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All Thumbs? 4 Quick Thumb Fixes for Harpists

technique May 04, 2015

Do you feel like you’re all thumbs?

Thumbs can just plain get in the way. Sometimes our thumbs make us feel clumsy and slow when we play. They get tense; they don’t place accurately. Thumbs can be hard to control, and it can be even harder to make them sound beautiful and musical.

But with a little understanding and a little attention, your thumbs can be as nimble and expressive as the rest of your fingers.

First, it’s important to remember that your thumb is a long finger. Yes, it looks short, until you notice that the base joint of your thumb is down near your wrist. Taken all together, your thumb is about the same length as your third finger. And all that length can result in some impressive power. But you have to use the whole thumb.

You may have heard the saying “long and strong” applied to your thumbs. That’s because when you use the entire length of your thumb, you will find its strength. If you only play with the top joint of your thumb,...

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Practicing Past the Dots

performing practicing Apr 27, 2015

Are you practicing the big picture, or do you get stuck in “the dots?”

Music is an art, a joint creation by composer and performer, designed to communicate to a listener. As a performing medium, music is also an art “of the moment.” When we hear live music, we hear something that will never exist again. That note is over, that crescendo is gone, that sublimely beautiful moment has evaporated into the atmosphere. When we perform music, our music is only alive in each moment as it happens.

It’s easy to see why we strive for perfection. We have only one chance in a live performance to make the impression we want, to create the musical mood we want, to play the note correctly.

But if that becomes a primary focus, or even our sole focus, in our preparation or in our performance, we lose the opportunity to create and enjoy everything that is wonderful about music. Mostly, we lose focus on the music as a whole, and replace it with a much more self-conscious...

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Power Your Dynamics with the Three C’s

musicianship practicing Apr 13, 2015

We musicians hear the word “dynamics” and automatically think soft, loud or in-between. But the root of the word dynamic means power, and that’s what our dynamics should be bringing to our music: expression with the power to move a listener.

Musical dynamics bring the same energy to a piece of music that an engine brings to a car or motorcycle.At times we might choose dynamics that resemble the almost effortless gliding of a Rolls Royce; other times we might prefer the roar and speed of a motorcycle.

But whatever type of music we are playing, that music won’t go anywhere, it won’t communicate to an audience, if we don’t create a dynamic performance. I don’t mean a performance that’s flashy and dazzling, unless that’s what we want the piece to say. Rather, we want our dynamics to bring our music to life, to help our audience connect with the beauty and meaning of the piece.

The dynamics you choose for a piece all must support your...

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10 Ways to Not Get Bored with Your Recital Piece

performing practicing Apr 06, 2015

You are a good student. You practice regularly; you don’t try to cram at the last minute for your recital. So you are prepared in good time, and now you have the oddly  task of keeping your repertoire fresh until the recital.

The paradox is that the more prepared ahead of time you are, the more comfortable and confident your performance will be UNLESS you get so bored with your music that you can’t find the emotional energy to deliver a passionate, or at least musical, performance.

So how do you keep from getting so bored with your recital music that you can hardly stand to practice it one more day? The key lies in mixing up your approaches to your daily practice.

There are three functions of your practice when you have finished the preparation stage of practice and you are just polishing it for performance.

First, you want to keep practicing the technical issues so that you can be confident that your performance will have few stumbles.

Second, you want to keep...

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7 Reasons You Need to Learn to Love Your Metronome

musicianship Mar 30, 2015

Whether you love it or hate it, the metronome is an essential tool for every musician. That’s right – I said “essential,” as in, MUST have one and MUST use it.

If you’re a metronome fan, you already know the benefits of working with the metronome. If you’re one of those who would rather visit the dentist than try to play with the click, read on to find out exactly what the metronome can do for you, and why it’s easier than you think to use it. (Hint: you’ve probably been using it incorrectly.)

Whether your metronome has a swinging arm, flashing lights or just a click, it has one purpose: to give you a steady beat.

