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Don’t Practice Your Orchestra Part – Prepare It!

It was one of those flashback moments.

I was helping a student prepare for her first orchestra experience and suddenly, I was twelve years old, in my teacher’s studio, hearing her tell me some of the very same things.

My teacher was Marilyn Costello, principal harpist of the Philadelphia Orchestra, so obviously she was an expert at orchestral playing. Despite the thorough preparation she gave me, there were parts of my early orchestra experience that no one could have prepared me for.

There was the octogenarian conductor with the thick German accent who addressed me in rehearsal only as “leeetle gerrrrl.” There was the odd feeling of being alone in the middle of this large group, being the only harpist, the only musician without a “section” of colleagues and friends. And there was the strange experience of not playing continuously, of contributing in small, isolated moments, and counting vast numbers of bars of rests.

As I grew to understand my role as...

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The Easy Way to Choose an Arrangement

“Can you recommend a good arrangement of XYZ piece?”

This is often a difficult question to answer. What makes an arrangement “good” for me, may be the exact opposite of what makes it “good” for you. I may like lots of notes; you would prefer a simpler texture. I may like unusual harmonies; you want something that sounds like you expect. I want chords; you want arpeggios. Po-tay-to, po-tah-to.

While there are some objective measures of a good arrangement, often the choice is purely a matter of taste. On the one hand, this makes choosing simple. You just have to choose one you like. There are a couple of other important considerations too, however, and even when you get those right, it’s still a bit of a hit or miss process.

Ideally, you would like to buy an arrangement, knowing that it would sound right to you, be playable for you and not take you too long to learn. 

The good news is that it’s easier than ever to find out what an...

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The Musician’s #1 Labor-Saving Strategy

We have been taught that hard work is the key to success. As James Cash (J. C.) Penney quipped, “I do not believe in excuses. I believe in hard work as the prime solvent of life's problems.”

As musicians, we understand the value of hard work, of putting in the practice time. When we encounter passages that confound our technique, we “take it to the woodshed” to put in more repetitions. When we have a performance coming up, we increase our efforts. No one has to tell us that excuses won’t make you play better.

But sometimes hard work actually prevents you from getting the results you want.

If you’re working on the wrong things, it doesn’t matter how much work you do; you will just be spinning your wheels. Plus, when you’re just spinning your wheels, you’re not only putting effort into something that won’t help you, but you’re also digging yourself in deeper. You’re wasting time that should be spent on what will...

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Practice Friend or Practice Enemy: The Great Cell Phone Debate

It’s gone beyond a fad.

In 2015, Fortune magazine reported that 54% of e-book buyers were reading them on their smart phones. In 2017, Fortune reported on a newer survey that showed that 85% of adults were reading their news on a mobile device. And smartphone ownership and usage continues to rise. In fact, the chances are good that you’re reading this on a smartphone or mobile device right now.

Chances are also very good that you have discovered the many ways that your smartphone or tablet can help you in your musical studies too. I have found that an entire bagful of equipment and music can now be reduced to a single device. Technology is amazing and wonderful. When it works.

For all the many ways your cell phone can be convenient – and indeed, smart – tool to help you practice, it does have a couple of very significant drawbacks that could actually sabotage your practice efforts. If you’re aware of them, however, you can take steps to make sure that...

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How to Audition a Teacher: 3 Critical Questions

How do you “audition” a new harp teacher?

Maybe you’ve moved to a new city, or perhaps your teacher relocated. Maybe you’re new to the harp, or you’ve been playing a while but it’s time to get back to lessons. Whatever your reason for looking for a new teacher, you can feel a little confused about how to make the best choice.

While no one can offer you a guaranteed successful selection method, there are a few important considerations. These considerations go beyond the obvious ones of location, availability, price and personality. Those points are good places to begin, but they don’t help you see into the future – your future with the harp.

To address that more important issue you must first ask yourself this question: what do I want to do with the harp?

You may not have a very clear picture of what your harp journey could look like. It is likely, though, that you had at least a vague idea of what you wanted to do with the harp....

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12 Great Arpeggio Pieces – That Aren’t “The Little Fountain”

“The Little Fountain... again?”

