Easy Ear Training: Tips for singing Harmony

Have you ever tried to sing harmony and didn’t know where to start?  Did you feel awkward when you had a hard time finding your starting pitch?  Singing harmony can be tricky at first and can often make a musician feeling vulnerable.  It takes a little practice and a little patience but once you can start singing harmony it’s a very powerful tool you can use in your bag of tricks as a musician.  Everyone has a voice and I feel everyone can learn to sing at some level.  Now, if you’ve been playing music for awhile learning to sing harmony won’t be as hard as it seems.  You’ll begin to hear the “split” or the intervals one needs to sing harmony successfully.  In this post I’m going to go through a few tips you should use if you’re first starting out singing harmony.  I will use the song “Amazing Grace” as an example for singing some basic harmony.  We will also talk about using intervals to recognize pitches and where to start.  This post will help you get started learning how to sing harmony!

So you want to sing harmonies? Let’s get started!


The first thing you should know is what note that the lead part starts on.  So often people are trying to sing harmony but the lead singer is unsure of the lead part.
Simply make sure the lead singer knows what his or her line is and that way you’ll know where to begin.  The second thing you need to know is what chord you’re starting on.  This is vital for obvious reasons.  Thirdly, you’ll need to know the I, III, V notes of the chord.  Now, here is where it may get a little tricky.

Lets take the song Amazing Grace.  For this example we’ll be in the key of G.  The I, III, V notes are G, B, D.  They make a triad or a chord.  It is very helpful to have all your major triads memorized as it will help speed along this process.  Overtime you will begin to know them like two plus two.  The melody starts on the 5th note of the chord.  The fifth note of the G chord is D.  OK, you have two options now.  One can either sing the I which is G or the III which is B.  Listen here

Audio Sample

So, from here you can follow the melody line as it changes by singing either the I, III, or V note of each chord.  Typically the melody will fall on the I, III, or V of each chord.  As a harmony singer you need to sing one of the notes that the lead part is not singing.  As a general rule you want to either stay above or below the lead line.  It wouldn’t sound as smooth if you were singing above the lead and then shifted down below the lead line and back up again.  Again, rules can be broken and they may need to be in certain cases but for now either be above the lead or below.  To determine what part you’re going to sing it’s good to know your range and if you’re a bass, tenor, alto, or soprano.  That may be a an entirely different post.  Go ahead and experiment with both parts and see which part feels more comfortable.

The problem that you may run into is when the song changes chords you may catch yourself singing the melody.  If you’re not used to singing harmony it’s a very common mistake to fall into singing the lead line.  You should know your part like it is the lead line.  When you practice make sure you know your line perfect.  Let it sink into your whole body.  It should resonate within yourself.  You should feel your part “fit” in between the other two parts (if you’re singing three part).  Another problem that many harmony singers face is if they are singing the low part they often jump up and sing the high part.  I’ve found it is a lot easier to sing higher than lower.  And that’s because you can often get more volume when you sing high.  Singing low you might have a hard time hearing yourself and you will need to use more breath for support

One thing to help your harmony singing skills is to begin understanding and recognizing intervals.  This will really begin to strengthen your ear!  One trick is to match certain intervals with popular tunes.  I will give just a couple examples here.

Audio Sample

 There are many things to consider when singing harmony with others but I encourage you to just start with the basics with some of the things I’ve mentioned above.  This should act as a launching pad for you beginners out there.  I can’t stress how important it is that you are sure of the lead line.  If the lead line keeps changing then you’ll have to change the harmony and that can become frustrating especially if you’ve been working on your part!  I’ve also given you some common mistakes that people often make when they first start out, so be aware of these.  Remember, start basic, pick an easy song and don’t complicate things.  Singing harmony of any complexity is often very enjoyable!
Good Luck!

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Easy beginner guitar songs: “Simple Man” by Lynyrd Skynyrd

Here is a great song for the beginning guitarist!

“Simple Man” by Lynyrd Skynyrd To play “Simple Man” by Lynyrd Skynyrd is a great song to learn for the beginner guitar player because you can begin with the basics and build on these with different rhythms, finger picking patterns and even trying to sing and play at the same time if you are up for it!

