re becoming more and more popular, and the Alesis Nitro is leading the trend. This is an eight-piece set which includes three dynamic tom pads, a dual-zone snare drum, a kick drum pad and three symbols. Its most attractive feature are the headphones which come with it – drummers can practice in peace without anyone else in the house hearing the sound. This makes it a great option for families or for self-conscious beginners who want a little more privacy starting out.

At $375, it’s more expensive than the acoustic options which is to be expected. Whether you opt for acoustic or electric is a matter of taste. Few pro-drummers would side with the latter, preferring a more traditional experience with acoustic sets.

Get a great deal on yours here

 

 

7. Tama Imperialstar

 

Tama Imperialstar

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tama is a common fixture in drum kit rankings. Its beginner set comes with a 22” bass drum which musicians love and is finished to a high quality which is reflected in the $699.99 price tag. The Imperial Star is a simplified version of its more expensive products and it is built to last. It’s made from poplar and has a number of durable features including glued-on wraps as opposed to taped on ones which other brands favour. Its HCS brass cymbals from Meini are an added bonus which drummers don’t feel the need to replace so quickly as they do with other sets.

Get a great deal on yours here

 

8. Ddrum D Series

D drum D series five piece

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ddrum has been making drums in the US since 1983 and is a firm favorite among beginners. Its D-Series 5 piece set sits in the mid-range for beginners at $360. In terms of appearance, it bears little difference to some of the Mendini or Best Product options, but its sound and quality is where the added value lies. Its sound quality is durable and, while the cymbals aren’t the best.

Get a great deal on yours here

 

9. Ludwig Element Evolution

Ludwig Element Evolution

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

With subtle added touches of quality, this is a great set for a relatively inexperienced drummer who’s looking to kick it up a notch. It’s more sophisticated sound is brought by double-edged hardware and, importantly, its Zildjian Cymbals. At $799, it’s a very reasonable intermediate option. If you’re already at ease with the drums and want to progress, this is a next step.

Get a great deal on yours here

 

10. Yamaha Gigmaker

Yamaha Gigmaker

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Any instrument which bears the Yamaha name will likely bring comfort to a beginner musician. It may be best known for its grand pianos, but its drum sets measure up too and the Gigmaker 5-piece set is a safe bet.

This set, unlike all of the others above, is a shell pack so it does not include cymbals, stands or hardware. With this in mind, the set is $399 of drums – and good ones at that. If you can get your hands on some decent hardware, the Gigmaker is solid choice for beginners and intermediates alike.

Get a great deal on yours here

 

Not sold on the drums? Read our beginners guides for the bass guitar, violin and ukulele. 

Five of the best Taylor acoustic guitars

They’re the guitar of choice for modern artists like Taylor Swift and Jason Mraz and have a very American history which dates back to the 1970s. So it’s no wonder Taylor guitars are considered the supreme of the string world.

Their inventory is wide-ranging. To help you navigate it, here’s a list of their five most popular instruments.

Best Taylor Guitars

 

GS Mini 

First among the guitars it promotes on its website, the GS Mini is a solid go-to acoustic guitar. Its at the lower end of Taylor’s cost range at $499 and is adored by artists for its playability and portability.

Tayor-GS-Mini

Check out Shoreline Music giving it a whirl in store.

 

Baby Taylor 

The Baby Taylor is a 3/4 size guitar so is perfect for travel and spontaneous practice. It’s cheaper than the GS at $329 but still boasts the same deep bellied sound the brand is famous for.

Baby-Taylor

Here’s a sample of the Baby range from Wildwood Guitars.

 Big Baby Taylor 

The clue’s in the name with the Big Baby Taylor – it’s the Baby, but bigger. Add on another $70, this acoustic guitar comes in at $399. It graduates past being the travel guitar category given its extra size.

Big-Baby-Taylor

Curious about the difference? Watch this Battle of the Babies to find out.

214 CE

The 214ce is a 25 and a half inch beast. It’s more expensive, at $999, but guitarists love its rosewood finish. It’s considered the ‘gateway’ into the brand’s more expensive instruments. The Taylor sound thats common throughout the range is also elevated when plugged in.

Taylor 214 CE

Shoreline brings it life in this video.

 

Grand deluxe auditorium

PS16CE 

At a jaw-dropping $8,000, the PS16CE sits at the top of the Taylor range and is part of its Presentation Series. Its designed for performance and comes under the category of Grand Symphony limited edition.

 

Taylor-PS16CE

Its sides are a dark, Macassar ebony and the body is Spruce. All in all, it’s a show-stopping guitar with a rumbling belly of sound. Its bells and whistles include  Gotoh Gold tuners, a bone nut and saddle, a Florentine cutaway, and Taylor Expression System 2 electronics.

To hear it roar, check out this review from Acoustic Letter.

Guitar not your thing? Try check out there  beginner Drumsets!

