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Practicing Harp Happiness

#098: Masterclass Episode: Warmups With A Focus

Do you have a daily warmup that you use to start your practice? If you do, I’m sure you rely on it to help you get your fingers and your focus ready for your practice session. That’s exactly what a good warmup should do, or at least that’s one of the primary functions of a warmup.

If you’ve worked with me as a student or in my online community or even if you’ve listened to this podcast for awhile, it will come as no surprise that I have fairly specific ideas about warmups: what they should and shouldn’t do, how long they should be, what their purpose is in relation to the rest of your practice. And naturally, I want to share those ideas with you today.

Today’s episode is a masterclass episode, meaning that it’s a “play along” episode. So you will not only learn my best warmup strategies, but you will get to try them out by playing along with me as you listen. If you’re not at your harp now, that’s ok; listen...

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#097: Why You Need To Count Aloud (Even If You Hate It)

Music is not a numbers game. You can’t quantify a moving performance or a composition with statistics like a batting average. You can’t predict how many minutes, hours, weeks or months it will take to be able to play a certain piece fluently. A player's skill isn’t solely a result of how old they are or how many years they’ve been playing. Those kinds of numbers aren’t relevant in the music world.

There are numbers that have great significance to us as musicians and harpists. Some are meaningful dates in music history, like the birth and death dates of important composers. Some numbers are important for what they represent. I’m thinking of the Roman numerals we use to describe chords and chord progressions, like a I-IV-V-I progression. Other numbers are even more practical, such as numbers for fingering. And then there are those numbers that are at the heart of our discussion today, the numbers in the time signature.

You know the numbers I mean;...

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#096: Overcoming Left Hand Lag: Reading Ahead With Both Hands

Playing hands together is a topic of constant concern and endless discussion for harpists. When should you start playing hands together? Should you learn a piece hands separately first? How do you begin putting the hands together? And the most frequently asked question: why isn’t hands together working for me? As much as we debate the other questions, this last one is the hardest of all to answer.

One of the more common problems in playing hands together is one I call the “left hand lag.” The left hand lag happens when your hands are playing together sort of, but your left hand seems to be taking too much time to find the strings it needs to play. It’s not a left hand issue; your left hand plays perfectly when it plays by itself. But when you play the hands together, your left hand seems to be behind the beat. It causes hesitations that interrupt the flow of the rhythm and slow everything down. 

Your teacher’s first response is likely that you...

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#095: Freedom to Fly: Four Keys to Finger Facility

We all know that making music is more than playing the right notes at the right time. It’s about the heart and soul of the music, the feeling we put into it and the feeling that we communicate through it. Unfortunately, no matter how much feeling we put into the music, the actual communication of that feeling relies on our technique. It’s one of those apparent paradoxes in music study. The beauty of your music depends on the fluency of your technical performance, but a technically perfect performance may or may not be a beautiful one.

So we spend, or should be spending, a significant proportion of our practice time strengthening and securing our technical skills. We practice the notes of our pieces slowly and correctly. But often we still miss the connection between slow, technically careful playing and the facility we need to let our music flow. That connection, the missing link between slow and correct and fluid and musical, is what we will be talking about today.

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#094: 7 Skills That Mark Your Growth

If you’re into computer games, you know it’s all about getting to the next level.

Even if you’re not into computer games, you probably know what I mean. Many computer games are built in levels and moving to the next higher level requires the player to complete certain tasks or amass a specific number of treasures or experience points. Until you can complete all the tasks, find all the treasure and do it in the time allotted without using up all your game “lives” in the process, you can’t move on. You’re stuck at that level.

Lots of gamers, I might even venture to say most gamers, get a little obsessed in the attempt to move up. They play the game over and over again, looking for the secret sequence or hidden treasure that will give them access to the next level. What I find interesting about this phenomenon is that it is so similar to getting to the next level in harp playing.

I know you didn’t think you had much in common with...

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#093: Learning How to Do One Thing at a Time

To paraphrase the 17h century English poet Andrew Marvell,
“Had we but world enough and time,
This scattered practice were no crime.”

