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Practicing Harp Happiness

#044: Five Fingering Rules You Need to Break

Ask a group of harpists what the hardest part of playing the harp is and you’ll get a lot of different answers: the technique, playing hands together, reading the notes, playing chords, putting on a new string, or maybe even moving the harp. Every harpist has his or her own bugaboo, a particular challenge in their playing. 

But we all agree that one of the trickiest parts of playing the harp is the fingering. 

From the first day we started the harp it was impressed on us that we need to follow the printed fingering. Placing our fingers accurately and in the right order - all at once or one at a time - helps us battle gravity and stay physically connected to the strings. I like to think of us as musical acrobats - only without the death-defying aspect. So much of what our instrument demands of our technique requires us to be airborne. We have to lift our hands to prolong a sound, to relax our hand, to move from one octave to another. And unlike pianists, we are...

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#043: Three Irish Composers You Should Know (But Probably Don’t)

music and meaning Mar 14, 2022

It’s almost St. Patrick’s Day, a day which is important to many of us, not just because we’re Irish (my last name is Sullivan, after all)  or maybe just Irish for a day. As harpists many of us raise a glass on St. Patrick’s Day to celebrate the amazing legacy of the Irish harpers and to the modern day harpers who continue this rich tradition.

On today’s show we will pay tribute to another facet of Irish music with a tradition just as rich and as beautiful. I will share music by three influential Irish composers, not composers of traditional music but composers more linked to classical music: one who found his fame and fortune in the court of Queen Elizabeth the I of England, one who invented a musical form that became a staple of classical music composers, and one who is considered responsible for the resurgence in the 1960’s of the popularity of Irish traditional music. Three very different composers, all linked by a common heritage, a heritage I am proud to share. 


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#042: Use Your Practice Time Wisely - Even If You Can Never Stick To a Plan

Sometimes planning is counterproductive. 

I know this sounds strange coming from me because I am a huge advocate of having a plan and working the plan when it comes to your practice. That’s truly the secret of being able to play the music you want and creating harp happiness over the long haul.  There’s power in a well-conceived and consistently executed plan, particularly when it comes to your practice.

But planning doesn’t come naturally for everyone. The good news is that it isn’t the only path to progress. 

In my house, my husband is the true planner. For example, while I was working on this podcast, he was browsing the web, planning out activities to schedule for a trip we have coming up. I like to do my research on these things too, but he likes to have everything planned out day by day as soon as possible. I prefer to get where we’re going and get the feel of the place before I make my decisions. I want to get my bearings, to sort...

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#041: Your Questions Answered: Questions From The Podcast Email

Today’s show is dedicated to you, the podcast listener. I have gathered some of the most interesting questions from our podcast inbox and I will be answering them in this episode. 

After all, advice is only good if it’s the advice you need when you need it. Obviously, a podcast isn’t the same as individual instruction, or having your harp teacher on speed dial, but it’s important to me to talk about the topics that matter to you, those things that will make a difference in your harp playing. That’s one of the reasons I like to give you an action step or two with each podcast. Taking action, doing something rather than just talking about it, is how progress happens. It’s how we grow. Just think; if we only talked about practicing and never actually did it, our harp playing would never improve. In fact, it would start to wither and die. 

If being a harpist - or harper if that’s more “you” - is part of who you are, then...

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#040: Moving Up: How to Find the Next Rung of the Ladder

Today you are going to get a promotion. Or rather, today I am going to give you a promotion. Or even better, today you are going to give yourself a promotion.

A promotion is exciting. It may come with a new title, or a certificate or a diploma. It likely entails new responsibilities and new challenges as well as new and as yet unimagined opportunities. It signifies a higher level of competence and the confidence that others, at least, have in your achievements to date and in your potential. And that gold star, that new job title, that salary raise is proof of your accomplishment.

But where is the proof of your harp accomplishment? How do you know that you’re making progress, or keeping pace with whatever goals or timelines you have set for yourself? Where’s the guidebook that says, “You are here,” and shows you how to get to “there?” 

Yes, we do have some ways to gauge our progress. Music exam systems, like the ABRSM or RCM exams, provide an...

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#039: Love Your Chords! 3 Ways To Make Them Lush and Lovely

You and your harp are the perfect Valentine’s love story. You met your harp, fell in love and the rest is history. When I talk about harp happiness here on the podcast and elsewhere, I’m talking about that love connection you have with your harp - that magical feeling that you began with and about continuing that feeling, deepening it, nourishing it, helping it flourish. 

 Of course, sometimes harp happiness has its bad days, those days when the joy just isn’t there. Those moments of frustration are the bumpy part of a harpist’s journey, and today’s podcast is about one of the major bumps in the road for all of us harpists: playing chords. We want our chords to sound lush and lovely but sometimes they just come out like a disorganized cluster of random notes. 

There are so many ingredients to playing a lovely-sounding chord.You must place multiple fingers quickly and accurately on the strings and then play them either at exactly the same...

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#038: Kaleidoscope Practice: Focusing On What Matters

Imagine you found yourself stranded alone on a deserted island. It’s a beautiful place or it would be if you knew a little more about it. Are there dangerous animals or poisonous plants? How will you survive? You need food, clothing and shelter, but you have no idea how to provide them for yourself. Out of necessity, you begin carefully and slowly, learning just as slowly by sometimes painful trial and error. 

Sometimes harp practice can feel like that deserted island. You tune the harp and sit down ready to work. But you don’t have a clear direction. You don’t know if you’re doing the right things the right way. And there’s no one by your side to give you advice.  You have plenty of notes from your last lesson, but essentially your teacher told you what to work on or accomplish, not so much actually how to do it. Are you wasting your practice time?

On the other hand, you’ve probably experienced the feeling after a lesson where your...

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#037: Playing Without Fear: My No-Sweat Performance System

Let’s face facts: performing is scary. 

Even though you’ve practiced that piece a million times and a million different ways and you feel you know it backwards, forwards and inside out, there are so many variables in a performance situation that it’s no wonder we’re scared. 

Yes, there are ways to “bulletproof” your music and yourself. But that’s not what today’s show is about. Today we are putting the focus on the fear itself. That feeling of fear is real, even though we can tell ourselves there isn’t anything to be actually afraid of. We are going to call out the fear we feel, bring it into the light, give it a name and learn how to get past it.

We’re not talking about perfection here. We’re talking about management: of your fear, your expectations, your adrenalin, your focus. And while I can’t guarantee that you won’t have any fear, I can promise you that the strategies we will talk about...

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#036: Sight Reading Should Be Easy: 4 Simple Strategies

Does sight reading scare you? Do you wish you could instantly play any new piece you want to learn, even just enough to get the idea of how it sounds?

Being able to read music fluently and learn it quickly is a “someday” skill for many harpists. Fortunately, you can improve your sight reading with a few essential skills that you are probably already practicing. The dramatic and nearly instant results will amaze you!

Links to things I think you might be interested in that were mentioned in the podcast episode:

Get involved in the show! Send your questions for future podcast episodes to me at [email protected] 

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#035: The Genetics of Musical Genre: Do You Have to Choose?

music and meaning Jan 17, 2022

If all music uses the same basic elements, why do musical styles sound so different? And why do some connect with us so powerfully and others leave us cold?

Some harpists love to experiment with diverse musical styles.Others prefer to stick with what they love. Today’s episode explores elements of musical style. Discover why your favorite music touches you, and learn how to connect with styles new to you. Musical adventures await!

Links to things I think you might be interested in that were mentioned in the podcast episode: 

Get involved in the show! Send your questions for future podcast episodes to me at [email protected]

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