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Practicing Harp Happiness

#125: 8 Tips for Perfect Lever Or Pedal Pushing

I’m a pusher, and I hope you are one too, a lever or pedal pusher, that is.

Just imagine a world of harps without levers or pedals. Certainly, there are folk harps that don’t have levers and still play beautiful music. But to me, that’s a little like living in the forest. There is endless beauty in the forest, but I like the seashore and the prairies too. The world of music has so much harmonic richness and I really love having my pedal harp to explore it all. 

Of course that harmonic richness isn’t exclusive to harps with pedals. Lever harps can play music every bit as chromatically varied as pedal harps and sometimes even more easily. 

But perhaps you’re new to the world of pushers, of harp music – either lever or pedal – with accidental changes that require pushing a lever or pedal. If so, or if you’re not a newbie to pushing but would like some help with ways to improve your pedal or lever technique, then you’re...

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#124: How to Play Any Piece More Musically

A long time ago, I attended a concert by a famous pianist, and I overheard two audience members talking about how impressed they were, how the performer’s virtuosity and expressiveness showed true mastery of the instrument. And then I heard the comment that stuck with me: “He could make ‘Hot Cross Buns’ sound like a musical masterpiece.”

If you took piano lessons as a child, chances are that you played the nursery song “Hot Cross Buns” in your first few weeks of study. The melody only has five notes. It couldn’t be more simple.

But this idea made me consider what I believe is a common misconception among harpists who want to develop a repertoire of music. Whether their repertoire would be geared toward concerts or weddings or church music or local senior centers, harpists usually overcomplicate things. Naturally, we want to present music that our audiences will like and we want to play it well, but often we make it much harder for...

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#123: If I Were Starting Over: What You Should Know

music and meaning Sep 25, 2023

“If I were starting over, I would…”

That's our topic for today’s show. If I were starting my harp journey over again, from square one, what would I do differently, knowing what I know now? Obviously, I have done decades of practice, taken thousands of lessons, done thousands of performances, and I’ve taught countless students. I’ve watched students thrive and I’ve worked with those who struggle. And both kinds of students have taught me so much. They’ve given me a breadth of experience that goes well beyond my own personal harp journey. 

As I reflect on what my own harp story was like, the remarkable privileges that I had, the circumstances that shaped my harp life gave me only one view of harp study - my own. But over the years of working with so many other harpists, I have come to identify a few factors that can speed up a harpist’s progress, no matter that harpist’s age or skill level.  

I’ve also...

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#122: Finger Fumbles: Is the Problem with Your Technique or Your Reading?

How can you correct a problem – any problem from a water leak to paper jam in the printer – if you don’t know where the problem really is?

Harp playing is no different. Our practice is supposed to help us fix mistakes and even prevent them from recurring, at least to a degree. But if we don’t know where the underlying issue is, it’s nearly impossible to find a fix for it.

The obvious solution to this dilemma is to ask your teacher. Unfortunately, though, even if you have access to a teacher or other harp expert, the things we want to fix usually reveal themselves in a practice session when we are working by ourselves. So we rely on our own experience to find the fix for whatever challenge we are facing, whether or not we have the experience we need to do it.

Of course, teachers don’t always have an instant solution either. Often we arrive at the solution through a process of trial and error: the student tries our suggestion and we discover we...

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#121: Being Prepared: When Practice Is Not Enough

Benjamin Franklin, who had a note-worthy thought about almost everything, authored this famous truth: “By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.”

Preparation is everything. We harpists understand that our practice is our preparation. We won’t be able to play well if we don’t practice. We get it.

But if you’ve been playing the harp for a while now, you have probably experienced the painful flip side. I’m talking about the realization that even with all the hours of practice you put into a particular piece, you aren’t guaranteed to be able to play it as well as you expect under pressure. 

After an experience like that, most of us decide to double down on our practice, thinking we weren’t prepared enough. We hope that we have hit on the magic number - of hours or repetitions or practice sessions - that will be the perfect preparation. Maybe it works. Maybe it doesn’t. 

