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:
What would fit those criteria for you? What would help you become a better musician?
To get your creative juices...
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.
Counting. Chances are that it’s either something you do nearly automatically or it’s something that you never do.
I can still hear my piano teacher insisting that I count out loud, and I can still feel my resistance. Counting, particularly aloud, didn’t come easily or naturally and I didn’t see the point.
I have now spent decades on the other end of scenario as the insistent teacher instead of the reluctant student. And during that time I have discovered what my music teachers knew: that counting is essential and inseparable from making music. It is a tool that helps us not only learn music more accurately and quickly but also helps us play music with more expression and fluency.
Need more convincing? Read on…
This may surprise you, but it’s true: the metronome doesn’t substitute for counting. Counting is how you line up the notes with the correct beats. The metronome merely keeps those...
What music is on your "desert island" list?
You've played a version of this game before, I'm sure. You imagine that you were stranded on a desert island with no foreseeable hope of rescue. Think Robinson Crusoe. You begin to create a way of life for yourself on your island. One of the items that you discovered on the island was a CD player. (Fortunately, this CD player runs somehow on solar energy so a power source is no difficulty.)
And beside the CD player you find a small box. You open the box to find 3 recordings. (Or 5, or 10 or pick a number...)
What recordings would you want to be in the box? And why?
It's an interesting exercise. Naturally there are no right or wrong answers; the right answers are the ones that fit your personal musical taste and preferences. But the world of music - not limiting your selection to music for a particular instrument or in a particular genre - is so vast that the selection is difficult. And the music that you choose needs to have the qualities...
Are you a free spirit?
Does the thought of practice schedules, journals and regimens make you dig in your heels?
You understand that discipline promotes growth. You want to grow musically and to play well. You are not a slacker. You just want to do it on your own terms, in your own way.
Impossible to reconcile the two? Of course not.
You, the free spirit, take pleasure in experiential and experimental learning. You enjoy trying new things. Life is like a big buffet, where you can sample everything, take more of what you like and pass by what doesn’t look tasty.
This is a legitimate path to learning, and it has the benefit of feeling natural, unrestricted and personal. It keeps you in your sweet spot.
Until you suddenly feel that you’ve been dabbling in the shallow end of the pool for too long and although swimming in the deep water looks like fun, you’re not sure how to try it.
Because you’re a free spirit (and aren’t we all occasionally),...
Do you need a bridge to take you from practice to performance?
Do you feel like you're missing something, because no matter how hard you practice your piece doesn't seem to be "performance-ready"?
You may be right.
We musicians have the idea that if we just keep practicing, we will end up being able to play our music the way we want to, the way we hear it in our heads. So when it doesn't work that way, we think there is something wrong with us. We double down and work harder.
That's when those slogans like "practice makes perfect," and even worse - "perfect practice makes perfect" make us feel defeated instead of energized.
So what are we missing? What's the secret to taking a piece from the practice room to the concert hall, or even just to be able to play it well at home?
The bridge across the gap is practicing for continuity.
Continuity is what we need to create a flowing, musical, convincing performance. And it is almost never part of our practice. We practice...
In this video, you will discover:
Below is the transcript of the video and the links to the PDF mentioned.
Here it is Memorial Day, the unofficial-official start of summer, and it's the time that I am setting my harp goals for the summer. Are you doing the same?
I think summer is the perfect time to set a goal. First of all it's that 3-month, 90-day window that is the ideal amount of time for setting a goal working through it, achieving it and then going on to the next thing.
Second of all, in the summer, even with all the vacation time or away time whatever else might happen, I have the extra energy to really focus on one thing. I focus on whatever the one thing is that's...
What is your musical legacy?
Maybe you don’t think you have, or will have, a musical legacy. You’re not a famous performer, or a teacher of prodigies. Maybe you don’t think you even play especially well. What kind of musical legacy could you leave?
I attended a meeting of my local chapter of the American Harp Society this weekend. It was our first meeting since the death of one of our long-time members. She taught almost all of the other chapter members and was essentially synonymous with the harp in her community. She died at age 95, having played the harp for 88 of those years.
We dedicated a portion of our meeting to sharing our favorite reminiscences and anecdotes. One thing became clear – this well-loved harpist left a legacy. She left her musical imprint on the generations of harpists that she taught and the countless listeners who attended her performances. That’s a legacy any of us would be proud to leave.
But what makes a musical legacy?...
"Program notes? You want me to talk?!"
The time will come when you will be asked to “say something” about music that you are about to play.
I can’t remember the first time I was asked to speak about my music, but I do remember my mother’s urging me to “tell them what you’re going to play.” And I remember my first experiences as a twelve year-old, performing for ladies’ luncheons and delivering my “harp talk.” Thank goodness there was no YouTube back then.
Fortunately, experience is a wonderful teacher, and I learned over the years how to speak confidently to an audience. Even more importantly, I learned the one secret to making verbal program notes painless for me and interesting for an audience.
The secret is this: your program notes are not designed to show how much you know or how brilliant you are. The purpose of your words is to introduce the audience to your piece, just as you would introduce two people to each...
A "Practice Detour?" Let me explain...
Have you ever been driving on a familiar route only to be confronted with a “Road Closed: Detour” sign? The last time that happened to me I found myself taking numerous turns through a bewildering maze of rural roads with no sign posts. I had decided to trust that the car in front of me knew how to navigate the detour and that eventually I would emerge at a place I recognized. I kept driving, feeling a little anxious, a little hopeful, determined to forge ahead into parts unknown and uncertain if I would be able to reach my intended destination.
Oddly enough, although I didn’t recognize the roads, I recognized the feelings. That’s exactly what a Practice Detour feels like.
What’s a Practice Detour? It’s that moment when you realize that your practice doesn’t seem to be moving you forward. So you double down, practicing longer with more determined focus. You dust off your practice journal, plan a...