You only need to know  these three chords to play “Simple Man” on Guitar

C                     Am                    G

Strumming Patterns

I have  included two different strumming patterns in this guitar lesson  so you can mix it up a little bit.  The first one is a bit more advanced and it matches the guitar part on the original recording.  You need to really watch your right hand technique for this picking pattern.  It requires you to use alternate picking in the right hand. To do do this, you will be creating an arpeggio for each chord with the pattern I’ve laid out for you in the tabs below.

The second one is just a basic strumming pattern that is the same through out the whole tune.  The first strum is a quarter note followed by an eighth note rest and then eighth note strums for the rest of each measure.  So the pattern is-

Down    up    down/up      down/up

The symbols below the staff line are your pick direction.  So, watch them carefully!

Some final thoughts on learning to play “Simple Man” by Lynyrd Skynyrd

This is a great tune to learn for many reasons.

1) It’s an easy 3 chord song that you can get lost in once you have the strum pattern down and  you’re able to fall into the groove.

2) Once you master the strumming pattern you can take a crack at learning the picking part which isn’t overwhelming for a beginner but will be a nice challenge that will help you become accurate with your right hand, this is a skill that will be used again and again as you progress in your playing.

3) Whenyou are able to play the rhythm and the well from memory, which won’t take to long,  I would recommend trying to sing along with the tune if you already haven’t begun singing and playing the guitar.  Tunes like “Simple Man” are good ones to start singing while playing because the vocals match the rhythm quite nicely.

Learning to sing and play guitar at the same time

Singing and playing the guitar together is no easy feat! Most people will not get it down easily, not the first time they try anyway, but if you really work hard at getting the strumming pattern to a point where you are operating from muscle memory then singing will become a bit easier.  I strongly encourage trying to sing and play as much as you get once your familiar with songs as  I feel it makes playing guitar even more fun than it already is!

Alright, it’s all right there in front of you.  Print out the tabs and start playing and remember to have fun!


Click here for Printable Tabs 



Sheet Music for "Simple Man"

Sheet Music for “Simple Man”



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The Accordion: Bluegrass Music’s Forgotten Instrument

Bluegrass is a music with a long and storied history, starting with the first immigrants to settle in the Appalachian mountains. An aspect of that history that is being explored more and more frequently, as modern bands seek to expand the sound to its fullest, is the use of the accordion.


This use of the accordion is not due to modern musicians looking to experiment just for the sake of experimenting. The first Bluegrass

band, Bill Monroe and The Blue Grass Boys, had an accordion player in their band during early iterations of their group, but settled on not having one just before rising to fame.

Early Bluegrass Instruments: The Accordion

The accordion is a rather unique type of instrument. The keys make it look like a portable piano, the squeezing aspect is reminiscent of the Scottish bagpipes and the sound is like that of a reeded instrument, like the harmonica. All of these different features coming together make for a unique sound that can lend itself very well to all types of folk music – hence the initial interest by Bill Monroe.

How you play it is by either compressing or expanding the bellows to move air over the reeds inside the instrument. The air is turned into sound by the reeds when they vibrate. The precise control of which reeds will vibrate creates the chords and notes of the piece of music being played. How these chords and notes are selected are by means of the keys on either side of the instrument.

The right hand side keys of the accordion are reserved for the melody and treble notes. The left hand is usually for the bass notes and preset chords. Pressing a certain key allows air to go across the reed associated with the note or chord and causes it to vibrate.

The use of the accordion in Bluegrass

As noted, The Blue Grass Boys used an accordion very early in their formation as they experimented with their sound. They went through numerous lineup changes during their formation before finally settling on an all stringed instrument arrangement.

This experimentation has lead to modern Bluegrass bands also taking the time to experiment and this has brought the accordion back into Bluegrass. It is a common instrument in folk music, and Bluegrass has long been a collaborative style of music with people from all over jazz, blues and even orchestral musicians participating.

The use of the accordion in Bluegrass has lead some purists to call it ‘NewGrass’ or ‘Progressive Bluegrass,’ but in the end music is meant to grow. Why can’t it grow to include a fuller understanding of its own history and still maintain its name and character?

