Do you know why you’re playing music, why you have chosen to make music an important part of your life?
Perhaps, like me, you’ve always felt the call to make music.
According to my mother, who wasn’t prone to making up these kinds of stories, I heard the harp on the radio when I was two years old. I asked her what it was and said that I wanted to play it. I started piano lessons at age four and was told that if I still wanted to play the harp when I was eight, I could start harp lessons then. I did, and the rest, as they say, is history.
There have been times, however, when I had to do some very serious introspection about why I was playing the harp. In fact, there have been a number of figurative forks in my path which necessitated deep soul-searching. Was the harp something I was doing simply because I always had? Was it something I could, and possibly should, leave behind me to pursue something else? Should I forge ahead, or strike out on another road?
Harpists, do you ever feel like your technique practice is getting you nowhere?
You put in the time with your exercises and etudes, but your fingers still seem to have minds of their own. They falter, fumble, and flail. You can’t seem to get them moving faster than adagio, and when you do, you can’t rely on them to do what you want. It’s exasperating.
So you go on the hunt for a better exercise book, more etudes and vow to devote more time to developing your technique.
Any of those may help you solve your problem, but only if you know what you really should be teaching your fingers. Naturally, there will be those specific situations which require specialized work, but there are three general skills that your fingers must develop. These skills will allow you to rely on your fingers to perform securely and musically. At least most of the time.
Accuracy shouldn’t be an elusive skill. It can, and should, be purposefully trained. Accurate fingers place...
What is this supposed to be?
The jigsaw puzzle pieces were spread on the table and I had just completed the first critical phase in any jigsaw puzzle assembly, putting all the edge pieces together. My question arose from a discovery I had made along the way: the puzzle I was assembling was definitely not the one pictured on the box. The box had a beautiful view of Neuschwanstein, the famous German castle that was the inspiration for the Disney Cinderella castle. From the pieces on the table, it looked as if the picture might be a building, maybe even a castle but it was clear from the colors and the edge pieces that it wasn’t going to be Neuschwanstein.
Not knowing what the puzzle was going to look like made the challenge of putting it together considerably more difficult. It’s like being lost in a strange city without a map or trying to read a book in a language of which you only know a few words.
It’s like trying to be a musician without knowing anything about...
Yesterday was Father’s Day. According to Hallmark, it is the fourth largest greeting card holiday, right behind Mother’s Day, with approximately 72 million cards exchanged. As I was writing a message on the card to send to my dad this year (he is 92 years old), I reflected on the unconditional support my dad gave me, not just as my dad, but especially as a “harp dad.”
What is a “harp dad?”
A harp dad doesn’t just provide his young harpist with a harp and lessons. He also provides all the necessary accessories – covers, stands, benches, music - and of course, the car to move it all. And then, he gives up his evenings and weekends to transporting harp and harpist to lessons, rehearsals and concerts.
That was what my dad did. From the time I played in my first harp recital at age eight until I went to college, my schedule was his. My mom had broken her back years before, so harp moving was not something she could help with. My dad became...
A metronome is a must-have accessory for every musician. It can help you speed up your music or slow it down. It can help you fix your technique or line up a complicated rhythm. It can help you prepare to play in an ensemble or train your inner pulse so your solo music has a steady flow.
But just having the metronome on while you practice won’t necessarily help you attain any of these results. The metronome isn’t a magic cure. It’s a tool, and as with any tool, you need to know how to use it.
In order for you to get the most benefit from working with your metronome, it is helpful to know what your metronome can’t do for you.
Metronomes Can’t Count
I was working with a student some years ago who couldn’t figure out what the problem with her rhythm was. Her music seemed out of rhythm somehow. In her lesson, I told her that she needed to work with a metronome to keep the beat of her music steady. “I use the metronome every day,” she told...
I've written a lot about effective practice and efficient practice, creative practice and deliberate practice. I believe that practice, the right kind of practice, is the number one contributor to every harpist’s success. Harpists who practice correctly and consistently are able to play the music they want to play.
Today, however, I'm going to look at practice in a different way. I'd like you to consider making your practice healthy practice.
Healthy practice isn't about eating right and exercising, although those are certainly important factors in any endeavor. Healthy practice is practice that is fun, enjoyable, creative, satisfying and sustainable, in addition to being efficient and effective.
We've all started new practice habits from time to time; we feel a rush of new energy and focus and for a while, we get results. But then the energy begins to dwindle and the motivation dies. Our practice habit has not proved sustainable.
When we practice well, when our practice...
Today in the U.S. we are celebrating Memorial Day.a national holiday to honor the men and women who died serving in the country’s armed forces. Despite the day’s unofficial significance as the beginning of summertime, the holiday celebrations always include solemn ceremonies and commemorations.
When I was a child, the Memorial Day solemnity weighed heavily on me. The sense of loss and grief surrounding the idea of the fallen heroes was inescapable. As I grew older, though, I realized that a memorial is something that keeps the memory of people and events alive; it is a living tribute that celebrates and honors even more than it grieves.
A living memorial, a living tribute is an empowering idea. In this age of shortened news cycles, instantaneous communication and planned obsolescence, it’s too easy to lose sight of our past. We forget our roots, the people and events that we never knew ourselves that nonetheless have had great influence on our lives. Yet what I do...
“When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me.” - from St. Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians
This very familiar quote from the New Testament speaks to the universal experience of growth and reaching maturity in one’s thoughts and actions. Have you thought of bringing that same growth and maturity to your music study? You may not realize just how much you could speed up your music learning by updating your learning process.
If you took music lessons as a child, your experience was likely similar to mine. Each week at my lesson, my teacher would hear me play the previous week’s assignment, make adjustments and write the next week’s assignment in my lesson book. The assignment was usually very specific: to play a passage 10 times hands separately, or work with the metronome at a specific tempo, for instance. If I followed her...
What is the “messy middle?”
In any project, the messy middle is the sometimes, boring, sometimes frustrating stage between the excitement of the beginning and the vindication of the completion of the project.
In your music learning, it’s the repetitive, too often mindless practice stage after the initial learning of the notes but before you feel like you can truly play the piece. You’ve been there; I’ve been there. We’ve all been there, and it isn’t fun.
The messy middle is a necessary stage of development. In this stage you begin to develop a deep familiarity with the piece, which will be the foundation of your musical interpretation and your technical security. But while this stage does take time, it need not be a struggle.
If you’ve wondered why you never really finish a piece, or if you get bored with the piece before you can play it, you’re getting stuck in the messy middle. It’s likely that you are blaming yourself...
It looks so easy when other people do it. It’s not complicated; you practice a piece until it’s ready. Then you play it.
We all know it isn’t really that simple. There are difficult passages and techniques to conquer. You have to earn to play it fast enough or slow enough or steady enough. You need to express the dynamics and the musical flow. And you have to deal with performance jitters, nervous fingers or sweaty palms.
Sure it’s hard. But you’re not afraid of the challenge. You’re a hard worker. You have a clear goal. You made a plan and followed it. So why didn’t it work this time, or maybe even the two or three times before this time?
Maybe you’ve had that happen to you. I’ve experienced it. And after the first epic failure, I’ve gone on to another failure and another. And come out successfully on the other side.
But my success wasn’t due just to sheer perseverance. As much as a story of determination, hard...