Here's the perfect starter pack for any aspiring musician
man playing guitar while singing

Every musician had a first time they picked up the guitar, bass, keyboard, etc. And as a professional musician, I can tell you that there is nothing more satisfying than creating music in your own home. Whether it is just picking up an acoustic guitar or producing your own original ideas, this list should help you get budding musicians of all ages well on their way.



1. Fender FA-115 Dreadnought

An acoustic guitar is an instrument you can bring anywhere. This Fender FA-115 Dreadnought comes complete with everything you need including a soft guitar case (gig bag), tuner, strap, string and guitar picks. Fender has been around forever, and for around $200, this is bundle is everything you need to get started.


$199.99 on Amazon


2. ChromaCast Upright Guitar Stand

One item the Fender bundle does not have is a guitar stand, and the ChromaCast Upright Guitar Stand is solid inexpensive option. Not only is it easier than taking the guitar in and out of the case, but there is no motivation like an instrument sitting on a stand staring back at you, wondering why you aren't practicing. The easy access coupled with the security of keeping your guitar upright is well worth the the $10. Leaning your guitar up agains the wall tells everyone, most importantly yourself, that you aren't taking it seriously. Especially when you hear that clang after it falls over.



$10.98 on Amazon


3. Ibanez bass guitar

Bassists and drummers are always the most sought after components to a band. And unless you have a big house with sound proof rooms and lot of patience, the bass is the obvious gift. This Ibanez is a perfect first bass. Ibanez basses and guitars sound great and are underrated, in my opinion. I have a bass and guitar from Ibanez, and have never had the need for anything else.



$179.99 on Amazon


4. Ampeg BA-108v2 20-watt Bass Combo Amplifier

If you decide to gift a bass, you will want to include a bass amp. Ampeg is one of the top bass amp manufacturers in the industry, and the Ampeg BA-108v2 20-watt Bass Combo Amplifier is a fantastic choice to start out with. It has a great tone for the money and won't shatter the windows in the process.



$149.99 on Amazon


5. YUWAKAYI 10 foot guitar cable

Unless otherwise specified, your guitar does not come with an instrument cable. There is no need to break the bank for a beginner, as some cables can be in excess of $60. The YUWAKAYI 10 foot guitar cable is $9 and is more than sufficient for those just starting out. When you start gigging and recording, you might want to look into upgrading, but for now it does the job just fine.



$8.99 on Amazon


6. Fender Squire Package

If you ask any guitarist what their first guitar was, they will most likely tell you it was a Fender Squire. This package comes with a guitar, amp, strings, tuner, chord, strap, picks and gig bag. For $370, you will be hard pressed to find a better deal than this.



$299.99 on Amazon


7. VOX AP2AC amPlug 2 AC30 Guitar/Bass Headphone Amplifier

If noise is an issue, VOX AP2AC amPlug 2 AC30 Guitar/Bass Headphone Amplifier is a beautiful thing. Vox makes great amps, and this little guy has a surprising sound for its size and price. Plug it into your guitar or bass and then plug headphones into the Vox. Then rock out without disturbing the neighbors, or anyone in your own house for that matter. It takes two AAA batteries that should give you anywhere from 7-11 hours of life.



$40.77 on Amazon


8. The Midiplus, 32-Key Midi Controller

If you have a Mac, then you have Garage Band, and The Midiplus, 32-Key Midi Controller is an inexpensive way to access sounds from Apple's free recoding software. Garage Band has tons of software instruments from drums to cello, bass to guitar and way too much more to mention. Just plug the midi controller into the USB port on your Mac, and when you select an instrument in Garage Band each keystroke mimics the chosen sound. After a short learning curve, you can be producing full compositions in no time. Don't get suckered in to buying keyboards with a lot of useless buttons. Midi controllers like this one are simple and easy to use, especially since everything you need is in the Garage Band program on your Mac. Not all iPads have USB ports, so be sure your computer has one.


$34.39 on Amazon


9. Shure SM58

Eventually, you will want a condenser mic to record vocals, but they are fragile and can stop working after they hit the floor even once. The Shure SM58 is the most trusted microphone out there, and has been used to record a bunch of hit records. It is widely used as live performance mic, but it does just fine in the studio, as well. Not to mention, you can run it over with a truck and it will still work. I have had the same one for as long as I can remember, and it has endured more than you can imagine. If "They don't make 'em like they used to" the SM 58 is the exception to the rule.



