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Practicing Harp Happiness

#064: Spice Up Your Scales for Technique, Flexibility and Speed

Scales are so simple on the harp. 

Unlike on other instruments all our scales have the same fingering.

I remember being a young piano student and struggling with the fingering patterns that seemed different for each major and minor key. Those black and white keys caused a lot of fingering complications.

But on the harp, all our scales are fingered exactly alike. All the changes are in our levers or pedals, not our fingers. It couldn't get any easier. 

Ironically, this is the reason that many harpists don’t bother practicing their scales. After all, if they are this easy, what could be the benefit?

Scales, along with chords and arpeggios, are one of the technical building blocks for every harpist. In every piece we play, our fingers need to move sequentially, as they do in a scale. They need to play evenly, smoothly and musically. They need to play fast. And the single best way to develop that level of facility is by practicing scales.

So why aren’t you...

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#063: Practice Prescription: What to Do When Nothing Is Working

Here is a cry for help that I received from one of our coaching students recently:

 “I'm feeling discouraged because I don't feel that I'm making the progress I want. No fault of my coach, she's excellent! I feel like I'll have really effective practice days then go backwards.” 

We had a check-in call scheduled, so we were able to talk through some of her concerns, but I think what made the most difference to her was simply knowing that she is not alone, that we all feel this way sometimes, and that the backwards slide is actually a necessary part of the learning process.

Progress on the harp or any instrument is a very forwards and backwards kind of thing. Often when we feel that nothing is going right, we are on the verge of a big step forward. It's not unlike a teenager's physical growth spurt where the joints hurt and everything seems out of whack and and then all of a sudden, they're several inches taller. 

It takes some experience to realize that...

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#062: Your Guide to Perfect Octaves

music and meaning Jul 25, 2022

Octaves are everywhere. There are very few harp pieces that don’t include octaves somewhere, and with good reason. Octaves add richness to a left hand accompaniment or to a right hand melody. The added resonance of the string played an octave lower or higher makes the entire harp come alive with sound. 

We harpists love octaves and we play them all the time. So why are they often the hardest intervals to play well? 

You know what I mean. Your thumb plays two strings at once, or your fourth finger brushes the surrounding strings, making your octave sound like a cluster of sound rather than a clear, clean interval. Sometimes they are hard to place accurately and our fingers buzz or just play the wrong notes. 

It’s time to go back to basics, my friends. Don’t feel discouraged; this is what we all do from time to time when a fundamental part of our technique isn’t working. It’s not a failure. It’s merely a coordination we need to...

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#061: Masterclass: Making Sense of Meter Signature Changes

music and meaning Jul 18, 2022

Has this ever happened to you? You’re sailing along, playing through a new piece. You’re feeling pretty good because the piece is actually flowing along. You can tell you’ve been making progress because a year or so ago, this piece would have felt difficult.   

Just about the time you’re ready to pat yourself on the back and imagine yourself tackling that piece you’ve always thought was too hard, your playing comes to a screeching halt. There’s a new meter signature, or time signature, in front of you. Your easy piece in 4/4 time suddenly has a measure of . What the heck is this about??

On today’s show, we’re going to find out exactly what meter changes like that imaginary one are all about. While we often associate them with contemporary music, changing meters have been a part of music since music began. If you play traditional folk music, you encounter meter changes all the time. In fact, the meter signature is a...

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#060: Enjoy a Guilt-Free, Harp-Free Vacation with the Perfect Re-Entry Plan

Summer is definitely here, at least where I live. The sun is shining, the grass is tall, the roadside vegetable stands are back in business. The bees buzz busily in the daytime and the fireflies make each night sparkle. It’s time for picnics and trips to the seashore. It’s also time to prepare for the end of summer, at least where your harp playing is concerned.

I could almost hear your mental brakes squealing. Summer’s barely started and we want to bask in every moment of it. Why should we think about the end of summer now? 

Because a little bit of planning now will save you a couple of weeks later. Don’t believe me? Maybe this scenario will sound familiar.

Let’s pretend it’s late August or early September. Your vacation is over; it was terrific fun but you’re glad to be back home. Of course, there is a mountain of laundry to be done, and a stack of bills to be paid. The dog is acting weird since he came back from doggie camp (a.k.a,...

