Hey everyone! Drum instructor, Matt Price, here!

We hope you are having a wonderful holiday season and that you and your family are staying safe and happy and healthy.

drumsMany of you have received your first drum set this year! Congrats!!
But now the elusive question... "How do I set this thing up?"

I know, I know... it can be kind of intimidating with all those shiny, adjusty things distracting you when all you want to do is sit down and start jamming! However, I am here to tell you that getting your kit set up correctly is a very important part of being a great drummer, and it can save you tons of frustration and discomfort over the years of drumming you have ahead.

I am going to break down the basics of setting up a 5 piece drum kit in a way that is ergonomic and works for your body. Now, before we begin please keep in mind that your drum set is totally customizable to YOU! Almost every piece can be moved and adjusted and just because you set it up one way today does not mean that you can’t move it tomorrow. In fact, I recommend that you constantly experiment and tweak your setup until you find something that is comfy for you because then you can focus on making music! 

If you only remember one thing about setting up your drums it should be this: 

Adjust the drums to your body, not your body to the drums. 


Alright onward with the goods!


Drum Throne

The drum seat should be set up at a height where from your hip joint to your knee is ever so slightly greater than 90 degrees. If you are too low it will for your knee higher than your hip which can cause lower back strain, too high and you will most likely hunch over the drum kit. Sit up tall facing straight forward, pretend there is a sting in the top of your head pulling your neck and head up.


Snare Drum

Your snare drum is the drum you will be using the most with your hands so you want it to be super easy to smack. It should be placed directly in front of you, in line with your nose, centered on your body. With your arms comfortably at your sides raise your sticks in front of you at about the height of your belly button. Keep your shoulders relaxed and your upper arm parallel to the side of your body. See where the tips of your stick are? This is where you should put the CENTER of your snare drum. Adjust the height up or down so that you don’t need to move to play it. This should be a very relaxed “neutral” position. You may find it helpful to angle the snare slightly toward you, especially for smaller players.


Bass Drum

While sitting comfortably on your drum throne your legs will naturally come into a V shape with one leg on each side of the snare drum. This position is natural and comfortable so let's take advantage of it! Your bass drum pedal should be placed directly under your right foot (left foot for left dominant drummers) don’t move your foot, move the bass drum! There should be an angle from your knee to your ankle just beyond 90 degrees to allow for the relaxed and effortless playing of the pedal. 



Follow a similar process with your left foot and the hi-hat pedal. The hi-hat cymbals should be about 8 - 10 inches above the height of the snare drum. When you move your sticks from the hi-hat to snare you shouldn’t have to do too much movement in your elbow or shoulder to get from one to the other. We are aiming for natural and relaxed body mechanics here. Usually, right-handed players cross their right hand over top the left to hit the hi-hat, avoid the “chicken wing” here by keeping your right elbow relaxed and low. 



Now, toms can be a little bit tricky depending on your size, the size of your drums, and the adjustment capabilities of your kit.  As a general rule of thumb, the larger the rack toms (the ones on the bass drum) the more they should be raised and angled toward the drummer. Try to place your rack toms in a position where they are all along the same horizontal plane. This way when you are ripping sick drum fills it's super easy to get from one drum to the other!! The floor tom is placed to your right side and should be about the same height as your snare. The goal should be to place the drums in a spot where you can hit them dead center without having to change the position of your shoulders or elbows too much. Again, make it smooth and easy to hit everything.


Ride Cymbal

If your drum kit only comes with a hi-hat and one other cymbal we are going to call this the ride cymbal. (We call it the ride because we play a lot of notes on it so it’s like our stick is taking a ride!) I recommend putting it on the right side of your kit, to the right of the middle tom and above the floor tom. If you only have one rack tom you can experiment with moving it more over top of the bass drum. I like to angle my ride cymbal toward me a bit so I can easily access the bell, bow, and edge of the cymbal. Another important tidbit: the higher the cymbal the more you should angle it toward you. Experiment with how the ride feels good to you. 


Crash Cymbal

If your drum kit includes another cymbal besides the hi-hat and ride this is most likely a crash cymbal. They have a more explosive sound and are generally used for accents. The crash can be placed on the left side of your kit between your hi-hat and high rack tom. I'd recommend about 8 - 12 inches higher than the hi-hat cymbal. A slight angle toward you is good because then you can access all the parts of the cymbal. If you have multiple crash cymbals you can experiment with having one on each side of your kit. 


Final Thoughts

My goal is always to set up my drums so it's easy to access every part of the kit which makes it more fun to play. I want to focus on playing music and being comfortable, not on hoping that I can reach stuff. The drum set is highly customizable and you should spend time trying out different ways of setting up your kit. The way they come out of the box is not how they have to stay. Check out some videos online of your favorite bands and drummers and see what they have going on in their kits.


And lastly, just remember...
Adjust the drums to your body, not your body to the drums. 


Until next time,

 Matt Price
Drum Instructor, Sunburst School of Music


ReimaginationApplications are now open for the 2021 WYEP Reimagination Project!

Reimagination provides a unique approach to music education for high school teens from the Pittsburgh region. Over the past seven years, we have engaged more than 220 young musicians looking to hone their skills, learn about the music industry and prepare to launch their careers by pairing them with professional mentors and by scheduling time in a recording studio with a producer.

Reimagination alumni include Grammy-Award winning artist, Daya, Emmy-Award Winning artist, Jessica Bitsura, and blues phenom, Pierce Dipner. There have also been a number of Sunburst students accepted the past few years who’ve had a great studio and stage experience.

Read more about the WYEP Reimagination project. 

Wclosed bloge will be closed for Holiday Break from Tuesday, December 22 – Friday, January 1. All private lessons and group programs will resume on Saturday, January 2, 2021.
To view our 2020 and 2021 school calendars, please see the links below.

We hope everyone has a safe and wonderful Holiday season, and we’ll see you in the New Year!

2020 Sunburst School Calendar

2021 Sunburst School Calendar

Sunburst is now offering online lessons and programs through Zoom! We put together a guide to help students get the most out of their online lesson experience.


In order to connect to Zoom.us, you will need one of the following devices:

  • Smartphone
  • Tablet
  • Mac or PC with Camera and Microphone (recommended)

You’ll also need an internet connection that can handle the call:

  • WIFI Internet with speeds of at least 5mbps download and upload.
  • Zoom calls work over strong 4G LTE connections and use approx 500mb per hour.

Other recommended equipment: 

  • Headphones (recommended)
  • 2nd Device w/ speaker to play music in the room with you
  • Stand for phone or tablet

Getting Setup

  • Download and install the Zoom.us App:
  • To join the meeting:
    • Click “Join Meeting” in the Zoom app
    • Enter in our phone number for the meeting ID: 412 475 8280
    • Enter your Full Name for Screen Name
    • click “Join”
  • Please join the meeting at least 5 minutes early to make sure we can start on time.
  • Follow onscreen prompts to allow Zoom to use your camera and microphone.


Waiting Room and Lesson

We have a little virtual waiting room set up to help make connecting students and teachers as easy as possible. 

  • Once you’re in the waiting room, our admin will check in to make sure you’re good to go with all of your equipment and everything, then we’ll move you to a room with your teacher as soon as their available. 
  • Make sure to unmute your microphone
  • At the conclusion of your lesson click “Leave” then:
    • If you have more questions for the admin click “Return to Main Session” and follow above steps to initiate a chat.
    • If not, click “Leave Meeting”

Other tips and tricks:

Headphones / Microphone

Since music is the name of the game, having both students and teachers wear headphones greatly improves the overall experience. Headphones with a microphone (such as apple air buds or a gaming headset) are even better. Also, if you have an audio interface at home, try setting up headphones and a microphone through your computer for the best possible audio! Let us know if you have any questions as far as equipment and best practices go, we’d be happy to help.

Improve Audio by Turning Off Noise Suppression

Zoom has an automatic feature called noise suppression that can cause loud instruments to cut out during calls.


In the Zoom App, navigate to:


Then set both "Suppress background noise" options to "Disable"


Go to the Settings Gear > Meetings > check Use Original Sound

In the meeting, click More > Enable Original Sound

Playing Music

Playing or singing along with recorded music is a big part of lessons. The best way to facilitate this is to have a separate device with speakers in the room with the student, that can play audio from Spotify, Youtube etc., this allows you to hear the music well enough to play along to without latency, and lets your teacher better observe.

Lesson Materials

Your instructor may share lesson materials with you during your call. They will be put up on the screen and If you’d like to save them for later, take a screenshot: 

  • IOS:     HOME + POWER buttons
  • Android:      Press the Power button for a few seconds. Then tap Screenshot.
  • Mac:       COMMAND + SHIFT + 4 then drag and click
  • PC:       PrtScn button

Your instructor may also email lesson materials after the lesson to the email address on your account.

Record Your Lesson

You can record part or all of your lessons to review later while practicing! 

  • On Mac/PC - Click Record along the bottom, then select Record to Computer
  • IOS - Instructions here

Dear Sunburst Students, 

First, we want to thank everyone for sticking with us during the COVID-19 pandemic! It has been and continues to be a difficult time for everyone. All in all–based on feedback from our students and instructors–our lessons on Zoom have been quite successful and they’re now a permanent part of our business model. However, Zoom lessons don’t work perfectly for all students, and now that Pennsylvania has moved into the Green Phase, we’ve made a plan to resume in-person lessons safely and at a limited capacity starting July 1st.

Dear Sunburst Students and Families,

It is hard to find the words to express our sorrow and outrage at the continued racism that is being televised nationally and witnessed in many of our communities around Pittsburgh. We at Sunburst are standing together for Justice. From our admin team to all of our instructors, our intention at this moment is to listen to the voices of our students of color, and we are currently educating ourselves on how we can affect positive change.

I would also like to remind all of our students and families that music can be a great healing agent, and a source of unification, which is what the nation needs right now. 

We want to highlight some local African American-led organizations in Pittsburgh working to improve the lives of our young people through the arts, please consider donating or reaching out to them to learn more: 1 Hood Media, Center of Life, YWCA Pittsburgh, The Lighthouse Project to name a few. There are also local and national organizations leading the fight against racial injustice, here are a few (including 1 Hood, above): Color of Change, Black Lives Matter, WHATS UP?!, Urban League of Greater Pittsburgh, My Brothers Keeper, NAACP Pittsburgh.

Alex Stanton
Sunburst School of Music

It’s that time of year again! We’re excited to announce our 2020 Spring Break and Summer Camp Lineup! At Sunburst, our camps are all about learning new and fun aspects of music-making, working together on multimedia projects, and performing in front of a live audience. This year our campers will create an EDM-inspired playlist of their own beats and loops, put together a 90’s rock show for the ages, write and perform a funk-rock opera, and record an album of all-original music in our recording studio. 

