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Strategic Practice: Why Are You Practicing?

practicing Jan 21, 2018

Before you can do strategic practice, you need to answer this question: Why exactly are you practicing?

Because you have to, of course. Duh.

Yes, but the question is still, “Why?” The answer is important, because the practice you do must be tailored to get the results you want. Without knowing why you are practicing – the goal you want to achieve – your practice might be rather aimless and unfocused.

To put it another way, there is a reason you’re practicing. Maybe you’re trying to finish a piece or strengthen your technique. Maybe you have a lesson coming up or possibly even a performance. Whatever it is you’re trying do, there is a strategic way to accomplish it.

Of course, you don’t need to practice strategically, but unplanned practice tends to be repetitive, unrewarding, and even boring, not to mention unproductive.

Strategic practice, on the other hand, is focused and directional. It follows steps on a path toward your goal,...

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Working Miracles: The Story of Anne Sullivan

music miscellany Jan 14, 2018

Helen Keller and Anne Sullivan

I have a famous name: Anne Sullivan. Not because of my own accomplishments, but because of the woman called the Miracle Worker, the real Anne Sullivan. I don’t believe there is any genealogical connection between the two of us, but I have always been drawn to her story.

Her real first name was Johanna, but it she always went by Anne or Annie. Her early family life was not one to promise much for the little girl, with an an unskilled and undependable father and a mother and brother with tuberculosis. At age ten, following her mother’s death and her father’s subsequent abandonment, Anne and her brother were sent to a poorhouse cum hospital in Tewksbury, Massachusetts. Just a few months later, her brother died.

Describing those years, Anne later wrote:

Unexpected good has filled the chinks of frustration in my life. But at times melancholy without reason grips me as in a vice [sic]. A word, an odd inflection, the way somebody crosses...
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Practice Techniques: Fill Your Practice Toolbox

practicing Jan 07, 2018

Most of us practice music because we want to play music.

There might be a couple of other reasons you could suggest – a love of learning, a desire to improve, a healthy discipline, a love of music – but underneath it all, the ultimate goal is playing music, playing it well and enjoying playing it.

Too often, however, I find that musicians don’t design their practice to lead them to that goal. They don’t use the practice techniques that will move them quickly and predictably from learning the notes to a polished performance.

One word before I continue - Don’t be led by the word “performance” to think that the tips that follow are pertinent only if you are playing in public. Even just playing the piece “for your own enjoyment” counts as a performance, at least in this context. Would you really be satisfied playing a piece with many stops, starts and mistakes, even if you were the only one listening?

Now, let me explain about...

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Consistency: My Word for 2018

practicing Dec 31, 2017

My guide word for 2018: Consistency.

I suppose you could call it a New Year’s resolution, but for me it’s more a reminder of what is important to me and the imperative to keep those things not just top of mind, but top of schedule as well.

I find, and perhaps you have noticed this too, that when I can create habits around the things that are truly important to me, everything feels easier. I believe that is because those habits create alignment between my desires and my actions. I’m acting on my goals, not just thinking about them. Consistency makes my goals sticky.

When I consistently implement the actions that will lead me to accomplish my goals, I find that I instinctively shed the distractions and detours that are the enemies of achievement.

Naturally, this applies to any area of life: relationships, physical health, spiritual growth, and of course – music.

In my experience, the musicians who succeed in reaching their goals are those who are the...

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My Christmas Wish For You

music miscellany Dec 24, 2017

On this special day, I wanted to share my Christmas wish for you and for all harpists for happiness now and in the coming year. Feel free to share it with a harpist you know!

My best wishes for a wonderful holiday,

My Christmas Wish

H Health in our hands. heads and hearts.

A All kinds of music to play, hear and share.

R Rewards of diligence and persistence in our practice.

P Pride in our accomplishments.

H Hunger for learning that sustains and propels us.

A Achievement and satisfaction.

P Pleasure in the little things, wherever we find them.

P Peace on earth and in our hearts.

I Inspiration.

N Nourishment from our teachers, friends, colleagues and mentors.

E Encouragement before we know we need it.

S Silence so we can appreciate the color that music brings to our world.

S Sounds of the season will bring you joy and peace and much happiness, harp and otherwise.

