What is success when it comes to harp playing? And is it something you’re really interested in anyway?
Success is a loaded word. It’s easy to imagine success only in terms of applause, record deals and bouquets of flowers, even if we know that’s a Hollywood-style illusion. Even considering success from a more realistic perspective, you may not feel that success is what you’re looking for in your harp playing. Your goals may not include winning competitions or playing solo recitals or making CDs. I want to challenge your idea of success on today’s show, to show you how your success is more important to you than you may think and that it is the single most important factor in your harp happiness. If that sounds difficult, let me reassure you right now. It’s much easier than you think and quite possibly more rewarding than you have imagined.
I want to share a quote from Albert Schweitzer, a theologian and musicologist as well as an organist, and...
I love silly jokes, and I hope you do too, because I’m going to share one with you now.
How do you catch an elephant?
You hide in some tall grass and make a sound like a peanut. When the elephant comes by you look through the wrong end of your binoculars, pick him up with a pair of tweezers and put him in a pickle jar.
Silly joke, right? But it’s appropriate for our show today. We are going to be talking about how we learn a piece or how we practice it, which may be slightly different. Then we’ll look at our music learning through the lens (hopefully through the right end of the binoculars) of big picture practice and little picture practice.
Let me ask you a question: if I asked you to tell me how you practice, what would you say? You’d probably describe your practice plan and if you begin hands separately or hands together, how many times you repeat a passage and how long you practice.
But if I asked you to describe how you learn...
What have you done lately that was courageous?
I hope you shouted your answer, said it loud and proud.
Okay, now answer this one.
What would you have done recently if you hadn’t been so fearful?
That’s not exactly a “loud and proud” moment. But we all do it; we let our fears, our doubts, our nerves get the better of us.
Talk to any person who is super-successful in their field and they’ll confess to having their insecurities, their own sleepless nights worried about the decisions they’ve made or not made. Most people aren’t fearless. But successful people have learned that many times fear is the only barrier between their present and their future. Success comes only when they are able to go through the fear to discover what lies beyond it.
I often talk and write about how to find the courage and the confidence to share your music. You may call it “performing,” but at Harp Mastery® we call it ”sharing your music.”...
Stephen Foster is often referred to as the “Father of American music,” or “America’s first songwriter,” neither of which is strictly true. However, Stephen Foster’s extensive output of songs and the strength of their popularity more than 150 years later attests to the powerful connection his music creates. The homespun appeal of his words and music evokes gentle images of family, home, love and longing that are in sharp contrast to his more difficult reality.
In fact, there were many ironical contradictions between his music and his life. His songs paint vivid pictures of life in the South, but Foster never lived there and only visited there once. HIs music was a staple in music hall minstrel shows, but Foster himself was an ardent abolitionist. His life came to a close not with the “Old Folks at Home” but alone in Bellevue Hospital in New York City.
Nonetheless, his music is filled with singable melodies, uncomplicated...
My harp teacher could make any harp sound amazing. I was astounded every time I heard her do it. On the occasions when she came to my house and played my harp, her magical touch on my very ordinary harp brought it to life in a way my practice never did. And it was MY harp!
My teacher was Marilyn Costello. She studied with Carlos Salzedo at the Curtis Institute of Music and had a lifetime career as principal harpist with the Philadelphia Orchestra. And she had the warmest, richest, most liquid tone I have ever heard.
Having a beautiful tone wasn’t something I thought a lot about as a young harp student. I was more interested in playing fast and flashy pieces. I didn’t give much thought to having a rich sound. After all, when you're playing pieces at warp speed, who can hear the quality of your sound?
Obviously, tone matters. Like so many other harpists, it was the unique voice of the harp that first attracted me. The sound of the harp spoke to me when I heard...
There will never be a shortage of exercise books. As long as there are harpists, they will want to develop a more facile technique to make their playing easier, faster, more fluid and more musical. Scales and arpeggios will always be staples of our technical work but obviously, there is so much more that goes into harp technique. And with the plethora of choices of exercise, etude and method books, where does a harpist start?
The short answer to that question is to just start; it doesn’t really matter where. Any technique growth is better than none. A steady progression of skills is even better, of course. Again the simple solution is a good one; work your way through any exercise book beginning to end and you will cover most of what your fingers need. When you’re finished with that book, choose another.
There are some technical issues, though, that are very common and yet are often resistant to the usual approaches. On today’s episode of the podcast, I want...
Are you trying to do too much?
As a harpist or harp student, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed. There is so much music to learn, so many skills to develop, so much technique work you need to do and not nearly enough time to do it all.
If this sounds distressingly familiar, I have good news and bad news.
The good news is that this is totally fixable. The bad news is that only you can fix it.
Don’t give up yet though, I do have powerful suggestions and advice for you today that will help you figure out what is really important for you to practice and what isn’t. My guess is that about half of what most of us practice daily isn’t really essential or helpful. That’s a scary idea!
Stop for a moment and imagine the implications of that. It could very well be that you’re spending an hour of practice and getting only 30 minutes worth of results. You think you’re using your time well, but you may be doing too many repetitions or...
Tick, tick, tick, tick…the constant click of a metronome could conceivably drive a person crazy. I am now - although I wasn’t always - a metronome fan. Though this may sound crazy to some of you, the metronome is my favorite practice tool because it helps me fix errors, create flow and it gives me time to play a piece or a tricky passage correctly.
I realize that this may not be your experience with the metronome. Maybe your feeling about it is more like this:
If you’ve seen the classic movie Ben Hur, you already know what I’m talking about. If you haven’t, let me set the scene for you.
At one point in the tale, our hero Judah Ben Hur is a galley slave on a Roman ship, chained to an oar with several other slaves. The entire hold of the ship is filled with men chained to oars; they are the engine of the ship. In order for the slaves to generate enough power to move the ship, it is essential that they row in a coordinated way. So at the front of the...
Do you suffer from uneven scales, particularly when you cross under or over?
Do your fingers sometimes fumble to find the strings?
Is your tone warm and lovely some of the time and other times thin or weak?
Have the drills you’ve tried made no real difference?
Here’s the miracle solution to all these problems… and more!
If this sounds like a late night infomercial, I apologize, but I want to call your attention to the often overlooked, frequently misunderstood and almost always underappreciated member of your technique team - your wrist.
We harpists consider so many points of our technique - our fingers, arms and shoulders, our fingering, our placing. We worry about whether to raise or connect and in what situations one might be better than the other. Do we hold our elbows up or down? Should we sit on the edge of the bench or more in the middle and how high or low? So many questions and nearly as many different answers to each one.
When was the last time you thought...
A harp lesson is hard work, for both the student and the teacher. It’s a time to acknowledge progress and challenges, to take what’s going well to the next level and to find ways to make the rough patches smoother. It’s not a performance where your teacher will judge you on how well you play that day. And it’s not a cozy get together for tea and encouragement, although those could be part of a lesson too. A lesson is for learning.
As a student I always knew I had a good lesson when I left the lesson feeling a little mentally fatigued but energized, even excited, about the work we had done in the lesson and the progress I was ready to make in the coming week. It was similar to the feeling you might have after a massage; your body is tired and sore, but relaxed and happy at the same time.
As a teacher, my favorite lessons are the ones where we work the hardest. We may be working on one measure or one passage. We might be bringing more expression to a piece or...
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