Sign up before March 1st and get $50 off! We have multi-camp and referral discounts available, and financial aid as needed. Read about our camps and sign up here, and let our admin team know if you have any questions.

Beats and Loops ResizeFunk Opera posterCamp Studio 1

60224231 1228666227302338 3344494331930083328 nCheck out some of these upcoming shows from Sunburst students and instructors and support local music! 

3/13 - hunnycomb single release with Donora at Spirit Lodge

  • Catch Sunburst instructors Chloe, Kevin and Casey and Sunburst News Editor in Chief, Alex
  • Doors 9:00PM
  • $10 Advance / $13 Door
  • 21+

3/21 - Tunnel Vision at Sunburst

  • Spring into Spring with an evening of classic rock featuring Tunnel-Vision (Lead by Sunburst student Richard) and opening act Sunburnt (One of our SBR 21+ Bands).
  • Doors 6:00PM, Show 6:45-9:00PM
  • $10
  • BYOB

3/28 - 2020 Sunburst House Band debut performance at Pittsburgh Ed Fest

  • The inaugural show for this year’s house band takes place at Pittsburgh Ed Fest at Oakland Catholic High School
  • Show 1:00-1:20PM

sam bio picOur teacher of the month for February is our amazing voice teacher Sam!

What kind of music do you like to play?

I always sang really classical stuff in college, and that's still my go-to, but lately, I've enjoyed playing guitar and singing some more contemporary stuff, and seeing how my "classical" voice can be used in a popular music context. 

How did you get into music? 

I always loved singing, and when I was 13 I started taking voice lessons and never stopped. I went into college undecided about what I wanted to do, and I ended up majoring in music because it was the one thing I always came back to. 

What's your favorite thing about being a teacher? 

I love helping people discover their own potential. I know first hand how powerful it feels to have your voice to something you didn't know you were capable of, or to feel pride in something you've been working on, and as a teacher, I get to guide students through that experience and it's awesome.

Any advice for aspiring musicians out there? 

When it comes to voice, there's a misconception that you need to have some kind of innate talent to be a singer or a voice student. Plenty of people, of all ages, start piano or guitar without knowing anything beforehand, and voice is the same way. Anyone can learn to sing, and it takes just as much practice and hard work as any other instrument to be good at it. 

Sunburst is starting a songwriter video series where we’ll be featuring students of all ages working on their own original music. It’s a great opportunity for any of our students to highlight what they’re working on, and a great milestone to work towards. We'll be announcing our first shoot in the next month.

Please RSVP here if you’d like to participate!


Sunburst is welcoming 3 new instructors this month! Here's a little bit about each of them:

Ryan Hoffman squareRyan - Guitar and Uke Instructor

  • Fun Fact: I'm a runner
  • Favorite Genre of Music: Indie Rock
  • Why do you love music?: Music can be different things in so many different ways. It can be peaceful, energizing, or calming. It is a great way too of channeling your emotions.


Aaron SquareAaron - Voice Instructor

  • Fun Fact: I'm fluent in German
  • Favorite Genre of Music: Indie Pop
  • Why do you love music?: Music is a great way to meet people and connect with them! 



Matt Price Square

Matt - Drum Instructor

  • Fun Fact: I know how to juggle!
  • Favorite Genre of Music: Instrumental music from ambient electronics and progressive metal
  • Why do you love music?: Music is a universal language that is a tool for expressing the inexpressible.

We are working on some new options for supplemental programs geared towards our adult students, and we would love to get some of your ideas! We’ll be hosting a focus group for our adult students on Saturday, January 25th from 3-5pm, and would like to invite any adult student to come and share their ideas.

Please RSVP by emailing, calling, or stopping in at the desk, and let us know if you have any questions.

House Band

The Sunburst House Band is an exciting opportunity for our most dedicated students to really get serious about playing and performing. Each year we hold an audition open to any students ages 10-17 to try out for voice, guitar, keyboards, bass or drums. Afterward our panel of judges will select the most advanced students for each instrument and draft a 6-8 person group for the 2020 Season.

The House Band meets once per week on Sunday evenings for rehearsals and performs upwards of 20 times per year at a variety of shows and events all over Pittsburgh. The band also records regularly and works on original material.

Full information on how to prepare for our House Band Auditions can be found here.

We’d also like to say here that going through the process of an audition is a valuable skill-builder in and of itself, so we’d like to encourage absolutely everyone interested to audition.

There are a few shows left for the 2019 House Band, catch them this Friday 1/10 performing at Sunburst!

We’re super excited about the official launch of our new WSBR: Sunburst Radio program! In this program, students will learn the ins and outs of music production, recording, beat making, podcasting and more! Check out the first episode and sign up for a free trial of the class!

Learn more about our teacher of the month, Piano and keyboard teacher Max Somerville. Check out the new album from Max’s band Wreckloose here


What kind of music do you like to play?
When it comes to playing music, my favorite kind is the kind you play with other people! Whether it’s with a band of friends I've been playing with for years, or someone I've just met, music has always been my favorite form of communication. If I had to pick a genre though I would probably say funk/soul. It's just really fun to play!

How did you get into music?
My father is a pianist and a songwriter and he introduced me to The Beatles White Album when I was five. I dug it so much that I asked him to teach me the piano for the only Ringo Starr song on the album "Don't Pass Me By". But it wasn't until I was 14, when my friends told me they needed a bass player for their band (I truly didn't know what bass was at that time) that I really got into music. I started writing music for the group, and I realized I had an application for everything I learned so far. I used the piano as a tool to write music and it all just started making sense.

What's your favorite thing about being a teacher?
My favorite thing about being a teacher is getting to talk about, listen [to], and play music with so many people! As a teacher, I am still constantly learning about music, and many times, I find myself learning something new while teaching something I thought I already fully understood.

Any advice for aspiring musicians out there?
Be fearless! Know that you're capable of achieving anything you put your mind to. Music doesn't have many roadmaps, and that can be confusing and intimidating. But that's also why it's great. You really have the freedom to create and communicate in a way that's completely your own.

In addition to being our beloved office manager, Naomi is also an amazing singer! Here’s a little Q and A with her about her musical background:

NaomiWhat kind of music do you like to play?  

I am a vocalist who likes to sing pop, r&b and gospel music.

How did you get into music?

I have always been naturally drawn to music, I started off as a dancer in a dance company years ago.  As a child, I always sang at home, church and school choirs. I had a fear of singing front and center, so I started singing in choirs and small musical groups.  However, I did not come out of my shell until I was an adult. After I realized my potential, the doors began to open and opportunities started knocking on my door!

What's your favorite thing about being at Sunburst?

My favorite thing about Sunburst to having the ability to be surrounded by like-minded people, who have a passion for music and inspiring students to reach their goals no matter what level they are.

Any advice for aspiring musicians out there?

Be comfortable being uncomfortable, be confident with being uncertain.... but never give up when things get hard. Pushing through challenges is what makes you grow! So keep going and don't quit!

Now is the time to sign up for our winter recitals! Talk to your instructor about performing and stop by the desk during your next lesson to sign up.

We will also be closing each recital with a sing-along version of the classic “Twist and Shout” by Bert Russell, in the style of The Beatles via the Isley Brothers. This will require “all hands on deck”, so we are hoping to get participation from each instrument. Here's a link to the chord sheet if you'd like to get a head start. We also have some copies ready in the studio.

See you in December!

kikagaku moyoErnie’s Pick of the Month

Kikagaku Moyo - Masana Temples

Hailing from Tokyo, Kikagaku Moyo doesn’t take cues from past psych-rock tropes like heavy guitars, reverb-drenched vocals or thundering drums. Instead, employ an impressive array of sounds that feels like a new chapter for international music. “Masana Temples” is their 4th full length LP and has garnered them a significant amount of recognition stateside. Throughout the record, Kikagaku Moyo weaves through Thai-funk grooves, minimalist bass layers, and catchy hooks that invite the listener to interpret the lyrics to fit the mood of the song. “Dripping Sun” is a great example of all of the different territory they can cover in one song while still remaining cohesive and listenable. If you like what you hear on “Masana Temples”, check out “House In The Tall Grass” and take a trip to Baltimore on November 14th to see them on their fall US tour.

TL;DR: Japanese psych band that everyone can listen to.

Key tracks: Dripping Sun, Amayadori, Gatherings


SHUCSince 2010, the Squirrel Hill Urban Coalition has honored the people and places that make Squirrel Hill a great place to live, work and do business. The Squirrel Hill Treasure Dinner has become an annual celebration and fundraiser for SHUC. Each year they recognize and congratulate individuals, businesses, and organizations that are integral parts to the community. We’re happy to announce that Sunburst is one of this year’s Treasures! The Dinner will take place on Wednesday, October 30th. You can learn more about this special event and the Squirrel Hill Urban Coalition at https://shuc.org

FinOur October Teacher of the Month is guitar and music production instructor Fin! 

What kind of music do you like to play?

When I play guitar, jazz. I like learning old solos and trying to understand how my favorite guitarists thought about and approached their music. On the computer I like to compose hip-hop beats from old samples. I get a big kick out of finding music you wouldn't expect in a hip-hop/electronic song and turning it into something catchy and fun to listen to.

How did you get into music?

I started playing guitar when I was 10 years old and shortly thereafter got involved in an after school music program that focused on playing R&B and Jazz. The teachers there really got me hooked.

What's your favorite thing about being a teacher?

I really enjoy finding out what students are into. Not just what music they listen to but what T.V. shows they've been watching or video games they're playing. It helps me get a clearer picture of what and even how they want to learn.

Any advice for aspiring musicians out there?

Think long-term! No one gets good at something overnight!

Check out these hilarious music videos from this past summer’s Camp Studio! TacoVille? Don’t mind if we do!


IMG 0228Annina is our September teacher of the month! 

How did you get into music?

I always had access to music when I was a kid - my dad had several guitars and a solid record collection of classic rock, Italian folk, and Polka. It was sort of a tradition to put on a record or the radio while we cooked on Sundays. Lots of Tarantella and “when the moon hits your eye like a big (you know it)”. Learning an instrument was never a question and my parents were very supportive of me exploring my interests. I went from playing the violin, to the trumpet, to getting braces and quitting trumpet, to finally playing drum set and guitar.

What kind of music do you like to play?

Soul and R&B through and through–particularly that of the 80’s! My songwriting is inspired by current artists whose sound is reminiscent of that era like Emily King and Regine Chassagne.

What's your favorite thing about being a teacher?

Teaching is a whole lotta fun. Part of it is getting to know lots of different people and learning about their interests. Part of it is helping them explore the thing that makes them happy. It’s sort of a covert trade. I’m always learning something new about music, teaching, my students, and about myself.

Any advice for aspiring musicians out there?

