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Finding the Meaning in Music: Quick Ideas to Build Musicianship

What is this supposed to be?

The jigsaw puzzle pieces were spread on the table and I had just completed the first critical phase in any jigsaw puzzle assembly, putting all the edge pieces together. My question arose from a discovery I had made along the way: the puzzle I was assembling was definitely not the one pictured on the box. The box had a beautiful view of Neuschwanstein, the famous German castle that was the inspiration for the Disney Cinderella castle. From the pieces on the table, it looked as if the picture might be a building, maybe even a castle but it was clear from the colors and the edge pieces that it wasn’t going to be Neuschwanstein.

Not knowing what the puzzle was going to look like made the challenge of putting it together considerably more difficult. It’s like being lost in a strange city without a map or trying to read a book in a language of which you only know a few words.

It’s like trying to be a musician without knowing anything about...

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A Father’s Day Tribute to My Harp Dad

Yesterday was Father’s Day. According to Hallmark, it is the fourth largest greeting card holiday, right behind Mother’s Day, with approximately 72 million cards exchanged. As I was writing a message on the card to send to my dad this year (he is 92 years old), I reflected on the unconditional support my dad gave me, not just as my dad, but especially as a “harp dad.”

What is a “harp dad?”

A harp dad doesn’t just provide his young harpist with a harp and lessons. He also provides all the necessary accessories – covers, stands, benches, music - and of course, the car to move it all. And then, he gives up his evenings and weekends to transporting harp and harpist to lessons, rehearsals and concerts.

That was what my dad did. From the time I played in my first harp recital at age eight until I went to college, my schedule was his. My mom had broken her back years before, so harp moving was not something she could help with. My dad became...

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Three Things Your Metronome Can’t Do For You

A metronome is a must-have accessory for every musician. It can help you speed up your music or slow it down. It can help you fix your technique or line up a complicated rhythm. It can help you prepare to play in an ensemble or train your inner pulse so your solo music has a steady flow.

But just having the metronome on while you practice won’t necessarily help you attain any of these results. The metronome isn’t a magic cure. It’s a tool, and as with any tool, you need to know how to use it.

In order for you to get the most benefit from working with your metronome, it is helpful to know what your metronome can’t do for you.

Metronomes Can’t Count

I was working with a student some years ago who couldn’t figure out what the problem with her rhythm was. Her music seemed out of rhythm somehow. In her lesson, I told her that she needed to work with a metronome to keep the beat of her music steady. “I use the metronome every day,” she told...

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Healthy Practice for Harpists: Nourish Your Body, Mind and Music

I've written a lot about effective practice and efficient practice, creative practice and deliberate practice. I believe that practice, the right kind of practice, is the number one contributor to every harpist’s success. Harpists who practice correctly and consistently are able to play the music they want to play.

Today, however, I'm going to look at practice in a different way. I'd like you to consider making your practice healthy practice.

Healthy practice isn't about eating right and exercising, although those are certainly important factors in any endeavor. Healthy practice is practice that is fun, enjoyable, creative, satisfying and sustainable, in addition to being efficient and effective.

We've all started new practice habits from time to time; we feel a rush of new energy and focus and for a while, we get results. But then the energy begins to dwindle and the motivation dies. Our practice habit has not proved sustainable.

When we practice well, when our practice...

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Being a Living Memorial: Finding Your Roots

Today in the U.S. we are celebrating Memorial Day.a national holiday to honor the men and women who died serving in the country’s armed forces. Despite the day’s unofficial significance as the beginning of summertime, the holiday celebrations always include solemn ceremonies and commemorations.

When I was a child, the Memorial Day solemnity weighed heavily on me. The sense of loss and grief surrounding the idea of the fallen heroes was inescapable. As I grew older, though, I realized that a memorial is something that keeps the memory of people and events alive; it is a living tribute that celebrates and honors even more than it grieves.

A living memorial, a living tribute is an empowering idea. In this age of shortened news cycles, instantaneous communication and planned obsolescence, it’s too easy to lose sight of our past. We forget our roots, the people and events that we never knew ourselves that nonetheless have had great influence on our lives. Yet what I do...

