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Power Hour: the Practice of Champions

practicing Apr 17, 2017

What if you could power up your music study by adding one hour (or even one half hour) to your practice each week?

This one hour would help you focus your work, eliminate unnecessary repetition, multiply your practice effectiveness and streamline your path to progress. Plus your next lesson will be a good one.

Sounds like a recipe for harp happiness, doesn’t it?

With results like that, would you consider that one hour to be a worthwhile investment of your time and energy? Ok then, read on…

Do you remember the Wheaties cereal slogan, "Breakfast of Champions?"  It's a reminder that breakfast is the most important meal of the day.

Breakfast jumpstarts your metabolism. It provides the fuel that encourages your body to expend energy and use more calories. This is what makes breakfast especially important if you want to lose weight.

A good breakfast leads you to eat better overall. You are less likely to crave unhealthy snacks and more likely to eat foods with more...

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Where Perfection Meets Possible

musicianship Apr 10, 2017

Perfectionism has a bad reputation.

We have heard about all the evils of perfectionism – the frustration, the self-doubt, the endless critiquing.

But is perfectionism the same thing as trying to get your piece correct, trying to make it right and without mistakes?

And if we allow that we can’t achieve perfection, what’s the point in trying? Do we stop practicing at some point and say, “Never mind, it’s good enough?”

More to the point, if even the masters of our instrument don’t feel that they deliver perfect performances, where does that leave the rest of us?

I believe that there is a balancing point, a way to keep that impossibly high standard before us without sacrificing our sanity. I think that we need to work at a place I’m calling the intersection of The Perfect and The Possible.

Imagine yourself standing in a circle. This circle is your musical progress at this point in time. You have some pieces you can play, but you have more...

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3 Mind Blowing Ways to Practice Etudes

practicing Apr 02, 2017

Mind blowing? Maybe not exactly that, but these ways to practice your etudes will make your practice time much more effective and even more fun. In the video I mention the Etude a Day Challenge, If you want to check it out, you can find it at HarpHappiness.com.

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Practice: A New Definition

practicing Mar 27, 2017

Let me give you the scenario. I was 13 or 14 years old and my friend was on the phone wanting me to go to the movies with her. I was completely resentful of the time I was going to have to spend practicing instead of being able to go to the movies. You might have imagined that I always loved practicing, but my parents usually had to threaten me, even in my early teen years, in order to get me to practice. As far as I was concerned, practice equaled punishment.

Fast forward just a few years and I had figured out where the fun is in practicing. Even though I would occasionally be disappointed at missing time with my friends, I understood the big payoff in practicing. Of course, more of my friends were musicians, too, and had their own practice to do.

But the big attitude change for me happened when I took a different perspective on practice. I redefined what it meant as a concept, for my harp playing and for me personally.

One Definition of Practice

One common definition of...

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7 Surprising Benefits of Memorization

musicianship Mar 20, 2017

Do you memorize your music? You should.

Let me be clear. I don’t believe it’s necessary, or even desirable, to memorize every piece you learn or to play all your repertoire from memory. But I do think it’s a good idea to practice your memorization skills. And the best way to do that is…to memorize.

I have written before that memorization is less about remembering than it is about learning. That old phrase about knowing something “by heart” speaks to the essence of memorization done the right way.  When you have truly memorized your music, you have learned it so well that it has deep roots inside you.  Your knowledge of the music is not superficial, accidental or merely “in your fingers.” It is not just muscle memory. It is more than intellectual understanding. It is visceral.

Many students need to be convinced to try memorizing their music. Those who sightread easily may feel that taking the time to memorize slows down their...

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New Piece? Try This Starter System!

practicing Mar 13, 2017

A new piece! There is nothing quite as exciting as that promising and as yet unsullied page.

I have been asked several times lately, “What’s the best way to start a new piece?” And I have given some evasive answers, saying that it depends on the piece and the player. While that is certainly true, I do have some “best practices” (and one you should avoid!) that will help you get off to a good start with any new piece.

Why not just dive right in and tackle those notes?

Because when you use a more systematic approach, you learn much more than the notes. You learn by using the musical skill, experience and knowledge you have already developed in a way that will help you see the big picture and practice with the end result already in your ear. You will be learning the music, not just pedals or levers and fingering.

And there are more benefits including fewer “practiced-in” errors, faster hands together learning, greater focus and improved...

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Your Creativity Engine – Is It on Idle?

musicianship Mar 06, 2017

Creativity is not something we generally associate with music practice.  Our practice is more often about repetition and correction than about exploration and discovery.

Many music students don’t think of themselves as being “creative” in their music. They follow instructions, striving to become more proficient, to improve and to play well.  Creativity is something reserved for people who compose and improvise, not for those who merely practice.

But you don't have to compose to be musically creative. Each of us creates the music we play in a very real way, giving the notes on the page a voice, specifically our voice, infusing it with our personality. I believe it is essential to our musical satisfaction to recognize the creative element in our music-making and to nurture it daily.

You don’t think you can do this? It’s easier than you think.

Consider the engine of a car. It is the very heart of the car, the reason that the car can go wherever...

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Posture Perfect – It’s Not Just Sitting Straight

Good posture is the first thing we musicians learn. You may have started playing music so long ago that you have forgotten your very first music lessons, or possibly you remember your teacher’s first words to you: “Now sit up straight…”

The very first technical element in playing any instrument or in singing is good posture. And although there are specific technical requirements for the various instruments, the basic tenets of posture are identical to the ones our mothers tried to teach us, beginning with that first commandment of good posture – sit or stand up straight.

As we become more proficient and able musicians, we often forget to check ourselves on these basic principles. So let’s do a quick review of the checkpoints of posture for musicians.

Making music is a whole body exercise, so your technique isn’t just in your fingers; it’s in your core muscles as well. When you do a posture check (which I recommend you do regularly),...

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Eliminate the Negative - 3 Bad Habits to Stop Now

 

The Andrews Sisters

"Accentuate the Positive, Eliminate the Negative..."

These motivational words are the opening lyrics of a 1945 song by Harold Arlen and Johnny Mercer The song won the Academy Award that year and was a huge hit for Bing Crosby and the Andrews Sisters.

Negative thinking is one of the hidden dangers in music practice. It can masquerade as perfectionism, striving to be your best, trying to make everything correct, even as being "objective" about your playing. And it is probably impossible to banish it entirely; after all, music is a demanding pursuit at any level.

But I feel it is important to recognize negative thinking and negative actions for what they are - self-sabotage. If we can acknowledge the ways in which we actively work against our own success, then we enable ourselves to defeat the negative and pursue a more positive course.  I'd like to suggest positive antidotes to three common (and sneaky!) negative habits.

Negative Habit 1: "I'll...
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Wrong Notes Don’t Fix Themselves: 4 Steps to Getting Them Right

practicing Feb 06, 2017

Wrong notes! You made another mistake!

What do you do when you make mistakes as you practice? Do you find the same errors happening over and over again, even after you thought you corrected them?

What most of us do when we have made a mistake is to go back to the spot and play it many times, trying to make it not only correct, but also reliable and secure.

That’s a good start, but it is actually more like applying a bandaid to the problem and not really finding a solution. I suggest a four step process to my students (and it’s the one I use too!) to make those wrong notes right.

Step 1: Find the mistake.

My students become used to this question in their lessons when they make a mistake: what exactly was wrong?

I have found that much of the time when we realize we have played something wrong, our first response is to go back and do it over. This is good practice, but it skips an absolutely essential step. We must know what exactly was wrong.

Was it a wrong note or an...

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