I lean toward self preservation in my practice. Though I’m guilty of leaning in that direction too much sometimes, I think there’s something to it. In order for me to practice drum set or write a song, I need to be intrinsically motivated–it needs to feel fun. I spent a lot time in college feeling stressed out about the quality and accuracy of my playing to the point that it didn’t feel enjoyable anymore. So yes practice, and work toward your goals, but also take breaks and shift from your routine! Have fun!

Check out these tracks from two of our young music production students who go by Smiley_Face and Chillplay respectively:

We post these thing periodically over on our YouTube page, subscribe for updates!

Jordan MainGuitar, Piano, Music Production and Explore instructor Jordan is our Teacher of the Month for August! Here's a Q and A with Jordan:

What kind of music do you like to play?

"I would say my absolute favorite stuff to play is anything with a either a folksy or jazzy feel on acoustic guitar. I have a lot of fun mixing genres and playing around with lyrics."

How did you get into music?

"I started guitar lessons when I started middle school. I remember being really frustrated by how tough guitar was starting out, but I kept at it, fell in love with playing and performing, and here I am, enjoying it more than ever 13 years later!"

What's your favorite thing about being a teacher?

"I enjoy bouncing ideas around with my students. Everyone has different tastes and goals in music, and it's always a lot of fun to try something new or help a student find their own unique way to cover song."

Any advice for aspiring musicians out there?

"Never stop learning and keep pushing yourself. Sometimes music can be as difficult of a job as anything else out there. Sometimes it can feel like you aren't getting anywhere. Those are the times where you need to work your hardest, and each time, you'll be amazed at what you can accomplish."

Camp Studio 2019 is in the books! 

All of our campers did such an amazing job with their songwriting, performing, engineering and producing. Check out the finished album below: 


Our illustrious pop stars have done it again! Check out the performance from this year's Night at the Pop-Opera camp:

What kind of music do you like to play?

I love to play and sing jazz, pop, neo-soul, and R&B. Anything that has a groove has my heart. But if I could pull it off, which I cannot, I’d strictly only perform songs from the album “Miss E...So Addictive” by Missy Elliott. It is the best female hip-hop/r&b album to date—endless bops.

How did you get into music?

My mother was a classically trained guitarist and vocalist, and my dad used to play accordion in a Polka Band. Neither pursued music professionally, but they made sure all six of their kids had some sort of musical background. I started piano lessons and joined choirs when I was in the first grade. Once I was introduced, I instantly fell in love with music, to say the least.

What's your favorite thing about being a teacher?

I love building relationships with my students and helping them reach their musical goals. Kids are amazing! But probably my favorite thing is helping my high school students perform outside of Sunburst events. Seeing them succeed on a professional level is extraordinarily gratifying.

Any advice for aspiring musicians out there?

If you do not know how to fail, you will not succeed. The road to success is through practice, performance, and perseverance. Someone will always be better than you, so it is how you utilize and combine your own personal gifts to reach that crystallized vision. The best advice ever given to me was from my late mentor Geri Allen:

“This music journey is long range.

Some downs but mostly ups.

Longevity is the true measure of success. Never give up."


Check out Chloe's band Hunnycomb!



electric armyErnie’s Pick of the Month

Electric Army - Hotbed of Descent

Electric Army is a group of five Pittsburgh area musicians forging new sounds that incorporate hard-hitting riffs, catchy vocal melodies, and a style that is all their own. Their self-produced debut “Hotbed of Descent” has something for everyone and sounds like a band settling into their swagger while at the same time ready to move on to bigger things. Descent captures something that few bands are able to achieve, which is a feeling of honesty and integrity. Whether it’s the seemingly care-free lyrics in “Heavy Dreamer” or the heavy instrumentation in “Gold”, it all comes across as genuine and invites the listener deeper inside the music. If their release show was any indication, Electric Army is one of the most promising bands in Pittsburgh, and they are just getting started.

TL;DR: A true DIY project that is as genuine as it is rocking.





Open Mic NightOn Friday, August 23, we will be hosting a Summer Open Mic Night for our students! Open Mic Nights at Sunburst allow students the opportunity to showcase what they’ve been working on in a supportive and beginner-friendly environment. Students can perform solo, with their instructors, in groups with their friends and family, or any other way that suits them; the stage is truly open. We’ll be hosting two sessions: 6-7:30pm, for all ages, and 7:30-9pm, for adults only (BYOB).

Stay tuned for more details next month!

Love PGH MusicThis July marks the first annual Love Pittsburgh Music Month, during which our local music community urges you to get involved in the scene by going to a show and checking out some of our amazing homegrown talent. July is the perfect month for marquee events like Picklesburgh, the Vine Rewind, and the Deutschtown Music Festival, which features more than 300 bands over the course of two days (including many Sunburst instructors and students!).

Check out LovePGHMusic.com for a comprehensive list of upcoming shows, and read about other ways to get involved and help us build a thriving music community in our home town!

Each June we like to highlight all of our instructor's exciting musical projects in our Instructor Band Bonanza! Check em out: 

hunnycombProject Name: hunnycomb

Teacher(s) Involved: Chloe Wieczorek, Kevin Lynch

How did your group get started?
Before the group came to be(e)...lol...Chloe performed as a solo artist, collaborating with various musician friends. Then she found some home bois 4 lyfe and they were Kevin on drums, Bryce Rabideau on guitar, and Jonah Petrelli on bass.

How would you describe your sound?
R&B/Neo-Soul... Jazzy-Pop nectar for your soul.

What's on the horizon for your group?
The horizon = a lot of performing, writing, recording, and promoting. We plan to release at least one single before the end of the year, in preparation for our 2020 album debut. (Oh and we have a cover music video streaming the interwebs this Friday!)

Where can we listen to your music and/or see you play?
Follow us online @hunnycombmusic on Facebook, Instagram, and Youtube

Here's when you can catch us this summer:
6/8 - 9pm - w/ Lyndsey Smith and Starship Mantis @ Hard Rock Cafe
6/14 - 7pm - Frick Park After Dark @ Frick Environmental Center
7/6 - 7pm - Stars at Riverview Jazz Series @ Riverview Park, Observatory Hill
7/12 - 4pm - Deutschtown Music Festival @ Main Stage

Rose WinstonProject Name: Rose Winston

Teacher(s) Involved:  Solo project by Anne Angyal

How would you describe your sound?
Lo-fi Electronic Pop - It has been described as Animal Collective/Arthur Russell meets Sade

What's on the horizon for your group?
This summer Rose Winston will tour the East Coast and Midwest for a few weeks in August. Look online at www.rosewinston.com to see if you might be traveling in one of those cities - or tell your friends to come out and say hi.

Where can we listen to your music and/or see you play?
You can listen online (Spotify, Bandcamp, Youtube), CDs will be available soon and Rose Winston will be playing in Pittsburgh at Nights of Conroy with Ami Dang on Aug. 24

radon chongProject: Radon Chong

Teachers Involved: Brian Hecht

How did your group get started:

I rediscovered some midi files I generated with notation software before I knew anything about harmony or music theory. I liked the mix of randomness and everything being in the same key (I don’t think I knew how to enter sharps and flats in the software). I started writing little things on the guitar, trying to capture this “vibe.” Once the band was put together the music became shaped more by the musician’s personalities and individual styles than by my early unschooled experiments, but we tried to keep an attitude of not worrying if things “made sense.” The big discovery for me was that it's not necessary to set arbitrary limits on the music you are making; in the absence of unlimited time and money limits will present themselves.

How would you describe your sound:

The city paper described our debut cassette as “sitting at the intersection of post-rock’s interwoven trajectories and Captain Beefheart’s atonal laments.”

What’s on the horizon for your group:

We plan on releasing a 4 song EP sometime in the second half of the year.

Where can we listen:



John O'BrienJohn O Brien is our Teacher of the Month! Hear what John has to say about being a teacher and his love for music, and check out some videos of John jamming with students.



What kind of music do you like to play?

I like to improvise so anything with interesting harmony and strong melodies!

Our spring recitals are June 7th, 9th and 15th, here’s a schedule of which instructors will be at which recital session. Talk to your instructor about getting prepared to perform and sign up by calling, emailing or stopping by the desk the next time you’re in!

Sun 6/9 - 10-11am Sun 6/9 - 12-1pm Sun 6/9 - 2-3pm Sun 6/9 - 4-5pm
Anne Angyal Fin Hagerty-Hammond Ben Rossman Jonathan Cordle
Annina Deberardinis Heather DiCicco Jordan Main Mikey Meiers
John O'Brien Lucas Bowman   Rich Kawood
      Shane McLaughlin
Sat 6/15 - 10-11am Sat 6/15 - 12-1pm Sat 6/15 - 2-3pm Sat 6/15 - 4-5pm
Chloe Wieczorek Bryan Persinger Brian Hecht Ben Sherman
Max Somerville Ernie Francestine Leigh Usilton Kevin Lynch
Todd Saulle Nicholas Huneycutt Molly Gavin Mike Molaro
  Sam Roschewsk   Sydney Kaczorowski


ShannonJoin us for the final installment of this Spring’s BurghSong concert series, featuring local favorite and BurghSong founder Ben Shannon and Baltimore singer songwriter Letitia VanSant. The BurghSong series pairs local and national songwriters for an intimate night of stories and songs and a listening room environment unique to Pittsburgh. Tickets are just $10 for students of Sunburst!

Read more at Burghsong.com

synthDid you know that the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh offers resources to help you become a better musician? All you need is a library card to access extensive musical resources at the Music Department of the Carnegie Library Main in Oakland.

You can find print and e-books about music theory, instrument instruction, and band biographies, as well as sheet music and guitar tabs. If you want to learn about Pittsburgh’s rich music history the library offers books, periodicals and scrapbooks of musicians of the 19th and 20th centuries. A music librarian can help you on your search or lead tours upon request.

If you’re looking for something more hands-on, try out the electronic instruments found at the library’s Musical Instrument Playground. You can even check out gear! Synthesizers, beatmakers, sequencers, effects pedals, digital theremins, recording equipment and ukuleles are available for 3-week rentals. Call 412.622.3105 to put an instrument on hold or stop in to check them out. If you’re under 18 you’ll need a parent or guardian to accompany you at check out.

For updates on classes and programs sign up for the monthly Music, Film & Audio eNewsletter or contact the Music Department at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

The 2019 Sunburst House Band has been decided, and they’ve already been practicing hard for a few weeks. Meet the 7 students who’ll be playing gigs all year representing our community! Check out our Events Page all year round for when you can catch one of their shows, you can also follow us on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook for updates.

House Band 2019 Group shot

behind the glassThis Summer our group programs, Sunburst Rocks Main Stage, Emerging Artists and the Suntones, will be learning all about the works of the greatest record producers of all time. What are record producers? They’re the people on the other side of the recording studio glass who help make all of the little decisions that add up to amazing music–none of your favorite songs would exist without them!

