I Teach Guitar. So Shouldn’t my Preschoolers be Taking Music Lessons?

by Marisa Torrieri Bloom

I’d like to start this blog with a big hashtag, along with the word “hypocrite. I’ve been teaching kids ages 6 and older how to play guitar for 13 years. Today, a handful of them are virtuosos, and one of them got so good by age 17 that I hired her for my band. I’m a decent player, but a good music teacher. And I know how to inspire kids to want to play their hearts out.

But my own children, you ask? The ones who are 3 and 4.5 and love to toy around with  multiple guitars, drum sets, and other shakable and non-shakable instruments in my home?

They’ve never taken a music class.

Usually when I tell this to other moms, the first question out of their mouth — naturally! — is “why?” After all, I’ve taught “mommy & me” music classes to crawlers and 2-year-olds, and those little ones have thoroughly enjoyed the experiences (I’m judging mostly by how happy they seem). I’ve also taught 4-year-olds how to strum ukuleles, and every year, I teach a free class at each of my sons’ preschools.

The benefits of early music lessons are numerous: kids who take music lessons tend to perform better academically, and have better patience and self esteem, too.

In addition, most of the little kids I know who take early music lessons in their Pre-K years seem to get a lot out of the experience.

Given all this, shouldn’t it be an obvious decision to enroll my little ones in a music class, especially since I can reinforce the lessons they learn at home?

Perhaps. But not yet.

For one, music classes for young toddlers aren’t instrument-specific. Most classes just expose them to different kinds of instruments, and have singalong type games. My kids already get these types of games and songs in gym class, and on occasion in preschool.

I didn’t have music classes myself, other than a weekly music class that everyone took at my elementary school. Neither did a lot of talented musicians — at least not until they were potty trained or in grade school. By then, their brains were better able to absorb more information, and they cultivated a true desire to learn.

Interestingly, you don’t need music lessons to be interested in music. For me, the opposite is true: after being denied as a child, I took it upon myself to learn as much as I could when I turned 18 and wanted to play guitar (to be like all cool kids). Of course, I wish my parents took some initiative and insisted I learn some kind of instrument when I was 8 or 9 (and I definitely will enroll my kids in some kind of music lesson or program before then).

Then there’s the cost. Classes are expensive. My kids are restless, too. If I want my kids to expend energy, I feel like I get more bang for my buck by enrolling them in something physical, like swimming or soccer. It lets them get their kicks out so they aren’t climbing on me when I want to do story time and put them to bed.

I’m definitely planning on trying piano lessons, or perhaps guitar or drums, when my older son turns 5. And I definitely thinks he likes watching other musicians perform (as does my soon-to-be-3-year-old). Playing music changed my life, and I hope my kids follow in my footsteps.

However, if you, like me, don’t enroll your kid in a toddler music class, no need to feel badly. They’re not missing too much. As long as you do something with your preschoolers— whether that’s going to the museum or playing in the back yard — you’re on the right track.

— Marisa Torrieri Bloom is the founder and editor of Rockmommy.

Host a Musical Play Date at Your Child’s Preschool in 5 Steps

by Marisa Torrieri Bloom 

For the past two years, I’ve hosted musical play dates for both of my toddler sons, now ages 2 and 3 and a half. It’s one of the BEST experiences I’ve ever had, and always a riot, as 1-year-olds, 2-year-olds, 3-year-olds, and 4-year-olds all have their own adorable little quirks when it comes to experiencing music and participating in a musical play date.

Here’s the best part: While I am a guitar teacher, you don’t have to be a guitar teacher to host a musical play date!

All you need is to know how to play a few songs on guitar, and possess a lot of enthusiasm (and patience, but you probably already knew that!). Your preschooler will be so grateful and happy — and you will instantly become the coolest mom ever. Plus, you’ll feel good about contributing your musical talents and energies to a worthy cause.

Ready to get started? Follow these steps, and go!

Step #1: Pick Your Tunes. Whether you like Beyonce, Bach, or Black Flag, your toddler has widely different musical tastes (think “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star”). Chances are your little one’s short list includes “The Hokey Pokey,” “Ba Ba Blacksheep” or “The Wheels on the Bus.” After giving it some thought, make a set list of at least five songs.

