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Agility for Your Fingers: the Pronking Approach

technique Sep 03, 2017

Agility is practically the Holy Grail for any musician. To have a facile and nimble technique is why we spend hours playing scales and exercises.

What does agility look like?

Picture a gazelle bounding across the African savanna, dodging roots and rocks, changing direction with effortless grace and athleticism. Strength, grace, flexibility and speed in motion, the very definition of agility.

Then a predator threatens the gazelle. The gazelle takes off, running for its life, with the predator in fierce pursuit.

Suddenly, the gazelle makes a high, bounding leap, one that changes the direction of its flight and in so doing, confuses the predator.

This surprise leaping strategy is known as “pronking,” and it is one of the few lines of defense open to the gazelle. A gazelle’s first defense is to elude the predator, to evade the threat. It relies on its agility to rescue it from danger.

That’s the kind of agility we want for our fingers. We want them to fly across...

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Fear and Uncertainty: the What-Ifs

musicianship Aug 28, 2017

Fear. Uncertainty. What would happen if you stopped “what-if-ing” and just did it?

Fear and uncertainty are the dream-killers for most people. Most of us have a “safety switch” somewhere that keeps us from going too far. The trick is in recognizing when your switch is triggered unnecessarily.

Our inborn reactions to danger are both necessary and appropriate. We naturally shy away from fire, flinch at lightning and thunder and avoid precarious heights. But we learn over time which circumstances are truly threatening to us and which instinctive reactions we can safely ignore.

Music offers its share of fear-inducing situations, and not just those having to do with performing.

It might be fear of playing wrong notes or playing too fast. It might be fear of trying a new piece or technique, or even just the uncertainty of our ability to do what we want to do, to play the way we want to play.

In order to prevent fear and uncertainty from blocking our path forward,...

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Online Music Lessons: Best Practices

music miscellany Aug 21, 2017

Online music lessons may sound like nirvana to many music students – being able to study music wherever you are and no matter where your teacher is. If you’re a music teacher, though, you likely instinctively sense the possible drawbacks and limitations of learning music at a distance.

Nevertheless, online music learning is increasingly how students young and old, experienced and newbies, pursue their passion. Students, and parents of younger students, need to be aware of the reality behind the rose-colored glasses. And teachers should explore how they might like to include online lessons as part of their studio instruction.

Of course, online music learning is much more than just lessons over Skype or the numerous other platforms like Facetime, Google Hangouts, and Zoom. And learning isn’t just limited to lessons; students can learn through online classes, courses, webinars or group programs.

But most students – and teachers – still favor one-on-one...

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Practice Your Musical Creativity

musicianship Aug 14, 2017

Musical creativity isn’t a “yes or no” thing. It isn’t a “have it or don’t have it” kind of skill. It’s more of a “use it or lose it” proposition.

This isn’t a scientific argument. It’s based solely on my observations and experience. But let’s consider this scientifically…

Science would urge us to apply the scientific method: to experiment, analyze the results and make conclusions based on the evidence. That empirical evidence, though, belies what I have found experientially to be true: that all of us who are attracted enough by music to choose to study it are gifted with musical creativity.

I don’t mean that we all are gifted in the same fashion or that we are enabled to use these gifts to the same extent. But I have never come across a student who had no desire or ability to be musically creative.

Our regular practice habits are not designed to promote or develop creativity, however. In...

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Is Your Repertoire Ready?

performing Aug 07, 2017
Is your repertoire ready to play?

Imagine you received this phone call today:  

"Good morning [YOUR NAME HERE]. I'm so glad I caught you. We are having our church social coming up next weekend, and our committee thought it would be lovely if you could play for us. I know it's short notice but it would be so nice if you could come and play. Please say you will. Everyone would love it.

" What would you say? Could you say yes?

Perhaps this is something you've been meaning to do, to get music ready to play for events like this. Perhaps this is even a group that you would really like to play for. But perhaps you haven't gotten your repertoire ready yet. So you're going to miss this opportunity. It’s a disappointment.

Let’s continue with our scenario.

After you make your excuses and turn this opportunity down, you start thinking that you really should put some music together to play. How hard could it be? So you pore through the music that you have but decide that you...

