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Are You Your Own Best Teacher or Your Worst Teacher Ever?

expert self-taught teacher Nov 11, 2019

I am at heart a do-it-yourself-er. Give me a project and I dive right in, sometimes getting in water that’s a little too deep. In fact, a number of my attempted projects have shown clearly that some things are better left to the experts. 

There was my bathroom wallpaper that looked great but never really did stick to the wall. And the sweater I knit that came down to my knees. Over time, I have learned more about the things I can manage on my own and when I should ask for help.

It may not surprise you to know that I think for most people, learning the harp is a process that goes more smoothly when you have help. While I applaud the courage and determination of self-taught harpists, I know that the path is faster and less bumpy when you have an expert to show you the way.

That isn’t to say that there aren’t advantages in teaching yourself. First among those is the convenience factor. When you are teaching yourself, either using online courses or books, your...

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How to Practice Past Obstacles: Redefining Your Limits

There are things you do for your children that you would never have done for yourself. There are icky things, sticky things, difficult things, unusual things. For instance, I am pretty sure my father never would have dreamed about lugging a harp around if I hadn’t needed him to. For my son, I took karate lessons.

I’ve never been much of a sports person and I never would have thought of taking karate lessons for myself. My son was interested in karate but needed some encouragement, so we signed up for lessons together. As it turned out, I really enjoyed it and stuck with the lessons longer than he did. I loved the systematic approach and the discipline that is part of learning a martial art. And I absolutely loved breaking boards.

I know - it sounds like breaking boards would be bad for a harpist’s hands. But it wasn’t. It was only fun. We had a board breaking party one evening at the karate studio and we were all having fun - the little children and the...

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Plan Now for Peaceful Holiday Performances

Plan now for Christmas? You might be thinking that most of your holiday harp playing was planned long ago, possibly in the middle of the summer. I have always liked to prepare much of my holiday repertoire then too. But that’s just the first step.

What I want to share with you today are my three most powerful strategies for making sure that you don’t lose the ground you gained when you started practicing your music. Your holiday playing should be an enjoyable part of your holiday, not a source of extra stress.

For a long time, it seemed to me that no matter how prepared I felt at the beginning of November, things started to fall apart as the weeks went on. I didn’t have as much practice time as I expected, or choir directors added music to their programs, or something unexpected happened that created havoc in my jam-packed schedule. Despite my careful planning, I was harried and stressed.

But then I found the key to eliminating the crunch and the last-minute...

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How to Play Four Note Chords Without Finger Fumbles

There are many dividing points in life, moments when you know you have reached a new phase or growth stage. They are the thresholds that you cross, knowing that nothing will be the same afterward. Passing your driver’s test, getting married, having your first baby are some of the huge milestones in life.

For a harpist, one of those milestones, and one that is absolutely essential to their continued harp progress, is learning to play four-note chords.

This may not seem like a very big deal, and it certainly isn’t something we normally announce on social media. Nonetheless, it is a skill that all advanced harp players have and one that very few less experienced players are comfortable with. Four-note chords mark a dividing point in skill level more than any other technical issue. If you’re at that point in your harp playing right now, you know exactly what I mean.

In the early stages of learning to play the harp, we get accustomed to playing three-note chords. The...

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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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