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5 Ways Playing A Musical Instrument Can Benefit Your Health

 

Besides being fun, learning and playing a musical instrument can have many positive effects on your health and mental wellness. Research shows that these benefits can occur at any age and come from playing any instrument. Keep reading to see why people are playing instruments to improve their general health.

Stress Relief – Playing an instrument can help refocus bad energy into something positive and enjoyable, which in turn can help alleviate stress. Reduced stress levels lead to slowing down your heart rate and lowering your blood pressure. Research shows that playing and composing music can reduce stress by lowering cortisol levels.

Improves respiratory system – Whether you’re singing show tunes or blowing into a saxophone or oboe, one of the most important things you can learn is how to breathe properly. Producing a good sound on any wind instrument is dependent on your breath, making breathing with the proper technique a must.  So while you are in the pursuit of becoming a great singer or woodwind player you are actually also improving your respiratory system.

Exercise – Playing an instrument can be a great form of physical activity. Playing the piano, guitar or drums takes a lot of upper body strength and playing  for extended periods of time can help build muscle while also improving your posture and increasing your stamina.

Improves Cognitive Performance – It has been shown that playing and listening to music can help improve memory in  people suffering from  Alzheimer’s disease. Playing music has even been shown to help people recover from strokes as well as slow down the onset of dementia and Alzheimers.

Improved Immune System -Research between Tenovus Cancer Care and the Royal College of Music has found that singing for an hour can increase levels of immune proteins, reduce stress and improve people’s mood. Studies have also shown that making music enhances the immunological response, which enables us to fight viruses.

 

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The “Should Syndrome” And Learning To Play Like a Child

Rianne M.

There exists in my adult students a special phenomenon that I have affectionately labeled The “Should” Syndrome. Symptoms of this syndrome include excessive self-doubt, narrow judgment regarding what is going well with their playing, and when their frustration is at its peak, passive aggression toward their teacher when she tries to give them a compliment.    It is always interesting to note the difference in attitude between the kids I teach and the adults I teach. Some of the adults enjoy music as much as the kids do, but there is always an air of self-consciousness about their age and what they don’t already know (read: what they “should” already know by their age). Mistakes in lessons are immediately followed by apologies. Comments are made about how they may be “too old” to still be trying to learn this. They lament, “I would be good at this now if I had just started playing when I was young.” Etc., etc., etc.

Kids, on the other hand (especially the younger ones), rarely apologize or even acknowledge their mistakes. An eight year-old who gets a new guitar rips it out of the delivery box and immediately starts banging on it and sliding his fingers around the fretboard, experimenting with the different sounds even though he doesn’t know anything about the instrument yet. This is because he is too busy being interested in this new, alien thing in front of him than he is with what the world’s expectations of him regarding that thing are. A thirty-eight year-old often comes to their first lesson waiting for instructions and not doing anything until the teacher instructs them to, for fear of looking silly. Ultimately, this is not such a bad thing, but they don’t feel free to experiment and connect with their guitar on their own level because this way might not be the “correct” way.  I see this in my more experienced adult students too, as well as my musician colleagues. Once you’re older, your personal responsibilities and psychological demons start to cloud your connection with your art. As adults – both beginners and professionals – we are all familiar with the following scenario:

It’s a weekday afternoon and I need to squeeze in some practice time in the only free hour I have today. As I pick up my instrument, I remember for the third time that the rent is due tomorrow and I’m still waiting for that one check to clear. There’s nothing I can do about it now, but it’s still bothering me. I begin to warm up by playing some scales. As I play and some notes don’t come out as well as I would like them to, I begin to tense up my hands and body. Then the tension makes it even harder. I watched a YouTube video of a ten year-old prodigy playing faster-than-lightning this morning. I’m at least a decade older and I can’t play these scales nearly that fast. My mistakes don’t just feel physically uncomfortable now. I feel silly for making them, as if someone is in the room with me and judging me for being a bad person.

Speaking of being a bad person, I got into a fight with my significant other yesterday and said some mean things, and along with the rent, that’s on my mind too. I look at the clock and I have half an hour left. I still feel silly about those mistakes with my scales, but now it’s time to move on to the pieces I’ve been working on. I still don’t like my sound right now, but I know I have to get this work done.

