It used to be somewhat fashionable to be a control freak, or at least to declare that you were.
It didn’t start out that way. According to Merriam-Webster, the term was first used in the 1970’s. It was the epithet of choice used to label those who belonged to the “Establishment” rather than to the free love “do your own thing” hippie generation. Then in the 1980’s, trends like power dressing and the rise of conservatism made controlling behavior look like something desirable, something to aspire to.
Today we understand the danger of controlling behaviors. So why do we still work so hard to control ourselves and the music we make?
I didn’t recognize some of my own control issues with regard to my music for a long time. Maybe you don’t see yours either, so let’s start with a few possibly revealing questions. See if you identify with any of these.
If you’re like me, and I’ll bet you are, you have a lot of music you want to play…someday. My music used to be in piles next to my music stand, until the piles got so untidy that I filed everything in boxes. And every time I dive into one of those boxes to retrieve a piece I need to work on, I find a hidden treasure, a piece I bought long ago that I forgot about. It’s like getting an early Christmas present - a new piece all ready for me to start. It takes all my willpower to also take out the piece I was looking for in the first place.
If you love investigating new music too, then today’s podcast episode is the one you’ve been waiting for. I have some pieces to share that might fill a gap in your gig repertoire or intrigue you or maybe even inspire you to try music you might not have thought was exactly your style.
There is something here for everyone, whether you’re a lever or pedal harpist. The pieces are mostly at an...
What would you do if you were playing the harp in a concert and the lights went out?
I’m sure many of you have stories about playing the harp when there was a sudden power outage, and I have several myself. I remember one wedding when a neighborhood-wide blackout occurred just as the newly married couple kissed. The priest didn’t miss a beat, directing the acolytes to lead the bride and groom in a candlelight recessional to the back of the church. My fellow musicians and I were missing lots of beats however, as we struggled to keep playing the recessional music in the dark.
Fortunately it was a familiar tune, but even so, the other musicians finally gave up, leaving me to carry on by myself. Because I knew the piece, the notes weren’t the problem; obviously the real difficulty was not being able to see the strings.
Today’s Quick Fix podcast episode isn’t about memorizing your music or carrying a spare music stand light with you. It’s about...
Music learning isn’t a race, we all know that. That doesn’t stop us from wanting to get to the finish line, to that magical moment when our piece is “done.”
Ironically, if you ask a group of harpists exactly what “done” means or how to tell when you get there, you’ll get a few very indeterminate answers and more than a few hems and haws. Is the finish line the point when you can play the piece with no - or with very few - mistakes? Is it when you have it memorized or when you’ve played it for an audience? Is it whenever you want it to be? Is it when you’re so sick and tired of practicing it that you just want to put it away?
When I started blogging in 2012, I had a mission to spread harp happiness, to help harpists enjoy their playing and their practice, to enable them to find and keep the joy in their harp playing. In my teaching in the years just prior to that, I had begun to notice an increasing number of...
Building a repertoire sounds like something only a master harpist would need to do. Yet all of us need to have music that we can play anytime and anywhere we want. But building a repertoire sounds like a huge project. I’m going to show you today that all you need to do to build - and more importantly, to maintain a repertoire - is one pen, 3 sticky notes and 5 minutes.
Impossible? Not impossible. In fact, we’re going to take the seemingly impossible task of building a repertoire and make it simple. It’s a little like turning a black diamond ski run into the bunny slope, or turning Mt. Everest into a molehill. Okay, maybe that’s a slight exaggeration but if you’ve ever struggled with having pieces ready to play at a moment’s notice or keeping those pieces you’ve finished in your fingers, you’re going to find today’s episode is a game changer.
One of the first coaching students I worked with online, and this was...
Do you have a daily warmup that you use to start your practice? If you do, I’m sure you rely on it to help you get your fingers and your focus ready for your practice session. That’s exactly what a good warmup should do, or at least that’s one of the primary functions of a warmup.
If you’ve worked with me as a student or in my online community or even if you’ve listened to this podcast for awhile, it will come as no surprise that I have fairly specific ideas about warmups: what they should and shouldn’t do, how long they should be, what their purpose is in relation to the rest of your practice. And naturally, I want to share those ideas with you today.
Today’s episode is a masterclass episode, meaning that it’s a “play along” episode. So you will not only learn my best warmup strategies, but you will get to try them out by playing along with me as you listen. If you’re not at your harp now, that’s ok; listen...
Music is not a numbers game. You can’t quantify a moving performance or a composition with statistics like a batting average. You can’t predict how many minutes, hours, weeks or months it will take to be able to play a certain piece fluently. A player's skill isn’t solely a result of how old they are or how many years they’ve been playing. Those kinds of numbers aren’t relevant in the music world.
There are numbers that have great significance to us as musicians and harpists. Some are meaningful dates in music history, like the birth and death dates of important composers. Some numbers are important for what they represent. I’m thinking of the Roman numerals we use to describe chords and chord progressions, like a I-IV-V-I progression. Other numbers are even more practical, such as numbers for fingering. And then there are those numbers that are at the heart of our discussion today, the numbers in the time signature.
You know the numbers I mean;...
Playing hands together is a topic of constant concern and endless discussion for harpists. When should you start playing hands together? Should you learn a piece hands separately first? How do you begin putting the hands together? And the most frequently asked question: why isn’t hands together working for me? As much as we debate the other questions, this last one is the hardest of all to answer.
One of the more common problems in playing hands together is one I call the “left hand lag.” The left hand lag happens when your hands are playing together sort of, but your left hand seems to be taking too much time to find the strings it needs to play. It’s not a left hand issue; your left hand plays perfectly when it plays by itself. But when you play the hands together, your left hand seems to be behind the beat. It causes hesitations that interrupt the flow of the rhythm and slow everything down.
Your teacher’s first response is likely that you...
We all know that making music is more than playing the right notes at the right time. It’s about the heart and soul of the music, the feeling we put into it and the feeling that we communicate through it. Unfortunately, no matter how much feeling we put into the music, the actual communication of that feeling relies on our technique. It’s one of those apparent paradoxes in music study. The beauty of your music depends on the fluency of your technical performance, but a technically perfect performance may or may not be a beautiful one.
So we spend, or should be spending, a significant proportion of our practice time strengthening and securing our technical skills. We practice the notes of our pieces slowly and correctly. But often we still miss the connection between slow, technically careful playing and the facility we need to let our music flow. That connection, the missing link between slow and correct and fluid and musical, is what we will be talking about today.
If you’re into computer games, you know it’s all about getting to the next level.
Even if you’re not into computer games, you probably know what I mean. Many computer games are built in levels and moving to the next higher level requires the player to complete certain tasks or amass a specific number of treasures or experience points. Until you can complete all the tasks, find all the treasure and do it in the time allotted without using up all your game “lives” in the process, you can’t move on. You’re stuck at that level.
Lots of gamers, I might even venture to say most gamers, get a little obsessed in the attempt to move up. They play the game over and over again, looking for the secret sequence or hidden treasure that will give them access to the next level. What I find interesting about this phenomenon is that it is so similar to getting to the next level in harp playing.
I know you didn’t think you had much in common with...