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Unlearning Music: How Your Old Habits Are Holding You Back

“When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me.” - from St. Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians

This very familiar quote from the New Testament speaks to the universal experience of growth and reaching maturity in one’s thoughts and actions.  Have you thought of bringing that same growth and maturity to your music study? You may not realize just how much you could speed up your music learning by updating your learning process.

If you took music lessons as a child, your experience was likely similar to mine. Each week at my lesson, my teacher would hear me play the previous week’s assignment, make adjustments and write the next week’s assignment in my lesson book. The assignment was usually very specific: to play a passage 10 times hands separately, or work with the metronome at a specific tempo, for instance. If I followed her...

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Finish That Piece! 3 Myths about the Messy Middle

Uncategorized May 13, 2019

What is the “messy middle?”

In any project, the messy middle is the sometimes, boring, sometimes frustrating stage between the excitement of the beginning and the vindication of the completion of the project.

In your music learning, it’s the repetitive, too often mindless practice stage after the initial learning of the notes but before you feel like you can truly play the piece. You’ve been there; I’ve been there. We’ve all been there, and it isn’t fun.

The messy middle is a necessary stage of development. In this stage you begin to develop a deep familiarity with the piece, which will be the foundation of your musical interpretation and your technical security. But while this stage does take time, it need not be a struggle.

If you’ve wondered why you never really finish a piece, or if you get bored with the piece before you can play it, you’re getting stuck in the messy middle. It’s likely that you are blaming yourself...

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Never Perform Again? How To Succeed After An Epic Fail

It looks so easy when other people do it. It’s not complicated; you practice a piece until it’s ready. Then you play it.

We all know it isn’t really that simple. There are difficult passages and techniques to conquer. You have to earn to play it fast enough or slow enough or steady enough. You need to express the dynamics and the musical flow. And you have to deal with performance jitters, nervous fingers or sweaty palms.

Sure it’s hard. But you’re not afraid of the challenge. You’re a hard worker. You have a clear goal. You made a plan and followed it. So why didn’t it work this time, or maybe even the two or three times before this time?

Maybe you’ve had that happen to you. I’ve experienced it. And after the first epic failure, I’ve gone on to another failure and another. And come out successfully on the other side.

But my success wasn’t due just to sheer perseverance. As much as a story of determination, hard...

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Practicing Outside the Box: 2 Ideas for Creative Practice

No time to be creative? Let’s use your daily practice to stimulate your musical imagination.

Practice, even when we are avoiding thoughtless repetition, often feels like a less-than-creative task. Our quest for secure, confident and musical playing doesn’t seem to allow for much experimentation and play.

The fact is, however, that actively using your musical imagination can actually help you learn notes more quickly in addition to developing inner resources that you might not even realize you have. These resources would include things like connecting music theory concepts like chords and keys to what you hear and play, and quicker recognition of musical styles and forms. These resources are the fundamental skills you need to be able to learn faster, sightread, memorize and improvise more easily.

Plus, this kind of practice helps you get more creative in terms of generating musical ideas. Don’t think you have any musical ideas? You might surprise yourself, if you...

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4 Practice Strategies that NEVER Work (You’ve Tried at Least One!)

Is your practice strategy failing you?

In this third part of our Spring Cleaning Challenge blog series, I challenge you to look at how you might be sabotaging your practice. If you’ve missed parts one and two of the series, you can read them later. This one is critical!

Let’s face facts; practicing is hard work. It takes patience, self-discipline and energy. It takes concentration, motivation and perseverance. It takes time. If you’re like me, those are qualities that are often in short supply. And when the going gets tough, sometimes it’s hard to get going.

Certainly springtime can inspire you to new bursts of energy. But it doesn’t always inspire the right energy to practice. It may seem even easier than usual to succumb to distractions that take you away from practicing. Often those distractions are subtle and sneaky ways to procrastinate, so subtle that we don’t even notice the damage they are causing.

In fact, they may show up in...

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