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Making Music Practice Musical Practice

musicianship practicing Dec 11, 2016

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....

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Defeating the Holiday Music Madness

The holiday music season is in high gear!

Black Friday is not only the beginning of the holiday shopping season; it’s the start of the holiday music season. There are church programs, student recitals, parties, concerts, music gatherings of all kinds. The holidays are a special time and what makes that festive gathering extra special? Live music.

And what makes live music? It’s not a what; it’s a who. It’s you.

And now your music stand has overflowed into piles of music on the floor, all of which has to be practiced and performed in the space of a few weeks.

But this is not the time to panic. It’s time to plan and strategize so that you can practice, play and still enjoy the holidays. Yes, it is possible.

Read on for my tips to help you prepare to play well this month without stressing out or having to forgo holiday festivities.

  1. First, take care of yourself. Eat well. Sleep enough. Stick to your usual exercise routine. Read or meditate. You are the...
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Skype – Right or Wrong for Music Lessons?

music miscellany Nov 20, 2016

Skype is truly a marvel for our 21st century global community. It brings strangers closer together and keeps families connected. And it has become part of the way that today’s musicians study and learn.

But does that mean it is always the right tool for music study? When and how does it help and when does it just get in the way?

Like anyone else, I have my own ideas on the subject; your experience may vary. So I offer my thoughts below, not as hard and fast rules, but my own ideas shaped by my experience.

I will start with the one “golden rule” I apply to Skype or any other online learning tool: if the technology is frustrating then the learning is compromised. A slow internet connection or outdated equipment (which you might have bought last month!) can sabotage the learning experience beyond repair. Granting that Skype has a fairly low technical difficulty level, it can still be beyond the expertise of some students. Sometimes it just takes a lesson or two to...

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Get Some New Ears! Why You're Listening Wrong

practicing Nov 13, 2016

Get new ears? You might need them.

Have you ever been surprised by a comment from someone else about your playing?

Maybe it was an audience member who paid you a lovely compliment, making you wonder just what performance they were listening to.

Maybe it was your teacher who pointed out something you completely missed in your practice.

Did you ever wonder about why they were able to hear that when you couldn’t? Like most of us, you may have been listening incorrectly, or as I like to say, listening with the wrong set of ears.

It’s easy to become tone deaf to our own playing. We hear ourselves all the time, over all the highs and lows of every practice session. Even when we listen to a recording of our playing, we filter what we hear through that same critical web of what we should or could have done better.

What we need is a new set of ears, or actually, two new sets.

First, we must replace our everyday practice ears. They become dulled from over-exposure. That’s...

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Holiday Music - Without the Stress!

performing Nov 06, 2016

Ready to stress out?

It’s that time of year when our thoughts turn to…MUST GET READY FOR THE HOLIDAYS!! It feels like we are holding our breath, waiting on the starting block for the race to Christmas to begin.

Home furnishings and decoration sales soar as people get their homes ready for the holidays. And musicians slip into high gear too, preparing for parties, church services, holiday recitals and concerts.

Even if you only play music “for fun,” this can be a stressful time of year as you find yourself promising to play for your women’s club or at midnight mass.

And it is even more difficult than usual to find practice time as your own holiday preparations and parties take over your schedule.

But much of the musical stress of the season can be avoided with proper planning. The three key factors in maintaining your cool and actually enjoying the holidays are practicing with extra efficiency, focus and an organized plan. And that’s where I...

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Sharpen Your Focus - 3 Quick Tips

practicing Oct 30, 2016


The word always reminds of that amazing moment in the eye doctor’s office when he adjusts the machine in front of my eyes and everything comes into focus. I’m extremely near-sighted, so the change from my unaided eyes to the corrective lenses is startling and almost profound. The world is transformed from an impressionistic blur into well-defined reality.

I’ve had similar moments of clarity in lessons. Perhaps you have too, maybe in lessons, workshops, masterclasses or concerts, those moments when you are sure that you really get it. You can see the path before you and you step on to it.

Then you get home. You start to practice with all the momentum from your lesson, but gradually the edges of the path seem to blur again. You can feel the fog descending, and you try to practice through it, but you are increasingly uncertain that you are doing the right things the right way.

Although focus can arrive in a single lightbulb moment, focus is truly more of an...

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Is it the Destination or the Journey?

music miscellany Oct 23, 2016

“What stop please?”

When I was growing up in Philadelphia, I used to love to ride the public transit. I was too young to drive, and I needed to go from the suburbs into the city each week for my harp lesson. Each way my trip required one bus, one elevated train and one underground trolley, plus a nice six block walk. I felt so grown-up and free being able to negotiate the transit system by myself. And I loved being able to confidently tell the bus driver which stop was mine.

Because while the journey was fun and exciting, it was really all about the destination. I was going to my harp lesson, the most important part of every week. Getting off at the right stop was critical.

I was in a gift shop last week and a little framed saying caught my eye. The framed quotation was one of Ralph Waldo Emerson’s: “Life is a journey, not a destination.”

And as I found myself acknowledging the truth of his words, I was reminded of how, in our endeavors, the journey is...

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Transitions: Working in the Spaces

musicianship Oct 16, 2016



Transitions make the difference.

In life, we admire those who appear to glide easily from one phase of life to the next.

In music, we applaud artists whose seamless performances create a musical momentum that carries us along its path.

How we handle the transitions we face is the difference between success and stress, flying through the notes or flubbing them.

Whether we are trying to smooth out a transition in our music or figure out what comes next for us in life, the best practices for success are remarkably similar.

Consider the types of musical transitions we musicians struggle with daily. Perhaps one of the first transitions we encounter is the transition from the end of one line of music to the beginning of the next. Once we have been playing for even a short while, we no longer have difficulty with this, but it is a big hurdle for many beginning musicians.

Other types of transitions are tempo changes, key changes, and meter changes. There are transitions...

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How to Practice Etudes without Losing Your Sanity

technique Oct 09, 2016

Does practicing your études drive you crazy?

Maybe you feel like it’s a waste of your valuable or limited practice time. Maybe you don’t see the point. Or maybe you’d just rather be playing something else.

I remember dreading the études I was assigned to practice on the piano and the harp. I didn’t really understand why I needed them. It seemed more like a punishment than music.

When I began teaching, I understood études in a completely different way, and I have to say that I value them not just for my students, but for myself too.

So why do I think études are so helpful?

Études test our technique in three ways: technical facility, usually one particular aspect of technique; speed; and stamina. They provide a streamlined musical way to develop all these areas without the distraction of learning the varied and changing note patterns in more complex music.

I think they are our musical “stepping stone,” a link...

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