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Growing Pains: Embracing the Messy Middle

Growth hurts.

Whether it’s those painful knees of a growing adolescent, or a lesson learned through a painful mistake, growth is usually the fruit of struggle, perhaps some frustration and occasionally failure.

Thomas Edison didn’t invent one lightbulb. The lightbulb that finally worked was the result of thousands of lightbulbs he invented that didn’t work. The butterfly wasn’t born with beautiful colors on delicate wings. It began as a caterpillar that had to surrender its caterpillar nature and shut itself up in a cocoon before it could emerge as the butterfly it was destined to become.

The path to any achievement has its metamorphosis stage. It is then that the transformation happens, the growth that will lead us to our goal. Yes, it’s the messy middle, but it’s also the most powerful phase of learning.

To use the messy middle to your greatest advantage you need to be prepared to endure the struggle and persist when it looks like you’re...

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Finding Your Groove: How to Train Your Inner Metronome

beat counting metronome rhythm Oct 07, 2019

“Don’t rush, dear.” Countless music teachers have said that to even more music students for generations. Keeping a steady tempo while you play can be one of the hardest things to do. But it shouldn’t be.

Consider for a moment that our entire body is rhythmic. Our heart beats in a steady rhythm; we breathe in and out. We have a natural sleep cycle. Even our snoring is rhythmic. These processes happen without a single conscious thought on our part. 

So why do we have such trouble playing rhythmically? And why do we tend to say, “I just have no sense of rhythm,” when nothing could be farther from the truth?

The truth is that playing at a steady speed is difficult. Drummers spend their entire career making their inner pulse steady and unwavering. We use metronomes, with sometimes doubtful success, in an attempt to instill a habit of playing at a consistent tempo.

I believe we sabotage our efforts at developing our inner pulse. Our well-meaning...

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Are Your Fingers Failing You? 10 Quick Fixes

fingering fingers technique Sep 30, 2019

When was the last time you said this: “If it weren't for those 2 measures in the middle, this piece would be no problem for me?” 

We've all been frustrated by those spots where our fingers always seem to miss the strings or fumble or trip over each other. And it seems that no matter how much we drill them, they still feel unreliable or shaky. 

It's a fact that some passages are just plain hard to play, and they take much longer than the rest of the piece to feel familiar. But frequently, there is simply one small tweak that manages to clear up most of the difficulty. 

Many times, a student will play through one of these spots for me, and I am able to spot that crucial tweak. In these moments, it seems almost magical to the student; one small adjustment and much of the fumbling or insecurity is cured. But it's not magic, merely long years of experience, experience that I am happy to share with you. 

A student's first question to me is almost always...

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Are You Living Your Harp Dream or Just Thinking You Are?

dreams goals purpose Sep 23, 2019

On a recent My Harp Mastery call we were talking about being relaxed while you play, when one of our members asked this question: “What about my face? It always looks grim when I play?”

That grim look is probably the face of concentration and intense focus. It’s natural, even if it’s not attractive. Forcing another expression, like trying to smile, can actually draw your focus away from the music. A better solution is to keep your mind focused on the musicality you want to convey through your playing. If the piece is sentimental, let your face reflect the calm sweetness of the music. If the music is fast and fiery, an intense expression will help convey that energy. The idea is to bring your entire self into the music you are making, to be totally aligned with it.

This idea of alignment has been on my mind recently in a different way.

I am a harpist not only by desire and training, but as my vocation. It is what I do as part of my personal mission...

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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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