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The set list for my 4/13/16 gigs at each of my sons’ respective schools

Step #2: Download the chords and lyrics. The good news is that most nursery rhymes and kids’ songs can be played with basic chords like G, D, and C. I use the Ultimate Guitar app on my iPhone to search for guitar chords, and use the version with the highest stars. But you can also search for sites like this one.

Step #3: Buy lots of cool shaky things. The best way to engage preschoolers in music is involve them! My favorite thing to bring to school is egg shakers because they are about $1 each (and toddlers of all ages love them). Melissa & Doug’s Band-in-a-Box set also comes with lots of cool stuff for older toddlers, like cymbals and maracas. Whatever you pick, make sure you get enough percussive pieces so everyone in the class has one to play or shake.

Step #4: Set a date. I always play my gig in the middle of April during the Week of the Young Child, but most schools are open to you playing during activity time, so long as you let them know your plans and how you intend to execute said plans. Unless you want to blast AC/DC during nap time, you’ll probably get a positive response.

Step #5: Get ready to rock. As you would with any gig, practice, practice, practice! You might know “Itsy Bitsy Spider” backwards and forwards, but if you don’t practice singing and playing it at the same time, you could find it a little tricky to perform. If you feel rushed in the morning to get ready, pack your tuner, shaky things, and set list in advance. And after you arrive at your kid’s school, relax! Take a seat and pass out the egg shakers or tambourines or whatever. And remember — even if you bomb this set, they’ll still love you for playing their favorite tunes and singing along. I’ve never met a kid who didn’t laugh at a wrong lyric or off-key performance!

Bonus tip: You might want to print out the chords and lyrics to popular kids’ songs that aren’t on your set list. My first year hosting a musical play date for my son Nathan’s school, I got a request for “The Hokey Pokey.” I was caught off guard, and ended up playing the entire tune in the key of “G” (the kids loved it anyway) and altering my voice to match the key.

Then again, nothing prepared me for my most recent musical gig at Nathan’s class, where one of the 4-year-old boys insisted I play the “Paw Patrol” theme song! Even though I hear the song at least 20 times a week, I had no clue what to play. Still, because I just smiled and went with it — strumming the key of E-minor while singing the theme song — the kids applauded and laughed!

—- Marisa Torrieri Bloom is a writer, guitar teacher, mom, and the founder of Rockmommy.

8 Perfect Mother’s Day Ideas for Rocker Moms

by Marisa Torrieri Bloom

She’s spirited, strong, and plays in a rock-and-roll band. And if she’s also a mom, she’s hoping for some good loot on May 8th. If you’re looking for something special to give a rockmommy for Mother’s Day, here are some great ideas:

1. Yunko Guitar Cookie Cutter set, $14.52: The rockmommy in your life is no cookie cutter lady, but if she likes to bake and decorate, she’ll love these cool, stainless steel cookie cutters. The set features an acoustic guitar, electric guitar, and music notes.

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Girl in a Band: a Memoir by Kim Gordon

2. Girl in a Band: a Memoir by Kim Gordon, $9.99 and up: Sonic Youth singer-bassist Gordon’s poignant page turner takes the reader on an inspiring journey through California and 1980s punk-rock New York to marriage and motherhood. Grab a gift card so she can download to her tablet or e-reader. Or splurge for the hardcover copy.

3. Bohemian Guitars’ Boho Honey guitar, $299. Gift mom with one of the coolest-looking guitars she’s ever seen! Made of recycled materials, this white-and-golden beauty features a metal hollow body, basswood frame, and built-in guitar stand. Plus, if you buy before May 8th and use the code RockMommy at checkout, you’ll get 15% off! Just be sure to order by May 5th to guarantee Mother’s Day delivery.

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Bohemian Guitars’ Boho Honey Guitar

4. Christina Aguilera MasterClass, $90: Is the rock mama you love an aspiring singer? If so, she’ll love having some “me” time to indulge in 23 video lessons taught by one of the greatest pop-rock singers (and mom of two) of the past two decades.