It is of this writers opinion that you can take the traditional Bluegrass lineup – mandolin, upright bass, acoustic guitar, banjo and fiddle and add a little bit of another non-electric powered instrument and still be Bluegrass. Bill Monroe gave it a shot once, you can as well and you can create some exciting music.

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The Twelve Bar Blues


The most popular form of the blues and of popular music in general is the twelve bar blues. This basic structure has been used to write countless songs in many different genres of music and not just the blues. If you master the 12 bar blues style you can expect to find yourself able to play blues classics such as:

  • St. Louis Blues

  • Hound Dog

  • Corrina, Corrina

  • Stormy Monday

  • Easy Rider

And countless other songs from the blues, jazz, country popular music genres.

Get ready to jam!

Another great thing about learning to play the twelve bar blues is it can have you jamming with other musicians in no time. Because this pattern is so common and recognizable it allows musicians to easily play with one another even if they have never done so before.

12 Bar blues lesson

The 12 bar blues pattern is one which follows the pattern of having three lines per verse, with the first line being repeated. It is easiest to understand when it is broken down into 3 sections of 4 bars.

Each bar will have a certain chord played. The chord progression is illustrated as I-IV-V.

Looking at the table below, each section is 4 standard beats in a 4/4 time piece of music. The chord progression for a 12 bar blues would look like this:















The Roman numerals represent the chord you should be playing. For example, if you are playing the blues in the key of E you would play the chords E, A and B7 in the following patterns with 4 beats per bar:















B7 is used because it is easier to play than B, unless you choose to do a barre chord on the second fret. It is up to you on whether you want to play the easy B7, or the more difficult B chord.

That quick four 12 bar blues progression

A variation that you can start working into your 12 bar blues progression is know as the quick four. It’s 50/50 in songs that do and do not use it, feel free to slip it in when it feels right.

The only thing that changes is that the second bar’s I chord is replaced with the IV chord for 4 beats so that the first 4 bars look like this when playing in the key of E, as we have been doing above:















As you can see, the last 8 bars are exactly the same. This change happens right at the beginning of a song, if you’re jamming with your buddies be aware of the fact it may happen!


The Turnaround bar – keep on playing!

If you and the guys have really hit a groove you can basically hit the repeat button and start over on the last 4 bars. This gives the opportunity for another verse, a solo or even to slowly work the song down for a fade out.

The only thing that changes is the very last bar of the progression. We’ll keep it in the key of E as above and not use a Quick 4 so that only the Turnaround bar changes.













B7 (Turnaround bar)


What happens when you reach the Turnaround bar is just what you think – you turn back to the beginning of that measure to the last use of the V chord (B7) and play the progression over again.

The I – IV – V chords you use for the 12 bar blues

To give you a list to play around with, so that you can find a comfortable set of chords to practice on, here are all 12 keys and their chords listed as I – IV – V with the first chord indicating the key:


  • A, D, E

  • Bb, Eb, F

  • B, E, F#

  • C, F, G

  • Db, Gb, Ab

  • D, G, A

  • Eb, Ab, Bb

  • E, A, B

  • F, Bb, C

  • F#, B, C#

  • G, C, D

  • Ab, Db, Eb


The 12 bar blues, and the three chords above, are the basis for most pop and rock songs. Take them and plug them into the I – IV – V pattern, sing a song and be surprised by how many popular songs use the same chord progression!

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Roll in My Sweet Baby’s Arms, Guitar Lesson 3/3

Bluegrass Guitar Solo:

Lesson on Alternate Picking


This lesson will get you started on your first solo for “Roll in My Sweet Baby’s Arms.”  It involves the technique of alternate picking. If you are just joining us in this three part lesson series and want to brush up you can review the first and second lessons covering beginning and intermediate rhythm for this song. If you want to go straight for the solo keep reading!

If you are new to alternate picking then this lesson may prove to be difficult at first.  It is imperative that you have each pick-stroke perfect otherwise, you will never be able to obtain the speed necessary to perform this piece.  Many people ask me, “How do I know what notes to solo over for each chord?”  This lesson will give you a good start on what to do when soloing over a G, C, or D chord.  I also need to mention that while this particular solo does not follow the melody very closely (not the purpose of the lesson)- It serves as more of a first step into alternate picking and give you ideas on which notes and patterns you can play over certain types of chords.  So, again, once you learn some of these licks/patterns for each chord- You can put them into other songs with similar chord progressions.

