Sometimes we have technical issues. They may slow down our practice, mar an otherwise good performance, or just be a continual source of frustration. Whether it’s one finger that isn’t as strong as the others, or just a general need to improve our fingers’ agility, there is a four-step process that will help you meet your technical challenges.
Step 1: Eliminate. The first step in solving your technical issue is to figure out what it ISN’T. At first glance you may think the problem lies in a couple of measures that never seem to work right. Usually, you can reduce the problem area down to one single beat or group of notes, or one fingering that isn’t working. This step is critical in making your work efficient and effective. Eliminate what is not the real problem and move on to step 2.
Step 2: Identify. You should now be able to see what the problem really is. Consider it thoughtfully. It is situational, something that is a problem just in that spot of...
Last spring, I finally purchased my Air Turn bluetooth pedal for hands-free page turning. Very simply, it works with my tablet computer to turn pages of music that I read from the tablet in PDF format. It’s easy, convenient, and I should have gotten it sooner.
I first learned about the digital music revolution from my former colleague at Curtis, Hugh Sung. Hugh is an amazing pianist and was a member of the collaborative piano faculty as well as Director of Student Recitals at Curtis. But more importantly, as anyone who has ever met Hugh can tell you, he is a techno-geek-wizard. So naturally he was drawn to thinking of a way get music off of paper and onto computers. As a pianist, he knew page turning was going to be the biggest issue. And eventually the Air Turn pedal was reality.
For me, as for many others, the Air Turn has eased some of the difficulties that seemed to be an inseparable part of...
I write a lot about practicing on this blog. In fact, there are 113 posts in the Practicing category. The frequency of the topic is not really surprising, since practice is the single biggest part of a musician’s musical life.
The word “practice” has many shades of meaning. It can refer to a habit or custom as in “practice random acts of kindness.” The term “best practices” means a set of standards or procedures. We can practice, or pursue, a discipline or profession, as in “the practice of yoga,” or “medical practice.”
I think music practice is all these, and something else as well.
Yes, practice builds correct habits. Through practice we seek to meet a certain standard, and it most certainly is a pursuit.
But consider what our music practice really does. It doesn’t just make us play better, or make wrong notes right. Our practice is about making...
In the last post, I wrote about the three things you need to work on to improve your playing. The first of those three is technique, and I would like to go into a little more depth about that in today’s post.
As I described in the post, your technique is your toolbox. It exists to serve your playing and the more tools you have in your toolbox, the more challenging playing tasks you will be able to take on.
Have you ever been in an old fashioned hardware store? This is the kind of place where you can go and ask the person behind the counter what sort of tool you need for the job you want to tackle. Back behind that counter are all the tools and little parts – nuts, bolts, screws, nails – and from out of that huge collection, the hardware guy picks exactly what you need. You need that particular size wrench, that one and no other.
When you work on building your technique, you are working on your own hardware store. Whatever...
The truth is that there are only three things you need to work on to improve your playing. These things are true whether you are planning to play concerts for thousands of
people or just play for yourself in your own living room. They are true whether you play the harp or another instrument. And the principles actually apply to any endeavor, musical or otherwise.
Learning to play an instrument, and to play it well, is a process and a puzzle. The process part seems easy – practice. The puzzle is when your practice doesn’t seem to be getting you the results you want, or getting them fast enough.
The problem lies in at least one of three areas.
Are the three things magic solutions? Of course not. They all involve hard work and dedication. The amount of hard work depends on your personal goals for your playing. The more lofty your goals, the more work you will need to do.
But if you HAVE a goal for your playing, even if you think your goal is a...
Is your hand centered?
Often I will have a student complain to me that their fourth finger is weak, or they can’t reach an octave comfortably. Usually they ask for strengthening or stretching exercises, but often those aren’t the solutions they need.
One of the most important things we harpists can do to have an even technique and tone is to keep the hand centered. What is “centered?” Your hand is centered when the bulk of your hand is distributed evenly over the distance between your thumb and fourth finger. Your hand should have a round shape, not a flat one, and your thumb and second finger should look like the letter “C”.
The tendency is to pull the hand back toward the thumb. This makes the space between thumb and second finger too small and prevents the thumb from making a full closing motion when it plays. When your hand is too far toward your thumb, your fourth finger needs to stretch to reach the notes it must play, and it is too straight...
Holiday music is always part of my students’ lessons at this time of year. Often it’s just fun for them to have some holiday music to play. Sometimes they need to have holiday music in their fingers for a performance. Whether they prefer religious music or pop standards, I am happy to include it in their lessons. And with a little creativity, it can be a great teaching tool, even if you’re just teaching yourself.
Holiday music has some distinct advantages over more regular repertoire. The time frame is limited, the music can be chosen according to the student’s preferences, and it relieves some of the holiday stress. Beyond that, however, there are some specific ways to get extra benefit from holiday music:
1. Brush up your technique. My favorite Christmas-themed finger warm-up is Salzedo’s Variations on O Tannenbaum, but just about any carol will provide good practice in chords or arpeggios.
2. Great for sightreading. Get a book of simple carol...
The pursuit of mastery bears gifts.
– Gary Keller, The ONE Thing: The Surprisingly Simple Truth Behind Extraordinary Results
I love this quote. Of course, a person with the website “Harp Mastery” would naturally be drawn to it. The genius in this statement is the phrase “pursuit of mastery.” We often assume that achieving mastery brings rewards, but I find Keller’s assertion about the pursuit of mastery more interesting.
In writing about “The ONE Thing,” Keller’s co-author Jay Papasan writes,”When we practice mastery, we become experts at...
The concert is over. I pack up the harp, drive home and anticipate the first question I will hear as I come through the door: “So how was the concert?”
My husband never wants to hear about the difficulty of trying to neatly thread the ensemble needle between the flutes and the celli, or what the intonation challenges were. He wants an answer that’s more along the lines of “It was great.” So why do I almost never say that?
This week I came home from two different concerts with two different answers. One concert felt much more successful to me than the other. The audiences were equally enthusiastic about the concerts. But I found one much more satisfying than the other.
And that’s really why I find it so difficult to tell someone how any concert was. My point of view is subjective and completely wrapped up in how my performance felt at the time.
It is almost impossible, I think, to be objective about your own performance. We are so highly sensitized...
Have you ever felt bored or frustrated with trying to perfect all the details when you practice? This is necessary work, however difficult, but trying to perfect all the details can keep you from getting a piece to the stage where you can play it, even if you only play if for your own pleasure. It’s like looking at a drop of water in a microscope and never seeing the ocean. Or not seeing the forest for the trees.
Incorporating some “macro” practice with your “micro” approach can help you get to the finish line with any piece faster. Even better, it’s a fun way to practice.
My point is this: practicing for details is the little picture, but the piece of music is actually a big picture. We like the image of the composer carefully choosing every note and every dynamic, but the reality is that composers create a whole piece. All those notes create a work that is greater than the sum of its parts. All together the notes create a mood, a story, a...