The phone rings as I’m ten minutes into working on this piece. There’s an issue with a project I’ve been assigned to at work and I need to put down my instrument and go to the computer to solve it. I could fix it later, but my boss will probably want it done right now, and I don’t want to look bad. I’ll need to practice everything another day, even though my sound is still not great and I only have a few days before my next lesson. When will I ever sound like that kid in the video? What am I even doing with my life?

Young children don’t go through this thought process when they play. Children do not have all of the subconscious biases about how the world “should” be, like adults do. They do not separate the everything in their environment into strict categories, like adults do. They do not have a defined idea of who they are yet, so they do not exclude possibilities and pursue their interests without hesitation. (A friend of mine who teaches elementary school told me a story about how on the day before winter break, she had her students cut out and color pictures of holiday objects. The choices included Christmas trees, menorahs, etc. When a boy from a Jewish family chose a Christmas tree, she inquired as to what made him choose Christmas symbols rather than Hannukah ones. The boy stared at her, puzzled by the question, and said “I just think that the tree is pretty”. What many adults would assume he “should” choose did not even occur to him!)

Because of this openness, children have an extreme advantage when it comes to learning anything, and they absorb information like a sponge. The advantage to starting to play music when you are younger, then, is not because people eventually become “too old” to learn – the advantage lies in the fact that the more time you spend studying music when you are a child, the more time you’ve spent building a connection to music without ever questioning your worth at it or having to deal with adulthood’s endless distractions. This connection causes a snowball effect of positive experiences, which slowly creates a positive self-image regarding music for an individual once they have reached adolescence and eventually, adulthood. By this time, they are not trying to learn music – they are a musician.

What is the solution, then? Obviously, we cannot do a System Restore on our minds to make ourselves stop thinking like an overly self-aware adult.

Recognize that even if the voice inside your head has some unhelpful things to say, you can learn to silence it and just enjoy the music. Think about all of the things that you enjoyed as a little kid with unbridled passion and how you approached those things. Have fun and stop the adult voice in your head that says your picture is “wrong” because you didn’t color in the lines. Play like a child…

Rianne M. is currently giving guitar lessons in NYC to adults and children, and occasionally blurs the line between them with her teaching styles.  Contact us today to schedule a lesson with her!

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5 Tips to Get You to Practice Your Instrument

If you really want to get yourself into a routine and stay motivated while practicing your instrument, then it’s best to have a solid plan. The following are five tips to keep you going:

1.   Create the right atmosphere

Nothing will motivate you in your musical practice like the right environment. You might be one of those people who prefer a quiet room. Others need a little bit of stimulation. Whatever setting you like, try to be consistent so as to enter the right mindset when you start practicing. If you will need water, snacks, picks, pencils, manuscript paper, and sharpeners etc. have them with you. If you use apps, download them in advance.

2.   Warm up

Musical instrument practice is much like a physical workout. To get yourself in the mood, ensure you do a warm up every time before you start. That way, you will be able to prepare your mind and body before the actual practice. It doesn’t have to be 15 minutes of fiddling with scales but can be something like sight reading or playing a familiar song if you like. Also, get into the right mindset by considering the keys of the pieces you are rehearsing.

  3.  Set Goals

Practicing is not synonymous with just playing through your music. You need to have the end in mind at the start of each practice session. With a prior goal for each practice session, you will find yourself progressing more quickly and effectively. Only that each goal needs to be broken down into smaller and focused objectives. Every time you complete a goal should help you feel more accomplished.

  4.   Be realistic

Many people – including your teachers – have told you to “get a lot done now”. Of course, it’s not realistic for you to do all your practice in one go. It gets even worse when you have a tough part to practice. The best way to go about this is to practice a little but more often. That way, you can go through a long-drawn process bit-by-bit. Think more about quality and not the quantity of your practice. Practice smarter and not necessarily longer if you want to have the willpower to keep going. Small and realistic goals should help you overcome areas that looked tricky and accept any missteps you might have made.