Practice Tips and Focus Areas:

1.  Master the right hand pick strokes!  Remember that it should be down-strokes on downbeats and up-strokes in upbeats.  Quick music theory tip-   The downbeats are 1,2,3,4 and the upbeats are what’s in between.  The &’s.  So, a series of eighth notes are counted 1& 2& 3& 4&- Which means you pick down, up, down, up, down, up, down, up.  Get it?!

2.  I know I said this in the last lesson but its so true- Master the first two measures.  It helps set the tone and gets you going in the right direction.

3.  Pay close attention to measures with hammer-on’s and pull-off’s because it creates for a double up or double down stroke which can really throw a beginner off course.  I know I struggled with this for a long time before I was comfortable at executing it.  There are only a couple measures with hammers and pulls.

4.  Memorize two or three measures at a time.  Not only is is great for providing for more musicality in your song and better long term memory-  You also won’t have to keep twisting your head back and forth from the paper to your left hand, to right hand.  Ya know what I mean?  I get headaches when I do that!

5.  Practice S-l-o-w-l-y and you will master this technique.  This requires patience.

6.  Please comment on the lesson if it was helpful or you liked it and tell me why.  Thanks!


Click here for printer friendly tabs.


First Solo
For more bluegrass guitar lessons check out Musicwithryan.com

Celtic Harpist Anne Roos

AnneA Conversation with Anne Roos, Celtic Harpist

Anne Roos is a California based Celtic harpist, author, and teacher. Anne is widely considered to be at the top of her field as a Celtic harpist. She has recorded an extensive amount of music and is in constant demand for live performances and as a harp teacher.

We were fortunate enough to speak with Anne about her experiences with learning to play the harp, some of her musical inspirations and tips for beginning to play a musical instrument:

MusikaLessons.com: How old where you when you began playing the harp?

I had just graduated college, in my early 20s.

How did you decide to focus on the harp? Did you begin with other instruments or has it always been the harp?

My initial focus was on vocal music. I performed in madrigal groups at the Northern and Southern California Renaissance Fairs. I started playing the harp quite by accident—Call it serendipity. I attended a Winter Solstice festival at California State University Northridge, and there was a lady sitting in a booth surrounded by little harps. She told me that if I wanted to learn how to play that she’d rent me a harp and teach me how. At the time I had a very stressful job so I jumped at the opportunity and never looked back. The lady sitting in that booth was Sylvia Woods, a very well known harpist in today’s harp circles. It was a matter of being in the right place at the right time and going for something that I thought would be wonderful fun.

MusikaLessons.com: When you began playing was it difficult to find a harp teacher?

Anne: No, fortunately my harp teacher found me! I was lucky.

MusikaLessons.com: That’s great! Often times it is difficult for students to find music teachers in their area for even the most common instruments such as piano and guitar, I would think this could be even more difficult with the harp.

Anne: Yes, there certainly are fewer harp teachers when compared to many other instruments. I do teach online and have found many students this way.

MusikaLessons.com: What is your favorite genre to play?

Anne: I love playing all kinds of music, especially music that my audience requests, simply because I like the challenge. But I always come back to my original love of playing the kinds of music that was originally written for the Celtic Harp: Renaissance music, Early Music, and Celtic music.

MusikaLessons.com: What other musicians, harp players or not, inspire your music?

One of my favorite harpers of all time is Alan Stivell, because he constantly reinvents the way he plays the harp and how he arranges it with other instruments. As for other musicians that have inspired me, they include Victor Borge, Harpo Marx, and Liberace.  You may laugh, but they were excellent performers as well as entertainers. They were charismatic. They brought many people to great music who would have otherwise not been exposed to it. I believe that to be a fine musician, it’s about more than just playing an instrument well. It’s about telling a story with the music and entrancing the audience.

MusikaLessons.com: What tips can you give to anyone looking to begin playing the harp?

Find a good teacher. Don’t worry about having an instrument, because a good teacher will help you locate a rental or an inexpensive harp for purchase. A good teacher will show you good technique that will be healthy for your hands, and a good teacher will keep you motivated.

