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Practicing Harp Happiness

#148: 10 Surprising Benefits of Practice Bursts

Call me crazy if you want. I know your ideal day might be a day at the spa, or sitting on the beach with a good book, or going for a hike in the mountains. Although those all sound good to me, my ideal day - or at least one of my ideal days - would be a day when I could practice all day. A day when I only had to practice would be a true luxury for me. That's really not that crazy. I think a lot of harpists would feel that way. Maybe you would too.

Of course, the reality is that most of us are too busy most of the time for that ideal practice day. Usually we are sandwiching practice in between the other parts of our lives and often our harp playing ends up taking a back seat to tasks that are more urgent or the care we give to others. And when we do have time to practice, we don’t feel that we have time to get to everything on our practice list. 

It’s not uncommon to feel a little frustrated that we can’t spend the time we would like to with the harp. We...

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#147: How to Study a Piece: Look, Listen and Apply

My husband’s family is German, and even before we were married I discovered that one of the things I had long heard about German housewives was true, at least in my mother-in-law’s house: Germans take a clean house seriously. 

By American standards my own house isn’t filthy. I keep it fairly neat and decently clean. But my mother-in-law saw clean in a completely different way. There was no dust in her house, not even in the corners under the beds. She used paste wax to keep all the wood surfaces gleaming. And the only exceptions she made to the “keep your feet off the furniture” rule, were her grandsons. Cleaning didn’t just mean mopping the floor; it meant scrubbing it on your hands and knees. 

So why am I talking about this on the podcast? Because just like there are different levels of clean, there are different levels of knowing a piece. Sometimes we find this out the hard way, when we think we know a piece and then try to play it...

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#146: Can You Count This? Where Simple Meets Compound

See if you can guess the answer to this.

What can sometimes feel gently rocking like a boat on a lake on a calm summer’s day, and other times puts a lively spring into your step? It isn’t hard, but it’s never simple. You’ve almost certainly encountered it in your harp music, and even though you may be able to play it easily,  you may not be able to explain it. You might think of it as double trouble or as a triple threat in the way it compounds the challenges in your music. Can you guess what it is? If you’re the type who likes to figure things out, pause the podcast here for a moment and then come back when you’re ready for the answer.

Ready? Here’s one final hint: the answer is a meter signature, and I know it’s one you know. Maybe you’ve guessed it. The meter signature or time signature I mean is 6/8. I know you’ve seen it and played it. “Greensleeves” or “What Child Is This?” is a melody...

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#145: Playalong Episode: Rediscovering Your Sound

I am always interested to hear what first attracted harpists to the harp. It’s fascinating to learn the many ways that the harp can draw a potential student. My own story is that I heard the harp on the radio and told my parents that was what I wanted to do. The important part of this story for me is that it wasn’t a gold harp or a pretty dress that drew me to the harp, but the sound that pulled me in. Naturally, there’s nothing wrong with the gold harp or the glamor look, but the sound was - and is - important to me. 

Whether or not it was the harp’s sound that first attracted you, sound is important to us. So why don’t we spend more of our time listening to our playing? We devote a lot of energy to reading the notes and teaching our fingers to play the right strings. Somehow there isn’t always time to just spend listening. But it’s an important habit and one that we are going to spend a little time with today.

This is a playalong...

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#144: Beyond the Basics: How to Keep Your Technique Growing

Let’s take this as a given: our technique is at the heart of everything we do at the harp. Intellectually, we know this to be true, but that doesn’t prevent us from being surprised when we run into a passage in a piece we’re learning that our fingers just can’t manage. What the heck? We’ve been doing our daily exercises and most of the time our technique is up to the challenges in any new piece. So what happened this time?

If you’ve had that experience, rest assured, my friend, that you are not alone. We’ve all been there. Sometimes a moment like that is just a wake up call, reminding us that we’ve slacked off a bit and we’ve been taking our technique work a little too casually. Technique practice done correctly requires our attention and focus. It also requires a plan for growth.

The basic drills or exercises we rely on are scales, arpeggios and chords. In theory, keeping those skills fresh should enable us to play about three...

