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Spring Clean Your Technique: 5 Days to Fresher Fingers

In this first part of our “Spring Cleaning Challenge,” I walk you through a five day plan for refreshing your technique. Parts 2 and 3 of the series follow in the coming weeks.

“There’s no excuse for running out of gas.”

That was one of the first warnings my parents gave me when I learned to drive. As long as the gas gauge was working, keeping gas in the tank was my responsibility. If I got stranded somewhere because I didn’t stop to fill up, that was my fault.

Sure, we all push it from time to time. The light on the dashboard comes on to remind you that the tank is nearing empty. It’s tempting to push it just one more mile, hoping that we will stop at the gas station before the car comes to a halt in the middle of the road.

This is the time of year your technique could probably use a “fill up” too. When you have a good technical foundation, you can figuratively “run on fumes” for quite a while.

But taking some time...

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Don’t Do This! 7 Sneaky Harp Happiness Killers

It’s spring cleaning time, the season to spruce up, refresh and brighten, to clean out the closets, sort out the drawers and get a fresh start. I’m always amazed to realize that, once again, my junk drawer is full, my closet is a disorganized mess and I need to do something about it. It seems to be so easy to accumulate those piles and so daunting to face getting rid of them.

I generally give my harp playing a “spring cleaning” too. While the need for musical refreshing is less obvious than the pile of papers on my desk, it is no less real. There is a “winter rust” that accumulates, due to over-crowded schedules and too little practice time. I need to brush away the cobwebs and bad habits and get my playing back in shape.

Perhaps you don’t have any harp “spring cleaning” to do. But maybe you haven’t realized some of the seemingly innocuous habits – I call them Harp Happiness Killers - that can drain your energy,...

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Spring Forward: Gardening Tips for Harpists

Spring is finally here, at least according to the calendar. I won’t believe it’s really spring, though, until I see the first cheery yellow daffodil in my garden.

I remember the year I planted those bulbs. I spent the better part of an autumn weekend digging holes in the side of a hill along our driveway. The ground was more rock than soil, but I dug where I could, placed the bulbs in the holes and hoped for the best.

I’d like to say that the next spring that hillside was covered with a mass of yellow blooms but even now, 10 years later, those daffodils still struggle to spread. The brave survivors that bloom may be fewer in number than I had envisioned, but I cherish them all the more.

Has your harp playing blossomed the way you expected? Do you have a musical field of flowers or are you still waiting for the first blooms? You can tell from my daffodil story that I am no gardener but even so, I have discovered a few tips that relate as much to harp playing as they...

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Mastering Harp Geography: Get Out of the Middle of the Road

Would you drive in the middle of the road?

I live in a very rural area. We have beautiful forests of pine and hemlock and sparkling streams with plenty of trout, unless you listen to the unlucky fishermen. We also have very narrow roads. The middle of the road is sometimes the only place to drive.

But playing the harp is not a “middle of the road” venture. Your harp has plenty of strings and there’s no need to stick to just the middle ones.

So are you a “middle of the road” harpist? This has nothing to do with skill level or ability. It’s purely a matter of geography.

Try this: take a look at your harp. Which strings are the most worn? Probably they are the ones you play the most, likely the ones in the middle. Or perhaps you’re one of those harpists who never tunes the bottom or the very top strings telling yourself that you don’t use them anyway. These are both signs that you could use a refresher course in harp geography.

Geography...

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Take a Musical Gondola Ride: Play a Barcarolle

“Of course this rhythm is typical for a barcarolle,” I said.

My student stared at me with that glassy expression. She clearly had no idea what I was talking about. I immediately realized that I had fallen into a common teacher trap of assuming that my student knew what I did. So I needed to backtrack.

“Just imagine,” I said, “that it’s a beautiful spring evening in Venice. The Italian sun is just beginning to set, and you are gliding across the water in a gondola. The evening is calm and the boat is gently rocking as the gondolier plies his oar. He sings a song that blends perfectly with the lazy, undulating motion of the boat. That song is a barcarolle.”

I went on to explain…

The barcarolle, also spelled barcarole or barcarola, is a musical form that has its origins in the songs of the Venetian gondoliers. The term itself comes from the Italian word, barca, meaning a small boat.

