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Practicing Harp Happiness

#108: Quick Fix: Buzz No More

Legendary harpist and composer Carlos Salzedo had this to say about buzzing: “It is important that there be no buzzing when replacing. Buzzing comes from lack of precision in replacing, and will be eliminated if the player replaces very accurately.” 

That quote comes from the Method for the Harp book that he wrote with Lucile Lawrence, his former student and at the time that method book was written, his wife.

What is interesting about that quote is that even though Salzedo had so much to say about so many aspects of harp playing, that is all he says about buzzing, nothing more.

On the one hand, it’s enough. Every harpist should be replacing accurately in order to avoid buzzing. But we knew that much. What Salzedo leaves us wondering is exactly how we should practice accurate replacing so we don’t buzz. Unfortunately, Salzedo either thought it was too obvious to elaborate on or he wanted to keep his secrets for his students.

I imagine he thought it was...

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#107: A Cure For The Spots: How To Solve Those Problem Measures

If there’s one thing you could say with certainty that all we harpists want, it’s being able to play the piece we’re working on. That’s why we started the harp, so we could play beautiful music on a beautiful instrument beautifully. But we all know the struggle it takes to make that happen. And we all know the frustration of persisting through the struggle and feeling defeated because there are two measures smack in the middle of the piece that just won’t work.

Call them what you will: problem spots, tricky spots, twisty measures, awkward passages, or maybe names that involve four-letter words. These spots are like a teenager’s pimples. They appear at the worst times and no matter what you do, you can’t really cover them up. They seem to last forever. And the more you mess with them the worse, the worse they get.

Fortunately, pimples do eventually go away. But problem measures won’t necessarily. I know that doesn’t seem like...

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#106: 7 Things to Practice When You Don’t Have Anything To Practice For

It’s Memorial Day today here in the U.S. and that marks the unofficial beginning of summer for us. The pace of life slows down a little, especially the pace of harp playing. The concert season is over, and although the wedding season has begun, you  may be feeling a little at loose ends where your harp playing is concerned. 

I realize it might not be summer where you are, but our topic today will be relevant for you too. I want to talk about what to practice when you don’t have anything to practice for. 

When we have playing engagements on the calendar, it’s easy to know what to practice. While we’re busily learning all the music we need for that playing date, our practice time never seems long enough. We promise ourselves that as soon as things slow down, we’re going to really spend focused time working on our technique or our sight reading or improvisation or…

Those good intentions are a lot harder to act on when things really...

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#105: Survive an Inflection Point Using Your Harp Story

music and meaning May 22, 2023

I’ve been thinking about harp stories lately, not the fiction type of stories. I mean the kind of harp story we each have, the one about the moment we discovered the harp. Maybe it was the first time we saw it or heard it or heard about it. Maybe it was a long time ago or fairly recent. Maybe it was a dramatic moment or more of a gradual awakening.

I love hearing how harpists discovered their passion for the harp. Every harpist’s story is unique and yet each shares the common thread of the magnetic pull of the harp. 

Many of you have heard my harp story. I myself didn’t learn the beginning of it until I was in my first year of college, studying at The Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia. I had come to a crisis point, one where I was in a “do-or-die” kind of situation. In brief, my teacher had told me that either I fixed what was wrong with my playing or I was going to have to leave Curtis, since I clearly wouldn’t succeed there. The...

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#104: What’s Getting In Your Way? How To Turn Distraction Into Action

What always happens is…

That statement is one that I ask each harpist who enrolls in our Certified Coaching program to complete. Some harpists have no idea how to complete the statement, and I tell them that if they needed to answer it, they would know how. The harpists who need to complete that sentence, know it when they read it. These are the harpists who know that they have an issue with distraction.

It’s not a black mark against them, of course; distraction is an issue for all of us. But sometimes distraction becomes a roadblock instead of just a minor speed bump. It’s one thing to be distracted by a phone call from a friend when you were about to start practicing. It’s very different if you miss several days of practice each week because of phone calls. If those phone calls always happen, you have a distraction problem.

Naturally, phone calls aren’t the only kind of distraction problem. Today I want to get crystal clear about several common and...