From the Beatles to Beyonce, every great musician is but one part of a team who works together to make the music we love. If you think of a band or artist as an orchestra, the producer is the conductor; while they may never touch an instrument, they’re often the single most important factor in how the music turns out. Like great musicians, great producers have their own sound and style and can give birth to huge movements in music, art, and culture through their work.

Our bands will choose from a list of incredible producers including: 

  • Quincy Jones
  • Brian Eno
  • Timbaland
  • Rick Rubin
  • Jack Antonoff, and more

The Bands will then conduct research to come up with a setlist of songs they produced. We’ll learn about what makes each producers style distinct and see if we can rework some of our other favorite songs in that style. We’ll also try our hand at songwriting and work to come up with a few tunes of our own to round out our set.

Our Behind the Glass Season runs June through August and will feature several performance opportunities within the month of August.

Read more about our group programs Sunburst Rocks, Emerging Artists and The Suntones and get in touch with us to sign up or if you have any questions!

RecitalWe’re excited to announce that our Spring Recitals will be taking place in early June, with 9 recital sessions and hundreds of performers we’re expecting this to be the most fun yet! Our recitals aren’t about perfection, they’re about learning and growing through performance and about supporting our fellow learners for all of the hard work they’ve put in. That’s why we always recommend to any and every student that they at least try getting on stage and playing something they’ve been working on, even if it’s really simple.

We break our recitals into one hour sessions with a few of our instructors at each. We’ve found that between 12-15 performers and their friends and families fill the room nicely without overcrowding and that an hour is an agreeable length of time or even our youngest audience members to stay engaged through.

Next month we’ll be posting the list of which instructors will be in which sessions, and we’ll start taking sign ups at the desk. For now, we just wanted to make sure our students save the date for our big Spring Recitals!

Sunburst Spring Recitals:

  • Friday 6/7 - 7-9p - Adults Only, BYOB
  • Sunday 6/9 - 10-11a, 12-1p, 2-3p, 4-5p - All Ages
  • Saturday 6/15 - 10-11a, 12-1p, 2-3p, 4-5p - All Ages

alex stantonSunburst founder and director (and me, your faithful Sunburst News Editor) will be taking the stage at Sunburst for a solo acoustic performance on Saturday March 16th as part of the BurghSong Concert series, which pairs local and touring songwriters for intimate shows. Alex’s music project townsppl was just awarded the 2018 Local Album of the Year from WYEP, he’ll be performing some songs from that record, as well as testing out some brand new ones. The show also features Alice Peacock from Nashville.

Tickets are $10 for Sunburst students and families, with Alex’s share going to the Sunburst Music Scholarship Fund.

Get tickets at BurghSong.com/buy-tickets

Check out Alex’s music at townsppl.com

House BandWe just wanted to give our 2018 House Band a shout out for all their hard work and all of the incredible shows they’ve played over the past year. The band capped their season with a killer performance at the Spirit Lodge in February, although they’ll get to have an encore performance at the WYEP Summer Music Festival as part of the ReImagination project. Special shout out within a shout out to Riley Deringor, Shane Cranor and Mason Miller, these three have been with the House Band since it began and will be headed off to college in the fall. Check out some of their performances from over the years on Sunburst’s instagram. We’ve also got some recordings coming soon.

Stay tuned next month to meet the 2019 House Band!

Do you often stare at your recycling bin and think how musical everything in there looks? We do too! Our Junk Yard Jams camp is all about creating instruments from recycled materials, and we need your help to get our collection ready! Item’s of particular interest are large cardboard tubes, water jugs, and lidded tins but we’re open to anything that our campers can use to get creative. Much like the Pittsburgh Department of Public Works, we prefer our materials to be clean and food free prior to donation.

Drop off donations at the desk or let us know if you have any questions!

Check out info and sign up for Junk Yard Jams and our other camps on our camps page

With Summer Camps, holiday travel and the like, we know summer can be a tricky time to keep up with your music practice. Our goal is to make it easier for students and families to do their thing during the summer, without losing too much ground with their practicing, and also not need to worry about losing a spot with their favorite instructor.

Enter the Summer Lite Plan, newly revamped for 2019.

At the conclusion of each season, our Sunburst Rocks Main Stage, Emerging Artists and Suntones programs hit the studio to lay down some tracks of what they've been working on. To wrap up last fall's Pittsburgh Live! Season the groups recorded a great combination of cover and original songs that we're excited to share with you below, let us know what you think!


Our full slate of 2019 Spring Break and Summer Camps are here! Check them out and sign up over on our camps page.

You’ve been taking lessons and practicing, now’s your chance to share your song on stage at Sunburst! Our Student Open Mic Night is a mini-recital in between our main recitals which take place in December and June. We’ll be hosting an all ages session from 6-7:30pm and a BYOB adults only session from 7:30-9pm. Talk to your instructor about getting ready for performing, and sign up at the desk!

  • Student Open Mic Night at Sunburst
  • Friday, April 5th
  • All Ages Session - 6pm–7:30pm
  • BYOB Adults Only Session - 7:30pm–9pm
  • Time slots are first come first serve, email us or sign up at the desk today!

It’s that time of year again! Time to audition to be a part of the Sunburst School of Music House Band! The Sunburst House Band is an all-star group of young musicians ages 10-17 who are ready to take the town by storm with a ton of amazing performing and recording opportunities year round. This is an opportunity for our most passionate vocalists, guitarists, bassists, keyboardists and drummers to really dig in and take their playing and performing to the next level.

Sunburst House BandWe’re proud to announce that the Sunburst School of Music House Band has been chosen to participate in this year’s WYEP REimagination Project. The project pairs some of the area’s brightest young musicians with some of the area’s most accomplished producers and engineers to put together an album of all original music. The kids will also get the chance to further kick start their careers with band photos, bios, and performances at the WYEP Summer Music Festival.

In addition to the House Band, a number of other Sunburst students including the Allies, Sloane Simon, and Eli Alfieri were selected as well. We’d like to congratulate all of the participants and wish them the best of luck with their writing, producing and performing!

Sunburst instructor Rose Winston has released Quartz, an album of “Moody, melodic hand-crafted beats for your easy listening pleasure.” Each track is a delightfully off-kilter combination of rhythms and unexpected textures tied together with Rose’s ethereal vocals. The music is angular, leaning on odd timing and a sort of musical power clashing aesthetic, yet the overall effect is organic, inviting and dare I say catchy?

Our friend Duvy Burston is out with a new song Ki Ata Imadi paying trib- ute to the Tree of Life victims. Duvy pairs his silky vocals with some earthy guitar chords and delicate yet balanced production on this heartfelt ballad. Check out Duvy’s track and help spread peace and love wherever you go!

Our Winter Recitals are just over a month away! Remember, all students are invited and encouraged to perform, and the events benefit the Sunburst Music Scholarship Fund. Here is a handy chart of which instructors will be at which session.

Like our students, we're always striving to learn more, and to continue to grow and develop. Honest feedback from students and families like you is by far the best way for us to do that! Please take the time to fill out our fall survey either at sunburstmusic.com/2018survey, or in the waiting room the next time you come in.

One lucky survey participant will be the winner of a $50 Sunburst Gift Card!! Check next month’s newsletter to see if you’ve won.

In response/tribute to the tragic events that have affected our community and to those who were closely connected to Tree of Life and the victims, our family at Sunburst is eager to use the gift of music to lift hearts, to hold space for those grieving and bring our strong and loving neighbors together. We’ll hope you’ll join us in a evening of performances hosted by our young musicians, the Sunburst Rocks Band, Potluck Food, light snacks, beverages, and an opportunity to donate to some good causes.

We hope this finds you and your family feeling supported and nurtured during such a difficult time and most importantly, inspired to stay connected to others. Sunburst is committed to being a safe and positive place for our students, families, friends and neighbors and we hope that we can help encourage peace, love and understanding through our shared love of music!


  • Saturday Nov 10, 6-9pm
  • Performers:
    • Sunburst Rocks
    • Emerging Artists
    • The Sunburst House Band
    • The Suntones
  • Potluck Food - Bring a dish!
  • Donations accepted for a variety of charities that work to fight hate
  • Open to the public

Comm Con

Durand Jones and The IndicationsDurand Jones & The Indications are the leaders of the new “deep soul” movement coming out of the midwest. Their record company, Colemine, specializes in a curated collection of modern soul and funk music. Where the self titled record shines the most is its unabashed authenticity and realness. This doesn't feel like a rehash, but a new spin on an old classic. Jones’ singing is matched by the swing of his band. If that isn't enough, check out drummer Joe Jones falsetto on the track “Is it Any Wonder?”.

TL;DR: Want to feel like you’re on Queens Blvd in 1959? Put on this record.

Key Tracks: Make A Change, Giving Up, Can’t Keep My Cool

See performances from your favorite Sunburst Instructors!

Chloe, Max
Working Breed Music Video Release w/ Wreck Loose - Spirit Lodge - Fri, Dec 14th
Chloe, Kiki, Shane, Max
WYEP Holiday Hootenanny - August Wilson Center - Thu, Dec 6th


See performances from your favorite Sunburst Instructors!

Jonathan C
Hedwig and the Angry Inch - Pittsburgh Musical Theater - Begins Fri, Nov 9th
Chloe, Ben R.
The Friday Night Special - Market Square - Nov 16th
Chloe, Kevin
Chloe Wiecz Collective - Cattivo - Sat, Dec 1st


Sunburst is well, partnering with the CMU Cognitive Development Lab to help with some studies involving learning in adolescence. If you’re interested in having your child be a part of one of their studies, please find and complete the questionnaire in our waiting room and be a part of some exciting and important research!

Winter Recital

You’ve been working hard, practicing and perfecting your craft, now it’s time to hit the stage and perform! Recitals at Sunburst are the most fun time of the year, when all of our students showcase their musical growth with their peers, their friends and their families. Whether you’ve been at it for years, or just learned your first melody last week, it’s never too early in your career to start sharing your music with an accepting audience.

Students are invited to play solo, with their instructors, with a friend or family member, with a backing track or however they feel the most comfortable.

Our winter recitals will be held in our concert space at Sunburst on Sunday December 9th and Saturday December 15th, each day will feature 4 sessions:





We’ll also be holding a special BYOB adult’s only session on Friday December 7th from 7-9pm. Enrollment in each session is limited so please RSVP by calling (412) 475-8280, This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. here, or stopping up at the desk as soon as you can. The recitals are free to perform in with an optional donation at the door for the Sunburst Music Scholarship Fund. Also get a bit more practice at our free practice session and picture day on 12/1! Click here for details.