$90.99 on Amazon


10. Tripod Boom Microphone Stand

You will need a mic stand. Whether you are recording, rehearsing or playing live, there are very few situations that don't call for one. And besides, you can't truly achieve proper rock stance without it. No need for anything fancy here. For $25 the AmazonBasics Tripod Boom Microphone Stand will do the trick.



$17.54 on Amazon


11. M-Audio Midi Interface Recording Software

Finally, if you want to record guitar, bass or vocals into Garage Band or any other recording software, you will need an interface to plug into. An interface is a small box where you plug in an instrument or mic cable, and then in turn plugs into your computer. Once plugged in, you can access what ever guitar/bass sounds your software offers, along with effects like delay, reverb and compression to put on your vocals and instruments. M-Audio is my pick for an interface that you won't outgrow for some time, and is just over $100.



$149.00 on Amazon


These are just some of the gift options for those people in your life curious about trying the music thing out. If it takes, then you can upgrade as they grow as musicians. These are just a few ways to get them started with decent gear that won't drain your bank account. If you can afford a little more, there are certainly a bevy of other options. If finances are tight, this is a good list to go on.

Simon & Garfunkel's song "Bridge Over Troubled Water" has been covered by more than 50 different musical artists, from Aretha Franklin to Elvis Presley to Willie Nelson. It's a timeless classic that taps into the universal struggle of feeling down and the comfort of having someone to lift us up. It's beloved for its soothing melody and cathartic lyrics, and after a year of pandemic challenges, it's perhaps more poignant now than ever.

A few years a go, American singer-songwriter Yebba Smith shared a solo a capella version of a part of "Bridge Over Troubled Water," in which she just casually sits and sings it on a bed. It's an impressive rendition on its own, highlighting Yebba's soulful, effortless voice.

But British singer Jacob Collier recently added his own layered harmony tracks to it, taking the performance to a whole other level.

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Images courtesy of John Scully, Walden University, Ingrid Scully
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Since March of 2020, over 29 million Americans have been diagnosed with COVID-19, according to the CDC. Over 540,000 have died in the United States as this unprecedented pandemic has swept the globe. And yet, by the end of 2020, it looked like science was winning: vaccines had been developed.

In celebration of the power of science we spoke to three people: an individual, a medical provider, and a vaccine scientist about how vaccines have impacted them throughout their lives. Here are their answers:

John Scully, 79, resident of Florida

Photo courtesy of John Scully

When John Scully was born, America was in the midst of an epidemic: tens of thousands of children in the United States were falling ill with paralytic poliomyelitis — otherwise known as polio, a disease that attacks the central nervous system and often leaves its victims partially or fully paralyzed.

"As kids, we were all afraid of getting polio," he says, "because if you got polio, you could end up in the dreaded iron lung and we were all terrified of those." Iron lungs were respirators that enclosed most of a person's body; people with severe cases often would end up in these respirators as they fought for their lives.

John remembers going to see matinee showings of cowboy movies on Saturdays and, before the movie, shorts would run. "Usually they showed the news," he says, "but I just remember seeing this one clip warning us about polio and it just showed all these kids in iron lungs." If kids survived the iron lung, they'd often come back to school on crutches, in leg braces, or in wheelchairs.

"We all tried to be really careful in the summer — or, as we called it back then, 'polio season,''" John says. This was because every year around Memorial Day, major outbreaks would begin to emerge and they'd spike sometime around August. People weren't really sure how the disease spread at the time, but many believed it traveled through the water. There was no cure — and every child was susceptible to getting sick with it.

"We couldn't swim in hot weather," he remembers, "and the municipal outdoor pool would close down in August."

Then, in 1954 clinical trials began for Dr. Jonas Salk's vaccine against polio and within a year, his vaccine was announced safe. "I got that vaccine at school," John says. Within two years, U.S. polio cases had dropped 85-95 percent — even before a second vaccine was developed by Dr. Albert Sabin in the 1960s. "I remember how much better things got after the vaccines came out. They changed everything," John says.

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