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Practicing Harp Happiness

#089: Masterclass: The Tempo Pyramid

Today’s episode is another in our series of masterclasses, our podcast at-the-harp workshops where you can follow along with me as we do a deep dive into a vital aspect of technique or musicianship.

In this masterclass, we’ll be working on my tempo pyramid. Over the years, I have had lots of requests for reviewing my system for working a piece or a passage so that it actually gets up to tempo. This system is what I call the tempo pyramid and although the concept is fairly simple, it will definitely help you to try it out step by step with me. I won’t just walk you through the pyramid, but I’ll give you some of my bonus tips that will make it even simpler and faster. And faster is our whole focus today: getting the whole piece faster and closer to tempo, making that one difficult passage as fast as the rest of the piece, letting your fingers move faster and with more agility and security.

It’s a lot to do in one podcast episode so we need to get...

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#088: Muses, Models and Mentors: Where Does Inspiration Come From?

music and meaning Jan 23, 2023

We call them lightbulb moments, those unpredictable flashes of brilliance that spark our creativity. Or perhaps our inspiration comes from others we admire. Common thought says inspiration is necessary for anyone in an artistic endeavor, yet we believe it is elusive and selective, showing up randomly and bestowing its gifts unequally.

What does inspiration mean to you? Is it outside you, meaning that something or someone inspires you in a certain way? Or is it inside you, meaning that our inner lightbulb has a secret switch that suddenly flips and makes that lightbulb moment? Both? Neither?

Music history is filled with stories of inspiration, particularly stories about musical mentors who have helped shape the careers of some of the most famous classical musicians. From the greats like Mozart and Beethoven to modern composers like John Williams and Leonard Bernstein, these mentors have passed down their knowledge and expertise to generations of aspiring musicians.

If you look at...

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#087: Breaking Free From Perfectionism

As you probably know, one of my words for 2023 is freedom. It’s a motivational word, meaning the idea of freedom energizes me. It’s an aspirational word, meaning I want to experience the feeling of freedom every day. Most importantly, it’s an action word. I want to actively bring more freedom into all areas of my life and into the lives of those around me. That includes you, my friend. And that’s where freedom in our harp playing comes in.

I’m on a mission to set harpists free from the tyranny of some of the things that keep them from achieving what they want in their harp playing. That’s the main focus for the webinar I’ll be presenting soon on Creating Harp Freedom. I’ll be talking about some of the hidden enemies of progress and what you can actually do to defeat them. 

But in assembling the materials for that webinar, I realized that there is one enemy that many harpists face, one that is too big to be covered thoroughly in...

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#086: The Wrong Way to Practice Etudes - and 3 Right Ways

Fundamentals, exercises and etudes are the three pillars of harp technique, or any instrumental technique for that matter. I’m sure this is not news to you, but the reminder never hurts.

Fundamentals like scales, arpeggios and chords form the basis of our technique because they are the patterns most prevalent in the music we play. Exercises help our fingers become familiar with the characteristic patterns that aren’t as straightforward as the fundamentals. Etudes help us put the technical skills from our exercises and fundamentals into a more musical context, a sort of test drive for our technique. Together, they help us develop facility, agility and musical understanding. Pretty powerful stuff.

I know - you knew that already. But like me and most of the harpists I know, you may have trouble fitting all three of those into your practice time. Most of us have limited practice time anyway, and it would be easy to let our technical work crowd out everything else. This is...

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#085: Use The One-Two Punch To Plan Your Harp Growth in 2023

I attended one professional boxing match in my life. The reason I went was that a former harp student of mine was making her professional boxing debut. As you might imagine, I felt a little out of my element in the boxing club, which was actually one of the legendary boxing clubs in Philadelphia, but I had never been there before. And I’ve never been there since. What surprised me most was that I could actually relate to the experience a little, not because of my martial arts training, but because of my music training.

There was a nervous tension in the air that was not unlike the anticipation before a performance. I felt the same sense of the importance of the moment, the fact that each competitor needed to bring his or her best effort right at that moment; there was no second chance. Of course, we musicians are fighting a less visible opponent. And we aren’t likely to walk away with a bloody lip or a broken nose.