5. Cooperstand Ecco-G guitar/bass stand, $24.95: If mom’s always got her hands full with gear on her way to gigs, this environmentally friendly guitar/bass/ukulele/mandolin stand is flexible and compact (it fits into the back pocket of jeans!) — and made from first-run recycled ABS composite materials.

6. SkunkWerkz stainless steel Drummer coffee mug, $22.95: Coffee-loving drummer moms will go nuts over this cool, portable coffee mug, which may be personalized with their name — or anything else (like “drummer mommy”).

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“Flowers in a Vase” guitar pic

7. Flowers in a Vase — Pierre-Auguste Renoir Guitar Pic, $8.20: Give the timeless gift of flowers while helping mom strum her favorite tunes. These gorgeous floral guitar pics — which come in sets of five — are available in standard or triangle shape.

 

8. TOMS Rainbow Music Notes Women’s Classics, $59: Moms are always on the go, so if the mom in your life is a musician, you’ll earn double points for picking out these cool, comfy kicks.

—- Marisa Torrieri Bloom is a writer, guitar teacher, mom, and the founder of Rockmommy.

Why I Gave up My Gibson G-Force Auto Tuner

I couldn’t have been more thrilled with my 5th anniversary wedding present — a 2015 Gibson SG Standard electric guitar, complete with all the trimmings (great pickups, a warm tone, a rich mahogany finish, etc.). But when I went to tune the thing, twisting the knobs in the same way I’ve twisted knobs for the past 20 years, one of them came loose.

After convincing Gibson to send me a replacement knob, I made the 30-minute pilgrimage to Orange, Conn., to “authorized retailer” Guitar Center, where I met an awesome guitar tech named Ed.

The diagnosis: my beloved anniversary guitar was equipped with a G-Force automatic tuner!

Now, before I get into the multiple trips to Guitar Center, hours spent reading the Gibson Owner’s Manual, etc., I ended up making, I want to say that my husband is a very good man. He thought he was getting me my dream guitar, not a guitar-size headache! Neither of us had any idea that automatic tuners were a “thing” for 2015 — every single Gibson I’ve played up until this point in my life has possessed standard tuning knobs.

After Ed fixed the knob and explained how the G-Force worked, I gave the guitar a chance. I turned on the automatic tuner, and strummed my guitar once or twice, and let the knobs do their magic. So far, so good.

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The Gibson G-Force auto tuner, which came with my 2015 Gibson SG

But then one day, about a month later, the guitar tuned itself to some kind of obscurity. Suddenly, my A string and low E string were both registering “E” on my regular tuner. It sounded kind of cool, but I couldn’t play any of my songs!

So I did what any disgruntled guitarist would do: I called the manufacturer. Nice as the Nashville-based Gibson team was, however, they couldn’t figure out how to help me tweak my instrument. They just told me to read the manual. Days later, after leafing through a 29-page manual, I still couldn’t make it work (and yes — I tried recalibrating and resetting and all that).

Apparently, I’m not alone. Lots of videos featuring disgruntled Gibson guitar owners — just Google “Gibson g-force sucks” to see them — are filled with complaints about the auto tuner’s inability to magically tune guitar strings in a timely manner. Because of this, said Ed at Guitar Center, hundreds of Gibson users opted to have their 2015 Gibsons refurbished with basic tuning knobs.

I joined the ranks of Gibson SG owners who asked for such minor guitar surgery last week, after considering the pros and cons.

Without the G-Force, I wouldn’t be able to easily switch between 10 different types of tuning during a set — which I would never do anyway! Also, the value of my guitar would decrease if I swapped the auto tuner for regular old knobs (potentially by a few hundred dollars).

The pros, however, were that I’d finally be able to play my guitar without worrying that I’d reset it into some kind of geeky-musician setting.

The choice was easy.

At the end of the day, I’m just a soccer mom who plays guitar and writes songs. And my time is precious as heck, now that I’m balancing kids, work, marriage, and exercise — all while managing a household.

