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Practicing Harp Happiness

#128: Etudify Your Pieces with the Technique Stacker

If you attended my “Cut to the Chase" webinar a couple of weeks ago, you’ll remember that we were talking about some harp hacks, shortcut “outside the box” solutions for common harp problems. We’re going to talk about another one today.

Imagine that you’re learning a piece and it’s going along pretty well. In fact, you may even be excited to think how much you have improved because you’re learning so quickly. You may even let your mind wander to the sorts of pieces you can tackle next with your new and improved skills. 

And then it happens. You hit the wall. You’ve found the passage you can’t play. It may be a new technique that you’ve never tried or one that you aren’t very comfortable with. It may just be a combination of two skills that you haven’t combined before. But whatever it is, you can’t do it. Your technique isn’t up to this particular challenge.

So you do what we all have to...

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#127: How to Set a Practice Schedule that Will Stick

Do you feel like you’re failing yourself in your practice?

Maybe you feel your practice isn’t as consistent or as focused as it should be. Perhaps even when you have enough time to practice, you’re finding it difficult to get started. You might find yourself sitting down to practice and using all your time deciding what you should be doing. You end up feeling confused, frustrated and tired instead of energized and excited about playing the harp.

And then you skip a day of practice. Then another day. Then you really mean to get back to it, but something urgent crops up that absolutely requires your attention. Then you start to dread getting back to practice because you know it’s going to sound terrible. Even worse, you feel guilty for having it let slip.

Does this sound like you? Don’t think I have some magical power to get inside your head. I could tell your story so well because it’s been my own experience too. I don’t feel good about my...

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#126: Engaging Your Creativity: Making Your Practice Make Music

music and meaning Oct 16, 2023

What are the qualities you think you need to be a good harpist? I’ll bet every harpist has a different answer for this.

Understand that I’m not thinking in terms of the skills useful to a harpist, skills like a good ear, the ability to sight read, musicality, flying fingers, and the ability to memorize. I would agree that those are all important to some degree, but I invite you to consider some of the personal traits or day to day habits that would be useful or even essential for a harpist.

This idea conjures up a completely different list. Maybe you’d put character traits like determination, perseverance, self-discipline and courage on that list. Those would indeed be helpful. So would objectivity, the ability to treat yourself with kindness and grace, even when you’re struggling. There are other mindset habits that are important too, like a desire to learn and resilience. 

Today we’re going to explore one of the qualities that I think is...

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#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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