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Christmas Eve Countdown: Harp Happiness and Joy

music miscellany Dec 17, 2017

Christmas Eve is nearly here and the music-making and merriment is in full swing. It’s likely you have been making plenty of music already this season and are looking forward to the final push to those Christmas eve church services.

If, however, you find that you aren’t looking forward to the playing but instead are only looking forward to having them over and done for another year, it’s time to banish “Bah, humbug” and discover some pointers that will bring the “comfort and joy” to these final days of holiday frenzy.

So to help you through these last days of Christmas performances, I offer you my top “Harp Happiness and Joy” tips to help you play your best and ease the stress.  

HH and Joy Tip #1: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle

If there is one piece of music on your program for this week that is giving you extra stress, re-think your plan. Can you change it out for an easier one? Cut out the “hard” verse and do the...

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Still Still Still

Still Still Still

Still, still, still,
One can hear the falling snow.

Some Christmas carols are joyous and celebratory.  Others reflect the peace that is also characteristic of the season. If “Silent Night” is perhaps the most well-known of those, the closest runner up would have to be the Austrian carol “Still, Still, Still,.”

The carol is a wiegenlied or cradle song with a traditional folk song melody. The tune sets the lullaby mood with a lilting arpeggio that calls to mind a mother’s soothing whispers to her child.  The original German lyrics bring those whispers to life, translating literally as “Hush, hush, hush, for the little child wants to sleep.”

Here are the English lyrics used most commonly:

Still, still, still

One can hear the falling snow

For all is hushed

The world is sleeping

Holy Star its vigil keeping

Still, still, still

One can hear the falling snow

Sleep, sleep, sleep

'Tis the eve of our...

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Hymns: A Harpist’s Guide to Playing Along

performing Dec 03, 2017

“Could you play along on these hymns too?”

It seems like a reasonable request. A well-intentioned choir director wants to take full advantage of having a harpist participating in the service. So now you find yourself with a sheaf of print-outs of the hymns with notes to “play along on verses 2, 4 and 5, whatever you feel like.”

Quite possibly you are clenching your jaw just thinking about this. You won’t be heard above the organ and the congregational singing. The pedaling is awkward. The written notes don’t fit well on the harp. While you’re happy to add beauty to the service music, this doesn’t feel like the right way. It feels like a waste of your time and talent.

You’re right. It is.

I used to feel that way too.

For a while I tried gently refusing to play on the hymns. Even when directors were sympathetic, though, I felt as though I were not really doing my best for them.

That’s when I determined to find a way that I...

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Harp Gratitude Day - Giving Thanks

music miscellany Nov 26, 2017

Gratitude is on my mind at the moment.

Here in the U.S. we just celebrated Thanksgiving, arguably the most beloved of our national holidays. In the midst of all the food, fun, family and football, even the most cynical citizens manage to find a moment or two to feel gratitude for something or someone.

I am far from being a cynical person, and I’d like to share a few of the music-related things that inspire my gratitude, not just at Thanksgiving, but just about every day. I encourage you to read my list, to comment and to share some of the musical things or people you are thankful for too.

I am thankful for…

…my harp teachers whose commitment to the harp, to music and to my growth as a musician is still a daily inspiration.

… the generous community of harpists. I am awed by the giving nature of harpists all over the world. And an extra thanksgiving for the technology which brings us all so much closer.

…the amazing caring members of My Harp Mastery....

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Motivation: Rust Proofing Your Practice

practicing Nov 19, 2017

“She just doesn’t have the motivation.”

I remember hearing a performance many years ago by a young musician who seemed to have it all going for her: the kind of talent that makes everything seem easy and natural, and the poise to let her audience see how much she enjoyed performing.

Later though her teacher confided in me that this student was not really making progress. She just wasn’t motivated enough to put in the effort it was going to take to move to the next level.

Many of the students I work with now are adults whose main purpose in the harp study is to play for their own pleasure. That’s a fine goal and one I am happy to support. But it can be hard for these students to maintain their motivation to learn, practice and play without the kind of external pressure that performance deadlines can exert.

I will share with you the secret to keeping your motivation strong, and it’s not having a goal or taking lessons or scheduling performances. All...

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