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Forget the Fingering!

practicing Aug 03, 2015

What?! Forget the fingering?!

 We harpists need our fingering so that we can play smoothly and musically, and so our practice will be efficient. Those fingering marks are essential for us, right? Not really, or at least, not as much as you think.

Consider this paint by number illustration. Those numbers in the picture show us which color to put where. When we follow the numbers, we can see the picture. We usually think of fingering the same way: when we follow the fingering, we can play the music. What’s wrong with that?

Simply that following the fingering instead of the music will give us the same result as painting by number. We get the basic idea, but no one will call it great art.

I will agree that fingering is important, and I usually ask my students to follow fingering that is printed in their music. But I also insist that they learn to play without marking in fingering. And here’s why…

First, fingering can become a reading “crutch.” Every...

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Is There Life After Music School? Part 2

musicianship practicing Jul 27, 2015

In the last post, I presented the first part of my seven step checklist for those of you who are “Waiting to Hit It Big.” That doesn’t necessarily mean you’re waiting to be discovered by Hollywood music producers. This is for any musician who is someplace between the graduation parties and a paycheck. You may be ready to start your music career, whatever that looks like for you, but the world may not have noticed you yet, and you’re not sure how to get started.

The “Waiting to Hit It Big” checklist won’t tell you how to find your dream job, but it will help you plan and prepare for it, and use your time wisely in the meantime. And you won’t be caught in the “woe is me, the starving musician” mind trap, like many hopeful young musicians who are struggling in pursuit of their dreams.

If you haven’t read the last post, I suggest that you start there. Those first three steps will give you direction and a way to...

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Is There Life After Music School?

musicianship performing Jul 20, 2015

Congratulations, graduate! You are now a real musician, with the degree to prove it, and you’re ready to set the world on fire!

But what will your life be like after music school? And how will you keep from ending up living in your parents’ basement?

You have plenty of talent, education and dreams, but no job in sight. Maybe you’re waiting for your big break into the music scene or that plum orchestra job. You know that there’s hard work ahead and you’re willing to do it, but you’re not quite sure where to start.

As someone who once was where you are now and has become a successful musician despite the odds, let me pass along my “Waiting to Hit It Big” Checklist. These are the survival strategies that will make it possible for you to hang in there, stay positive and eat something other than ramen noodles.

(This is the first of a two-part post. In this post I will cover my “Essential Three,” the three things you MUST put in...

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Unrealistic Expectations

It’s not the first time I’ve done this, and it probably won’t be the last, but it caught me by surprise again.

I have been slacking off lately when it comes to exercising. I’m too busy or my day is too hectic or I can’t get up early enough. And the exercise strategy I’ve been using for years just wasn’t motivating me to get up and get it done.

But getting into shape and making exercise a regular habit is one of my goals for this year, and a couple of months ago I decided to make it happen. I subscribed to an online exercise website called Daily Burn. For just $13 a month, I have access to over a dozen different exercise programs at all levels. I signed up, got out my yoga mat and was ready to go.

I was eager to get started but because I have gained some wisdom along with the inches on my waistline, I began with a beginner program. It was perfect, a great way to get back into the routine without breaking anything. So that’s when I did...

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7 Reasons You’re Not Practicing Note Reading

musicianship practicing Jul 06, 2015

Note reading is one of the basic skills that we musicians all seek to develop. It helps us learn more music faster and helps us sightread. The problem is that for many of us, we quit developing it after our first year of music lessons.

Do you remember when you first started music lessons? Your teacher gave you special books with big notes that helped you learn the names of the lines and the spaces and helped you make the fundamental four-way musical connection: the connection of the printed note on the page with the name of the note and the way you play that note and the pitch that results.

Most likely after a certain length of time, your teacher stopped having you do that kind of work as you concentrated on learning more advanced music. Both of you took your note reading for granted.

But in the very same way that you can never take your scales for granted, you should never take your note reading for granted either. Just like your scales, it takes regular work to keep your note...

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What Does It Mean to Be a Harpist?

musicianship Jun 29, 2015

What do you think it means to be a harpist?

