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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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What Will You Accomplish This Summer?

practicing Jun 26, 2016

What do you want to accomplish this summer? Will you just get a nice tan or will you be more ambitious?

For me, since my teen years, summer was always about projects - reading the complete works of a single author, learning to knit (that one didn't work out so well), practicing my Christmas repertoire, or maybe cleaning out the attic.

Naturally, I still went on vacation and hung out with my friends, but the possibilities inherent in the unstructured time of summer were too good to let pass by.

I still have summer projects, but I have learned something in the intervening years: summer time may be less structured, but it definitely seems to go faster. At the beginning of June, summer seems endless. But here at the end of June, I'm already wondering if I will be able to accomplish everything I want.

I would urge you to take advantage of this once a year opportunity and give yourself a project, particularly a project with a musical focus. What kind of a musical project might appeal to...

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Pave Your Path to Success: 6 Key Bricks

music miscellany Jun 19, 2016

What does success mean to you - money, happiness, playing that one amazing piece of music, building your dream house? Whatever your personal definition of success, there is a path to get there, and it's not just hard work.

Think of the metaphors we use for hard work. We put our heads down, our noses to the grindstone, burn the midnight oil. We think of success as the result of grit and determination.

But if you read the "success stories" of great achievers - inventors, artists, athletes, entrepreneurs - you discover that their hard work was just one component of their path to greatness. And you can discern a pattern, certain common ingredients that were necessary for their hard work to get them to the finish line, to the end of the road.

For Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz the yellow brick road was her path to her dream of returning home to Kansas. "Follow the yellow brick road," the Munchkins told her, and so she did, through fantastic difficulties and dangers.

Dorothy's yellow brick...

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Answers to Your FAQs

musicianship Jun 12, 2016

Need answers?

One reason I love teaching is being able to help students find solutions for their challenges. I should confess that I am a puzzle-fiend. I love crosswords, cryptic crosswords, sudoku, mystery stories, jigsaw puzzles, you name it, and the harder the better.

So it's only natural for me to apply that puzzle-solving addiction to my teaching. Finding the crux of s student's problem, and devising strategies and tactics for fixing it is my idea of time well spent.

Since I started blogging and coaching online, I've enjoyed a regular and growing stream of questions, and I noticed over time that the same questions cropped up. My list of these questions has been growing and I thought it might be useful if from time to time I shared these questions (and my answers) with you. So here, in no particular order, are three of these FAQ's. Maybe one of them is yours!

FAQ #11 How long should I practice?

To answer that, you first need to answer this: what is your goal? Do you have a...

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Pursuing Your Passion? Prepare to Give Up These 5 Things

music miscellany Jun 05, 2016

Lately it's all about passion. Pursue your passion; follow your dream. Are you just going to pursue it, or do you really want to succeed?  What price are you prepared to pay for the level of success you want?

We know that big dreams require big sacrifice. We see Olympic athletes live apart from their families for months at a time to attend the best training center. They keep strict food, training and sleep regimens. A huge commitment made in the hope of a gold medal.

Business people call it opportunity cost. "If I take advantage of this opportunity, take this chance on my vision, what will it cost me?" They know that by choosing to dedicate themselves to the pursuit of their vision, they are also choosing not to do some other things. That's the cost of opportunity.

Every dream, big or small, comes at a cost. Any level of music study requires sacrifice. Are you ready to commit, to pay the price for the success you want?

I've identified five areas where you must expect to...

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Is it a Mistake or a Symptom?

musicianship practicing May 30, 2016

Mistakes are easy to spot. We hear a wrong note, an incorrect accidental or rhythm. We can feel it - it just wasn't right.

But is your mistake simply that - an error - or it is a symptom of a larger problem? And how would you know the difference?

Sometimes a mistake is just a random slip, in the way that sometimes a sneeze is just a random sneeze. But we know that if we start sneezing more frequently, that mya be an indication that we are coming down with a cold, or that our allergies are flaring up.

A random sneeze requires a tissue. A cold or allerguies may call for a trip to the doctor.

A random mistake is easily corrected with an extra moment of attention.

But a mistake that keeps occuring is rarely just a mistake. If you have caught yourself saying, "I did it again," or "I always do that," then you can be sure that you have a problem to address, not mermely a mistake to fix.

The good news is that once you realize you are facing a bigger issue, the steps to correct it are fairly...

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Not Getting Things Done? 8 Steps to Making It Happen

music miscellany May 23, 2016

There's an entire culture built around GTD: Getting Things Done.

In my experience, getting things done is less about productivity and hustle and more about planning, setting realistic expectations and preventing panic. Whether you're worried about learning music or just making it through your busy day, it is possible to make progress on the things that matter to you as long as you don't let the wave pull you under.

I love watching surfers ride the ocean waves. (I am a watcher, not a surfer - a boogie board is enough of a challenge for me!) Surfers watch and wait for the right wave, trying to catch it at the perfect moment for a great ride.

Sometimes they make it to the beach. Often they fall off the board, and I see them go under the water and resurface a moment later, already watching for the next perfect wave.

I think getting things done is a similar pursuit. The wave of demands on our time and energy is powerful, and we should realize from the start that it will pull us under....

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Gounod's Ave Maria

music miscellany May 15, 2016

Charles Gounod


"My mother wants the Ave Maria played. Does it work on the harp?" asks the bride-to-be.

So, I play her a few bars of the famous Schubert song.

"No, that's not it," says the bride.

"Oh, you mean the other Ave Maria," and I play her a few bars. Happy bride, happy harpist.

It's the other Ave Maria, the melody that composer Charles Gounod wrote as an embellishment to a prelude written over a hundred years before by Johann Sebastian Bach, and commonly referred to as the Bach/Gounod Ave Maria.

There are some interesting similarities that the Bach/Gounod and Schubert Ave Maria settings share. They have a similar texture with long melodic lines set to delicately arpeggiated accompaniment. Each evokes a calm, reflective mood. And interestingly neither was originally a sacred piece, nor was either intended to be. I wrote about Schubert's Ave Maria in a previous post. Read on now for the unusual story behind Gounod's melody. Gounod credited Felix and Fanny...

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