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Listening With Your Third Ear

aural skills news Sep 24, 2018

Are you listening?

Good, because I want you to hear this: while practice, particularly properly focused practice, is the primary path to progress for any musician, the most important skill you can develop to propel you on that path is listening.

What makes listening so critical to your success?

First, it is your most important tool for identifying errors in your practice. If you don’t hear what is wrong, you can’t fix it.

Second, careful listening helps you match your actual playing to your ideal playing. You can assess your current skill level in relation to the way you want to play. Improvements in your tone, technique and expression, for instance, begin with hearing where you are now and comparing it with where you want to be. Once you hear an issue, you can create a plan to eliminate it.

Third, listening is perhaps the single most important skill in ensemble playing. Whether you are part of an orchestra, a harp ensemble or just playing with one other person, your...

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Learn Music Faster: 3 Fixes You Must Make

practicing technique Sep 17, 2018

Imagine what you could do if you could just learn music faster…

What would it be like to learn music quickly? You could learn more music in less time. You could spend less time practicing and more time playing. You wouldn’t need so much preparation time so you could take advantage of more playing opportunities. You wouldn’t have to beg directors for the music weeks in advance. You could play all the places - and all the pieces - you want.

Does that sound like a game changer for you? If it does, I have some good news.

You probably are suffering from one of three common problems. Any one of these can slow down your music learning speed to a snail’s pace. On the other hand, all of them are easily remedied once you recognize them.

Fast Fix 1: Dive In

Imagine you are standing at the edge of a swimming pool. Are you the type to dive right in, or do you enter the water one toe at a time? I admit to being a “toe by toe” person myself. I know...

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How to Build Your Curriculum

In last week’s post, I showed you why I think that creating a curriculum for your harp studies – as opposed to simply practicing – is an essential key to progress. If you didn’t read the post, you can read it here, but basically the idea is this: begin with a goal, then create a plan and a timeline. Add in benchmarks to measure your progress and you have the fundamental structure for your curriculum.

But that’s only the structure. The structure of a curriculum is pretty much the same whether you’re studying English, astronomy or ukulele. In order to actually build your curriculum, you will need some time and careful consideration.

Today, I want to show you how to create your study curriculum. We’ll look at the three stages of curriculum building and I’ll give you some ideas for implementation too.

(I’m going to assume that you have already identified your goal, the result that you want from your curriculum. Remember that a...

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Why You Should Go Back to School

It’s back to school time. You may not be headed into a classroom yourself this autumn, but you might find this is a great time to re-organize your harp studies. I’d like to suggest that you create an actual curriculum.

You might remember from your school days the first days of every semester when each teacher handed out a curriculum or syllabus, a detailed plan for the semester’s study. You knew what books you would use, what you would be learning at various points during the semester and what were the teacher’s expectations.

Simply, you were given a plan for your learning with specific goals, benchmarks, standards for measurement of your progress and a time frame. Moreover, while it may not have been obvious to you the student, this plan was likely part of a larger course of study, for instance Biology I which led to Biology II.

The best curriculum is designed like that, as a combination of short term plans leading to long range goals. There’s no...

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Strengthen Your Fourth Finger

 

Is your fourth finger a good team player?

If you're like most of us harpists, your fourth finger might sometimes feel more like a liability than an asset. It can be weak when you're trying to play an even scale, or it might be too strong when you're trying to balance a chord. 

We also tend to undervalue the functions our fourth fingers fulfill. Although they may behave like bad boys, they are really specialists, called on to do certain specific things. When we work with them properly, they can turn from ill-behaved digits to valued team members.

So what special jobs are the duty of a fourth finger? Let's start with these two.

Perhaps the most important job of the fourth finger is to anchor the crossunder in a scale passage. Although there are instances where we cross under with other fingers, fourth fingers are commonly called on to keep our scales and arpeggios moving upward. A smooth, even-sounding crossunder depends on your fourth finger to place solidly on the next string,...