My newly refurbished Gibson SG plays like a charm and I couldn’t be happier.

5 Great Signature Guitars Designed for — and Inspired by — Female Rock Guitarists

Not too long ago, rock guitarist St. Vincent — also known as Annie Clark — unveiled an edgy new guitar specifically designed to fit a woman’s body and accommodate her smaller hands.

Although pioneers like Daisy Rock have been churning out female-friendly instruments for a while, the news was pretty groundbreaking for a few reasons. Until now, most of the signature guitars bearing a woman’s name are actually designed by men at big-name guitar purveyors like Fender and Gibson. Also, while St. Vincent did get a little help from engineers at Ernie Ball’s California headquarters, she was very much involved in the design and development process for her signature instrument.

So will this set the precedent for more professional shredders to do the same?

We can only hope.

For now, here are five great signature guitars that some of the best female rock guitarists have helped bring to market:

  1. St. Vincent’s Ernie Ball Music Man electric guitar

A cool-looking, $1899 guitar was crafted to perfectly fit St. Vincent’s lithe, womanly form, playing technique and personal style in Ernie Ball Music Man’s San Luis Obispo, California factory. Features include an African mahogany body, Ernie Ball Music Man tremolo, gunstock oil and hand-rubbed rosewood neck and fingerboard, St. Vincent inlays, Schaller locking tuners, 5-way pick up selector with custom configuration and three mini humbuckers.

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St. Vincent’s Ernie Ball Music Man electric guitar

2. Lzzy Hale Explorer

Halestorm front woman Lzzy Hale is one of the heavy metal’s few chick singers who also shreds — and has achieved major mainstream success. Her sharp-looking, signature $2,299 Gibson axe is super badass, with Alpine White finish and gold appointments, Gibson’s popular 57 Classic and 57 Classic Plus pickups, select tonewoods, and high-quality locking hardware.

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Gibson’s Lzzy Hale Explorer

3. Nancy Wilson Nighthawk Standard

Legendary Heart guitarist-singer Nancy Wilson — and rockmommy of two — tears it up onstage (side note: I’ve tried playing “Crazy on You” for years and still can’t do it right!) and in the studio. So it is only fitting that Gibson unveiled the robust signature Nighthawk in her honor. The $1,499 guitar features a comfortable ribcage body contour, rosewood fingerboard, a Nighthawk mini-humbucker and Nighthawk Lead humbucker, with five-way switching. It’s visually stunning, too, with Grade-AAA maple top dressed in a high-gloss nitrocellulose Fireburst finish with Cherry back and neck, and a commemorative “Fanatic” truss-rod cover.

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Gibson’s Nancy Wilson Nighthawk Standard

4. PRS Orianthi
Aussie guitarist Orianthi, who has strummed for Carrie Underwood, Alice Cooper, and so many other big names, was on the brink of taking her career to the next level as Michael Jackson’s guitarist for his 2009 world tour, when, sadly, he passed away in June of that year. Her signature guitar features:

  • Beveled maple top with flame maple veneer and Korina back;
  • PRS-designed tuners, SE HFS treble pickup, SE vintage bass pickup, and tremolo Bridge; and
  • volume and tone control with 3-way toggle pickup selector.
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PRS Orianthi

5. Bangles Signature Model

Daisy Rock is one of the most innovative, pro-female companies out there, with its huge array of electric and acoustic instruments designed for girls and women of all ages. The Bangles Signature Model, inspired by the quintessential all-girl 1980s band, is a particularly beautiful piece, with its piercingly pure tone, slim and narrow neck suited for smaller hands, and vintage look.

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Daisy Rock’s Bangles Signature model

In writing this blog, I’ve learned that while there are plenty of lists for “best female guitarists” and “best rocker moms,” finding a signature guitar that possesses the name of a female guitarist and is tailored to a female’s physical features is a near impossible feat.

Therefore, rock mamas — or heck, even dudes — who are looking for something that is designed with a woman in mind ought to take a closer look at these electric works of wonder.