MusikaLessons.com: Thanks, Anne!

Anne: My pleasure.

You can find out more about Anne and her music, the Celtic harp, and about taking online harp lessons on her site at: www.CelticHarpMusic.com

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Roll in My Sweet Baby’s Arms, Guitar Lesson 2/3

Intermediate Rhythm

This is an intermediate rhythm guitar lesson for the song “Roll in my Sweet Baby’s Arms.”  This will involve bass runs to each chord, hammer-ons and pull-offs, and a more in-depth look at the G-run.  One of the best parts about this lesson is once your comfortable with the bass runs and places to insert the G-run, you can use these in other songs in the key of G.  Here are a few things to focus on during this lesson.

1. Make sure you master the first two measures.  It can easily be over looked but it will set the tone for the rest of the piece.  People often mess up the second measure due to the hammer-on on the second fret of the D string.  Perfect the feel of that measure.

2. The G-run!  Know exactly what pick direction every note is on every string.  Remember there are two up-strokes in the middle that is causing syncopation or perhaps an uneasy feeling.  So, know it inside and out.  Make sure you can get in and out of the measure cleanly.

3. The two big walks are  going to the D chord and going to the C chord.  You can use those anytime you move to those chords.  So, try it in different songs and see if you can get the timing right.

Practice Tips:

Here are some simple practice tips that go a long way:

* Take the song in sections.  Don’t become overwhelmed by all the notes on the page.  Two measures at a time is a great way to start.

* Memorize four measures at a time

* Don’t over look the importance of connecting the last measure to the first measure.  Don’t just stop after one time through.  Get used to playing it through three to five times before you stop.

* Practice s-l-o-w-l-y,  this is the best advice a teacher can give.

* Check out other bluegrass guitar lessons  

Click here for printable version of the tabs for this lesson

Roll in My Sweet baby's Arms lesson 2

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Bluegrass Guitar Lessons: Roll in My Sweet Baby’s Arms, lesson 1/3

blue grass guitarThe Bluegrass Guitar Lessons Series

This is the first lesson in our bluegrass guitar lesson series. We have a lot in store for you and are very excited to have the opportunity to share this with you. As you may know, bluegrass music began in Kentucky which is also known as “The Bluegrass State” and is named after the great Kentucky mandolin player Bill Monroe and his band The Bluegrass Boys. Bluegrass is a fun, exciting genre of music that encourages players of all skill levels to participate.

It is the goal of this series to provide beginning to advanced bluegrass guitar players a wealth of information that will help you to build on your existing bluegrass guitar playing skills and to develop new ones. The aim of this lesson series is to provide lessons that are:

*Easy to follow and fun to play

*Appealing to players of all skill levels

*Clearly written

*True to the bluegrass genre

Introduction: Roll in My Sweet Baby’s Arms

For the first lesson of the first series we will take a look at the basic rhythm guitar part for the bluegrass classic “Roll in My Sweet Baby’s Arms”. We will cover the basic techniques used and focus on the “alternate bass” strumming pattern so common in bluegrass guitar playing. The second lesson will cover a more advanced rhythm part including bass walks, hammer-on’s/pull-off’s, and the infamous “G” run. The third lesson be more of an intermediate to advanced lesson where we will build off of the basic elements we’ve already learned in the previous lessons and introduce your first solo for this song. It will focus more on alternate picking single notes, stringing consecutive eighth notes together, and creating patterns to solo over for this song and others in the key of G.

By the end of this first series you will have mastered this song and be ready to take it to the jam circle. You‘ll have been taught basic rhythm essentials and tools for learning your first solo. If you are wanting to learn bluegrass guitar this is a great place to start!

Roll in my Sweet Baby’s Arms, Lesson 1/3: Basic Rhythm

This is a basic rhythm guitar part for the bluegrass classic “Roll in my Sweet Baby’s Arms.” Make sure you have a good understanding of the concepts below before moving on. If you follow the video/tabs/text provided below you should be able to get a good feel for the concepts explored. Here are a few things to focus on during this lesson:

1. The most important thing going on in the right hand is what I like to call “Alternating Bass Movement” which simply means that you are alternating the bass note after each strum. There is a certain pattern for each chord so it might be a good idea to work on each chord pattern separately from the piece. This style of strumming is very common in country and bluegrass music and once you get a feel for it you will be able to turn any song into this style of music.

