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Practicing Harp Happiness

#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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#088: Muses, Models and Mentors: Where Does Inspiration Come From?

music and meaning Jan 23, 2023

We call them lightbulb moments, those unpredictable flashes of brilliance that spark our creativity. Or perhaps our inspiration comes from others we admire. Common thought says inspiration is necessary for anyone in an artistic endeavor, yet we believe it is elusive and selective, showing up randomly and bestowing its gifts unequally.

What does inspiration mean to you? Is it outside you, meaning that something or someone inspires you in a certain way? Or is it inside you, meaning that our inner lightbulb has a secret switch that suddenly flips and makes that lightbulb moment? Both? Neither?

Music history is filled with stories of inspiration, particularly stories about musical mentors who have helped shape the careers of some of the most famous classical musicians. From the greats like Mozart and Beethoven to modern composers like John Williams and Leonard Bernstein, these mentors have passed down their knowledge and expertise to generations of aspiring musicians.

If you look at...

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#087: Breaking Free From Perfectionism

As you probably know, one of my words for 2023 is freedom. It’s a motivational word, meaning the idea of freedom energizes me. It’s an aspirational word, meaning I want to experience the feeling of freedom every day. Most importantly, it’s an action word. I want to actively bring more freedom into all areas of my life and into the lives of those around me. That includes you, my friend. And that’s where freedom in our harp playing comes in.

I’m on a mission to set harpists free from the tyranny of some of the things that keep them from achieving what they want in their harp playing. That’s the main focus for the webinar I’ll be presenting soon on Creating Harp Freedom. I’ll be talking about some of the hidden enemies of progress and what you can actually do to defeat them. 

But in assembling the materials for that webinar, I realized that there is one enemy that many harpists face, one that is too big to be covered thoroughly in...

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#086: The Wrong Way to Practice Etudes - and 3 Right Ways

Fundamentals, exercises and etudes are the three pillars of harp technique, or any instrumental technique for that matter. I’m sure this is not news to you, but the reminder never hurts.

Fundamentals like scales, arpeggios and chords form the basis of our technique because they are the patterns most prevalent in the music we play. Exercises help our fingers become familiar with the characteristic patterns that aren’t as straightforward as the fundamentals. Etudes help us put the technical skills from our exercises and fundamentals into a more musical context, a sort of test drive for our technique. Together, they help us develop facility, agility and musical understanding. Pretty powerful stuff.

I know - you knew that already. But like me and most of the harpists I know, you may have trouble fitting all three of those into your practice time. Most of us have limited practice time anyway, and it would be easy to let our technical work crowd out everything else. This is...

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#085: Use The One-Two Punch To Plan Your Harp Growth in 2023

I attended one professional boxing match in my life. The reason I went was that a former harp student of mine was making her professional boxing debut. As you might imagine, I felt a little out of my element in the boxing club, which was actually one of the legendary boxing clubs in Philadelphia, but I had never been there before. And I’ve never been there since. What surprised me most was that I could actually relate to the experience a little, not because of my martial arts training, but because of my music training.

There was a nervous tension in the air that was not unlike the anticipation before a performance. I felt the same sense of the importance of the moment, the fact that each competitor needed to bring his or her best effort right at that moment; there was no second chance. Of course, we musicians are fighting a less visible opponent. And we aren’t likely to walk away with a bloody lip or a broken nose.

I also found the strategy of the boxers interesting to...

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