Preparing for a Show Post Baby: What it’s Really Like for a Non-Celebrity Rocker Mom

You hear them on the radio, and see them gracing the covers of the most exclusive women’s magazines: Rocker moms. Articles about them are usually written in the vein of, “how P!nk is balancing diaper duty with recording” or “How mom-of-three Gwen Stefani makes time for cooking and going on tour!”

Marisa Mini & The Underage Hotties, 2015 version

Marisa Mini & The Underage Hotties, 2015 version

The article you don’t read is the one offering advice on how to get back into fighting rocker shape (physically and musically) when you’ve got one or two little ones in tow — even though you’re not famous. Most of the moms in bands I know fall into this category: We may have made some money at one time, but we don’t have lucrative recording contracts. We don’t have songs featured on SiriusXM Hits 1.

If you don’t have Gwen Stefani’s salary or fan base, you have to think about the financial aspects of playing a show, such as rehearsal costs AS WELL AS babysitting tabs. Since my band is my baby (I am the writer for all songs as well as the band leader), I foot the bill for $30-an-hour rehearsals, plus gas and transportation fees.

Then, you have to think about the time commitment. Rehearsing in New York City — an hour and a half from my home base of Fairfield, CT — is a seven- to eight-hour excursion. To accommodate this time suck, I had to take on fewer assignments (rock and roll doesn’t pay my bills, Ms. Stefani!), slack on cleaning duties (the floor still has caked banana on it from Monday), and curb my workouts (my kids still have to eat, and the extra practice time has to come from somewhere).

Also, if you’ve been out of the game for a while, as I have, there’s also the promotional and equipment headaches of planning a show. For example: After spending eight hours with my two toddlers, one of whom is potty training, I barely have energy to post anything on Facebook except a selfie of my kids, let alone try to put together some cleverly worded invite to my show. I’ve had to bribe my graphic designer friends and beg my bandmates to pick up some slack in the promotional department!

Oh yeah, and I gave away my big guitar amp a long time ago (you would too, if you needed to squeeze into a Prospect Heights apartment), so I’ll have to borrow two of them (for me and my lead guitarist) for the show. This means I’ll have to leave my house earlier.

The worst part? My mommy friends in Connecticut won’t be able to come (traveling to the Big Apple might as well be traveling to Russia as far as they’re concerned), and most of my city friends I haven’t seen since I became a mom so … I’m not on anyone’s radar anymore. Maybe an ex or two will show up, maybe not. But that’s about all the audience I’m getting.

So after all this bitching about how much effort and money is required to do this show, is it all worth it?

As of now, my answer is yes, absolutely!

One week ago I rehearsed with three amazing musician friends who I hadn’t seen for at least a year each — Morgan, Nora, and Michele. I love each of them for different reasons. Morgan is my bestie and longtime bassist, Nora is my former guitar student turned friend, and Michele is my tour buddy with a shared affection for NYC hardcore. Just being in the same room with these girls made me giddy. And when we plugged in our instruments, magic happened (though Michele wouldn’t necessarily call it magic after being on a two-year drumming hiatus)! Afterwards, I felt a buzz I hadn’t felt in a long time as I savored the long, summer night walk between 251 30th Street and Grand Central. Singing is cathartic, and playing guitar is my passion. I’m feeling inspired and creative and amazing.

I’m definitely bummed that my husband won’t make the show. When we were dating and it was just us, he made the trek to Brooklyn all the time to see me. I’m sure if it were super important I could wrangle him there, but … I need a babysitter for my kids. He is their dad. Problem solved!

I do hope that after this show, I’ll get to do another one soon, and that it won’t be so damn expensive to play. For one thing, I refuse to do more than one rehearsal in Manhattan. I live in Connecticut, and have for five years, and I have two children. I have to make it work here.

In the meantime, I hope whoever reads this post can make it to Friday’s show at The Branded Saloon in Brooklyn. Here’s the address and info:

Friday, August 7, 2015

Marisa Mini & The Underage Hotties (w/ Milf & Dilf and The Rewd Onez)

The Branded Saloon 

603 Vanderbilt Ave, Brooklyn, New York 11238

8 p.m. doors

Hope to see you there!