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Finish That Piece! 3 Myths about the Messy Middle

Uncategorized May 13, 2019

What is the “messy middle?”

In any project, the messy middle is the sometimes, boring, sometimes frustrating stage between the excitement of the beginning and the vindication of the completion of the project.

In your music learning, it’s the repetitive, too often mindless practice stage after the initial learning of the notes but before you feel like you can truly play the piece. You’ve been there; I’ve been there. We’ve all been there, and it isn’t fun.

The messy middle is a necessary stage of development. In this stage you begin to develop a deep familiarity with the piece, which will be the foundation of your musical interpretation and your technical security. But while this stage does take time, it need not be a struggle.

If you’ve wondered why you never really finish a piece, or if you get bored with the piece before you can play it, you’re getting stuck in the messy middle. It’s likely that you are blaming yourself...

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Never Perform Again? How To Succeed After An Epic Fail

It looks so easy when other people do it. It’s not complicated; you practice a piece until it’s ready. Then you play it.

We all know it isn’t really that simple. There are difficult passages and techniques to conquer. You have to earn to play it fast enough or slow enough or steady enough. You need to express the dynamics and the musical flow. And you have to deal with performance jitters, nervous fingers or sweaty palms.

Sure it’s hard. But you’re not afraid of the challenge. You’re a hard worker. You have a clear goal. You made a plan and followed it. So why didn’t it work this time, or maybe even the two or three times before this time?

Maybe you’ve had that happen to you. I’ve experienced it. And after the first epic failure, I’ve gone on to another failure and another. And come out successfully on the other side.

But my success wasn’t due just to sheer perseverance. As much as a story of determination, hard...

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Practicing Outside the Box: 2 Ideas for Creative Practice

No time to be creative? Let’s use your daily practice to stimulate your musical imagination.

Practice, even when we are avoiding thoughtless repetition, often feels like a less-than-creative task. Our quest for secure, confident and musical playing doesn’t seem to allow for much experimentation and play.

The fact is, however, that actively using your musical imagination can actually help you learn notes more quickly in addition to developing inner resources that you might not even realize you have. These resources would include things like connecting music theory concepts like chords and keys to what you hear and play, and quicker recognition of musical styles and forms. These resources are the fundamental skills you need to be able to learn faster, sightread, memorize and improvise more easily.

Plus, this kind of practice helps you get more creative in terms of generating musical ideas. Don’t think you have any musical ideas? You might surprise yourself, if you...

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4 Practice Strategies that NEVER Work (You’ve Tried at Least One!)

Is your practice strategy failing you?

In this third part of our Spring Cleaning Challenge blog series, I challenge you to look at how you might be sabotaging your practice. If you’ve missed parts one and two of the series, you can read them later. This one is critical!

Let’s face facts; practicing is hard work. It takes patience, self-discipline and energy. It takes concentration, motivation and perseverance. It takes time. If you’re like me, those are qualities that are often in short supply. And when the going gets tough, sometimes it’s hard to get going.

Certainly springtime can inspire you to new bursts of energy. But it doesn’t always inspire the right energy to practice. It may seem even easier than usual to succumb to distractions that take you away from practicing. Often those distractions are subtle and sneaky ways to procrastinate, so subtle that we don’t even notice the damage they are causing.

In fact, they may show up in...

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Playing More Musically: 5 Days of Discovery

I just want to play more musically.”

It's a common refrain among students and performers of all ages. We all want to play more musically, but exactly what does that mean?

A musically expressive performance is a result of the performer’s choices informed by his or her understanding. You can probably guess at the kind of choices I mean, like choices of tempo and dynamics. The understanding part may require a bit more explanation.

Musical understanding develops over time. It’s likely that you already have a large body of instinctive musical knowledge that you have accumulated as you have practiced, played and listened to music. Your next step is to raise that understanding from the instinctive level to the conscious.

If you have ever puzzled over whether specific dynamics sounded “right” or not, you have already begun this task. Simply by paying attention to the possibilities open to you as a performer and asking questions about them, you have...

