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Practicing Harp Happiness

#070: Failure to Finish: Why You Might Be Missing Your Goals

Have you ever looked at your closet full of clothes and said, “But I don't have anything to wear”? Maybe you've looked at that big stack of music next to your harp and said, “But I don't have anything I can play!” I don’t know which is more frustrating.  Actually, I do.

When we spend hours, days and weeks practicing a piece of music, and it still doesn’t get to the point where we can actually play it for someone, it goes beyond frustrating. How is it possible for some people to have hours worth of music that they can play and others don't even have a single piece?

I remember how shocked I was the first time I realized how common it is for dedicated, hard-working harpists to have nothing ready to play. I was teaching a workshop and talking about what to do when you finish a piece and getting a roomful of blank stares. I asked the question, “How many of you don’t have a piece that’s finished right now?” and about 80%...

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#069: Steps to Taking the Plunge into the Digital World with Kristina Finch

Today we’re talking technology, the technology that has changed the lives of harpists everywhere. It’s the world of digital sheet music - PDFs, tablets, computers, foot pedals, all the things that have made thick binders of sheet music a distant memory - thankfully! - for so many of us.

Consider how an innovation works. Usually it doesn’t change the world all at once. The Wright brothers managed to get their airplane off the ground, but it took a lot of time and development before the general public could fly coast to coast. There was a span of nearly a hundred years between Alexander Graham Bell’s invention of the telephone and Motorola’s first handheld cellular phone. It takes time to sort out what is really useful about a new technology and how it can benefit the person on the street, or in our case today, the harpist at the harp.

Sheet music downloads have been around for a long time. I published my first downloadable music PDFs way back in 2004....

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#068: Mindset Reset: Keeping the Play in Your Playing

music and meaning Sep 05, 2022

Today is Labor Day in the United States. The very first Labor Day was celebrated exactly 140 years ago today on September 5, 1882. It was intended as a holiday for the general working population in recognition of their contributions to the country’s prosperity and strength. At that time it was decided that the celebrations should include a parade to showcase the trade and labor unions and a picnic for the workers and their families.

Today, 140 years later, Labor Day celebrations still include parades and picnics. Labor Day also marks the traditional end of summer holidays and the beginning of a new school year. 

The idea of Labor Day - to celebrate and honor work and toil - is a powerful one, and one that I would like to suggest has application to our harp playing. That’s the key word - playing

We work so hard to make our playing what we want it to be, what we think it should be. By contrast, how much time do we take to celebrate our hard work or even to...

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#067: 7 Ingredients of a Glorious Glissando

Here’s a riddle for you:

What can go up or down but never side to side, can be like a gale-force wind or a whisper of a breeze, and is easy to do when you don’t know how and much harder when you do? 

I’ll bet you got it in one guess - it’s a glissando. In case you didn’t get it, here’s why a glissando is the right answer. 

The first part is obvious; glissandos - or in more correct Italian, glissandi - go up or down the harp. And the second part is probably clear too; a glissando can be powerful with a majestic sweeping rush of notes, or it can be delicate and tender, just like a whisper.

The tricky part of the riddle is the third part. If you’re a harpist, though, you likely understand this one. Playing a glissando on the harp is the easiest thing in the world. Taking one finger and brushing it over the strings in a simple glissando was quite likely one of the first things you ever tried when you sat down at a harp for the very...

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#066: Hands in the Air: Raising and the Art of Letting Go

Form follows function.

I expect you’re familiar with that quote but you may not know the entire context. The phrase is a vast simplification of an idea put forth by architect Louis Sullivan, mentor to Frank Lloyd Wright,  in his 1896 article titled “The Tall Office Building Artistically Considered.” Working from an idea of the ancient Roman architect Vitruvius that a building should be solid, useful and beautiful, Sullivan developed his overriding philosophy, what he called the single "rule that shall permit of no exception." This was his complete statement:

Whether it be the sweeping eagle in his flight, or the open apple-blossom, the toiling work-horse, the blithe swan, the branching oak, the winding stream at its base, the drifting clouds, over all the coursing sun, form ever follows function, and this is the law. Where function does not change, form does not change. The granite rocks, the ever-brooding hills, remain for ages; the lightning lives, comes...