2. Don’t let the tabs overwhelm you. It looks like there is a lot going on but if you watch the video I’m almost always staying inside the chord which means I am moving my left hand very little. Most of the work is in the right hand.

3. Memorize the chord progression once you get a feel for the rhythm pattern and the movements in the right hand. It will help master the piece much faster and make it more musical. If you have to keep looking back and forth from the paper to the guitar it will give you a headache. You may have to do a little of this at first but take the song in sections and begin to memorize!

4. Pay close attention to the pick directions that are below the tab line. This is very important for establishing good timing. I encourage you to make sure you’re perfect with each strum or stroke of the pick. It will pay off down the road.  Always remember- down- strokes on down beats and up-strokes on up beats.

5. Last but certainly not least- Make sure you are finding the groove. You may notice in the video I’m not quite playing the eighth notes straight, I’m giving them a little swing. That’s called creating the feel or the groove. Relax into the playing and make sure you can tap your foot and feel the pulse all through your body while playing, once you can do that, you’ve got it!

6. Make sure to check out live bluegrass music whenever possible!

Things to Watch For:

* Keep a close eye on the “G” run measure. Also know where your eighth notes and quarter notes are.

* Make sure your pick direction is perfect.

* “H” is for hammer-on and “P” is for pull-off. They take the place of the pick direction.

* Quarter notes have a straight stem with no other notes connecting. Eighth notes are two notes connected by a single stem. This lesson only has quarter and eighth notes.
Make sure you have fun!

Click here for printer friendly PDF

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The Landfill Harmonic

Cateura, Paraguay’s Very Own Recycled Orchestra

Along the dusty banks of a polluted creek in Paraguay, dozens of families live amid heaps of rubbish from the landfill that makes up the majority of their city. Endless piles of trash stretch for as far as the eye can see, contaminating the soil, air and water throughout Cateura. Nearly every day, more garbage is unloaded into the arid dump. Residents of all ages sift through the refuse, searching for items with recyclable value in order to earn money for themselves, their families and their community. The largely unseen perils of this lifestyle range from minor injuries that lead to serious infection to regular exposure to hazardous chemicals found throughout the landfill. Even so, these and other daily risks have become a necessary component of survival for the people of the city, particularly for the recyclers who rely upon their scavenging skills for an unbelievably sparse income.

From the seemingly bottomless mountains of trash come a variety of materials with unexpected potential for the citizens of Cateura. Defunct appliances, discarded home goods, old industrial equipment and more offer the impoverished community a unique opportunity: a small but growing group of children and teenagers are learning how to craft amazing orchestral instruments of the trash that surrounds their homes. From violins, cellos and guitars made of scrap metal and wood to flutes, saxophones and clarinets built from old water pipes, coins and flatware, The Recycled Orchestra, or “Landfill Harmonic” has taken shape and is inspiring locals and the world alike with the power of music.

Through this revolutionary project, renowned maestro Luis Szaran, local musician Favio Chavez and area resident Nicolas Gomez (or Cola, as he is known) have introduced the influence of music and community to children in Cateura. Every day, more people from around the world are made aware of this tiny slum and the potential it holds, as well as the intolerable environmental conditions in which these people abide. The group as a whole hopes to foster a greater sense of awareness on an international level with their ingenuity, talent and commitment to recycling, all while producing incredible music through the unlikeliest means. Though their initial objective revolved around helping otherwise destitute children rise up from the depths of poverty, the group now sees how their efforts may help to educate people from across the globe about various ways to recycle, reduce waste and improve the state of the environment in general.

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Michael Jackson Infographic

This month marks the four year anniversary of the passing of Michael Jackson. Michael Jackson was an inspiration to countless artists, musicians, and composers, and has been sorely missed by many.  We are remembering the King of Pop’s life, trademark style, charity work, humanitarian awards, and musical achievements with this awesome Michael Jackson Infographic!

musika michael jackson infographic

Michael Jackson Infographic from http://www.musikalessons.com

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