 

Using Amazon Echo as a musician or music teacher

There’s been a lot of noise around Amazon’s latest tech product, the $179 Echo. Most of the excitement is focused on how it can improve the user’s home life by performing voice-activated functions.  But there are a handful of ways the Echo can boost productivity for musicians.

Here’s a list of all the ways the device can help with your music career.

 

Amazon-Echo

**You can get a great deal on an Echo here.**

Listening

 

This one may sound obvious, but the benefit of having voice-controlled stop and start functions when listening back is revolutionary for musicians.

Musicians don’t just listen to music for enjoyment. They sometimes need to study music to get ready for a gig or analyze something for a student. Think about it, one of the hardest things about learning a tune is having to constantly put down the instrument or interrupt your work flow to set the tune up and run it again.

The Echo completely streamlines this clunky process. Simply instruct Alexa, the AI assistant which performs all of the Echo functions, to stop and start when yore ready or you want to move on to another tune. The Echo even has a search function, so you can even search through YouTube for tunes you need work on without getting up from your instrument.

 

Recording

 

If you are a performing or composing musician, you understand the importance of documenting ideas and using them later. Amazon Echo has the ability to record your voice, or whatever instrument you may be playing, so you can save it for later when you are ready to develop the idea further. Both the microphone and the speakers on this device are surprisingly effective considering the size of the device.

 

Tuning

 

One of the most impressive features of the Echo is its implementation of Alexa Skills. Alexa, the robot which carries out all the functions and takes her queues from the voice-over, has a range of built-in functions which lie in a drop down menu on the Alexa app.

Among the skills is a guitar tuner. From the other side of the room, the musician can demand to hear a perfect A from the speaker, just as they would from a guitarist in a band. It’ll be right every time too.

Here it is being used by someone for the first time. After instructing Alexa to enable the tuner, the user can be heard demanding what note he wants to hear. The Echo returns it four times.

 

My Metronome

 

My Metronome is another built-in Alexa skill. It keeps the tempo for musicians, holding from 10 to 300 beats a minute. To activate it, just tell her what you need by shouting: ‘Alexa, start My Metronome and 80 beats per minute,’ for example.

Of course, if you’d rather use your own, there are some great options here and here.

 

Lessons

 

One of the coolest things about Alexa is her ability to teach you how to play an instrument. There is even a built in app designed to help you learn how to play the piano. It is very simple, making it a great device for those who are beginners to playing music and children who have very little experience learning an instrument. It starts you off by teaching you simple notes and showing you where they are. Eventually, you will work your way to being able to play a duet with Alexa! The songs are pretty simple and mostly consist of nursery rhymes, but they can be a great primer for a student who is interested in taking piano lessons who’s parents are not sure if they are really going to be into it.

 

 

The Echo also has a built in function that will play back any note that you ask and can even play a series of notes, providing students with a reference point for a pitch when they are practicing. This means you can test out ideas ahead of time or even use the device as a means to improve your ear training by trying to sing the pitch before the Echo plays it. There is even a quiz on the Echo that you can use to work on your ear. It will play a note and you will try to guess what it is. This may seem like a skill you are either born with or not but the ear is something you can develop over time and, with enough work, you can almost give yourself perfect pitch.

Play-a-longs

 

If you are an improvising musician, you know one of the best ways to practice is to simply improvise. Of course, you can’t always call your friends to have them come over and play some tunes with you, so you need a solution. One way you can use the Amazon Echo to practice is to utilize play a longs. A play along is a recording of music that has your part taken out, so you can play as if you are playing with a band in a live situation. One popular version of these for jazz musicians is the Jamey Aebersold series. He has recorded thousands of tunes that students can practice over ranging from jazz to funk and RnB classics. Download them to your Echo and get started today.

Here’s an idea of the sound quality you can expect

 

Amazon Dot: A cheaper version of the Echo

 

The Echo sits a stop a cylinder speaker which is powerful enough to be used alone. But if $179 is too steep a price tag, the Dot is a great alternative. At $49, it’s considerably less expensive and performs pretty much all of the same functions as the larger Echo.

The only major difference is the lack of speaker. So if you have your own already, the dot may be the way to go.

Amazon-Dot

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Amazon Echo Show: The Echo with a touchscreen

A huge hook of the Echo is its voice-controlled function. In commercials it plays out very smoothly and it appeals to a lazier, Siri-obsessed generation. But some people would still like to have the option to control the device by hand.

 

Amazon-Echo-show

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

To accommodate them, Amazon recently released the Echo Show which combines the Echo with a touch screen for easy use. It’s the most expensive device in the range at $229. In essence, it looks like an iPad with a speaker attached at the bottom.

It can however be a great tool for musicians who are trying to learn lyrics. The Echo Show will display the words on screen. It’s also a great way to pull up sheet music to play along to with a tune running in the background for support