  5.   Identify and overcome problems

There is no need to ignore any areas you might find problematic. Learn to identify where you are using the wrong fingering or stumbling out of time. Decide why it’s going wrong and make up your mind how you will fix it. Obviously, different problems require different techniques. Problems with rhythm call for steps at mastering it. You may want to practice rhythm by simply clapping it out or use one note alongside a metronome. That way, you will know when to increase the tempo and when to slow it down. With time, you will master your musical instrument. Having the right music teacher is also a huge factor in overcoming plateaus and ultimately making the most progress. That’s where we come in, contact Music to Your Home to set up your NYC music lesson today!

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When the guitar teacher becomes the student, and other insights from one of our Rock Gods.

Music to Your Home is lucky to be able to work with musicians from around the world, and Alejandro M. comes to us with words of wisdom from Argentina.  Currently he’s a professional guitar player and teacher living the dream and gigging all over NYC.

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Alejando M.

 

1) What advice would you give to parents who are considering getting guitar lessons for their children?
Alejandro: I’d very much encourage them to do so! Music is a form of expression and a language that allows children to pour out feelings they might be too shy to share otherwise. Once they learn how to play, music is something that will accompany and grow up with and in them throughout the years.
 
2) Why do you think guitar lessons are so popular?
Alejandro:  Perhaps because guitar is a bit more accessible than other instruments. In the sense that with a few weeks practice you might be playing a first round of songs already. As opposed to violin or saxophone for example, that, while amazing instruments, they can be somehow more challenging. We can’t avoid mentioning that the guitar is the instrument most showcased in billboards, commercial adds, etc. being widely associated with pop/rock icons. That weighs in too on some level.
 
3) What is the right age for a child to start taking guitar  lessons?
Alejandro:  I’d say after 10 years old. 
4) How much daily practice time does it take to become a good guitar player?
Alejandro:  There are no magic formulas. All the guys that play guitar really well, or any other instrument for that matter, it’s because they spent time with it. In that sense, I always tell students that it’s much better to practice maybe 10, 15 minutes every day, or every other day, rather than sitting down one day before the lesson and go for hours. Of course, the more time, the better. It’s a skill and needs to be developed regularly.
 
5) Do you incorporate finger exercises and note reading into your lessons?
Alejandro:  Definitely. Technique exercises are fundamental to begin gaining control over the fingers and have them do what you want, not the other way around. Note reading is also a very important aspect of my lessons but unless we’re aiming for classical pieces, I like to introduce the music notation system once we’re already playing some songs. Starting with a lot of theory from scratch in guitar for popular tunes can sometimes turn a bit overwhelming and non musical, in the practical sense.
 
6) What is the most popular style of music your students ask to learn?
Alejandro:  Generally Rock/Pop.
 
7) What do you love about teaching guitar lessons?
Alejandro:  What I love the most is to watch how the student make progress – that can be very satisfying. And I also love the fact that I’m learning too. When you see someone taking their first steps with the guitar, in a way, I rediscover things and look at them from another perspective. When you don’t know, you associate things differently and arrive to different places, right or wrong. Places that perhaps after playing for 17 years I wouldn’t have thought of. 
8) What was your most memorable teaching experience?
Alejandro:  Seeing former students that now have grown up, formed their own bands, performing live, writing their own songs, making their own records and their own musical statements. That’s the full circle, right there.
9) When and where was your most memorable performance?
Alejandro:  The last concert I did in Buenos Aires, in a theater, before moving to NYC. And the first here in New York as well, both very emotional milestones in my career.
 
10) Who are the guitarists that have inspired you?
Alejandro:  Many. But if I had to pick two, I’d go with Wes Montgomery & BB King.
11)What is your favorite type of music to play and what is your favorite guitar.
Alejandro:  Definitely Blues. My favorite guitar is the Fender Telecaster 72′ Custom Series. Or most of the hollow body ones.
12) What do you love about NY and being a musican in NY?
Alejandro:  From the city itself I love the diversity, the melting pot aspect of it. And as a musician I believe that being among such talented people, in every field, you inevitably become better. My songwriting grew a lot in the 4 years I’ve been living here. As an artist you’re a sponge that absorbs everything in your surroundings, and this is a very rich environment to be in.
Alejandro is available for guitar lessons in NYC.  Call us to schedule yours!
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Words of Guitar Wisdom from Andrew B.