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#143: How To Improve Anything - Including Your Harp Playing

Today I’m going to tell you how to improve anything. I know that sounds like a tall order, but we harpists are all about improvement. Every day in every way we want to get better and better. Many of us like this idea too: slow and steady wins the race. Yes, but remember tortoises live for a very long time. They can afford to take only the slow and steady approach. Some of us have a little shorter time frame in mind.

I’m a fan of the author and productivity guru Brian Tracy. His book “Eat That Frog” is one of my favorites when I need a little kick to conquer my procrastination. There’s a quote from his book that I considered as a starting point for our discussion today: “Practice the philosophy of continuous improvement. Get a little bit better every single day.” 

But something about that left me a little unsatisfied. Yes, certainly the continuity of improvement, like practicing every day rather than once a week, is important for us...

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#142: Rubato: Secret Sauce for Your Musical Expression

Every restaurant chain, every chef has their “secret sauce.” It’s that unique ingredient that makes their food taste special every time. It's part of their culinary signature.

There is a secret - or maybe not so secret - sauce in musical expression too. It’s rubato. It’s the element of musical pacing that breathes life into music, that keeps it from sounding dull and robotic, that helps a melody sing and rich harmonies unfold with spaciousness.

Today’s podcast is an exploration of what rubato is and how you can use it to add depth and expression to your playing. I’ll explain how to figure out where and when to use it, and equally important, when not to use it. I’ll play some examples for you too, so you can hear exactly what rubato is. I imagine that you are going to have one of those “aha” moments as you are finally able to put a name to that thing that’s been missing from your playing.

I’m not saying your...

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#141: 3 Great Ways to Start a New Piece - and 1 Terrible One

I might as well get this out of the way. This is going to be one of those podcasts that sounds like it’s telling you you’re doing it all wrong and you’ve been doing it wrong for years. I say it’s going to sound like that, but I want to be clear that’s not the point of our topic today. The real point is finding a path to growth, a path forward, and often finding a path forward means doing something different. So I want you to approach this topic with that progress mindset, because the ideas I’m about to share with you about how I think you could or should approach a new piece might sound a little uncomfortable, and that’s exactly the point.

You may know that the only one-on-one teaching I do is with my Gold Circle students. These students are special, not because of their playing level - they run the gamut there - but because of their commitment to their harp playing. They take their harp playing seriously, and that’s why I feel...

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#140: Agile Arpeggios: How to Make Yours Ripple

If I had to choose one finger pattern that I could count on to almost always show up in a piece, it would be an arpeggio. Arpeggios and the harp go together like peanut butter and jelly. In fact, the Italian word for harp is arpa, which has the same first three letters as arpeggio. That’s because the word arpeggio comes from the Italian word arpeggiare, which means to play on a harp.  See what I mean? Peanut butter and jelly.

Whether the arpeggios show up as full sweeps of sound over the entire range of the harp or simply a left hand accompaniment pattern or anything in between, arpeggios are everywhere in harp music, so it’s essential to learn to play them well.

The first time a student comes across an arpeggio, they are shown how an arpeggio is really a chord in which all the notes are played one after the other instead of simultaneously. They are taught the rules of placing for arpeggios and given exercises to learn to read them quickly and play them fluidly....

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#139: 7 Ways You Could be Using Your Practice Time Better

At its most fundamental, music is sound over time. When you take away the rich harmonies, soaring melodies, complex structures and intricate rhythms, that’s all you have left: sound over time. It doesn’t sound very creative or artistic, but those two elements are the basis of all music. How any single performer combines them is where the artistry lies.

However, that kind of time, the meter and rhythm, isn’t our topic for today. The kind of time management I want to explore with you today is more about the practical side of our harp experience than the artistic side. It’s about your practice time: how you spend it, what you focus on and how you set your intentions for the day or for the week. 

We’re also going to talk about the time it takes you to learn a piece. I am frequently asked how long it should take to learn a piece, and it’s a question without a simple answer. There are numerous factors to consider, including the amount of time you...

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