Perhaps that question has gone through your mind at a student recital as yet another proud harpist steps up to show off his or her arpeggios with this perennial favorite. And it is a favorite, but it’s not the only arpeggio-rich piece in our harp repertoire.

So in case you feel like a change in your arpeggio music, I offer 12 possibilities that may intrigue you.

Obviously, much of the harp literature uses arpeggios, but I had more specific criteria for my choices. I wanted to find pieces where the arpeggios were an integral part of the fabric and texture of the piece, not just a flourish.

I looked for music that was at an intermediate level and which was fairly short, nothing that was in the realm of “concert” repertoire. Of course, any of these pieces would be great for recitals or background music, but they aren’t exclusively for virtuoso players. Plus, most of them (all but two) are playable on lever harp.

...

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The Ripple Effect: 7 Keys to Better Arpeggios

“Throw a stone into the stream and the ripples that propagate themselves are the beautiful type of all influence.”  Ralph Waldo Emerson

 

The ripple effect is generally understood to mean the expanding impact of a single action, for instance the increase in good feeling from a single good deed.

In harp playing, we seek a different, but no less impactful, type of ripple effect: the rippling effect of well-played and musical arpeggios. Arpeggios rank second only to glissandos as the most characteristic of harp sounds. They can bring out the warm, liquid tones of the harp, or sound heroic and virtuosic, as the music requires.

Clearly then, we harpists want to be sure our arpeggios have that magical ripple that comes from confident and secure playing. Let’s consider the three qualities of beautiful arpeggios and the seven keys to creating them in your arpeggios.

The Three Qualities

Probably the most obvious difference between a beautifully played arpeggio and...

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10 Musical Adventures To Enjoy Before Summer Ends – And They’re Free!

Let’s talk summer vacation for your music! No, not taking a break, exactly. I’d like to invite you to put some of that adventurous vacation spirit into your music-making this coming month.

I want you to take some time to stretch yourself, without worrying about extra practice or wrong notes or fixing your technique. I want you to find new ways to explore and enjoy making music. And I think now is the perfect time. (Even if you’re reading this blog months after I’m writing it, this moment you’re in right now – whenever it happens to be – is the perfect time.)

If you’ve never tried this before, you will be amazed at how much fun it is. None of the suggestions below cost anything (except for possibly #10), and 2 of them don’t even involve any playing. But they will all stretch your creativity and help you explore your music in a new way.

Focus on your favorite one or choose a different one to do each week. And if you like, share...

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What’s Your SPF- String Protection Formula?

Summertime. Time for lemonade, swimming pools, barbecue, the beach and…breaking strings.

Where I live in central Pennsylvania, we have beautiful summers, much of the time. We have beautiful days when the sun shines and the air is so clear it almost shimmers. Then there are the days when the humidity is as high as the temperature. The outside air is muggy and heavy, so heavy it even seems to penetrate the inside air conditioned spaces. And humid air can make your harp and harp strings very unhappy.

So what is your SPF - String Protection Formula? How do you protect your strings from breaking and your expensive harp from suffering in the summer heat?

Air conditioning is as important for your harp as it is for you. Keeping the humidity at a fairly constant and comfortable level will help your harp stay in tune and keep the joints in the wood from swelling. It will also help keep your strings from breaking, although with strings, there are no guarantees.

Gut strings are...

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Don’t Want to Perform? 3 Reasons You Should

“A bell's not a bell 'til you ring it - A song's not a song 'til you sing it - Love in your heart wasn't put there to stay - Love isn't love 'til you give it away!”

― Oscar Hammerstein, II, lyrics from “Sixteen Going On Seventeen” from The Sound of Music

 

If there’s one statement that always furrows my brow, it’s this one: “Oh, I don’t want to perform. I just want to play for my own pleasure.”

I understand that a performance can add pressure that takes away from the enjoyment of playing music. Further, I completely agree that we should always play for our own pleasure. If we don’t enjoy it, what would be the point in working so hard at it?

But I firmly believe that we should not play only for our own pleasure. Music is a means of communication, particularly for thoughts that are hard to express in words. Also, if your music pleases you, why wouldn’t it please others too?

I’d like to suggest that we...

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