So if practice is preparation, why...

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#120: Make Your Warm Up a Triple

Let’s talk warm-ups.

You likely have a favorite way to warm up at the beginning of a practice session. It might be short and sweet, like an arpeggio and a scale. It might be a fairly thorough routine that allows you to check everything from your posture to your focus. Or possibly it’s just a passage from a piece that you’re learning.

Whatever you do, however you like to warm up, that’s great. I don’t want to change that today. 

What I want to do is show you three different and important ways your warm-up can help you, that’s the “triple” referred to in this episode’s title. These aren’t earth-shattering or revolutionary new techniques. They are simple, clear approaches to your warm-up that will allow you to develop critical skills beyond what is usual in a warm-up. I have a warm-up that I will use to demonstrate as I teach you these approaches and it’s available for you as a free download. You’ll find the...

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#119: Going Mental: How to Practice Without Your Harp

It’s all in your mind. No, I don’t mean you’re going crazy.  I’m sure you’ve come across the well-worn statement that 90% of performance, whether in sports or music or any similar pursuit, is mental. The idea, of course, is that your mental preparation, your mindset and your focus all are major factors in the success of your performance.

Even if the actual percentage may be hard to pin down, the idea is undoubtedly true. Our minds are powerful contributors to our success or our failure. Just look at the number of books and blogs devoted to this concept, from the iconic book The Inner Game of Tennis to Noa Kageyama’s insightful blog The Bulletproof Musician. (By the way, I’ve linked to both of those resources in the show notes for you.)

Today, however, I don’t want to dive into performance psychology. I want to deal with something much more practical, something you probably have heard about and wondered how to implement: mental...

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#118: Play Tension Free: How to Calm Your Body, Mind and Music

Wouldn’t it feel great to relax? 

Of course, since this is the Practicing Harp Happiness podcast, I’m not just talking about a cool drink, a good book and a bubble bath. I’m talking about being relaxed when you play the harp. 

You know why it’s important to be relaxed when you play. When your hands, arms, shoulders and the rest of your body feel relaxed, you can practice and play without strain and with freedom, flexibility and flow. When your mind is relaxed, you can concentrate and focus without fear or distraction. When your mind and body are relaxed, your music can also relax so that it can communicate its mood or story in a clear, relatable way.

Does that sound too good to be true, like an impossible dream to you? Let me tell you that it isn’t impossible to achieve. More importantly, this kind of relaxation shouldn’t be just a happy accident for you. 

We teachers are experts at telling our students to relax, but not so expert...

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#117: Count, Click and Canon: a Rhythm Masterclass

While there are many notable quotes from Johann Sebastian Bach, one of my favorites is this one: “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.”  Okay, the man was a musical genius, but obviously he also had a remarkable talent for understatement. 

On the other hand, that really is the major part of learning and playing a piece of music, at least it’s where we start. Certainly the expression of the music is our ultimate aim, but communicating the music starts with the right notes at the right time. That’s the focus of the podcast today: not so much how to find the right notes, but how to play them at the right time. 

We all know it’s not as simple as Bach made it sound. In fact, the difficulties of finding that “right time” are evident everyday in our practice, even if we are expert players. See if any of these common rhythmic challenges sound...

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#116: Taking the Mystery Out Of Mastery

music and meaning Aug 07, 2023

I once had someone suggest to me that Harp Mastery® was a little ambitious as a name. Was I intending that my blog and my website would only help people at the highest level or help them to become masters of the instrument? Or was I proclaiming myself a “master” of the harp? Eek, definitely not. In response, I told her I believed that mastery didn’t have to be defined as the ultimate level of achievement, although that is how we often think of it. I had a different idea of mastery in mind.

Certainly the term can be applied to the virtuoso whose skill and artistry are, or are destined to become, legendary. 

But I believe that all of us harpists, at whatever level of accomplishment, can attain the feeling of mastery, a feeling that encompasses confidence in our ability at our skill level,  pride in our achievements and pleasure in our playing. Is that true mastery as we would apply the word to harp legends like Renié, Hasselmans or...

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