"And your étude for this week…”
Etudes When I was a young student, hearing my teacher say those words made my heart sink. An étude meant boring. dull and possibly difficult work that seemed unrelated to the music I wanted to play. As a piano student, I hated the Hanon book. And as a young harpist, I loathed the LaRiviere.
Piano technique is no longer something I concern myself with, and I have since come to respect and use the LaRiviere. In fact, some place along the line I learned the value of études. Études are part of my daily practice routine, and I now follow the good examples my teachers set, and I assign them to my students as well
Why are études so valuable? Surely we can practice technique in other ways, and études are almost always less musically rewarding than our regular repertoire. Here’s what I have learned about études:
1.They are all about helping you read faster, learn...
We often talk about what freelance musicians need to DO: make phone calls, send out contracts, talk to clients or potential employers, keep a music stand in the car. But the long list of tasks seems less daunting when you distill it and realize that there are habits and attitudes that you need to develop to be successful in the freelance market. It doesn’t matter whether you’re interested in playing for parties, dance clubs or the opera, the personal skills you need are the same.
This is not a checklist where you say, “I’m no good at that,” and give up on freelancing. This is a list to remind you of the habits you need to develop and ways you need to continue to grow personally. The more you attune yourself to this mindset, the more enjoyable and more profitable your freelance career will be, and the more you will love your work.
And your musical abilities have little to do with it.
The number one personal skill for a freelancer is organization. No...
Recently, a group of dedicated harpists and I finished the “Kaleidoscope Challenge.” “Kaleidoscope Challenge.” This online challenge was 4 weeks of practice techniques and FaceBook camaraderie designed to make our daily practice more efficient, focused and effective. The techniques were part of the “practice repertoire” I have developed over the years and found to be invaluable at keeping the momentum through the difficult practice times.
It’s often called the “messy middle,” that point in music practice when you have the notes mostly learned but they are far from comfortable. The correct tempo seems a long way off, and the continual repetitions that are required are becoming mind-numbing and not producing results.
And so over the course of those four weeks, we tried 20 different practice techniques to keep ourselves interested and motivated. I expected good results; after all, I use...
What is musicality? Is it something you are born with, or something you can develop? And if you can develop it, how do you go about doing that?
Merriam-Webster defines musicality as “sensitivity to, knowledge of, or talent for music.” That’s great as far as it goes, but it’s hardly the sort of definition a practicing musician would find helpful.
There’s no question that musicality as a quality is hard to define. We tell ourselves that we know when we hear it. And obviously some people have greater intuition for musical expression than others.
But if musicality were something that couldn’t be developed and improved through practice and performance, all of us would have to give up the quest to become any better than we are today. Fortunately, we don’t have to. We can grow our powers of musical expression through practice, like any other musical skill.
In this post, I have compiled a short list of what musicality is, and isn’t to get you...
Do you have practice space?
Not just a space where you can practice, but space in your life for practice. Creating space for your practice is perhaps the most important thing you can do if you want to make progress with your music.
“I just can’t practice right now.” Maybe you have said that from time to time; I know I have. There are days that are too hectic and times when I have so many other important things to attend to that I just don’t have the mental energy to practice, even if I could find the time.
This goes beyond setting priorities. We know that practice is important. But so are a lot of other things. And if there were more hours in a day, I would still manage to fill them all. You must create space, in your house, in your time and in your mind, for your practice.
You need to start with the physical space. Your practice space needs to be distraction-free, convenient and personal. Ideally, it needs to be out of the traffic pattern of the rest of the...
The metronome. I can see my students repress a shudder each time I reach for it in their lessons. I remember that feeling, the feeling that you have to keep up with that infernal clicking , but you can’t keep up and why can’t you just turn it off and play the piece?
In contrast, I can’t recall the exact moment that my relationship with the metronome changed. At some point, I began to view the metronome as a helpful tool, one that actually solved problems and made practicing easier. I don’t know when it happened, but I know how. Over the course of my musical life, I realized that there were four ways in which a metronome could help me practice more efficiently and even become a better musician. All you doubters and metronome-phobes, read on…
1. It keeps you honest. This is probably the most frequent and the most dreaded use of the metronome. The metronome is rigid task-master, brooking no unauthorized tempo fluctuations. 1,2,3,4…click, click,...
Musical lessons from a computer crash? Absolutely! Read on…
My laptop’s hard drive died this week. The data on the drive is unrecoverable. This is an incredible inconvenience, and one that many people face everyday. As we entrust more of our lives, our work and our memories to these technological marvels, we discover how dependent we become on them. And in those first few hours without my precious computer, I realized that the lessons I was learning about my relationship with my technology were lessons that could, and should, be applied to my musical life as well.
Lesson #1: Backup.A no-brainer in the computer world. We have to prepare for the probability that something will go wrong, as Murphy’s law reminds us. And so I will remember to backup my computer files.
Musical Lesson #1: Preparation is the key. Plan enough time to prepare before a performance, leaving margin for the unexpected interruptions that arise. Practice properly, using my time and resources to...
We all know that the harp is a four-finger instrument. Our pinkies are just too short to be useful, no matter how much we might long for just one more finger to help us out.
This leaves us with the problem of what to do with those diminutive digits. The proper thing to do with your pinkies is to let them follow your fourth finger like a shadow. Those two fingers should move in tandem, opening and closing together, not stuck together as if with glue, but like elegant dancing partners. Think Fred and Ginger, not teenage slow dancing.
I often correct my students who are curling their pinkies, looking like they are having afternoon tea. It’s not just that it doesn’t look right, but it prevents their hands from functioning properly, and can even lead to tension-related problems. Obviously, curling any finger and holding it in one place will create tension in your hand. That is the last thing we need. But does your pinky serve any useful end at all in your harp playing?...
What is the spirit of an professional musician? And do you have to be one to have one?
image The usual definition of a professional musician is a person who gets paid for playing music. Simple, and true enough, as far as it goes. But most professional musicians would define it much more broadly.
Professional musicians know it’s not just about the money, although that’s certainly part of it. It’s about attitude, life habits and choices. Music is part of the life force of every musician, and professionals have made that life force their destiny. In more down-to-earth terms, it’s not just what they do, it’s who they are.
Perhaps you are one of those, as I am. Or perhaps music is part of you, but not with that level of intensity. Whatever kind of musician you are, you can “grow” your professional spirit. You can develop those skills that set professionals apart in the same way you develop your technique and repertoire.
Interested in what makes...
When I was growing up, I used to love riding the bumper cars at the amusement park. You remember those tiny little cars where you actually try to crash into everyone else and there are no rules? My brother and I would zoom around the rink, aiming for each other, but usually one of us would have a faster car than the other. It was so frustrating to have the slower car and know that no matter how hard you pushed that pedal to the floor, you would never go as fast as you wanted to.
Sightreading can hold that same frustration. The music can slip by too fast for you to keep up and everything falls apart. The difference with sightreading (as opposed to the bumper cars) is that you are in charge of how fast your car goes.
I’m not referring to the actual tempo that you are playing or trying to play. Rather, there are three main skills that are required to sightread well, and by developing your proficiency at those skills, you can sightread...