Camp Studio

This years Camp Studio was the biggest and most fun yet! We had a great team of creative young musicians and producers, who really worked hard on the camp's number one goal: making an album in a week. We began with songwriting on Monday and moved our creations through the music production process throughout the week, including basic tracking, overdubs, mixing and mastering. We also crafted music videos for a few of our songs and put on an all original concert for friends and family! 

Here's our album: 


And music videos for "Friends" and "Dead Dancer":



At the request of some of our campers, here are the stems for some of our tracks. "stems" are the individual tracks that make up a song, which can be used for making your own remixes. Basically each layer of the song becomes it's own audio file, all of which are exactly the same length, so that when you load it into your favorite DAW software (check out Sunburst's Music Production Buyers Guide for tips) everything lines up correctly. If you're using Garageband, loading stems as as simple as opening a new project and just dragging all of the stem files together into the arrange window. 

If you have any questions about how to do this, let us know, we'd be happy to help. 


Thanks everyone for an amazing week! 

 IMG 7176 3IMG 7177 1

Whether you’re taking music production lessons with us at Sunburst, recording your band, making beats, or composing chart topping EDM there are a lot of directions music production can take you, but only one place to start!

Music Production Buyers Guide for Software and Hardware

Whether you’re taking music production lessons with us at Sunburst, recording your band, making beats, or composing chart topping EDM there are a lot of directions music production can take you, but only one place to start!

Digital Audio Workstation


A digital audio workstation or DAW is software used to create, record and shape your music. There are quite a few DAWs to choose from, at Sunburst we teach primarily two.


With a large selection of software instruments, digital audio effects and easy-to-use interface GarageBand is a great place to start recording and composing your own music. Developed exclusively for MacOS, GarageBand can be downloaded for free onto any iMac or MacBook product from the App Store.

Ableton Live

Unmatched in how well it handles both digital and recorded music, Live is a program used by professionals but also a great tool for learning fundemental skills. All three versions of Live can downloaded for Mac or PC from Ableton’s website. We suggest you start with the ‘Intro’ version which costs $100 and gradually expand with plug-ins and upgrades as you learn.

MIDI Controllers


A MIDI controller is a piece of external hardware like a keyboard or drum-pad that allows you to create music in ‘real-time’. Musicians often prefer them because they allow for more spontaneity and intuitive decision making. The cost and quality vary greatly but around $100 is often a good price point for your first purchase.

We also teach a live DJ controller called DJ Serato that costs roughly $300 and a more fully interactive controller specifically designed for Live called Push that starts around $400.

Headphones & Speakers


Once you start shaping your sound it’s important to listen to your music through professional quality equipment. Hearing the full spectrum of high and low frequencies through a ‘neutral’ audio source allows you to give a depth and clarity to your sound that can’t be done with consumer grade equipment like ‘Beats by Dre’ or standard computer speakers.

Audio-Technica’s ATH-M30x
and Sony’s MDR‐V6
are all great studio quality headphones that cost around $70.

PreSonus’s Eris 5
M-Audio’s AV42
and Mackie’s MR524-5
are studio monitors (or speakers) that come highly recommended and cost between $100- 150.

Microphones & Pre-Amps


Microphones and pre-amps are used for capturing vocals and live instruments. A microphone will capture a signal and a pre-amp will process that signal into your DAW. Prices for microphones vary greatly and because there is such a large variety of them we recommend you consult our staff before making your purchase.

Most likely your first microphone, pre-amp and amenities like stands and cables will cost $150-250.

Where to Buy?


Though there are always exceptions most of the items cannot be purchased in a traditional music store and need to be ordered online. Amazon and eBay will often have what you need but we recommend you checking these websites for what are often the best deals.




Just Ask!

We’re here to help! Our staff has no personal stake in selling products, just in teaching you how to use them, so If you have any question please don’t hesitate to ask!

Instructor Band CD'sDid you know that many of your favorite Sunburst instructors are also original artists, writing songs, touring and making records?! Cool huh? Support your local music and arts scene by purchasing sunburst instructor’s band’s CD’s from the front desk (and then listening on Spotify ;)

Here are a few of the selections available now:

The Buckle Downs - Hard Truths (Ernie, Kiki, Jonathan G)

Starship Mantis - self titled (Ben R)

Buffalo Rose - The Seed and the soil (Shane)

townsppl - twigs (Alex)

When our Robot Takeover campers arrived on monday morning, all they had was a pile of wood, 16 servo motors, one controller, and a computer. Using their imaginations and some critical thinking, the students used these supplies to create a music-playing robot named Bobert.

Robot CampThe students spent the first part of camp dreaming up their robot. They collected instruments they wanted the robot to play and planned how they could attach motors to 

robot piano

play the instruments, also deciding which notes, chords, and percussion pieces their robot would play. The kids got creative with wood, screws, clamps (and yes even some duct tape) to assemble the robot.

Once the students got the robot functioning, they broke into groups and used GarageBand to compose a piece of music especially for Bobert, keeping in mind the limitations of their robot and the complexities of programming that composition. Each group worked on creating a program that told the controller which motors to move each 1/4 second. This took a lot of concentration, problem solving, and cooperation!

robot guitarAnybody who has worked with electrical and technical components knows we were bound to run into some problems at some point. That problem came on Thursday when our controller stopped receiving power! Luckily by Friday morning we were back up and running. The technical difficulties allowed the students time to learn how to play their robot compositions live as a band. Although not a planned part of camp, the malfunction also allowed us to have a discussion about real musicians playing the music vs robots. Which would you rather hear play the compositions? What are the limitations of both?

On the last day of camp, Bobert performed his songs for an audience of adoring fans/parents. It was an impressive sight, but I was most impressed with how imaginative, focused, and enthusiastic the students were throughout the camp! What a great group!






Mikey Meiers

Over the past few months students and parents have been asking me “so what are you doing with your music?”

I’ve spent the better part of two years focusing strictly on songwriting.

Specifically, writing for other artists and making instrumental cues for TV/commercials. I’ve was able to take a few trips last year to Nashville and Los Angeles while still working from Pittsburgh.

Things have been moving along and I’ve been fortunate to meet and work with insanely knowledgeable and talented people. The music i’ve been creating, I’ve wanted to share and Patreon is helping me do that! Each month you get a song for only $5. . . thats a deal!

For more info check out my page at https://www.patreon.com/mikemeiers


Can’t wait until December to get back on stage and play your song? We can’t wait that long to hear it! Our summer recitals will take place on Saturday August 25th and are open to any and all students who would like to perform.

This time around we’re going to be offering 1 hour sessions limited to 15 performers each (we’ve found that this size is ideal in terms of audience size, attention spans etc.). The different sessions will be:




We’re also going to be doing a group song at the end of each, details TBA.

Talk to your instructor about performing and sign up at the desk today!


John Prine

Ernie’s Pick of the Month

John Prine - Tree of Forgiveness

You would think after decades of using familiar chords and melodies–no matter how genuine and clever–things would begin to feel stale on John Prine’s first new record in 13 years. Well, they don't. Prine is one of America's treasured songwriters that few know about, even though he has penned some of the most famous folk songs (Sam Stone, Hello In There, Illegal Smile, Angel From Montgomery etc) of the last 100 years...

The Tree of Forgiveness feels like you are sitting on a front porch listening to Prine pluck his guitar and pick stories out of the American landscape. It is a refreshing album and the production from Dave Cobb (Sturgill Simpson, Jason Isbell) feels appropriate and accommodating. The Tree of Forgiveness doesn’t require much of the listener other than to immerse yourself in the sparsity of the music and think about the complexity later.

TL;DR: One of the greatest songwriters of all time at a peak in his career

Key tracks: Summers End, Caravan of Fools



sunburst festOur Spring Season Showcase for all of our group programs is scheduled for Sunday June 3rd in Schenley Plaza.




This spring, the final concert for all of our group performance programs will be a fun music festival style event under the tent at Schenley Plaza. Join us for an afternoon of great music as our Sunburst Rocks Main Stage and Emerging Artists Groups perform their Bonnaroo Music Festival Tribute sets, the SunTones perform their Nothin’ but ‘90s show, and the 2018 Sunburst House Band headlines. The event is Sunday, June 3rd from noon-4pm, check next month’s newsletter for full details!

Kayla SchuremanOn April 21st, the BurghSong listening room concert series continues with local singer songwriter Kayla Schureman and traveling folk artist Tim Grimm from Indiana.

Kayla’s debut album “Kiss the Ground” released in 2017 was a local focus on WYEP and got excellent reviews nationwide. Tim has been performing and touring for 15 years and had a #1 song on Folk Radio in 2014. Don’t miss this special night for roots music in Pittsburgh!


Ticket prices are $15 in advance, $20 at the door, and $10 for Sunburst Students (wow!)

Casey HannerSo what is this Robot Takeover Camp anyway?

We are going to work together as a group to build a robot that will actually play music! Then we are going to compose pieces of music and learn how to program the robot to play those compositions. The robot will take center stage during the end of the week performance!


How did you come up with the idea for it?

My educational background is in engineering and I've always had an interest in robots and programming. So I thought it would be fun to add a robotics element into one of our summer camps. I wanted to figure out a way to really combine music and robotics (instead of learning about each separately) and that's how the music-playing robot idea was born!

Who would this camp be fun for?

Everyone! I mean who doesn't want to build a robot? You don't have to have any experience in robotics, programming, or even music. However if you do happen to have some experience in one of those areas, this project can be made more challenging depending on your level.

What sorts of fun things can kids expect to do and learn?

We're going to learn about the basics of programming (through easy to use software), we're going to use our critical thinking (and teamwork) skills to design and build the robot together, and we're going to learn about music composition. We're also going to see how music can be composed and recorded using computers.


Recital 1Our Spring Recital Concerts will be held Sunday, June 10th and Saturday, June 16th at Sunburst

Brad YoderSince 2015, Sunburst has been hosting the BurghSong concert series, which brings intimate living room style performances from local and national songwriters to Pittsburgh. The Spring season will feature shows on the 3rd Saturday of the month in March, April and May.

This month’s show features local songwriting legend Brad Yoder. Brad has had a long career of writing and performing as well as hosting concerts and songwriting workshops in the Pittsburgh area. Brad will perform with longtime collaborator, upright bassist Jason Rafalak. On the national side is terrific indie-folk singer songwriter Kipyn Martin hailing from Washington, DC.


Here’s the lineup for the spring season:


Saturday, March 17 – Kipyn Martin / Brad Yoder
Saturday, April 21 – Tim Grimm / Kayla Schureman
Saturday, May 19 – Mare Wakefield and Nomad / Casey Hanner (Hey! You know her!)


Ticket prices are $15 in advance, $20 at the door, and $10 for Sunburst Students (wow!)

