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Want a Great Lesson? 3 Must-Know Tips!

practicing Sep 11, 2016

Did you have a great lesson this week?

I recently wrote an article for Harp Column magazine titled “Gold Star Student.” In it, I describe numerous ways that students can get the most from their harp lessons.

Today I’d like to look at lessons from a different angle with three tips that will help make each lesson a great one, and they apply whether you are the student or the teacher.

But first, what exactly is a “great” lesson? I think it is characterized by a spirit of collaboration, teacher and student joining efforts toward a common goal, along with guidance, growth and mutual respect. Please note that I do not measure the success of a lesson by the number of mistakes. A lesson is measured in effort, not errors.

A lesson is measured in effort, not errors. ~ Anne Sullivan

And a great lesson requires the efforts of two people: student and teacher. That is the reason I offer the tips below for both participants in the lesson.

Tip #1
Preparation and...
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Making Music: a Labor of Love

music miscellany Sep 04, 2016

Hard labor. Labor pains. Manual labor. Labor of love?

A “labor of love” sounds like an oxymoron, two seemingly opposite words. In terms of our musical studies, we might define it as the hard work we do in pursuit of excellence or in the service of our passion for music.  But this definition makes one critical assumption: that we will realize results that will justify our commitment to the labor, so that we can celebrate our achievement.

But how often do we remember to take the time to savor that achievement? Or do we more frequently stay focused on the hard work – the practice, the lessons, the harp-schlepping?

When I started working as a young professional harpist, I was shocked to hear so many veteran musicians constantly grumbling about their work. They would complain if the music was too difficult or too easy, if the conductor was too demanding or too laid-back, if there was too much work or not enough. For a novice fresh out of music school, this attitude...

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In a Practice Rut? 7 Ways to Make Your Practice More Creative

practicing Aug 28, 2016

Are you in a practice rut, feeling a little bored, unproductive or unchallenged?

We all get into a rut occasionally. Usually it’s not from lack of discipline. Actually, often the diligent workers are the first ones to feel stuck in the practice mill.

Sometimes our practice can feel directionless or purposeless, like we are practicing in circles. Sometimes we simply don’t know what to do next. Other times we are just plain bored.

Music practice is hard work, and unless you have a deadline like a performance in the near future, it can be hard to maintain your focus and momentum. I understand this all too well, being by nature a reluctant practicer.

So over my years of practicing, performing and teaching, I have developed a number of strategies to make practice more creative and interesting. The ones I share with you in this post are ones that have been particular favorites because of their high “engagement factor.” They bring the “play” back into...

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Quick Technique Checkup

technique Aug 14, 2016

What harpist couldn’t use a checkup for their technique?

Our technique is crucial. It’s how we do what we do. No matter how well we read notes, how quickly we memorize or how deeply we connect to the music, if our fingers stumble over the strings, no one will want to listen.

The world is complicated, but working on your technique doesn't have to be. So put your weighty exercise and etudes books back on the shelf for now and try this quick and easy technique refresher.

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Create Your Perfect Practice Routine

practicing Aug 07, 2016


They say that perfect practice makes perfect. But are we all looking for “perfect?”

For most of us, we are simply aiming for “better.”  It would just be nice to know that we are working on the right things in the right way.

We are a culture obsessed with productivity - getting more done, developing systems, employing strategies, hacking our schedules. But music practice is less of a science and more like our art, requiring creativity, imagination and ingenuity.  We need to manage the learning process without sacrificing our connection to the music itself.

A perfect practice routine is like eating healthy foods which nourish us, helping us grow and develop in every way. The best practice routines nurture three distinct entities within each of us: the technician, the musician and the creative spirit.

Nurturing the Technician

The technician is the part of us responsible for doing the work. It’s about more than technique, though....

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The Season for P-L-A-Y

music miscellany Jul 31, 2016

To everything there is a season…

There’s an old saying, “Make hay while the sun shines.” Farmers know they must reap the hay in dry weather. If it is gathered when it is wet, it rots before it can be used.

The seasons of the calendar and of our lives flow so seamlessly that it is easy to miss the moments of transition.  Suddenly it seems the leaves are gone from the trees and we can’t remember if we really looked at the changing colors of autumn.

Today I am writing while sitting outdoors basking the glorious high summer in the Pennsylvania mountains. Right now the days are long and warm, and our forest is full of wildlife and rich foliage. But in only a few weeks, the pace of life will change again as the weather cools and teaching and concerts resume. This last full month of summer is my season to “make hay,” to use to the fullest before the hectic whirl begins.

Are you also looking to make use of these weeks, perhaps to make some...

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Why Hands Together Doesn’t Work

practicing technique Jul 24, 2016

Playing hands together instead of hands separately is always a challenge. But why should it be so much more difficult? And what are the best strategies to use to make it work?

Picture the best multi-tasker you know.

This is the person who never says “no” to a project or a request, appearing to keep all the balls miraculously in the air, juggling phone calls, emails, family obligations and committee meetings with magical dexterity. He or she makes fund-raising calls while riding the exercise bike at the gym and learns Chinese while driving the car pool.

Of course, we have learned that true multi-tasking is a myth.  We don’t do those tasks at the same time; we actually switch between them, sometimes at a freakishly fast tempo. According to Guy Winch, Ph.D, the author of Emotional First Aid, our brains only have so much attention and focus that can be assigned at one time.

And what is true for multi-tasking is similarly true for hands together playing. (Note: I...

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Taking a Vacation from Practice

When you took your last vacation did you take your instrument with you?

I heard an alarming statistic the other day. According to recent research, about 41% of U.S. workers don’t use all their vacation time, and some 56% of Americans haven’t taken a vacation in the last 12 months. In other words, many of us are just too busy to take the vacation we have earned. And that doesn’t even include those of us who are self-employed and have to create our own vacation time, before we can decide not to use it.

More importantly, employers have discovered that employees who don’t use their vacation time can experience lower overall productivity, increased health concerns and general dissatisfaction.

We musicians have had it drilled into us from our first days of music lessons: daily practice is essential. It ranks right next to brushing your teeth. We simply don’t skip a day.

With that in mind, how can we justify taking a vacation without our instrument? Can we...

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Play Better Octaves Today!

technique Jul 10, 2016

Octaves – the interval that we harpists play perhaps more than any other. From a musical perspective, octaves add richness and depth to the music we play. But from a technical perspective, they can be surprisingly challenging to play well.

We all know the basics. Octaves are most often played with thumb and fourth finger. But there’s much more to a well-played octave than that. In fact, I work with my students on specific considerations to help them play octaves accurately and with a beautiful sound.

In the video below, I demonstrate these tips, but I have also outlined them here for your convenience. (If you can't see the video here, you can watch it on YouTube.)

To play octaves well, your fingers must be relaxed and comfortable, so they can play with an equal sound. The key to that comfort is to have your hand centered between the notes of the octave. Often, harpists will pull their hands back toward their thumb, making their fourth fingers stretch for that bottom...

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Freedom and the Pursuit of Music

music miscellany Jul 03, 2016

Today, as we in the United States celebrate the founding of our country, we will remind ourselves of the freedom we enjoy, freedom that is the very core of our national heritage and our American attitude. We recall the famous words from our Declaration of Independence:



We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

We musicians, no matter where our home, should take those words to heart. After all, what is the pursuit of music, if not the pursuit of happiness?

We choose to pursue music (or more often, music chooses us) because of the way it makes us feel: our feet move, our eyes sparkle, our hearts sing. Without that intense, visceral connection to music, the hard work involved in practice and performance could easily overwhelm us.

Undeniably, the pursuit of music is difficult, requiring long hours,...

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