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Music To Your Home recently asked one of our favorite guitar teachers,  Andrew B. some common questions we get from our new guitar students. Here’s what he said…
What/if any, are the most popular songs your young students are generally requesting to learn ?
Andrew: Taylor Swift songs are very popular for young students. “You Belong With Me” is a nice one for beginners as is “We are Never Getting Back Together“.  A lot of young guitar students are also surprisingly interested in classic rock. Two often requested songs are “Back in Black” by AC/DC and “Smoke on the Water” from Deep Purple.
What do you think are the most valuable songs for young students to learn and why?
Andrew:  When students are first learning how to read and identify notes on the staff and apply it to the guitar, it is important to learn songs that utilize only a couple of strings at a time. As each region is mastered, the student is able to learn melodies with a wider range.  Here are some examples of melodies that use this method:
Top 2 strings: ” Ode to Joy
Top 3 strings: “Happy Birthday”
Top 4 strings: ” Amazing Grace
music_to_your_home_2196
With chord strumming being such an integral part of guitar playing as well, a separate set of songs that utilize basic chord progressions is also important to learn along with melodies and note reading. This compartmentalizes practicing into two straight forward categories 1. Melodies (lead) and 2. Chords ( Rhythm)  Some good examples of beginner chord songs are:
3. “You Belong with Me”
What are the most important lessons or ideas a young/beginner guitar player should know when getting started?
Andrew: Be patient. Don’t expect to master songs in a day.  Consistency is important with practice. It’s better to practice 10 minutes every day than an hour or so before a lesson.  There is no time limit on learning. Everyone learns at different rates. Sticking with it will pay off!
Andrew is currently available for new guitar students in NYC.
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Our Experts Weigh In On Their Favorite Guitars

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Picking the right guitar for a beginner student may be the deciding factor that helps a budding musician make it through the first few months of learning. Some guitars are cumbersome to play and others are either too heavy or look horrible. A new student should feel comfortable and love the look of their first instrument. We have found that if a student likes their new instrument they are more motivated to practice and will become better players in a shorter time.

We asked two of our expert teachers what guitars they choose for themselves and their students. Here’s what they had to say:

 

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Burr Johnson

For a student model, I recommend the Yamaha Pacifica bundle. Its a great guitar and comes with lots of fun accessories and is well priced. Kids need to love their guitar because when they do, it helps encourage them to practice. Electric guitars are the better choice for beginning guitar players because they are easier to play, there are more styles of music that can be applied to them, and they inspire the student to practice.

For other choices or if the student wants more, I’m partial to Les Paul body style instruments. There are many out there and they are more playable, meaning they fit your body better and afford more progress when learning. My Burr Johnson Model guitar (made by Hagstrom) is based on the Les Paul/336 body style and is a dream to play. The Epiphone Les Paul is also good.

For Jazz and Blues, another great choice is the Gibson 335/347/336 models. They are a larger body size and have “F” hole designs. They are semi hollow body guitars and get a very nice round full sound.

 

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Keisuke Matsuno

1993 USA Epiphone Riviera – This guitar was built in Nashville as part of a limited USA-made edition of 250 Rivieras and 250 Sheratons in 1993. The production was made very carefully, paying much attention to the Epiphone legacy including the original ‘mini-humbucker’ pickups. This guitar was advertised by Lenny Kravitz when it was first released and also regularly played by – me. 😉

Nashguitar T-Model – The T-model is basically Nashguitar’s version of the Fender Telecaster. I don’t know much detail about it but when I compared an original early 1960s Fender Telecaster to this one I was amazed how much better this one sounded. Brilliant manufacturing and amazing, bright, and powerful Telecaster sound!

Fender Jazzmaster – It seems like there is a revival of this guitar going on for a while now and it’s legitimate: it’s a very versatile guitar with its unique, vast combination possibilities of its single coil pickups and its tone knobs. Just listen to Wilco’s Nels Cline!

Gibson SG – This is AC/DC’s signature sound with its thick and dirty sound – but also the sound of early Cream during Eric Clapton’s very creative musical period. Now combine a normal set of strings on one fretboard with a set of 12-strings on another and you’ll have the famous Led Zeppelin’s Jimmy Page double neck guitar!