Andrew Marvell was referring to “His Coy Mistress,” but we might well apply these lines to the kind of practice we so often find ourselves engaged in. It’s not that we don’t have goals or that we lack the ambition to improve and grow. It’s just that there is so much wonderful music in the world and we want to play it all. It’s a big feasting table and our eyes are bigger than our stomachs, or in this case, our collection of music we want to learn far exceeds our available time to learn it.

It wasn’t quite so difficult when we had no YouTube, no Instagram and no TikTok to bombard us with videos that make us musically hungry. Instant sheet music downloads are a threat to our practice capacity as well. When we had to leaf through a paper catalog of music and order an expensive book that may take days...

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#092: Quick Fix: Roll Your Chords Right

Welcome to a “quick fix” episode of the podcast. I love these episodes because I get to teach at the harp, which is just about my favorite thing. Actually, playing music on the harp would be my favorite, but this runs a pretty close second. 

Today’s quick fix is for rolled chords. Rolled chords are one of the most distinctive sounds of the harp, and they are one of our most versatile expressive tools. They can be rolled crisply with lots of energy, or they can be lush and luxurious, almost like musical dark chocolate. But they can be tricky to play well.

We’re going to cover the three most critical factors of rolling chords on this episode: the actual technique of rolling chords, how to get them to fit into your piece and not slow down the tempo, and how to practice the rolls so your fingers sound even and smooth. That’s a lot to do in one podcast show so we had better get started. If you are by your harp you might find it helpful to try these...

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#091: Harp Strings and Heart Strings: A Lesson in Romantic Music

music and meaning Feb 13, 2023

As this podcast is released, it is the day before Valentine’s Day, and whether you celebrate the day in a special way or not, it’s hard to escape the advertisements urging us to buy and send cards, candy and flowers. I think, though, that we harpists have a special role to play, not just on Valentine’s Day, but every day. 

Music, love and romance are inseparable for most of us. We have our special songs that bind us to those we love. There are certain pieces of music that tug at our hearts and move us to barely expressible joy or tears. In the words of virtuoso cellist Pablo Casals,  “Music is the divine way to tell beautiful, poetic things to the heart.”

And what instrument is more appropriate than the harp to be the voice of those beautiful, poetic things? In the Bible, we read how David soothed Saul with his harp music. Folk traditions the world over associate the harp with love. In early  Norse and various Celtic traditions, the...

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#090: Blast the Practice Blahs: How To Practice When You Don’t Have To

By the beginning of February, I’m done with winter. The holiday playing is long over; spring is still weeks away, no matter what the groundhog said. I’m feeling the winter blahs, and not just in the day-to-day things. This is the time of year when my practice can suffer from the blahs too.

Have you ever noticed how when you have important things to practice for, you enjoy your practice more? You have more energy for it, because there’s a good reason to practice. It’s never a struggle to practice when you have a lesson or a performance coming up. But it can be hard to drag yourself to the harp bench if there’s nothing on the calendar. If you have nothing to practice for, it’s quite possible you have no energy for practice.

Practice is certainly easier to do when you know you simply have to practice. But what if you don’t have to practice? How do you stay motivated and energized?

The simple answer is that you might not be able to stay...

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#089: Masterclass: The Tempo Pyramid

Today’s episode is another in our series of masterclasses, our podcast at-the-harp workshops where you can follow along with me as we do a deep dive into a vital aspect of technique or musicianship.

In this masterclass, we’ll be working on my tempo pyramid. Over the years, I have had lots of requests for reviewing my system for working a piece or a passage so that it actually gets up to tempo. This system is what I call the tempo pyramid and although the concept is fairly simple, it will definitely help you to try it out step by step with me. I won’t just walk you through the pyramid, but I’ll give you some of my bonus tips that will make it even simpler and faster. And faster is our whole focus today: getting the whole piece faster and closer to tempo, making that one difficult passage as fast as the rest of the piece, letting your fingers move faster and with more agility and security.

It’s a lot to do in one podcast episode so we need to get...

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