The musical term was first used by the French...

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Kill Your “Can’t Do” Attitude: How To Defeat Your Limiting Beliefs

Have you ever been sure that you just can’t do it? Maybe the problem is a passage that you can never play correctly or a tempo you think you can never achieve or a skill level that you fear will always be beyond you.

You tried to stay hopeful. You’ve stayed committed, putting in hours of work, but that end result still eludes you. The question that haunts you is this: “What if I just can’t do it?”

We all have doubts like this from time to time and they serve a purpose. They remind us to reassess our goals, plan our paths and direct our work. They can stir us to action when we get complacent. They can nudge us out of unproductive patterns and lead us to achieve. But we can only move forward if we face the doubts and are prepared to challenge them.

If you’re struggling with this, I’d like to show you a different way of thinking, one that will keep your positive energy flowing and possibly even help you find a way to alleviate your worries....

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Practice For Two: A Guide to Effective Rehearsing

duet duets partners rehearsing Feb 25, 2019

Two people making music together is like a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup – two great things that are even better together.

Playing solo is fine, naturally, and playing in an ensemble is fun. But nothing is more enjoyable and rewarding than practicing and playing music with a friend. Being part of a duo can be a wonderful bonding experience where the whole is more than the sum of the parts.

Successful duos know how to make their rehearsals productive, so that their music can shine. These duos form lasting partnerships that are personally and musically fulfilling. This is my own experience as a member of two duos, each in its fourth decade of performing.

The secret is in serving the music. Keeping the music at the forefront of your work together allows you to put personal inhibitions, fears or constraints aside, so you can contribute confidently as a musician and a collaborator. It begins with bringing your best self to each rehearsal and performance.

Bring Your Best

Do you...

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Quick Fixes for Left Hand Octaves

 

Not happy with your left hand octaves? Let’s fix that!

The octave is a defining interval in Western music, marking the outer limits of the progression of half steps and while steps that form the scale.

It is also a critical interval for a harpist’s left hand to master. It’s not that the right hand doesn’t play octaves, of course; it’s simply that left hand octaves often create a harmonic and rhythmic foundation for a right hand melody. Put more bluntly, your left hand octaves can make or break your music.

There are two primary considerations for playing any octave: even sound between the fingers and rhythmic precision. (This pertains to either hand, naturally.) Let’s consider what each of these may mean in context.

EVEN-SOUNDING OCTAVES

An octave sounds like an octave when we can hear each of the two notes. While there may be musical considerations in a specific piece to make one note more prominent than the other, in general both notes should...

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Grins and Grimaces: Putting on Your Concert Face

The close-up of the soloist reveals the look of intense concentration on her face. The performer’s total commitment to the music is visible in her closed eyes and slightly furrowed brow. There is strength and beauty in her expression.

A quick ramble through YouTube videos will reveal a wide variety of “concert faces.” Some of the most remarkable will be found in videos of live performances filmed by audience members.

What is an appropriate expression for when you’re playing? Do you smile or frown? Ignore the audience or acknowledge them? Grimace or grin when you’ve made a mistake?

The easy answer would be that it depends on the situation. While that’s true enough, it isn’t really helpful for a musician who is self-conscious about his or her own facial expression.

Don’t Make a Face!

Of course, we all know what we aren’t supposed to show on our faces; we aren’t supposed to react to our mistakes. Gliding over the missed...

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3 Reasons You Can't Finish a Piece and How to Fix It

Why can’t you finish that piece?

Composer Franz Schubert never finished his Eighth Symphony. If you aren’t up on your music history, you might think it was because he died before he could complete it, but that was not the case. Schubert wrote the first two movements of the symphony in 1822, but he lived, and composed, for 6 more years. In fact, scholars cannot ascertain exactly why Schubert stopped work on that symphony, and Schubert isn’t around to answer the question.

So if you have trouble getting a piece of music to the finish point, you’re hardly the first musician to experience that dilemma. 

On the other hand, if you have trouble finishing any piece of music so that you can actually play it, there are some things you can do to fix that. The first step is to explore why you might not be finishing.

You Get Bored: The Greyhound Syndrome

I’ve often used greyhounds and German shepherds to describe the two most common practice styles....

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