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Practicing Harp Happiness

#152: Never Have a Bad Lesson Again

When I was preparing for this week’s show, I couldn’t help being reminded of a couple of tired old jokes.

Patient: Doctor, it hurts when I do this. 
Doctor: Then don’t do that.


Patient: Doctor, it hurts and I don’t know what’s wrong.
Doctor: Take two aspirin and call me in the morning.

When we’re thinking about our harp lessons, we may sometimes think of it like a doctor-patient relationship. Something is wrong with our playing and we want to get it fixed. Give me the prescription and let me go home.

Or we may think of our lessons in a less transactional, more relationship based-way. Our teacher isn’t just our expert harp guide but our friend as well. We look forward to our lessons as a time to reconnect with our harp and with our teacher too.

While both of those scenarios may be accurate to some extent, neither one truly describes what a music lesson is or should be. If our lessons are transactional - just give me the scrip, doc -...

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#151: How Your Three-Finger Technique May Be Hurting You…Literally

It’s high time I got up on my soapbox. It’s not often I do a rant on the podcast, but there’s an issue that has me so fired up that I had to talk about it with you.

I believe it’s the result of how we are learning now. There are so many opportunities to learn online, everything from individual live lessons to Youtube videos to video courses to coaching to online masterclasses. And before you mention it, yes, I am obviously a contributor to those online learning opportunities, which makes me part of the problem. I’d rather be part of the solution. Hence, the reason for today’s rant.

You may have heard me talk about the leveling up involved in playing four-finger chords if you’ve been playing mostly three-finger chords. I’m not changing my opinion on that. 

But recently I’ve seen that the main stumbling block for many students isn’t just the addition of one more note to the chord. It’s actually more about the way...

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#150: Practice Positivity: How to Combat Your Worst Critic

music and meaning Apr 01, 2024

This podcast episode goes live on April Fool’s Day, and I probably couldn’t have picked a more appropriate day to release it. I didn’t do it on purpose, but today’s topic lines up very nicely with April Fool's. It’s about the fool’s game of self-criticism.

I think the most dangerous pitfall for harpists, or for any musician, doesn’t have to do with performance nerves or losing your place or not having a strong technique or being able to sight read. I think it is being overly or inappropriately critical of our efforts. 

Now before you say that you are skilled at keeping your perspective and you don’t let your drive to achieve lead to frustration, I want you to stop and really think. I run across harpists every day, every time I teach a webinar or an intensive, who describe themselves as perfectionists. Most of these harpists know that their perfectionism is slowing them down, possibly even preventing them from enjoying their...

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#149: Stick It! Your Guide to Secure Finger Placing

We harpists take our finger placement seriously. Getting the right fingers on the right strings at the right time is paramount. One misplaced finger and a whole passage can go wobbly.

One of the quotes of Johann Sebastian Bach that comes to my mind at this moment is this one: “It's easy to play any musical instrument: all you have to do is touch the right key at the right time and the instrument will play itself.”

Bach was known for his sense of humor and so, without knowing the context for the quote,  I like to think that this was not intended to downplay the difficulty of playing an instrument but was more tongue in cheek. But it’s still a little depressing.

Our physical connection to the harp strings is key, not just for playing the right notes, but for our speed, our tone, our range of expression, our relaxation, even our confidence. When our fingers are too loosely placed on the strings, they can slide up or down or even off the string. This makes for...

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#148: 10 Surprising Benefits of Practice Bursts

Call me crazy if you want. I know your ideal day might be a day at the spa, or sitting on the beach with a good book, or going for a hike in the mountains. Although those all sound good to me, my ideal day - or at least one of my ideal days - would be a day when I could practice all day. A day when I only had to practice would be a true luxury for me. That's really not that crazy. I think a lot of harpists would feel that way. Maybe you would too.

Of course, the reality is that most of us are too busy most of the time for that ideal practice day. Usually we are sandwiching practice in between the other parts of our lives and often our harp playing ends up taking a back seat to tasks that are more urgent or the care we give to others. And when we do have time to practice, we don’t feel that we have time to get to everything on our practice list. 