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Spring Clean Your Technique: 5 Days to Fresher Fingers

In this first part of our “Spring Cleaning Challenge,” I walk you through a five day plan for refreshing your technique. Parts 2 and 3 of the series follow in the coming weeks.

“There’s no excuse for running out of gas.”

That was one of the first warnings my parents gave me when I learned to drive. As long as the gas gauge was working, keeping gas in the tank was my responsibility. If I got stranded somewhere because I didn’t stop to fill up, that was my fault.

Sure, we all push it from time to time. The light on the dashboard comes on to remind you that the tank is nearing empty. It’s tempting to push it just one more mile, hoping that we will stop at the gas station before the car comes to a halt in the middle of the road.

This is the time of year your technique could probably use a “fill up” too. When you have a good technical foundation, you can figuratively “run on fumes” for quite a while.

But taking some time...

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Don’t Do This! 7 Sneaky Harp Happiness Killers

It’s spring cleaning time, the season to spruce up, refresh and brighten, to clean out the closets, sort out the drawers and get a fresh start. I’m always amazed to realize that, once again, my junk drawer is full, my closet is a disorganized mess and I need to do something about it. It seems to be so easy to accumulate those piles and so daunting to face getting rid of them.

I generally give my harp playing a “spring cleaning” too. While the need for musical refreshing is less obvious than the pile of papers on my desk, it is no less real. There is a “winter rust” that accumulates, due to over-crowded schedules and too little practice time. I need to brush away the cobwebs and bad habits and get my playing back in shape.

Perhaps you don’t have any harp “spring cleaning” to do. But maybe you haven’t realized some of the seemingly innocuous habits – I call them Harp Happiness Killers - that can drain your energy,...

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Spring Forward: Gardening Tips for Harpists

Spring is finally here, at least according to the calendar. I won’t believe it’s really spring, though, until I see the first cheery yellow daffodil in my garden.

I remember the year I planted those bulbs. I spent the better part of an autumn weekend digging holes in the side of a hill along our driveway. The ground was more rock than soil, but I dug where I could, placed the bulbs in the holes and hoped for the best.

I’d like to say that the next spring that hillside was covered with a mass of yellow blooms but even now, 10 years later, those daffodils still struggle to spread. The brave survivors that bloom may be fewer in number than I had envisioned, but I cherish them all the more.

Has your harp playing blossomed the way you expected? Do you have a musical field of flowers or are you still waiting for the first blooms? You can tell from my daffodil story that I am no gardener but even so, I have discovered a few tips that relate as much to harp playing as they...

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Mastering Harp Geography: Get Out of the Middle of the Road

Would you drive in the middle of the road?

I live in a very rural area. We have beautiful forests of pine and hemlock and sparkling streams with plenty of trout, unless you listen to the unlucky fishermen. We also have very narrow roads. The middle of the road is sometimes the only place to drive.

But playing the harp is not a “middle of the road” venture. Your harp has plenty of strings and there’s no need to stick to just the middle ones.

So are you a “middle of the road” harpist? This has nothing to do with skill level or ability. It’s purely a matter of geography.

Try this: take a look at your harp. Which strings are the most worn? Probably they are the ones you play the most, likely the ones in the middle. Or perhaps you’re one of those harpists who never tunes the bottom or the very top strings telling yourself that you don’t use them anyway. These are both signs that you could use a refresher course in harp geography.

Geography...

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Take a Musical Gondola Ride: Play a Barcarolle

“Of course this rhythm is typical for a barcarolle,” I said.

My student stared at me with that glassy expression. She clearly had no idea what I was talking about. I immediately realized that I had fallen into a common teacher trap of assuming that my student knew what I did. So I needed to backtrack.

“Just imagine,” I said, “that it’s a beautiful spring evening in Venice. The Italian sun is just beginning to set, and you are gliding across the water in a gondola. The evening is calm and the boat is gently rocking as the gondolier plies his oar. He sings a song that blends perfectly with the lazy, undulating motion of the boat. That song is a barcarolle.”

I went on to explain…

The barcarolle, also spelled barcarole or barcarola, is a musical form that has its origins in the songs of the Venetian gondoliers. The term itself comes from the Italian word, barca, meaning a small boat.

The musical term was first used by the French...

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