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Your Harp Technician – Your Harp’s Best Friend

music miscellany Jul 30, 2017

Who is your best “harp” friend? Is it your teacher, your harp circle buddy, a fellow student, a colleague? Maybe your best harp friend is your harp itself.

Your harp has a best friend too, and while you’re right at the top of the list, the next best friend your harp has is likely your harp technician.

Your harp technician is not just a “harp doctor.”  He or she is a care-taker, a trouble-shooter, an adviser, sometimes even a harp “9-1-1” responder.

This is not a “how to repair your harp” article. Instead, in this post I would like to offer some suggestions for working with your harp technician to help them keep your harp (and you!) happy and playing well. And if you haven’t scheduled a visit with your favorite tech lately, perhaps you will feel inspired after reading this. You can be sure your harp will thank you!

One quick note before we dig in: I have worked with many wonderful and knowledgeable harp experts. I...

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Playing the Right Notes at the Right Time

musicianship Jul 23, 2017

Playing the right notes at the right time may be enough.


J. S. Bach

“There's nothing remarkable about it. All one has to do is hit the right keys at the right time and the instrument plays itself.” – J. S. Bach

It’s quite a statement, whether Bach was indulging in some tongue-in-cheek modesty or absurdly reductionist thinking.

But what if it were – at least to some extent – true? What if “all” we had to do was to play the right notes at the right time? In other words, if we focused our efforts on simply playing the right notes at the right time, what would that free us from? What distractions, confusion and struggle would that eliminate?

Please understand that I am not going to set out a case for playing unmusically or without expression and subtlety. We’ve all heard players whose technically brilliant performance feels flat and uninspired, leaving us to say, “She really played all the notes, but…”


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Is Learning The Harp Harder Than You Thought?

practicing Jul 16, 2017

Is learning the harp harder than you thought?

I can imagine the moment, probably because so many of us experienced something similar. You see the harp. You hear the harp. You fall in love with the harp. You buy a harp. You start practicing the harp.

The next sentence ought to be “You play the harp.”

But that’s not usually how it happens. More often, particularly for the adult beginning harp student, the next sentence is, “This is way harder than I thought it would be.”

I am frequently contacted by adult students who are surprised at the steep learning curve for harp playing and are beginning to wonder if they chose the wrong instrument. The frustration level is even greater for students who are accomplished players of other instruments, particularly pianists.

It seems like the transfer between harp and piano should not be a difficult one considering the essential similarity between the two. However, despite their musical commonalities, the two...

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Become a Better Musician This Summer: 20 Ways to Do It

musicianship Jul 09, 2017

Becoming a better musician is truly a lifelong pursuit, but that doesn’t mean you can’t make significant progress this summer.

I am by nature an optimist. Even so, each year about this time I find myself despairing at how fast the summertime flies. I always have so many projects, musical and otherwise, that I want to accomplish in the summer, but the summer seems to fly by.

To counteract that feeling, I have a middle-of-July ritual for my summer music study. I don’t have a name for it and it didn’t even start as a conscious act, but it nevertheless has become a useful habit.

I decide to tackle one thing for the rest of the summer.

That one thing needs to fit three criteria. It must be:

  1. Something that will help me grow, improve or refresh some aspect of my playing.
  2. Something that will be useful to me in the coming concert season.
  3. Something fun.

What would fit those criteria for you? What would help you become a better musician?

To get your creative juices...

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The Healthy Harpist: 15 Critical Checkpoints

technique Jul 02, 2017

Are you a healthy harpist?

No, this is not about proper nutrition or about getting enough sleep. Those are essential for everyone, not just harpists.

And for a change I’m not referring to good practice habits.

Instead, I want to help you build and maintain the correct physical habits that are necessary to play the harp well, without pain, stiffness and tension, the habits that will maintain your harp health.

Naturally, proper playing technique is one component. Before we can even touch on technique, however, we need to address more basic issues, like correct posture and ways you might be holding or creating tension while you play.

What follows is a checklist of fifteen of the most important requirements for being a “healthy” harpist. Use the list as a reminder, not just before you begin your practice, but often during each practice session. Remember that you are building healthy habits, which will require your time and attention to develop and become automatic.

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