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Debussy Dilemma

music miscellany Aug 20, 2018

Clade Debussy

This week we celebrate the birthday of composer Clade Debussy, born on August 22, 1862. Although Debussy himself would be 156 years old this week, his music still sounds as fresh and magical as it did when he composed it.

And his music still poses problems for many musicians. I have worked with numerous students who, on their first encounter with a piece by Debussy, are puzzled and perplexed. They have difficulty reconciling the free, unregulated sound of the music with the explicit directions written on the page. They find the simple clarity of the music surprisingly challenging to achieve.

And they resist the idea that creating that seamless and fluid musical magic requires a very disciplined approach.

In my teaching, I use Debussy’s music as a rite of passage. Although music by other composers particularly some harpist composers like Renié, Grandjany and Hasselmans raises similar issues, I find that Debussy’s music presents a bigger challenge.

...

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The Line Between Difficult and Too Difficult

performing Aug 13, 2018

“Is this piece too difficult for me?”

When students ask me this question, I know it’s not because they’re lazy and don’t want to have to work hard.

On the contrary, I know they are ready and willing to put in the practice time needed to be able to play the piece. They just want to be assured that their time and effort will get them results. Why spend hours practicing if you will eventually have to give up and put the piece away?

There are many well-known quotations meant to encourage and inspire you to undertake a challenge. I’ve listed a few of my favorites below.

The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. – Lao Tzu

Everything is hard before it is easy. – Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

There is nothing difficult, only new things, unaccustomed things. – Carlos Salzedo

When you come upon a difficult task ... start. - Harbhajan Singh Yogi

But most students don’t need the inspiration to get started. They want to...

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A Support System for Your Fingers

technique Aug 05, 2018

Do your fingers have a support system?

We rely on support systems daily, whether those systems are the people closest to us or the piers and pilings underneath the bridge we drive over daily. Those systems enable us to do our work more easily, with less frustration, danger or difficulty. They often work in the background, but without their strength, our accomplishments would be impossible.

Your fingers need a support system too.

It’s easy to overlook the fact that your fingers can’t do everything you ask of them on their own. We want them to play faster, to produce a more beautiful tone, to have control over a large dynamic range, to play with energy and strength, yet be relaxed and flexible. That’s a daunting job description for the eight fingers that we use to play the harp.

It’s easy to see why your fingers may get tense or tired when you play. But your fingers will stay fresher and more relaxed if you build strength in the structure that will support them...

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Traction! Ten Steps to Making Progress

practicing Jul 29, 2018

Before you can get anywhere, you need traction.

Every year at about this time, my entire community where I live in Pennsylvania suspends its regular activities and heads for the fair. It’s one of those traditional state or county fairs with prizes for the most beautiful vegetables, most delectable baked goods and best livestock.

There are musical performances and magic acts, amusement rides, craft displays and just about every fried food imaginable, including some I couldn’t possibly have imagined. Have you ever eaten a deep-fried Oreo cookie?

Among the popular events at the fair are the tractor-pulling contests. Being a city girl, I didn’t know about such things until I moved to farm country, and maybe you’ve never seen one either. The idea is simple: hitch a heavy load to a tractor, and measure how far and how fast it can pull the load before it loses control or the motor burns up.

The tractors are loud, and their fumes are smelly; this isn’t an event...

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Find Your Fire

music miscellany Jul 22, 2018

Suddenly her soul was on fire. It had been a long weekend, and she was clearly worn out from information overload. It looked to me like she had reached her limit. But then came the fire. She wasn’t just engaged or interested. She was alive. She was on fire.

This past weekend I attended and taught at the Somerset Folk Harp Festival in New Jersey. Hundreds of harp players gathered to listen, learn and share their love of the folk harp. The assemblage of so many world-class performers and teachers super-charged the atmosphere. It was exhilarating.

It’s possible to sustain that energy level only so long, though, and so when I noticed my student showing the effects of the long day, I understood. But I was wrong.

One minute it looked as if she were about to nod off, and the next moment she came alive. I don’t remember the point in the workshop when it happened, but I saw her regain her fire.

As she joined in the discussion, it became clear that she was far from...

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