At this point I would have to mention the Fender Stratocaster or the Gibson Les Paul, but those need no description as any serious or beginning guitar lover already knows. There are also some rare but possible-to-find great vintage hollow bodies out there from companies like Gretsch, Epiphone, Guild etc. that sound amazing and are also affordable. Keep an open eye to those ones if you enter a guitar shop if you like some beautiful vintage guitar sounds!

All images courtesy of Dan at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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Picking the Right Guitar (Pun Intended)

Guitar

The guitar comes in three types, classical with nylon strings, acoustic with steel strings and electric with steel strings and pickups to electrify the sound. Within that, there are literally thousands of options of styles and colors. And they come in all shapes and sizes. From Jimmy Page’s double neck, Jerry Garcia’s Tiger, BB King’s beloved Lucille and Willie Nelson’s Trigger, there are plenty of guitars out there to satisfy your musical appetite.

But what about that six year old who’s thinking about starting lessons? I don’t think you’re running out to buy The Flying V just yet. So where do you start? Let the pros at Music to Your Home be your guide.  Our first piece of advice is don’t go out and buy the most expensive guitar on the rack. It’s not necessary at this point. As the student progresses, you’ll know when it’s time to make a bigger investment, but for now you can get a decent set up for under $200.00.

For beginners there are generally three sizes of guitars to choose from, full size, ¾ size, and half size. Here’s a breakdown but remember, the only true way to get the right fit is to head to a store and try one in person.

The half size guitar is great for kids ages 3-6. The ¾ should work well for 6-10 year olds. Finally, the full size should cover you after that, but be aware that there are variations of regular size guitars, so once again, hold one and see how it feels!

Now that you have an idea of size, let’s discuss string type. Nylon strings are much easier to push down on and softer on little fingers and many of our teachers would suggest starting on those. If steel strings are preferred, go for it, but know that it will take a while to build up the calluses that all guitar players eventually develop.

Is your child a lefty?  There are a couple of lefty guitars out there, however, like baseball mitts, the choices are much fewer. You can also learn to play right handed, or string a righty guitar upside down. Many lefties simply adapt, and learn to play righty.

Don’t forget the accessories too – stand, tuner, case, picks, and an amp for your little shredder if needed.

Whatever guitar your child ends up with, our instructors can teach them how to tune it, care for it and hopefully, one day, play your favorite song on it!

 

Image courtesy of Iamnee at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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5 Easy and Iconic Acoustic Guitar Songs for Beginners

 

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Playing the guitar should be fun right? If you’re the type of person we like to call a “strummer” and you’re not looking to rip a technical solo, then this list of songs is perfect for you. Most of these tunes use only 4 or 5 chords and are great for singing along to. This list is sure to impress your guests at your next BBQ.

Wish You Were Here- Pink Floyd

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DPL_SV3n7IU

This is one of my favorite songs to play especially on acoustic guitar. It has a very simple intro that can be learned by ear or the tabs can be found here http://tabs.ultimate-guitar.com/p/pink_floyd/wish_you_were_here_ver5_tab.htm . The rest of song uses C, D Am, G and Em. It’s a great song that everyone will like hearing, or you can just rock out alone in your bedroom…

Free Fallin’- Tom Petty

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1lWJXDG2i0A

This is such an iconic rock song. Practically everybody knows it. To play it in the same key as Tom Petty, put a capo on the 3rd fret and play D, A, G and you’ve got it. The entire song is basically just 3 chords! Singing it like Tom is another challenge and we’ll save that tip for another blog.

Redemption Song- Bob Marley

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OFGgbT_VasI

This is an extremely powerful song. It has a short and simple intro that can be found here: http://tabs.ultimate-guitar.com/b/bob_marley/redemption_song_tab.htm The chords are crafted in such a way to create an emotional atmosphere for anyone listening. The best part is any beginner can master this one. It’s also another great song to sing along to without worrying about complicated chord changes.

Strong Enough – Sheryl Crow

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LiYE5e8gXRY

Sheryl Crow is an incredible composer. This song uses a few basic chords. The verse and Chorus is D, G, Bm and A with a bridge using Em, Bm C and A. Not really a lot but another easy and fun song to play. If you’re not a girl, go find one to sing this with and you’ll be in business.