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#103: 4 Lessons From a Reformed Control Freak

It used to be somewhat fashionable to be a control freak, or at least to declare that you were. 

It didn’t start out that way. According to Merriam-Webster, the term was first used in the 1970’s. It was the epithet of choice used to label those who belonged to the “Establishment” rather than to the free love “do your own thing” hippie generation. Then in the 1980’s, trends like power dressing and the rise of conservatism made controlling behavior look like something desirable, something to aspire to. 

Today we understand the danger of controlling behaviors. So why do we still work so hard to control ourselves and the music we make?

I didn’t recognize some of my own control issues with regard to my music for a long time. Maybe you don’t see yours either, so let’s start with a few possibly revealing questions. See if you identify with any of these.

  • Is your biggest goal in your practice usually to eliminate...
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#102: Music To Grow By: Repertoire Refreshers

music and meaning May 01, 2023

If you’re like me, and I’ll bet you are, you have a lot of music you want to play…someday. My music used to be in piles next to my music stand, until the piles got so untidy that I filed everything in boxes. And every time I dive into one of those boxes to retrieve a piece I need to work on, I find a hidden treasure, a piece I bought long ago that I forgot about. It’s like getting an early Christmas present - a new piece all ready for me to start. It takes all my willpower to also take out the piece I was looking for in the first place.

If you love investigating new music too, then today’s podcast episode is the one you’ve been waiting for. I have some pieces to share that might fill a gap in your gig repertoire or intrigue you or maybe even inspire you to try music you might not have thought was exactly your style. 

There is something here for everyone, whether you’re a lever or pedal harpist. The pieces are mostly at an...

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#101: Quick Fix Episode: Teaching Your Fingers To Play When You’re Not Looking

What would you do if you were playing the harp in a concert and the lights went out?

I’m sure many of you have stories about playing the harp when there was a sudden power outage, and I have several myself. I remember one wedding when a neighborhood-wide blackout occurred just as the newly married couple kissed. The priest didn’t miss a beat, directing the acolytes to lead the bride and groom in a candlelight recessional to the back of the church. My fellow musicians and I were missing lots of beats however, as we struggled to keep playing the recessional music in the dark. 

Fortunately it was a familiar tune, but even so, the other musicians finally gave up, leaving me to carry on by myself. Because I knew the piece, the notes weren’t the problem; obviously the real difficulty was not being able to see the strings.

Today’s Quick Fix podcast episode isn’t about memorizing your music or carrying a spare music stand light with you. It’s about...

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#100: How to Get to the Finish Faster

Music learning isn’t a race, we all know that. That doesn’t stop us from wanting to get to the finish line, to that magical moment when our piece is “done.” 

Ironically, if you ask a group of harpists exactly what “done” means or how to tell when you get there, you’ll get a few very indeterminate answers and more than a few hems and haws. Is the finish line the point when you can play the piece with no - or with very few - mistakes? Is it when you have it memorized or when you’ve played it for an audience? Is it whenever you want it to be? Is it when you’re so sick and tired of practicing it that you just want to put it away? 

When I started blogging in 2012, I had a mission to spread harp happiness, to help harpists enjoy their playing and their practice, to enable them to find and keep the joy in their harp playing. In my teaching in the years just prior to that, I had begun to notice an increasing number of...

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#099: The Shortcut Way To Build And Maintain A Repertoire

Building a repertoire sounds like something only a master harpist would need to do. Yet all of us need to have music that we can play anytime and anywhere we want. But building a repertoire sounds like a huge project. I’m going to show you today that all you need to do to build - and more importantly, to maintain a repertoire - is one pen, 3 sticky notes and 5 minutes. 

Impossible? Not impossible. In fact, we’re going to take the seemingly impossible task of building a repertoire and make it simple. It’s a little like turning a black diamond ski run into the bunny slope, or turning Mt. Everest into a molehill. Okay, maybe that’s a slight exaggeration but if you’ve ever struggled with having pieces ready to play at a moment’s notice or keeping those pieces you’ve finished in your fingers, you’re going to find today’s episode is a game changer.  

One of the first coaching students I worked with online, and this was...

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