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2 Steps to Make Every Practice Session More Productive

practicing Oct 02, 2016

You put your instrument down and stretch your arms. Shake out your hands. Rub your neck. That feels good. You got a lot done. Another productive practice session.

How often do your practice sessions feel like that? If your answer is “not often enough,” then let me help you with these two basic steps that could make all the difference.

Too often we think of our practice as a block of time into which we try to fit all the music we are trying to learn. In fact, practice isn’t about the time we spend. And productive practice isn’t always about spending more time. It’s about two things: planning and process.

Planning Your Path

The first step in productive practice is doing the right kind of planning.  Most of us regularly make plans and set goals. We plan for our big goals, our “dream” pieces, our future repertoire.

But achieving those goals takes practice.

So our practice needs to be directed toward those specific longer range goals. We...

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You (Yes, YOU!) Can Read Music Better!

musicianship Sep 25, 2016

Yes, YOU can read music better – faster, more easily and fluently – whether you’re already an accomplished musician or just beginning your musical journey.

Why am I so certain? Because of what I learned in my 19 years of teaching that subject exactly at the prestigious Curtis Institute of Music.

Having been a student at Curtis myself, I understood the students I was teaching. They were the cream of the crop: experienced, creative, skilled musicians. You wouldn’t think they needed more training in how to read music. Many of them didn’t think so either at first.

So I tried in my teaching to demonstrate to them the foundational principles of note reading that I had learned from my Curtis teachers in my student days. This is a different way of looking at the entire subject of note reading, an approach that reveals the processes of note reading in a way that allows you to apply them to music reading in general and not just to the challenges of a particular...

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Are You Talented Enough?

musicianship Sep 18, 2016

The Young Mozart

“You’re SO talented!”

I always appreciate the thought behind the compliment but it chafes a little too, as if talent alone was responsible for the quality of my performance. My performance went well because, like all musicians, I practiced properly and prepared thoroughly. In fact, talent played only a minimal role. Most of my success was due to plain hard work.

Nevertheless, I hear many music students worry about being (or not being) talented enough. When they don’t feel like they’re making progress or when they experience a disappointment, they say, “I guess I’m not talented enough.”

I believe we need to change our understanding about talent and its role in our music making. Talent in any field is a natural aptitude, that mysterious gift that makes some people quick at puzzles, others adept mechanics and others creative crafters. But talent doesn’t make any of these pursuits effortless, only a little easier or...

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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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