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.
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.
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...
Is your tension preventing you from playing the way you want? Relax!
Playing music isn’t supposed to be so hard. Of course, practicing is hard work, but there should come a time when you can just relax and play, right?
Precisely because practice is such hard work, especially if you do it right, it is essential that you learn to play with relaxation instead of tension. Tension makes every aspect of music making harder. In fact, I’ll go further…
…when you’re holding tension as you play, you are letting the enemy win.
“True Grit” was a great movie, but gritting your teeth isn’t the right way to play music. You can’t just power your way through a difficult passage or fast piece. Putting more muscle into your music will create more fatigue, and can lead to stiffness and weakness as the lactic acid builds up in whatever muscles you have clenched. Those arpeggios that you worked...
Autopilot has a comfortable sound to it. The computer can take over, make the tough decisions, free us up to catch up on our reading or our sleep.
I love thinking about getting my first driverless car for similar reasons. Will I be able to take a nap or work on my computer while my car takes me safely where I want to go?
Most of us run parts of our lives on autopilot. There are routine tasks that we do so often that we don't need to use our conscious brain to guide us through them. This is an efficient use of our energy. It requires much more physical energy to devote attention and focus to a task, which is why our body switches so easily into "autopilot" mode. It conserves our energy by using our subconscious mind whenever possible.
If we allow ourselves to use our autopilot when we make music, either in performance or in practice, we run the risk of not making music well at all. In fact, we are actually sabotaging our ability to learn music throroughly, to play confidently...
Our fabulous fingers! We harpists depend on them for every note. We trust them to be dependable and obedient.
But those phenomenal phalanges can sometimes turn into digit divas.
Here are some common (and very sneaky!) finger foibles you should watch out for. Which ones are your fingers’ favorites?
Your right hand has likely discovered a special way to hide. While you’re paying attention to every aspect of your left hand’s technique, your right hand may be getting sloppy. It knows that the strings act like a wall keeping your right hand out of sight and out of mind. And since our right hand technique is usually a little stronger than our left hand technique, we are apt to let our right hand be responsible for itself.
All your right hand needs is a little attention from time to time, a quick check to make sure that your fingers, hand, wrist and arm are in the correct position and working properly. Tear down that...
When you think of YouTube do you instinctively brace yourself for another cute kitten video or an unfortunate epic fail?
YouTube is not just for viral videos. It's a powerful tool. In fact, YouTube is the world's largest search engine. Tat's right - it's bigger than Bing or Yahoo or even Google which owns it. There are 5 billion video views each day on YouTube and every day people all over the world are uploading a total of 300 hours of videos each minute. And, no, they aren't all about the latest celebrity scandal.
When it comes to music, YouTube gives you access to an astounding amount of variety and information. And if you are (or want to become) a savvy YouTube video consumer, you know some of the breakthrough ways that this 21st century resource can help you become a better musician, even if your favorite music was written hundreds of years ago.
1. Discover new repertoire and hear it played. Whether you're doing a quick search for something specific or just clicking...
What would musical success look like for you this year?
I’m guessing that like the rest of us you have made some New Year’s resolutions, and that being a musician, some of those resolutions are about your musical growth. Whether it’s about doing more practice or learning a special piece or taking more frequent lessons, there is always a way we want to improve and grow musically.
But over the last few years, I have finally given up making resolutions, not because I don’t believe in setting goals, but because I find that the way in which we make resolutions leads more often to failure and disappointment than to success.
I am, however, a strong advocate of goal setting, although I have gained a new perspective on that as well. I am convinced that dream goals are important. Dream goals are those big pie-in-the-sky goals that make us smile when we think of them. But dream goals can also feel daunting just because they may seem too unrealistic.
For a musician,...
What is it about harps and the Christmas holidays?
It’s certainly a busy time for harpists. (Okay – that’s a huge understatement. This can be an insane time of year for a harpist.) Harpists of all ages and abilities are in high demand. Christmas and harps just seem to go together.
Carolers sing of “angels bending near the earth to touch their harps of gold.” And many a candle-lit “Silent Night” will have a gentle harp accompaniment.
Why should harp music be the soundtrack of choice for Christmas? I think the reasons are as clear as the midnight Christmas sky.
The ringing of the harp strings sparkles like the stars.
The harp’s rich resonance is the warmth of candlelight.
The sweetness of the harp is the perfect background for a gentle lullaby.
The simplicity of the instrument itself recalls the reason for the season.
As you “strike the harp and join the chorus” this Christmas, I wish for you all the wonder, peace and joy...
Do you just practice your music, or is your practice musical as well? Does your practice feel like just a jumble of notes?
I couldn’t begin to estimate the number of times I have told a student, “Good. Now play it musically.”
In my mind, my words are reminding the student that musical expression needs to be a constant consideration, a regular part of learning music.
But sometimes a student will ask,” Am I ready to do the dynamics now?” That’s when I realize that what I thought I was telling my student wasn’t what she heard.
I strongly believe that musical expression isn’t something to be added at the end of the learning process the way we finish a cake with icing. The musical feeling of a piece is part of its very fabric, inseparable from the notes and rhythm and everything else.
Many music students feel that they can’t spare any thought for dynamics or other expressive details in the early stages of learning a piece of music....