It’s not uncommon to feel a little frustrated that we can’t spend the time we would like to with the harp. We...

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#147: How to Study a Piece: Look, Listen and Apply

My husband’s family is German, and even before we were married I discovered that one of the things I had long heard about German housewives was true, at least in my mother-in-law’s house: Germans take a clean house seriously. 

By American standards my own house isn’t filthy. I keep it fairly neat and decently clean. But my mother-in-law saw clean in a completely different way. There was no dust in her house, not even in the corners under the beds. She used paste wax to keep all the wood surfaces gleaming. And the only exceptions she made to the “keep your feet off the furniture” rule, were her grandsons. Cleaning didn’t just mean mopping the floor; it meant scrubbing it on your hands and knees. 

So why am I talking about this on the podcast? Because just like there are different levels of clean, there are different levels of knowing a piece. Sometimes we find this out the hard way, when we think we know a piece and then try to play it...

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#146: Can You Count This? Where Simple Meets Compound

See if you can guess the answer to this.

What can sometimes feel gently rocking like a boat on a lake on a calm summer’s day, and other times puts a lively spring into your step? It isn’t hard, but it’s never simple. You’ve almost certainly encountered it in your harp music, and even though you may be able to play it easily,  you may not be able to explain it. You might think of it as double trouble or as a triple threat in the way it compounds the challenges in your music. Can you guess what it is? If you’re the type who likes to figure things out, pause the podcast here for a moment and then come back when you’re ready for the answer.

Ready? Here’s one final hint: the answer is a meter signature, and I know it’s one you know. Maybe you’ve guessed it. The meter signature or time signature I mean is 6/8. I know you’ve seen it and played it. “Greensleeves” or “What Child Is This?” is a melody...

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#145: Playalong Episode: Rediscovering Your Sound

I am always interested to hear what first attracted harpists to the harp. It’s fascinating to learn the many ways that the harp can draw a potential student. My own story is that I heard the harp on the radio and told my parents that was what I wanted to do. The important part of this story for me is that it wasn’t a gold harp or a pretty dress that drew me to the harp, but the sound that pulled me in. Naturally, there’s nothing wrong with the gold harp or the glamor look, but the sound was - and is - important to me. 

Whether or not it was the harp’s sound that first attracted you, sound is important to us. So why don’t we spend more of our time listening to our playing? We devote a lot of energy to reading the notes and teaching our fingers to play the right strings. Somehow there isn’t always time to just spend listening. But it’s an important habit and one that we are going to spend a little time with today.

This is a playalong...

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#144: Beyond the Basics: How to Keep Your Technique Growing

Let’s take this as a given: our technique is at the heart of everything we do at the harp. Intellectually, we know this to be true, but that doesn’t prevent us from being surprised when we run into a passage in a piece we’re learning that our fingers just can’t manage. What the heck? We’ve been doing our daily exercises and most of the time our technique is up to the challenges in any new piece. So what happened this time?

If you’ve had that experience, rest assured, my friend, that you are not alone. We’ve all been there. Sometimes a moment like that is just a wake up call, reminding us that we’ve slacked off a bit and we’ve been taking our technique work a little too casually. Technique practice done correctly requires our attention and focus. It also requires a plan for growth.

The basic drills or exercises we rely on are scales, arpeggios and chords. In theory, keeping those skills fresh should enable us to play about three...

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#143: How To Improve Anything - Including Your Harp Playing

Today I’m going to tell you how to improve anything. I know that sounds like a tall order, but we harpists are all about improvement. Every day in every way we want to get better and better. Many of us like this idea too: slow and steady wins the race. Yes, but remember tortoises live for a very long time. They can afford to take only the slow and steady approach. Some of us have a little shorter time frame in mind.

I’m a fan of the author and productivity guru Brian Tracy. His book “Eat That Frog” is one of my favorites when I need a little kick to conquer my procrastination. There’s a quote from his book that I considered as a starting point for our discussion today: “Practice the philosophy of continuous improvement. Get a little bit better every single day.” 

But something about that left me a little unsatisfied. Yes, certainly the continuity of improvement, like practicing every day rather than once a week, is important for us...

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