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#065: 10 Harp Adventures To Create Before Summer Is Over

music and meaning Aug 15, 2022

Summer is flying by for me, and I imagine for you too. I always make big plans for the summer. I tell myself that this is the summer I will start my Christmas music early or seriously work on my technique or get that recital program memorized. But no matter how good my intentions are, the summer just seems to slip through my fingers without anything to show for it other than a sunburn. It can feel pretty disheartening.

Let’s turn this around for a minute. What if this were the summer that I really enjoyed my harp playing? Not worked hard at it or put pressure on myself to get to that next level or learn that big piece, but just enjoyed it. I’m feeling the harp happiness buzz already. 

I hope that sounds good to you too because on today’s show I’m going to share 10 of my favorite ways to create adventure in your summer harp playing - that’s right, adventure.

Your music could be a time machine taking you to a distant place and time. It could be a...

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#064: Spice Up Your Scales for Technique, Flexibility and Speed

Scales are so simple on the harp. 

Unlike on other instruments all our scales have the same fingering.

I remember being a young piano student and struggling with the fingering patterns that seemed different for each major and minor key. Those black and white keys caused a lot of fingering complications.

But on the harp, all our scales are fingered exactly alike. All the changes are in our levers or pedals, not our fingers. It couldn't get any easier. 

Ironically, this is the reason that many harpists don’t bother practicing their scales. After all, if they are this easy, what could be the benefit?

Scales, along with chords and arpeggios, are one of the technical building blocks for every harpist. In every piece we play, our fingers need to move sequentially, as they do in a scale. They need to play evenly, smoothly and musically. They need to play fast. And the single best way to develop that level of facility is by practicing scales.

So why aren’t you...

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#063: Practice Prescription: What to Do When Nothing Is Working

Here is a cry for help that I received from one of our coaching students recently:

 “I'm feeling discouraged because I don't feel that I'm making the progress I want. No fault of my coach, she's excellent! I feel like I'll have really effective practice days then go backwards.” 

We had a check-in call scheduled, so we were able to talk through some of her concerns, but I think what made the most difference to her was simply knowing that she is not alone, that we all feel this way sometimes, and that the backwards slide is actually a necessary part of the learning process.

Progress on the harp or any instrument is a very forwards and backwards kind of thing. Often when we feel that nothing is going right, we are on the verge of a big step forward. It's not unlike a teenager's physical growth spurt where the joints hurt and everything seems out of whack and and then all of a sudden, they're several inches taller. 

It takes some experience to realize that...

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#062: Your Guide to Perfect Octaves

music and meaning Jul 25, 2022

Octaves are everywhere. There are very few harp pieces that don’t include octaves somewhere, and with good reason. Octaves add richness to a left hand accompaniment or to a right hand melody. The added resonance of the string played an octave lower or higher makes the entire harp come alive with sound. 

We harpists love octaves and we play them all the time. So why are they often the hardest intervals to play well? 

You know what I mean. Your thumb plays two strings at once, or your fourth finger brushes the surrounding strings, making your octave sound like a cluster of sound rather than a clear, clean interval. Sometimes they are hard to place accurately and our fingers buzz or just play the wrong notes. 

It’s time to go back to basics, my friends. Don’t feel discouraged; this is what we all do from time to time when a fundamental part of our technique isn’t working. It’s not a failure. It’s merely a coordination we need to...

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#061: Masterclass: Making Sense of Meter Signature Changes

music and meaning Jul 18, 2022

Has this ever happened to you? You’re sailing along, playing through a new piece. You’re feeling pretty good because the piece is actually flowing along. You can tell you’ve been making progress because a year or so ago, this piece would have felt difficult.   

Just about the time you’re ready to pat yourself on the back and imagine yourself tackling that piece you’ve always thought was too hard, your playing comes to a screeching halt. There’s a new meter signature, or time signature, in front of you. Your easy piece in 4/4 time suddenly has a measure of . What the heck is this about??

On today’s show, we’re going to find out exactly what meter changes like that imaginary one are all about. While we often associate them with contemporary music, changing meters have been a part of music since music began. If you play traditional folk music, you encounter meter changes all the time. In fact, the meter signature is a...

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