I usually don’t ask myself that question; probably you don’t think much about it either. Mostly, I just know I am a harpist. I’ve been one nearly all my life.

But every now and then I have felt the need to examine it. What do I do as a harpist, and why? What is my purpose? What keeps drawing me back to the harp, even when things are difficult or my time is short? And what do I need to do to keep myself on the “harpist” path?

I recently attended the Summer Institute of the American Harp Society. It’s a wonderful event, held every other year, and focused on education. The AHS National Competition is held at the Institute as well. The finalists, who have been selected in a video audition process, perform the required repertoire for the judges and audience. It’s a wonderful opportunity for the young artists who compete, and the audience is treated to great performances by the next generation of...

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The Feet First Guide to Better Communication

music miscellany Jun 22, 2015

No, this post is not about how to improve your pedalling. It’s about the brisk walk I took last week that reminded me of the importance of good communication, not just in our music making, but in everything we do.

I had been asked to perform for a corporate event. It was a fairly last minute booking, and some of the important details weren’t finalized until three days before the event. That’s when it became clear we had a problem: I was no longer sure that I could get there on time.

The emails were flying and, while they were still friendly, the frustration was building on all sides. I wrote another email and fortunately I stopped to read it before I hit “send.” I realized that I needed to step back for just a moment. I decided to step outside, counting on an energetic ten minute walk to give me some perspective.

My years of teaching have shown me the importance of clear and effective communication. And I have formed some principles around communication...

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Why You Need Headroom

performing practicing Jun 15, 2015

Philadelphia, PA, USA – June 5, 2011; The front of the peloton of female professional cyclist participating in the 27th edition of the Philly Cycling Classic are seen attacking the steep ‘Manayunk Wall’ in the NorthWest section of Philadelphia, PA. (photo by Bastiaan Slabbers)

“Give it everything you’ve got!

” But how can you be sure that “everything you’ve got” will be enough?

There’s only one way: be sure that you have headroom.

In Philadelphia where I grew up, there is an annual bicycle race, a prestigious race that attracts riders from all over the world. The riders make 11 or so circuits on a course that takes them by our famous Art Museum and through Fairmount Park. The biggest obstacle in the race is the challenge of the “Manayunk Wall.

” The “Manayunk Wall” has been a feature of the race almost since its beginnings in the 1980’s. Manayunk is a fun and quirky neighborhood west of...

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To Stop or not to Stop? Practicing for Continuity

performing practicing Jun 08, 2015

I remember when I was young playing the game “Red Light, Green Light.” It’s a simple game; other people call it “Statues.” Everyone is allowed to move around however they want, until the leader calls, “Red light!” Then they have to freeze and not move until the leader calls, “Green light!” The leader tries to time the calls to confuse the others so that they move when they’re not supposed to, and are eliminated from the game. The confusion is part of the game.

But music lessons aren’t supposed to be confusing. Your teacher’s instruction is supposed to be clear and consistent, not switching back and forth. No “red light, green light.”

But last week, as I was teaching, I found myself doing exactly that. In the course of a single lesson, I admonished my student twice, once for not stopping to fix a mistake and another time because she stopped to fix a mistake.

As I heard myself tell her not to stop,...

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Kaleidoscope Practice – One Year Later

musicianship practicing Jun 01, 2015

I wish it had come like a flash of lightning. Or maybe an earth tremor or even a giant light bulb. But really, there was no one moment when I realized what was wrong with the way I was practicing. Just all of a sudden, I knew the real point of practice, and it changed the way I learned music and the way I taught it.

What I had learned wasn’t a new discovery, just an important one.

So much of our practice time is spent on fixing what doesn’t work, on perfecting the notes, the fingering, the dynamics, the rhythms, all the details that need to be in place for the music to happen. But the music doesn’t exist in those details; they are simply the mechanisms that work behind the scenes. And when our work stops there, we never really get to a place where we can play smoothly with confidence in both our technical and musical achievement.

When I began thinking about performance, not perfection, as the real objective of practice, the pieces fell into place for me. My...

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