TL;DR: it’s just dance music

LCD SoundsystemLCD Soundsystem were reborn in 2017 with “American Dream”, an album that sounds fresh and daringly relevant. Lead track “oh baby” gives the listener a deft preview of what’s to come–undeniable hooks, incredible production and lyrics that make you sit up and say “was he reading my journal?”. James Murphy (principal songwriter) and company sound rejuvenated after a self imposed "retirement" and the end of "American Dream" just feels like the start to a fantastic second half of a career.

Key Tracks: oh baby, american dream


recording dayAfter their amazing performance at Mr Smalls Funhouse in December, our growing musicians in the Sunburst Rocks, Suntones and House Band programs took to the studio to learn about the recording arts and to lay down some tracks.

Some of the groups opted to recreate a favorite cover song from this season and others decided to cut new ground and write and record a new song in the same day.

For all of the groups we used a combination of live performance and overdubs to build our tracks. We started with our rhythm sections (drums, bass, rhythm guitars) and then layered lead vocals, keyboards, backing vocals and whatever else we could think of to recreate what our young producers were hearing in their heads. Another important part of our recording sessions is teaching kids how this stuff works by making sure that everyone gets a turn at running the computer, audio equipment and microphones. Once we’ve got all of our tracks recorded, we mix them, master them, and put them up on Soundcloud for your enjoyment!



ableton festAnne–our awesome DJ and music production instructor–traveled to Berlin this fall to take part in the Ableton Loop Festival and here’s her report! If you’re interested in this kind of stuff, ask us about DJ and Music Production lessons.


Each year, the German city of Berlin creates an amazing, scenic backdrop for an audio/visual festival put on by local music production software company, Ableton. At this eclectic festival, many engineers, artists, educators and developers join from countries around the world to meet and share ideas. Professionals such as Goldie, Nosaj and Susan Rogers (Prince’s sound engineer) gave talks, while others like Pole and Machinedrum taught smaller workshops on analog and digital recording. There were a lot of events and performances going on in the acoustically designed recording spaces of the Funkhaus Berlin, an iconic music venue looking over the river Spree. There were also some great panels including young musicians (Sapphire Slows, Chloe Martini, mobilegirl) who had just crossed the boundary into popularity via soundcloud and other social media. Overall an exciting and inspiring event!

For more info see here.


countdown to summer squareThe snow is falling, the presents are under the tree, and the menorah is lit. But we have our eyes fixed on warmer weather! That’s why we’re excited to announce our next Sunburst Rocks Season: “Countdown to Summer” (a tribute to the Bonnaroo Music Festival). 


The Bonnaroo music festival is held deep in the hills of Manchester, TN and has been attracting over 73,300 concertgoers since its creation in 2002. So why did we choose this theme for our spring season? This time around we wanted something that included a wide range of artists for our students to choose from, and that’s what this festival has–something for everyone.

Starting as a jam and folk event, with it’s roots in the Monteray and Woodstock festivals of the 60’s, Bonnaroo has grown into a genre defying mashup of pop culture. U2, Mumford and Sons, Stevie Wonder, The Black Keys, Bob Dylan, Radiohead, Tom Petty, Beastie Boys, Phish, Tool, D’Angelo, Metallica and Jay Z are just a few of the eclectic artists that have played the main stage over the years.

How do you know if your young rocker is a fit for main stage? That’s a question we get asked often. If you’re a guitarist playing open or power chords, a drummer that can play along to songs, a pianist that knows chords, or a singer that can hold a tune, then you’re the perfect fit!

Playing music with other people is one of the best ways to grow as a musician, and it’s the most fun! Ask your instructor if you’re ready for Sunburst Rocks Main Stage or Emerging Artists and try a free 1st session along with half off your 1st month when you sign up this January.


Sunburst Rocks Main Stage (ages 10-17) runs Mondays 5-7pm, Wednesdays 5-7pm, Fridays 4:30-6:30pm and Saturdays 1-3pm


Sunburst Rocks Emerging Artists (ages 8-10) runs Thursdays 5-6:30pm and Saturdays 11:30am-1pm


Spring Season starts Thursday January 4th


The holiday season is closing in, but we’re sure you’ve already done all of your shopping, right? What’s that? Oh just a few more things to get? Still trying to figure out what to get the musician in your family? Oh you haven’t even started… Ahhh.. OK well we’re here to help.


Sunburst Gift Cards

gift cards

Redeemable for lessons, group programs, band coaching and summer camps, Sunburst gift cards are the perfect gift for your friends, family members, neighbors, and neighbor’s friend’s family members.




Vibes Hi-Fidelity Ear Plugs

vibes web

Ear plugs are totally essential for drummers or musicians involved in a band program but for other musicians, a nice pair can be really useful for concert going and walking past construction sites. Vibes are a low cost alternative to the fancy custom molded kind and compared to the standard foam ear plugs, do a great job of just lowering the volume without muffling or changing the sound



Musician’s Dice

musiciansdiceRoll these simple and brilliant dice to find your way into a scale or chord progression that you never would have thought of or expected. Gamify your practice, start a prog rock band, write new songs or just see where the music takes you with Musician’s Dice available from Amazon.




Turntable, Amplifier & Speakers

turntableTeach your young musician the magic of music listening the old fashioned way with a vinyl listening setup. Getting into vinyl makes us more mindful about our music listening, reduces screen time, and makes for some fun trips to our neighbor in Squirrel Hill, Jerry’s Records! We recommend going with a separate turntable, amplifier and speakers over an all-in-one unit so that you can upgrade pieces individually later. Here is a buyer’s guide.



Spotify Subscription

spotify…and/or if your favorite music listener is more of a streamer, a subscription to Spotify is the best way to give the gift of endless, ad-less listening. Once you’ve got them signed up, make sure they follow and playlist their favorite Sunburst instructor’s bands ;)


The Buckle DownsIn their annual countdown of their favorite local releases, 91.3 WYEP put Hard Truths at the top of the list. The Buckle Downs feature Sunburst instructors Kiki Brown (voice), Ernie Francestine (guitar and frequent Sunburst News contributor (Ernie from Ernie’s Pick of the Month)) and Jonathan Gulden (Drums).

The band has had a monumental 2017 with high profile performances at the Three Rivers Arts Fest, Hartwood Acres, Light Up Night and WYEP Summer Music Festival. Hard Truths was produced and engineered by Jake Hanner of the band Donora, who also has a connection to Sunburst via his sister and band mate Casey Hanner (voice). Rounding out WYEP’s list at #5 was the debut album from local garage rock group Wreck Loose, entitled OK Wreck Loose. The band features another Sunburst instructor Max Somerville (keyboard).

Checkout the rest of the list on WYEP’s website and listen to Hard Truths and OK Wreck Loose on Spotify! Congrats to everyone and look out for more from your favorite Sunburst instructors in 2018!


Sunburst Music Scholarship Fund

We’re thrilled to announce that we’re partnering with New Sun Rising to form the Sunburst Music Scholarship Fund, a new scholarship aimed at providing free or low cost music lessons to kids from lower income families. Learning music can have a profound impact on the minds and lives of young people, and it’s our goal to make sure that our lessons and group programs are accessible to everyone. 

In order to make this happen we need the help of you, the students and families of Sunburst. We’ll be accepting donations on our website, at our recitals and in the waiting room. Since music lessons are ongoing in nature, we’re also looking for anyone interested in doing a monthly ongoing donation, essentially sponsoring a student. Finally, we’re planning a major fund raiser event for early next year. More details to follow.


The other way in which we need your help is in building awareness about our scholarship. Aside from making sure that we raise money for the fund, we need to make sure that we get the word out to the communities who would benefit most from what we’re offering. If you know of anyone who would be a good candidate for our scholarship or who might be a good community partner for us, please put them in touch!


Donate to the Sunburst Music Scholarship Fund here.


Drum student and teacher at June 17 recitalI can’t believe we’re already heading into another holiday season and that can only mean one thing…there’s a student recital around the corner!! I absolutely love helping my students get ready for recitals because it’s such an important learning tool in addition to being a fun, enriching experience. Performing is a wonderful way for students to express themselves and show what they have learned. It also establishes clear goals for them to work towards which can spark a great deal of progress in the prior weeks. That’s why preparation is key!

Students are challenged to practice a whole new set of skills when they are on stage as opposed to being in a lesson room, so it is important for them to feel as prepared as possible. I work with my students to set and achieve clear goals each week and always practice consistency within the pieces. This allows for us to dig a bit deeper into the songs and really work out any trouble spots. I love this process because it can open up a more in depth dialogue about technique as well as how to add more emotion into a song.

Students perform at SunburstAs a vocalist, it can be fun to experiment with improvising melodies in a lesson, but for a performance I know students will feel much more in control if they have everything planned out. I have also found that having my students take a few slow, steady breaths to start every lesson helps to relax their shoulders, deepen their breath, and slow their heart rate. Acquiring simple breathing techniques can truly make the difference before a performing a piece on stage or off. So when my students step out in front of the crowd and under the lights, I am confident that their hard work will shine.

Although I only have one Sunburst recital under my belt, I was so impressed by all of the students’ positive attitudes and excitement to watch each other perform. They were all so supportive of each other and I realized how much that is a reflection of all the amazing teachers at Sunburst who support each other in that same way. My students left for the evening feeling accomplished and inspired which revitalized our lessons in the following weeks. These recitals are meant to bring students, parents, and faculty closer together and to help all of us recognize what a wonderful community we are building. I encourage all of my students to get involved with the recital because even though it can be intimidating and scary, I know they will feel so accomplished afterwards and will want to keep striving to be the best musician they can be!

Our recitals are Sunday 12/10 and Saturday 12/16 - Sign ups are open at the desk now!


The Meters - Struttin’

The Meters   StruttinThis is The Meters 3rd record produced by all-time great New Orleans pianist / songwriter / arranger / producer Allen Toussaint. Not only does this record deliver extremely deep, satisfying groove, but the “songs” are there are as well. Check out “Witchita Lineman” for a great soul ballad, something you didn't hear on previous Meters records. The Meters also happen to be one of the few bands that use the guitar to enhance the funk of the rest of the group - check out “Meters Strut” to see what I mean. If you are looking for an entrance into funk / soul music, there is no better record than this. 

Key Tracks: Chicken Strut, Hand Clapping Song, Witchita Lineman

TL;DR: funk with soul 

Have you ever wanted to write your own songs? Check out these awesome kids who are doing it!

Writing songs is one of the most fun things you can do with music. It’s a great way to take everything you’ve learned about your instrument and turn it into something that’s uniquely yours. Just like an instrument, songwriting is a thing that you can practice and get better at, whether it’s putting together more interesting chords, lyrics and melodies or just getting more comfortable assembling ideas and sounds. 

