Learning a musical instrument can be fun and rewarding, but perfecting your technique can take years of practice. Although you won’t be able to become a virtuoso overnight, there are several instruments you can pick up in just a few months. Even better, thanks to the internet there are thousands of readily accessible instructional videos to help you sharpen your technique. From familiar instruments like the snare drum and ukulele to less common ones like cajon and claves, here are nine musical instruments you can learn in a summer.
1. SNARE DRUM
If you eventually want to play a drum set, you should start with the snare drum. A favorite of marching bands and orchestras around the world, the snare drum is essential to keeping time. Grab a pair of wooden sticks—thinner, lighter sticks are easier to use than heavier ones—and a metronome to keep time. You’ll want to practice rudiments, which are drumming exercises with fun names like rolls, paradiddles, and flams that strengthen your wrist muscles and boost your coordination. It’s better to start slowly, so you can play with accuracy and control before gradually increasing your speed and power.
A smaller, more portable version of a xylophone, the glockenspiel consists of metal plates that you strike with a mallet. You can hear the glockenspiel’s vibrant, high-pitched notes in everything from rock to classical music. To achieve the clearest sound, hit the middle of the bar, and get used to using both your right and left hands to strike the glockenspiel. Once you’ve learned to play scales, experiment with playing chords by holding four mallets (two in each hand) as you hit the plates.
Before you laugh at the idea of playing that plastic recorder you last saw in grammar school, think again. Thanks to its design, this woodwind instrument is much easier to play than a flute or clarinet, and if you find you enjoy it, you can always advance to one of its more complex cousins. A recorder typically has a whistle mouthpiece and seven finger holes, plus one hole in the back for your thumb. Use a fingering chart to practice various finger positions and other techniques. The goal is to produce a smooth, steady sound that isn’t too squeaky.
Your summer travel plans might not include a trip to Hawaii, but learning to play the ukulele can help you feel the island life no matter where you are. First, choose a type of ukulele: soprano ukes are small, while tenors and baritones are larger. Then try plucking the four nylon strings with your thumb or a felt pick. Use an app to tune your strings to the standard ukulele tuning (G, C, E, A), and study tabs to learn how to play chords. Start with C, which is the easiest chord to learn since it requires you to put just one finger on a string.
This Peruvian percussion instrument looks like a simple box, but it’s so much more. By slapping the box’s sides or striking them with sticks, you can create a rich, expressive sound that can function as both a bass and snare drum. Watch videos of cajon players to learn their different slapping techniques, and keep the beat by playing along to your favorite songs. If you don’t want to buy a cajon, you can use plywood to make your own DIY version.
Harmonicas are small enough to fit in your pocket but powerful enough to create some serious melody. Use your lips and tongue to blow air into the harmonica’s holes, and try adjusting your mouth position to change the pitch. Check out harmonica tabs to figure out when to exhale or inhale air and where on the harmonica (position 1 to 12) to place your lips.
Think of the tabla as the Indian version of bongos. The instrument consists of two small drums (one is slightly bigger than the other) that you slap with your fingers and palms. Balance each drum on a cloth-wrapped ring on the floor, and use your hands to hit various parts of the drumhead, from the rim to the center. Memorize the mnemonics that correspond to different hand shapes and strokes, and you’ll be well on your way to playing tabla.
Spending a summer learning the saxophone won’t turn you into a superstar, but you can pick up the basics in just a couple of months. Before trying to play the sax, learn how to assemble it and insert the reed into the mouthpiece. Strap the saxophone around your neck, put your right thumb under the thumb rest, and blow air. Use your left hand fingers to press the keys and change the sound of the notes. You may also want to experiment with reeds of different materials and strengths to find the most comfortable one for your mouth.
Claves are the cowbell’s less intrusive cousins. Popular in Afro-Cuban and Latin-American music, this percussion instrument consists of two thick wooden or plastic dowels less than one foot long. To play claves, hold each dowel in your hands and strike them together to create a sharp, loud noise. Try to hold the dowel in your non-dominant hand with a lighter grip, and hold the dowel you strike with in your dominant hand. Experiment with where you hit the clave—striking it in the middle produces a different sound than hitting it closer to the top. More claves, please!
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