Time for a Family Hoedown!
Tune Up That Fiddle!
Can a hobby be something you do as a group? Absolutely!
Time to round up those chickens and get ready for a family hoedown! This is a nice alternative to family game night. Part of the hoedown is not just the pickin' and grinnin' but the movin' and groovin'.The key is to make your hoedown area so enticing that even your sullen teen might join in. I'll show you how to set up a music 'studio' in a corner of your living space. I'll even show you how to record your jams for posterity.
Make Room for Your Jam Session
It's terrific if you have an extra room or a renovated basement but it's not necessary. Find a corner somewhere- it doesn't have to be big, just room for everyone to have a place to sit and move around. A carpet or rug keeps the sound from bouncing around too much. Although a hard wood floor is great for fancy stepping. You basically decorate the area with instruments and music stands; very inspiring!
The Space Doesn't Have to Be Big
Some Ideas from Amazon
There are cheaper rhythm sets but the quality suffers for it. Hohner is a good name. All Jams MUST have a tambourine. It is written in the rules.
Inexpensive Percussion Instruments You Can Get.
Now take inventory of who can play what. If someone in your family already plays an instrument and/or reads music they can be your music director or artist-in-residence. They can start the songs, guide others on playing a beat or rhythm, and otherwise be a big help. I'll talk later on how to get music novices started.Don't have an instrument collection yet? Here is an examples from Amazon to get started.
Any Instrument is Great! - Here are my examples.Click thumbnail to view full-size
The Theremin - Every family should have one.
Why? Because they are the coolest!
What, you say, is a Theremin? Remember the electronic music from the 1950s version of "The Day the Earth Stood Still?" Remember Jimmy Page doing a Theremin solo in the movie "The Song Remains the Same?" Imagine having that sound in your own home. You play it by moving a hand or any part of your body by the metal antennas. This enables you to change the pitch up or down, loud or soft. Young ones love to make music sounds with the Theremin using their whole body.
- Theremin World - Theremin Store
Here's a link to find out how to build or buy a Theremin. Warning, not cheap.
- Hands Off: How to play a Theremin - How a Theremin Works
Hands Off: How to play a Theremin - A theremin is an instrument you can play without touching. Learn how a theremin works and the history of the theremin at HowStuffWorks.
Sample Clara Rockmore's Exquisite Performing Skills
You can sample before you decide to purchase.
Our Theremin gets put to good use!
Amplifying Those Vocals
For Those of Us Without a PA System.
Here are some ideas to hear your vocalist over the instruments (a daunting feat).
A decent amp or monitor setup for vocals is going to run you at least 100.00. There's just no way around it. Warning: standard boomboxes don't have a line for a microphone, I know I've tried.
LIST OF OPTIONS:
- If you already have a keyboard amp, you can plug in a microphone for a decent sound.
- Use the karaoke machine just for the microphone and speaker. Full volume.
- Some stereo systems have a mic in line. Be careful not to blow out your speakers.
- If you don't need to record, plug a microphone into your computer and use it's speakers to hear the vocals.
How to Setup Recording
THE COMPUTER WAY:It is not the scope of this article to go deeply into audio setup on your computer, but here are some basic instructions.
1 Plug a microphone into your computer.
2 Now turn the external speakers all the way down. Go to sound settings and make sure the microphone level is unmuted and at maximum in your volume settings. Now bring up the speakers to the level you want as you test the sound.
3 Download an easy free audio program to record your jam. AUDACITY works really well. Open up the program and speak into the microphone, then you should see a 'level.' This is the graph that displays the volume that's coming from the microphone. Make sure it doesn't go into the red.
4 Now, when you are actively recording, make sure your speakers are turned OFF. Otherwise you'll get a very bad feedback loop screetch. During a live recording, you CAN listen through headphones, that won't feedback.
5 During playback you can listen back to what you just did by either listening through headphones or turning the speakers back up.
6 Just like in an Office program, you can edit and save the recording in a file. This file can also be exported as an mp3.
I've chosen some inexpensive equipment from Amazon to get the creative juices flowing. If you want to spend more on a good system, locate a musician friend to help you. I use a Behringer ECM 8000 microphone hanging from the ceiling to do a simple room recording, but it needs to be run through a mixer, before the signal enters the computer.
A Condenser Microphone
I haven't used this but it looks like it is great quality for the price. It has settings for both vocal recording (unidirectional) and room recording (omnidirectional). You can also use it with camcorders that have a mic in line. You also might need a desktop microphone stand.
Additional Recording Suggestions
NON-COMPUTER WAY: If you have an old cassette recorder around, you can still get blank cassettes (I think) and record your jams that way.
CAMCORDER WAY: Not only can you record your jam on a camcorder, You can use the camcorder as a way to just record the music. There is a way to separate the audio track and convert it to a sound file.
For an external microphone for your camcorder, I would recommend the Audio-Technica ATR-3350 Lavalier Omnidirectional Condenser Microphone.The sound through your camcorder will sound much better with an external mic.
If someone refuses to play, don't force them. As they see you having fun, they may eventually come around. They may be willing to sit by the recorder or handle the video camera.
'New' Musicians can play percussion instruments- like drums and cymbals. They can also play keyboards and string instruments with some boundaries. I've found if you tune guitars and ukuleles to a chord, your player can strum on the beat and it will sound good! With keyboards, your director can put some masking tape on the notes that should be played for a specific song.
The first goal is to practice playing on the beat. Play the recording of the song on a stereo or other system and everyone play along with it. Eventually you can branch into different people playing different accompanying rhythms. Switching instruments is fun. Don't forget to take a break from playing and get up and dance!At some point, try playing without the recorded music. Be encouraging of everyone's efforts.
STANDARD JAM Proud Mary- John Fogerty Johnny B. Goode - Chuck Berry Louie Louie - Richard Berry Let’s Do the Twist- Chubby Checkers Hound Dog - Elvis Presley
COUNTRY JAM Hoedown Throwdown -Miley Cyrus I Walk the Line - Johnny Cash Hey Good Lookin’ - Hank Williams King of the Road - Roger Miller Working 9 to 5 -Dolly Parton
GOSPEL JAM This Little Light of Mine Go Tell It On The Mountain He’s Got The Whole World In His Hands Kumbaya Down By The River Side
BROADWAY JAM Favorite Things Do Re Mi Getting to Know You Castle on a Cloud
FOLK JAM This Land is Your Land -Woody Guthrie Goodnight Irene - The Weavers Wildwood Flower - The Carter Family If I Had a Hammer - Pete Seeger You Are My Sunshine - Oliver Hood
ROCK/POP JAM Bohemian Rhapsody- Queen Jammin’ - Bob Marley Jumpin’ Jack Flash - Rolling Stones Yellow Submarine - The Beatles Thriller - Michael Jackson
KID JAM This Old Man Row Your BoatJingle Bells Are You Sleeping Bingo
MAKE UP YOUR OWN SONG JAM
Final Notes: la la la, just kidding!
The most important thing is to not overwhelm yourself with planning this. Start small, play simple songs, keep positive, be encouraging to timid players. Don't sweat the mistakes and soon you'll be having a jamming good time! I welcome comments and questions. Let me know if you have your own suggestions for instruments or electronic equipment. This is not by any means a complete list; it's just some personal suggestions.
I would love to hear your stories about your own 'hoedowns.' What worked, what didn't work. Any tips you have, any songs you tried that were really fun or any questions you have.