This month we’re going to take a look at a few of our young students who’ve been writing their own stuff! Check out their songs here and profiles below:

Sky Egbertsky egbert

Age: 9

Instrument(s): guitar, voice

Listen to: Dem Birds, Zoo Animals

When did you start writing songs?

“In my lessons I realized I really wanted to be a singer when I grew up... Ms. Casey asked me if I’d like to try writing my own songs. She taught me that songs can be really simple— like just “ooh, ooh ohh!”  Before I knew it we had turned that into a song about Zoo Animals.  I was so proud and wanted to do it again!”

How many songs have you written?

“I’ve written two songs, “Zoo Animals,” and “ ‘Dem Birds”  which I wrote with Mr. Ernie  I’m working on a third song right now about Elephants.”

Have you performed any of them?

“Yes! I got to play both songs on stage at Sunburst— it was SO much fun!”

Have you recorded any of them?

“”Yes, both songs.  I got to play all of the instruments and sing using a multi-track recorder with Ms. Casey”

How do you write one?

“I like to start with a character or subject that I like. Then I work on getting a good beat, and after that I figure out what instruments I can use with that beat. With Ms. Casey I used a keyboard, guitar, my feet and drumsticks.  Last year I really wanted to learn the ukulele, and started taking lessons from Mr. Ernie — so now I start new songs using the chords I’m working on in Ukulele. My song “ ‘dem birds” came from the first two ukulele chords I learned— Am and C.”

What’s your favorite thing about writing songs?

“…you get to make your own words and your own chords. I love knowing it’s my own and being able to write whatever I want. One of my favorite things ever was figure skating at a show to my song “Zoo Animals.” Everyone at the show could tell it was me singing.”

seanSean Whitney

Age: 15

Instrument(s): guitar, voice

Listen to: Better Days (Demo)

When did you start writing songs?

I started writing songs around a year ago now, but I’ve been having ideas for songs since before that. 

How many songs have you written? 

At this point I think that I’ve written around 10 songs, both on my own and collaborating with other people.

Have you performed any of them? 

 I’ve performed a few of them at Sunburst recitals and during the songwriting Main Stage, and I currently have a few gigs planned with my band to perform on our own playing some of them. 

Have you recorded any of them?

So far, I have yet to completely record any of them in their entirety, but I have begun to and have rough demos for two, with plans to fully record soon. 

How do you write one?

When writing a song, I usually start with a chord progression, often the chorus, and work backwards from there, filling in the melody and other instrument parts. 

What’s your favorite thing about writing songs?

My favorite thing about writing songs is the creativity and flexibility it gives you. You are free to do whatever you want, and it’s really freeing, and there’s also a sense of accomplishment when you finish and take a step back and think, “Wow, I did this!”

ninaNina Cranor

Age: 11

Instrument(s): guitar, voice, ukulele

Listen to: I Disappear (Demo)

When did you start writing songs?

When I was really little, probably in kindergarten, on a ukulele.

How many songs have you written?

I’ve written around eight this year. Its hard to remember how many from when I started.

Have you performed any of them?

Yes, at home for my family and also at Sunburst recording camp. I also performed a new version of one of old my songs at the Sunburst new studio grand opening celebration concert.

Have you recorded any of them?

Yes, some at camp and others at home.

What’s your favorite thing about writing songs?

That I can write songs that are as simple or as hard to play as I want. But I don’t have to write something really complex to have it sound good.

caty clarkCaty Clark

Age: 12

Instrument(s): guitar, voice

Listen to: Pirate Anthem

 when did you start writing songs?

I started writing songs when I was about 7 or 8. I am 12 now..

How many songs have you written?

Too many to count

have you performed any of them?

Yes I have performed them…mostly for my friends and family but I have performed some at Sunburst.

have you recorded any of them?

Yes…I have included a recording of the first song I ever wrote (Pirates Anthem-attached).

how do you write one?

I usually have some theme or idea that sticks in my head so I usually start with the lyrics and then create some music to back it up. I like the music to support the feel of whatever I am trying to say. When I was taking lessons with Ernie, he would help me with this a lot. Now that I am older, I basically write them myself…
what's your favorite thing about writing songs?

Conveying the thoughts in my head in a creative way…I am hoping to someday make music that moves people the way that music moves me..

Are you a young songwriter? We'd love to hear your songs!

Ready 2 head back 2 school?! Find out what that means for your music practicing! Also learn about our fall group programs: Sunburst Rocks, Emerging Artists, Explore and the Suntones...

How can tech help you learn music? Find out and more in this Month's Newsletter!

Instructor Band Bonanza - learn all about your instructors awesome music projects!

Sunburst Summer Guide - How to keep the music going through the summer! 

Our spring recital concerts are a great way to show off what you've been working on for friends and family! Also read about our summer lite plan for travelers.

These month's newsletter is all about our spring break and summer camps! Get ready for weeks of non-stop music, art and fun this summer at Sunburst.

Its a new year and a great time to join the band with group programs for kids at Sunburst!

This month's newsletter has some practicing tips to help you set and keep goals and keep your playing move in the right direction. BurghSong returns to Sunburst Saturday Nov 19th, plus more details on our recitals, practice session and picture day.

 In this month's newsletter we're announcing our Winter Recital Concert, practice session and halloween party! Read about our past recital concerts and our upcoming practice session and picture day, plus piano instructor Lucas Bowman is under the instructor spotlight...

Last week we concluded our 2016 Summer Camp Season with Just Press Play, our recording studio camp. Over the course of 5 action packed days our campers worked in teams of Producers, Engineers and Musicians to craft original songs from conception to mixed and mastered recordings. Some tracks were put together via experimentation with sampling records or video game sound effects, while others came out of a more traditional rock band jam. Overall everyone worked really hard and did a great job, check out their recordings and let us know what you think!


Thanks to everyone for being a part of our Loop Creation Station at Handmade Arcade. Check out what we made together!

 Our Loop Creation Station was about experimenting with different sounds, trying new instruments and collaborating with others. Over the course of the afternoon we recorded dozens of musicians young and old, professional and completely new to making music. Our performers chose an instrument and played a few notes as we looped and layered them on the computer. The results are amazing! We've split them up by approximate time as well as into a sort of "megamix" of the whole afternoon:



We've just completed our 'Hit the Studio' summer camp and we're eager to share the results. At the beginning of the week the kids were given a challenge: to create an album in a week with each of them producing a track. 

The Rules:

1. The producer is in charge. Everybody got to spend some amount of everyday producing during which time the studio was theirs. All other musicians were at their beck and call and pledged to use their skills to help fulfill the producer's vision. 

2. You have to finish something. Everyone had their own style of production, some were content to work on the same song, perfecting it across the entire week while some wanted to start a new song everyday. Producers were allowed to experiment with as many ideas as they liked as long as they finished something.

3. One live source. Partly we wanted to make sure everyone learned how to mic a source and adjust a preamp, partly we just have some new mics and wanted to use them. Everything had to have something "out of the box" (which means an actual sound recorded with actual microphones as opposed to something generated in the computer).

(BTW: if you got a cd from us the track order is different*)

The Results:



1234714 788900614493894 3483549000008699103 n1234714 788900614493894 3483549000008699103 n10447704 788900597827229 5506339238232958352 n10551025 788900467827242 8680930282987268559 n10525833 787450521305570 6166864174915788419 n10550878 787450454638910 6447035741980959497 n


1. Long Day Blues 

Producer: Aidan
Lead Vocal: Neila
Keyboard: Zack
Drums: Aidan
Bass: Shane
Faux trumpet: Nina
Electric Guitar: Luc


2. Magic Don't Scare Me

Producer: Luc
Lead Vocal: Neila & Nina
Electric Guitar: Luc
Drums: Aidan
Bass: Luc


3. Its Not The Same

Producer: Nathan
Lead Vocal: Nathan
Electric and Acoustic Guitar: Alex
Bass Guitar: Jonathan
Drums and Drum Editing: Shane


4. Quack Goes the Robot

Producer: Aidan
Lead Vocal: Neila & Nina
Organ: Zack
Drums: Aidan
Synth Bass, Synth Lead: Zack
Guitar: Alex


5. Duct Tape

Producer: NinaDrums: Nina
Electric Guitar: Luc, Shane, Neila
Bass: Shane
Bass Solo: Luc


6. Nature is Life

Producer: Nina
Lead Vocal: Nina
Drum Programming: Aidan
Synth Harp, Bass & Violin: Zack
Acoustic & Slide Guitar: Alex
Background vocals: Nina & Alex
Sweeping Synth: Shane


7. Edible, Toxic, Biohazard: Hermit Crabs

Producer: Zack
Lead Vocal: Luc
Organs, Clav: Zack
Drums: Alex
Roto-toms, Conga, tamb: Aidan
Background vocals: Everyone
Bass, Bass Solo: Luc


8. Random Day

Producer: Neila
Lead Vocal: Neila
Background Vocal: Nina
Acoustic Guitar: Neila
Ukulele: Nina
Drums: Aidan
Bass: Luc or Shane.. I don't remember
Tamborine: Neila


9. Pedal Master

Producer: Shane
Bass: Shane
Drums: Aidan
Guitar: Luc
Pedal Clicking Sound: Shane


10.  My Life

Producer: Nathan
Lead Vocal: Nathan


11. Flash

Producer: Shane
Bass: Shane
Drum, Synth Programming: Shane
Guitar: Luc


12. No Name

Producer: Aidan
Synth: Zack
Drum Pad: Aidan
Acordian: Zack
Drum kit and odd guitar sounds: Everyone


Side Projects:

Music Video for "Pedal Master" by Shane & Luc:


Original score for YouTube cat video: 


** If you got the hard copy CD, your tracks are in this order: 

1. Long Day Blues

2. No Name

3. Duct Tape

4. Edible, Toxic, Biohazard: Hermit Crabs

5. Flash

6. Magic Don't Scare Me

7. My Life

8. Its Not the Same

9. Nature is Life

10. Pedal Master

11. Quack Goes the Robot

12. Random Day


Ever seen someone figure out how to play a song just by hearing it? Its not magic, its music theory! You don't have to be a virtuoso musician to do it, it just takes practice like anything else. Use this guide to get started figuring out your favorites for any instrument...

Listen Closely

A great many students come to us with a specific song in mind and ask how to play it. Our job at that point is to put the music on, listen to it with them, figure out a way for them to play it based on their ability and show it to them. The more songs someone tries to figure out, the faster and smoother they can make the transition from hearing to playing and the same goes for students–they learn songs faster.


Watching someone conjure the chords of a song seemingly from nowhere can be a little mystifying. I remember being in awe of it myself the first time I saw someone repeat a song that they had only just heard for the first time. The truth is that its not that hard, its just different and involves a skill set that has very little to do with pushing down frets, keys, whatever and everything to do with listening very closely and comparing sounds.