I also found the strategy of the boxers interesting to...

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#084: My Three Most Meaningful Gifts of 2022

music and meaning Dec 26, 2022

It’s a wonderful life.

I love watching that movie at the holidays or really at any time of year. But the movie is not what I’m talking about. 

I mean simply that this is the time I like to pause and be grateful for this wonderful life and all the amazing people I am privileged to share it with. And that includes you, my friend.

So on this very brief podcast, the last one of 2022, I would like to share my reflections with you, my thoughts on what made 2022 special for me, professionally and personally. Perhaps this will inspire you to do some similar reflecting. Perhaps this was a banner year for you, or maybe it was a challenging one. Either way I would encourage you to find at least one thing to celebrate. 

Before I start, though, I want to thank you for the great gift you have given me this year. I know how many demands there are for your time and attention and I am very grateful and very honored that you share some of your time with me. I love hearing that...

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#083: Harp and Healing: Being A Certified Music Practitioner

music and meaning Dec 19, 2022

If you’ve ever marveled at the healing power of music, then this podcast episode will blow your mind.

This week I will share with you a conversation with a special guest, harpist Barbara Lepke-Sims. Barbara is a Juilliard trained harpist and an expert teacher and performer, and one of the main facets of her playing is as a music practitioner. She doesn’t just call herself a music practitioner; she is certified through the Music for Healing and Transition program and has more than a decade of experience bringing healing and peace to those who suffer.

I met Barbara when I became a board member of the American Harp society, where she has been very active, but we really connected when we met up at the World Harp Congress in Wales this summer. I was curious about how she became a music practitioner, why she chose the certification program she did and what really motivates her about this important work.  

I was really picking her brain because this is a field where...

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#082: Time for a Refresh: Why This is the Time to Think Different

music and meaning Dec 12, 2022

 Do you remember that famous Apple computer advertising campaign, the one that urged us all to “think different?”

That ad campaign was created just after Steve Jobs had returned to the Apple company and Apple needed a new start. The year was 1997 and Apple was on the rocks. Their stock was trading at a 12-year low, and the company that had been known for its creativity and innovation was stagnant and dying. So when Steve Jobs returned to Apple after having left in the mid-1980s, customers, if not Apple’s board of directors, were expecting something new and exciting. And they got it, with interest. During Jobs' tenure after his return, Apple launched the iMac, iBook, iPod, Mac OS X, iPhone, iPad, and more. 

You may have forgotten that shaky period in Apple’s history, but I bet the ad campaign is still fresh in your mind.

There were two television advertisements that were shown most often. There was a one-minute version that featured ...

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#081: Peaceful Hands: How to Look More Graceful and Feel More Relaxed

It is a true joy to watch a fine musician play their instrument, whether it's a harp or another instrument. There is a physical flow, a sense that no motion is wasted. You can practically see the mastery they bring to their music. 

I would go even further to say that all their physical resources are being used to serve the music. There is an efficiency in their gestures, a grace and a strength that is as visually compelling as their music is. After all, we see a performance as much as we hear it. 

If you doubt the truth of that statement, just think about a performance you watched where the performer had distracting facial expressions or gestures. Maybe you were able to ignore them and continue listening, but the music’s spell was likely broken for you. What you saw became more important than what you heard. 

This is one reason that orchestras have a uniform dress code, usually formal wear for the men and long black clothing for the women. Most professional...

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#080: Are You Taking Too Long to Learn That Piece?

“How long should it take to learn a piece?” 

I am asked that question so many times and every time my heart sinks. Why? First of all, there’s that word “should.” There are no “shoulds” in the learning process. The word “should” leads to the idea that there is one standard against which we could judge our efforts and which we could use to plan our music learning. An objective standard, such as “this piece will take any harpist three months to learn,” is absolutely impossible. So the word “should” isn’t helpful.

But even if we reframe the question in very specific terms - “how long will it take me to learn this piece?” - we still run into difficulties trying to come up with an answer. 

Each harpist is unique, bringing a unique set of skills and experiences to their music. Each piece has challenges that are specific to that piece which may test an individual harpist’s...

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