It’s the season when the buying frenzy can make idiots of some of us. Here is a list of gifts NOT to give to the musician in your life. I’ve thoughtfully included gifts you DO want to get. You’re welcome.
Anything covered in musical notes
Anyone who’s played music for awhile is already swimming in t-shirts and tote bags with whimsical notes dancing all over them. Not only is a lot of that stuff cheesy but it drives some of us batty because it’s usually designed by someone who wouldn’t know a bass clef from a slap upside the head. I once tried to play the notes splashed across a t-shirt and came up with a ditty from hell. It was amusing, at least.
Who should get this gift – someone just starting with an instrument, especially kids. Or, something that’s truly unique, like these shoes. However, make sure this is something they’d wear. If brown wingtips are your recipient’s usual footwear, they REALLY aren’t going to like these kicks. (For the record, I would totally rock these but I already own several pair of Chucks.)
I use one and yeah, they can be awesome. However, the guitarist who only jams with his friends is probably not going to use it. You could’ve spent that $30 on a music store gift certificate so your musician husband could buy new strings for his beloved Strat. Also, if a member of your band has lousy timing, it’s best to talk with them first. If you buy them a metronome, it’ll be the equivalent of “Do I look fat in this?” (And for the record, if anyone asked me that they’d get a gentle lecture on loving their body, no matter the size. But that’s a topic for another blog.)
Who should get this gift – a metronome can improve anyone’s timing. (Can you tell I’m a music teacher?) It’s good for high school and college students (especially music majors), or a child who’s a beginner. More advanced players can benefit, too. I always use one before going into the studio, to make sure my timing is rock steady. There are a plethora of apps, also, but many have a click that’s hard to hear. I prefer the one I bought at a music store because it’s accurate, the click is pitched low and easy to hear, and a drummer recommended it.
Lessons with the wrong instructor
If your metal head needs lessons, don’t send her to me. I’m a singer-songwriter who’s good for a few power chords and riffs, then I’d have to send them to the tattooed guy at the local music store. (However, I teach lots of styles. Contact me here.) Find the guitar teacher who thinks Motley Crue is God. Research your teachers. Ask players in the same genre who they would recommend.
Who should get this gift – people who are just starting out, especially if you’re getting them an instrument. Also, anyone looking to further their skills. Listen to them if they say they’d like to learn blues improv and there happens to be a highly recommend blues teacher in your area. I teach a variety of styles via Skype and in Ottawa, Canada, and I offer gift certificates. Contact me here.
How much do you know about drums? Probably not much unless you’re a drummer. If your gift recipient has taken you by the hand, pointed to the cymbal they want, and said, “I want that,” then by all means, knock yourself out. If not DON’T BUY it. And NEVER buy an expensive instrument unless you’re positive your receiver is going to love you forever. There’s nothing like dropping a couple hundred on ukulele only to find out the one they already have is an expensive custom built one that they love. And they no longer love you. (Y’all know I’m exaggerating, right? As long as you get my point.)
Who should get this gift – a beginner, especially if they’ve expressed interest in playing that instrument. Don’t buy them an instrument because you think they should play, buy them the one they want. If you’re married to this person or parent her or him, you should know them well enough to get this right. (If you don’t, see a lawyer.) More about buying an instrument here. (It’s geared toward guitars but works for other instruments.) You don’t have to spend a lot. It’s like driving. No need to buy the BMW if a Ford will do.
Music books with notation
Buying this Hal Leonard book for someone who has no interest in reading music is like buying a gas card for someone without a car.
Who should get this gift – duh. Someone who wants to read music or already does. Do your research. Keep in mind that many guitar players don’t read unless they’ve taken lessons, majored in music, or play certain genres, like classical. And BTW, Hal Leonard makes some terrific books. I use them with my students all the time. (Want lessons from me? I teach via Skype and in Ottawa, Canada. Contact me here.)
Music books with tab
Tab is that system with lines and numbers and is NOT a good gift for a drummer, any instrument without strings or anyone who prefers to read notation (classical players, usually, but could include others). DON’T buy a guitar tab book for someone who plays mandolin. Each instrument has its own tab system.
Who should get this gift – someone who wants to learn tab or already reads it. It’s an easier system to learn than notation and great for someone who wants to learn lead parts and riffs. Again, do your research and make sure you’re not buying a bluegrass book for a metal head. Make sure it’s for their level, too. A beginning guitar player is not going to appreciate those note-for-note transcriptions of Hendrix solos.
If you get the wrong reed for your kid’s clarinet they’ll honk their way through the next recital and some grade school bands already sound like every song is an off-key dirge. Drummers are particular about high hats. A guitarist may only want to use her lucky pick. The list goes on. Again, unless you play the same instrument or your recipient has sent you links to their favorite accessory page on Musicians Friend, then DON’T BUY it.
Who should get this gift – anyone you know well who has expressed interest in this thing. Period. Anything else might result in an eye roll from your twelve-year-old. And you don’t want that.
Music store gift certificates
These aren’t a good idea if they’re for an inconveniently located brick and mortar store or a store outside the country. I live in Canada and you don’t want to know what Customs charges me when I order things from the states; maybe the delivery vehicles have to dodge moose.
Who should get this gift – almost any musician would appreciate money to buy stuff they pick out. Again, do your research. For instance, we have a local music store with lousy instruments and hostile service so I wouldn’t go there, but we also have a lot of local stores that I would highly recommend.
Now go make the musician in your life very happy.
Thanks to Facebook friends, many of them musicians, who gave me some of these ideas.