What’s that old English proverb?

The Key

Literally and figuratively the key to figuring out songs by ear is the key. The key is the one note in the song that all of the other notes relate to and want to resolve to. The simplest way to describe it and find it is to put a song on, pick one note on your instrument and just keep playing that one note over any part of the song. Some notes will sound good some moments and tense others, but in most cases the key will just sound good the whole time. There are only 12 notes to try, so keep trying until you think you’ve found that one note that sounds right.

The Chords

Its best to start with songs that sound easy, things with basic chord changes like Bob Dylan or Taylor Swift (no Rush and steer clear of The Beatles, they are deceptively complex). Also best to start with something that is in a major key (this just means something that sounds upbeat, not sad).

Listen closely to the song and try to figure out how many chords there are in each section. Most pop songs are in 4/4 time which means there are 4 beats to a measure and usually 4 measures (or 8) before things start to repeat. See if you can identify a pattern of chords, try to figure out when they change and when the whole thing repeats even if you don’t know what the chords are.

Next you need to figure out what the possible chords are. This is where a little music theory becomes quite handy. Look at the following chart:


Don’t be afraid, theory is sweet.

If you don’t know how to play some of the chords on your instrument you can use a capo for guitar, or a transpose feature on a keyboard to change things to C, G or another easy one. We should write an article about that (this will become a link when we do).

Remember what key we’re in? The first 6 chords in that key are likely going to be the chords that show up in any given song. Keep in mind there are tons of exceptions to this, but lets just roll with that assumption for the moment. Use a little trial and error using these chords with the music in different configurations, can you tell when you hit one? Can you tell the major chords from the minor chords? Listen closely!


When you think you’ve got it, try to mimic the rhythm that you hear. Its more important to play something simple that captures the feel of the music rather than exactly what your particular instrument is doing on the recording. We could talk a lot more about this particular topic but for now just keep it simple and change chords at the right time.

Move onto the next section of the song and keep going until you’ve got the whole thing. It will take a long time at first and the trial and error will be mostly error, but as you get better at listening you will be able to do it in seconds.


Try it!

During last weeks open hours, a student asked the zillion dollar question: what makes a great guitarist?

It was one that you’d think you hear more often than you do.  Also, it was one who’s answer (to me) is tricky to pin down yet somehow blatantly obvious.  It came after a long afternoon of watching videos of people nailing the fast part of the Sweet Child-O-Mine solo on youtube, many of them (including this guy) do it justice.  We were talking about how meticulous all of these players had been in learning this solo note for note, especially the fast part which Slash himself would probably improvised.  To learn something that fast, most people would need to slow it way down, memorize the notes, and then play it 8,000 times before reaching top speed.  Now perhaps it was just my anti-G3 sentiments coming out, but I had to insert my opinion that the fast part was to me, the least interesting part of the solo.  Slash was great not because he could play the fast part, but because he came up with the soaring melodic part before and after.

To me a great guitarist is one who develops a unique voice on the instrument.  Something that makes you say either “woah, thats guitar?”  or “woah, I know thats guitar, but I wish I would have thought to play it like that.”  Naturally all of the players that embody these qualities have clearly spent a lot of time working on their guitar playing, and in doing so some of them develop amazing speed and technical ability.  I like to think of those things as a by-product of the work it takes to really learn how to make the thing speak.  Playing a blazing flurry of notes replicated from Slash may be impressive on YouTube, but doesn’t really tell people who YOU are as a guitarist, it mostly reminds them of how great Slash is.

Here are some of my current guitar heroes who I feel embody this idea and are perhaps under appreciated as axe-men and axe-women:

rodrigo y gabriela Annie Clark Adam Jones










Rodrigo y Gabriela –  An instrumental guitar duo combining flamenco with heavy metal?  Why not?  Somehow these two manage to make classical music accessible to a pop audience.  Listen to their creative re-working of Stairway to Heaven, or the original Tamacun.

Annie Clark AKA St Vincent - Her guitar work on Cruel falls into the “thats guitar?” Catagory.  From the faux trumpet-esque sounds on the chorus, to the layered wall of harmonized muted plucking towards the end, to the falling apart whammy pedal solo, this is one of those songs that just makes you wonder what the guitar can’t do.

Adam Jones of Tool - In a genre where the guitar playing is all about being the fastest loudest most bombastic thing out there, Jones takes another approach.  His rhythmic riffing shelves shredding solos in favor of hypnotic repeated phrases, tribal chugging and otherworldly ambience.  Jambi is a good example.


Ryan Adams released his 14th album on 9/9/14 titled "Ryan Adams" on Pax-Am Records. Fourteen records is a lot for any musician, let alone Adams who is only 39. However, he has managed to make his best sounding and most accessible album to date.

The story of Adams' self titled record starts with Pax Am studios, his brand new, vintage (analog) studio that houses all of his instruments, recording consoles and pinball machines. Pax Am originated when Adams was in high school, when he used to pass out mix tapes of his songs with the tag "Pax Am records" on them. As he puts it, "no one listened". Originally slated to release a Glynn Johns (Led Zeppelin, The Who, Bob Dylan) produced record, Adams scrapped the project at the last minute due to his excitement over his new studio that was sitting idle, un-used. I'd say he made the right decision. Not only is every song great (something Adams has struggled with in the past), but the style and sonic structure of the album is incredibly refreshing and vibrant. Leaning against a heavy 80's vibe (think Tom Petty's Damn The Torpedos meets The Replacements) Adams hits a homerun on all 10 tracks. His voice has never sounded better and all of the best aspects of what he does are present in this record: great songwriting, masterful production and stellar arrangements. One of my favorite aspects of the record is how his studio weaves its own narrative and sound through the whole record. It becomes a powerful instrument.

Ryan Adams

The guitars on this record sound great. With heavy use of a bigsby equipped Walnut Gibson ES-335 and a healthy dose of reverb, Adams lets the six string be the star of the show. An intentional guitar technique that Adams uses are arpeggios. He uses arpeggiated open chords with a capo underneath on a majority of the chorus' and it thickens up the sound to give the album another thread of continuity. The rest of Adams' band is top notch and the drumming by Jeremy Stacey shouldn't go unnoticed. Subtle, but very effective.

Standout tracks: (all of them)–but really, Feels Like Fire, Am I Safe and Gimme Something Good are all worth an initial listen.



If you read the About section, you may recall my experience the night I discovered the guitar, let me flesh out the scene a bit more:  The guitar was an travel size Ovation (not a recommended axe for a beginner) that had been sitting in the corner of my room in its box for 4 months, I think I was initially turned off by the wooden leaves on the top. This was a period of my life in which I was spending a great amount of time on the computer, mostly downloading songs off of Napster and listening to those while downloading more.  Naturally when I finally had the inkling to grab the guitar my first move was not to go buy a book of sheet music, or look up a teacher and sign up for lessons, it was to hit the web.

Like most beginner players, I started with no aspirations of becoming a great (or even competent) guitarist.  I had one goal and one goal only: to play Walking Contradiction from my second favorite Green Day album Insomniac.  Had it meant that I had to spend weeks learning open chord shapes and C Major scale patterns, none of which were in the song, I would have certainly stopped there.  But as it was on this fateful night, I discovered Tablature.

It seemed too good to be true, a notation system that took thirty seconds to learn?  I couldn’t believe my eyes, or my ears as I quickly plunked out the bass line of the song I thought I would be months from recreating.  That tiny amount of instant gratification lead to an almost instant obsession, Napster hummed along in the background downloading songs for me to recreate on the guitar.  It was a new day, everything was free and anything was possible.

About 3 Months later I was in a band, taking regular guitar lessons, and soaking up everything about the guitar I possibly could.  I was also still learning songs from tab, although I had graduated from the simplest bass lines to more complex pieces of music, taking on ridiculous challenges like Classical Gas and the Freebird solo.

When I went back later on to learn to read music on the guitar I found it quite satisfying.  The level of detail that can be conveyed on paper is amazing, and makes Tablature look like what is: a mere chart of where to put your fingers.  The skills one gains from reading and understanding sheet music are invaluable, and you don’t get them from reading Tabs.  However, it takes a level of patience that only the most exuberant beginner can put forth.  I for one, would have never gotten there without my good friend, the tab.

Starting things is easy, its sticking with them and making them part of what you do thats hard.  Many people see guitarists and think “yeah I could do that,” only to pick it up and find that after a few hours of plunking around, their fingers hurt and they haven’t yet reached rock star status.  While there’s no magic potion to become a phenom overnight, here are a number of things that a beginner can do to get over the hump:

1.  Leave the guitar out

Cases are wonderful things in a rainstorm or in an overcrowded backstage loading area, but at home they have a habit of standing between you and your guitar.  I know, I know, if you really want to play bad enough you will make the extra effort to unzip the case, but you may do so less often.  Leaving the guitar out of its case makes it a whole lot easier to grab it and strum a few chords when you get the chance, and turns playing and practicing into the stuff of everyday life rather than a once a week chore.

2.  Tune the guitar

While this may seem obvious, it so happens that I’ve asked a number of my students how they tune at home after a few months of lessons, only to hear that they don’t.  While tuning, especially without a tuner, may at first take as long as the practice session itself, don’t let it fall out of your routine.  The most important reason to tune every time you play, is that it makes what you do sound good! How are you supposed to stay interested without enjoying the sounds you are creating?

3.  Practice frequently

The usual saying may be quality over quantity, but for the new guitarist, its the other way around.  Learning the guitar is the process of building muscle memory.  Pretend you want to get in shape, do you go to the gym for 7 hours just once a week?  Of course not.  Muscle memory works much the same way, shorter more frequent sessions will help you develop skills much faster and easier than trying to do it all in one night.

4.  Set clearly defined goals

This tends to be where some people start to fall off, they’ve learned their basic open chords, done a bit of chord switching and strumming, and made it through a song or two but are lost as far as where to go next.  By having a goal such as “I want to be able to play the funky strat riff at the end of Billie Jean by my girlfriends birthday party”  you know what your working towards, and exactly when you’ve arrived.  Sometimes this can take a bit more soul searching than some beginners signed up for, just remember when you accomplish a goal, you set another.  You don’t have to have all of the answers right away, just pick something that interests you and when you get there, keep going.

5.  Don’t sweat it

Music can be the greatest and most fun thing in the world.  It can also be very frustrating.  The key for those starting out is to take it slow, learn easy songs within your grasp, and enjoy them.  For those that enjoy a challenge theres a big one up ahead, but laying the groundwork is just as much about making guitar playing a fun habit than it is about getting that F chord to not buzz.  Once your hooked, your hooked, and tackling twister-esque chord shapes and learning lightning fast runs feels much more like play than work, just take your time and enjoy the ride!