It’s all about the beat

Without a steady beat, a predictable rhythmic pulse, music loses much of its power. Our reaction to the beat is instinctive; we tap our toes, clap our hands, nod our heads. We move to the groove. When we fail to keep the beat steady as we play, we don’t allow the listener to connect on...

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5 Shortcuts to Learning a New Piece

musicianship practicing Mar 23, 2015

That moment of excitement, the crisp, unsullied page of music full of promise. It’s a brand new adventure – the starting of a new piece. When I was a young student, it was the moment I loved most. My teacher would put that new music book on the stand, and I could hardly wait until I was at home and could begin to learn it. I was always an eager, if not always a careful, student. I would launch head first into the new music to see what joys were waiting there, reckless of the wrong notes I played along the way. And that recklessness would cause me problems later. I would have many corrections to make and much curbing of my enthusiasm before I had the piece learned to my teacher’s satisfaction.

I have often envied my students who take a more sensible approach. Their careful systematic practice leads to much more predictable results. But there is a weakness in their strategy too. Sometimes it just takes too long to get to the finish line.

Wouldn’t it be...

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Why Do You Play the Harp?

Why do you play the harp (or whatever instrument it is that you play) ?

How long has it been since you thought about that, since you really reconnected with your musical “why?” We tend to be so involved with the “what” of practice and performing that we lose track of our “why” and without that, it is easy to lose our way.

I really don’t remember not having the harp in my life. I didn’t start harp lessons until I was eight years old, but my mother always told me that I was two years old when I first heard the harp and said that was what I wanted to play. And from the time I was four, I was studying piano with a teacher who also played the harp, so each week when I went for my piano lessons, her beautiful harp was there beckoning to me, or at least it seemed that way.

But there came a time when I was studying at the Curtis Institute when I needed to find my “why.” I had been playing for more than 10 years and, although I was...

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The Way You Do the Thing You Do: Mechanics, Technique and Method

musicianship technique Mar 02, 2015

Have you ever thought about how you play music, about how you do what you do?

 It’s not just about style. The way you play, what you actually do to make the music happen has much more significance than just style.

And it’s not magic either, not pulling a rabbit out of a hat. Musicians work and practice hard to be able to produce flowing melodies, rippling scales and arpeggios, beautifully shaped phrases and an even tone.

But maybe there is magic that happens. We experience that magic in a performance by a master when the performer and instrument almost seem to become one being. There is a sense of ease with no wasted motion and no extraneous gesture. We sense that the physical exertion of the performer is exactly what is required to produce the music. no more and no less.

That magic is not an accident, of course. It is the result of years of practice dedicated to physical training with an artistic goal, teaching your body to make music.There are three different...

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Do You Do Positive Practice?

practicing Feb 24, 2015

Positive Practice is something I work on for myself and for my students. I define it as practice that is focused, time-efficient and goal-oriented. Even my younger students are able to practice in a way that is more interesting than mere repetition and yields faster results.

This is the story behind my Positive Practice system: When I was in college, I had hours to practice. Practicing was how I was supposed to spend my time. Then in the years after school, I still had plenty of time to practice as a young professional musician.

But after I had a family and a busier teaching and performance schedule, I found myself with a dilemma. The musical demands of my performing were greater, so I wanted more time to practice, but I had much less time available.

My options didn’t look good. I could spend less time with my family, especially my young son. Or I could perform less frequently or less challenging music. Neither choice was acceptable to me.

So instead of being negative and...

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Revolutionize Your Practice by Learning from the Inside Out

When you think about it, “inside out” starts in the most important part, the center.

Consider the maze in this picture. Those twisty paths full of dead ends confuse you on your way to the center. But if you were able to start from the center, it would be relatively simple and much faster to find your way out.

When we practice, we envision the final performance or finished piece as the goal, the “center” of the maze. But suppose that we take that piece as the starting point for furthering our musical development, so that we not only learn the piece, but learn more about music and the way we play, the bigger issues in our music-making?

If you had music lessons as a child, your lesson books probably looked like mine: Each week, my teacher assigned me a scale and arpeggio to play, an etude that worked on a specific technical challenge, and a repertoire piece that illustrated that particular skill in a “real music” context. This kind of lesson plan is...

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