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#059: Confused About Markings? 10 Common Harp Markings Explained!

If the fairy godmother of harp appeared today to grant you just one wish, what would it be? Would you wish for a new harp, flying fingers, an endless supply of music? I know what I would wish for: standardized harp markings.

That may sound to you as if I haven’t given this wish a lot of thought, but actually I believe if the harp fairy godmother would grant that one wish, it would save all of us harpists much time, confusion and frustration. Allow me to explain.

Harp notation is anything but standardized. Take a simple technique like a harmonic. Most composers write harp harmonics where they are to be played, which results in the note sounding one octave higher. But there are a few composers - Carlos Salzedo, most notably - who write their harmonics where the notes actually sound, meaning that we need to play them one octave lower than they are written. Many harpist composers explain which system they are using with a note to the performer printed on the music. Unfortunately,...

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#058: Quick Fix Episode: Fixing 3 Common Thumb Issues

Today's episode is a brand-new podcast feature, a “Quick Fix'' episode. These are special episodes designed to take your harp learning out of the realm of the theoretical and get totally practical. It’s obviously not enough just to know why something is important, although that’s a great place to start. Sooner or later you have to actually do whatever it is, and for that you need to know how

So from time to time here on the podcast, I’ll be sharing my favorite quick fixes, the nuts and bolts step by step instructions to put some of the things we’ve talked about - or that you’ve asked me about - into place in your harp playing.

The inspiration for today’s show was a comment I received in response to a podcast episode I did nearly a year ago, episode 14, about Taming the Terrible Thumb. On that podcast I talked about how your thumb should work, the proper mechanics and the reasons why those mechanics were important. But more recently I...

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#057: The Success Habit: How to Fuel Your Courage, Confidence and Creativity

What is success when it comes to harp playing? And is it something you’re really interested in anyway?

Success is a loaded word. It’s easy to imagine success only in terms of applause, record deals and bouquets of flowers, even if we know that’s a Hollywood-style illusion. Even considering success from a more realistic perspective, you may not feel that success is what you’re looking for in your harp playing. Your goals may not include winning competitions or playing solo recitals or making CDs. I want to challenge your idea of success on today’s show, to show you how your success is more important to you than you may think and that it is the single most important factor in your harp happiness. If that sounds difficult, let me reassure you right now. It’s much easier than you think and quite possibly more rewarding than you have imagined.

I want to share a quote from Albert Schweitzer, a theologian and musicologist as well as an organist, and...

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#056: Learning versus Practice: Which End of the Binoculars Do You Use?

I love silly jokes, and I hope you do too, because I’m going to share one with you now.

Here goes: 

How do you catch an elephant?

You hide in some tall grass and make a sound like a peanut. When the elephant comes by you look through the wrong end of your binoculars, pick him up with a pair of tweezers and put him in a pickle jar.

Silly joke, right? But it’s appropriate for our show today. We are going to be talking about how we learn a piece or how we practice it, which may be slightly different. Then we’ll look at our music learning through the lens (hopefully through the right end of the binoculars) of big picture practice and little picture practice.

Let me ask you a question: if I asked you to tell me how you practice, what would you say? You’d probably describe your practice plan and if you begin hands separately or hands together, how many times you repeat a passage and how long you practice. 

But if I asked you to describe how you learn...

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#055: Overcoming Fears, Doubt and Misgivings: Take the Long View

music and meaning Jun 06, 2022

What have you done lately that was courageous?
I hope you shouted your answer, said it loud and proud.
Okay, now answer this one.
What would you have done recently if you hadn’t been so fearful?
That’s not exactly a “loud and proud” moment. But we all do it; we let our fears, our doubts, our nerves get the better of us.

Talk to any person who is super-successful in their field and they’ll confess to having their insecurities, their own sleepless nights worried about the decisions they’ve made or not made. Most people aren’t fearless. But successful people have learned that many times fear is the only barrier between their present and their future. Success comes only when they are able to go through the fear to discover what lies beyond it.

I often talk and write about how to find the courage and the confidence to share your music. You may call it “performing,” but at Harp Mastery® we call it ”sharing your music.”...

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