Imagine you received this phone call today:
" What would you say? Could you say yes?
Perhaps this is something you've been meaning to do, to get music ready to play for events like this. Perhaps this is even a group that you would really like to play for. But perhaps you haven't gotten your repertoire ready yet. So you're going to miss this opportunity. It’s a disappointment.
Let’s continue with our scenario.
After you make your excuses and turn this opportunity down, you start thinking that you really should put some music together to play. How hard could it be? So you pore through the music that you have but decide that you...
Who is your best “harp” friend? Is it your teacher, your harp circle buddy, a fellow student, a colleague? Maybe your best harp friend is your harp itself.
Your harp has a best friend too, and while you’re right at the top of the list, the next best friend your harp has is likely your harp technician.
Your harp technician is not just a “harp doctor.” He or she is a care-taker, a trouble-shooter, an adviser, sometimes even a harp “9-1-1” responder.
This is not a “how to repair your harp” article. Instead, in this post I would like to offer some suggestions for working with your harp technician to help them keep your harp (and you!) happy and playing well. And if you haven’t scheduled a visit with your favorite tech lately, perhaps you will feel inspired after reading this. You can be sure your harp will thank you!
One quick note before we dig in: I have worked with many wonderful and knowledgeable harp experts. I...
Playing the right notes at the right time may be enough.
J. S. Bach
“There's nothing remarkable about it. All one has to do is hit the right keys at the right time and the instrument plays itself.” – J. S. Bach
It’s quite a statement, whether Bach was indulging in some tongue-in-cheek modesty or absurdly reductionist thinking.
But what if it were – at least to some extent – true? What if “all” we had to do was to play the right notes at the right time? In other words, if we focused our efforts on simply playing the right notes at the right time, what would that free us from? What distractions, confusion and struggle would that eliminate?
Please understand that I am not going to set out a case for playing unmusically or without expression and subtlety. We’ve all heard players whose technically brilliant performance feels flat and uninspired, leaving us to say, “She really played all the notes, but…”
Is learning the harp harder than you thought?
I can imagine the moment, probably because so many of us experienced something similar. You see the harp. You hear the harp. You fall in love with the harp. You buy a harp. You start practicing the harp.
But that’s not usually how it happens. More often, particularly for the adult beginning harp student, the next sentence is, “This is way harder than I thought it would be.”
I am frequently contacted by adult students who are surprised at the steep learning curve for harp playing and are beginning to wonder if they chose the wrong instrument. The frustration level is even greater for students who are accomplished players of other instruments, particularly pianists.
It seems like the transfer between harp and piano should not be a difficult one considering the essential similarity between the two. However, despite their musical commonalities, the two...
Becoming a better musician is truly a lifelong pursuit, but that doesn’t mean you can’t make significant progress this summer.
I am by nature an optimist. Even so, each year about this time I find myself despairing at how fast the summertime flies. I always have so many projects, musical and otherwise, that I want to accomplish in the summer, but the summer seems to fly by.
To counteract that feeling, I have a middle-of-July ritual for my summer music study. I don’t have a name for it and it didn’t even start as a conscious act, but it nevertheless has become a useful habit.
I decide to tackle one thing for the rest of the summer.
That one thing needs to fit three criteria. It must be:
What would fit those criteria for you? What would help you become a better musician?
To get your creative juices...
Are you a healthy harpist?
No, this is not about proper nutrition or about getting enough sleep. Those are essential for everyone, not just harpists.
And for a change I’m not referring to good practice habits.
Instead, I want to help you build and maintain the correct physical habits that are necessary to play the harp well, without pain, stiffness and tension, the habits that will maintain your harp health.
Naturally, proper playing technique is one component. Before we can even touch on technique, however, we need to address more basic issues, like correct posture and ways you might be holding or creating tension while you play.
What follows is a checklist of fifteen of the most important requirements for being a “healthy” harpist. Use the list as a reminder, not just before you begin your practice, but often during each practice session. Remember that you are building healthy habits, which will require your time and attention to develop and become automatic.
Counting. Chances are that it’s either something you do nearly automatically or it’s something that you never do.
I can still hear my piano teacher insisting that I count out loud, and I can still feel my resistance. Counting, particularly aloud, didn’t come easily or naturally and I didn’t see the point.
I have now spent decades on the other end of scenario as the insistent teacher instead of the reluctant student. And during that time I have discovered what my music teachers knew: that counting is essential and inseparable from making music. It is a tool that helps us not only learn music more accurately and quickly but also helps us play music with more expression and fluency.
Need more convincing? Read on…
This may surprise you, but it’s true: the metronome doesn’t substitute for counting. Counting is how you line up the notes with the correct beats. The metronome merely keeps those...
What music is on your "desert island" list?
You've played a version of this game before, I'm sure. You imagine that you were stranded on a desert island with no foreseeable hope of rescue. Think Robinson Crusoe. You begin to create a way of life for yourself on your island. One of the items that you discovered on the island was a CD player. (Fortunately, this CD player runs somehow on solar energy so a power source is no difficulty.)
And beside the CD player you find a small box. You open the box to find 3 recordings. (Or 5, or 10 or pick a number...)
What recordings would you want to be in the box? And why?
It's an interesting exercise. Naturally there are no right or wrong answers; the right answers are the ones that fit your personal musical taste and preferences. But the world of music - not limiting your selection to music for a particular instrument or in a particular genre - is so vast that the selection is difficult. And the music that you choose needs to have the qualities...
Are you a free spirit?
Does the thought of practice schedules, journals and regimens make you dig in your heels?
You understand that discipline promotes growth. You want to grow musically and to play well. You are not a slacker. You just want to do it on your own terms, in your own way.
Impossible to reconcile the two? Of course not.
You, the free spirit, take pleasure in experiential and experimental learning. You enjoy trying new things. Life is like a big buffet, where you can sample everything, take more of what you like and pass by what doesn’t look tasty.
This is a legitimate path to learning, and it has the benefit of feeling natural, unrestricted and personal. It keeps you in your sweet spot.
Until you suddenly feel that you’ve been dabbling in the shallow end of the pool for too long and although swimming in the deep water looks like fun, you’re not sure how to try it.
Because you’re a free spirit (and aren’t we all occasionally),...
Do you need a bridge to take you from practice to performance?
Do you feel like you're missing something, because no matter how hard you practice your piece doesn't seem to be "performance-ready"?
You may be right.
We musicians have the idea that if we just keep practicing, we will end up being able to play our music the way we want to, the way we hear it in our heads. So when it doesn't work that way, we think there is something wrong with us. We double down and work harder.
That's when those slogans like "practice makes perfect," and even worse - "perfect practice makes perfect" make us feel defeated instead of energized.
So what are we missing? What's the secret to taking a piece from the practice room to the concert hall, or even just to be able to play it well at home?
The bridge across the gap is practicing for continuity.
Continuity is what we need to create a flowing, musical, convincing performance. And it is almost never part of our practice. We practice...