Wonderwall- Oasis

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6hzrDeceEKc

Here is a song that is known internationally. Everyone has their opinions about Oasis but no matter what they are, there is no disputing the popularity of this song. The acoustic guitar strumming the intro is so recognizable but easy to play. Throw a capo on the 2nd fret and play Em, G, D, and A and that’s basically it. The chorus uses C, D and Em. There are some extensions to these chords, but for a beginner the basic forms will work nicely. This is a song that everyone will love to sing along to.

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Summer Music Lessons? Yes Please.

NYC Guitar Lessons

The school year and little league are coming to an end and our recitals are almost all finished. Once the summer is here we often get asked the question: Should my child take a break from their lessons? The answer is simple. NO!

Learning an instrument and learning to read music are both skills that require constant practice and guidance until a certain level of comfort and expertise is achieved. We totally understand that some children go away to sleep away camp over the summer and can’t take music lessons. In that case we suggest that the students bring their instruments with them to practice periodically so they don’t lose the skills they have already learned. Most camps have pianos so children can usually sneak away and practice a few minutes whenever they can. The longer they’re away from the routine of practicing and reading music the longer it takes to get back the skills they already learned. Playing an instrument is not like riding a bike…

The good thing about the summer is that there’s more free time because school is out. Not to mention a nice activity to escape the heat! We’ve also found over the years that summer is a good time to begin learning an instrument when the pressures of school and excess homework are not prevalent. We do have many students who go to day camps but fitting in a weekly piano lesson can still be a fun way of having a creative and mind stimulating experience. Our teachers are generally more flexible and can fit lessons in between trips or whenever our clients are available.

So our suggestion is to take advantage of any free time you have this summer and enjoy learning an instrument!

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The Best Cafes in the UES

The Upper East Side is a great place to hang out on an Indian Summer day. Quiet streets, lots of bars and restaurants, Central Park and Museum Mile? With so much to do between guitar lessons, it’s nice to find a quiet cafe to sit in. And while nothing beats pure practice, sometimes reading a book on guitar theory can help you better understand the science of music as well as re-motivate you to get back to playing. Try a cup of coffee from any of these five best Upper East Side cafes before your next strum.

DTUT

Also known as Downtown Uptown, this coffee shop has a great bean source and friendly baristas that serve tasty sandwiches. Their book-laden shelves and plush old-school furniture offer a great ambience during a round of macchiato and chocolate fondue, or while you sip a beer or glass of wine in the evening and classic guitar solos play on the speakers.

DTUT is located at 1744 2nd Ave between 90th and 91st Streets.

Birch

Known for their strong cold brews, Birch on the Upper East Side is a great place to drop in for a quick cup on your way to work or before your next guitar lesson. A few sips of this iced coffee and you will be cruising up and down the fretboard. They’re open every day from 7am to 8pm. You can also find Birch on the Upper West Side, in Flatiron, and on 7th Ave, off 14th Street.

Birch is located at 134 1/2 E62nd st.

East Harlem Cafe

best coffee in ues
Technically it’s not the Upper East Side, but we felt like this local hot spot deserves a mention. Their coffee, pastries and sandwiches are some of the best in the area, and the work vibe attracts a lot of young people. Bring Fretboard Logic and buckle down for an hour with a hot cup of joe and a red velvet cupcake!

East Harlem Cafe is at 1651 Lexington Ave., at the corner of 104th.

Corrado Bread and Pastry

Corrado is a great place for a respite after a long day of practicing guitar. Their pastries are world-class, perfect accompaniments to a delicious macchiato. Right near Hunter College, this cafe also attracts a very international clientele. Of course, they have baguette sandwiches and a variety of non-caffeinated drinks too.

Corrado is at 960 Lexington Ave. on the corner of 71st St.

Java Girl

This cafe is definitely on this list for tea. With a wide variety of loose leaf green and black teas, that’s not to say that their coffee is anything less than amazing. You can buy any one of their many coffees by the pound and take it home to keep you company during your next round of guitar-picking blues.

Java Girl is located at 348 E66th St., between 1st and 2nd Aves.

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