“Throw a stone into the stream and the ripples that propagate themselves are the beautiful type of all influence.” Ralph Waldo Emerson
The ripple effect is generally understood to mean the expanding impact of a single action, for instance the increase in good feeling from a single good deed.
In harp playing, we seek a different, but no less impactful, type of ripple effect: the rippling effect of well-played and musical arpeggios. Arpeggios rank second only to glissandos as the most characteristic of harp sounds. They can bring out the warm, liquid tones of the harp, or sound heroic and virtuosic, as the music requires.
Clearly then, we harpists want to be sure our arpeggios have that magical ripple that comes from confident and secure playing. Let’s consider the three qualities of beautiful arpeggios and the seven keys to creating them in your arpeggios.
The Three Qualities
Probably the most obvious difference between a beautifully played arpeggio and...
Let’s talk summer vacation for your music! No, not taking a break, exactly. I’d like to invite you to put some of that adventurous vacation spirit into your music-making this coming month.
I want you to take some time to stretch yourself, without worrying about extra practice or wrong notes or fixing your technique. I want you to find new ways to explore and enjoy making music. And I think now is the perfect time. (Even if you’re reading this blog months after I’m writing it, this moment you’re in right now – whenever it happens to be – is the perfect time.)
If you’ve never tried this before, you will be amazed at how much fun it is. None of the suggestions below cost anything (except for possibly #10), and 2 of them don’t even involve any playing. But they will all stretch your creativity and help you explore your music in a new way.
Focus on your favorite one or choose a different one to do each week. And if you like, share...
Summertime. Time for lemonade, swimming pools, barbecue, the beach and…breaking strings.
Where I live in central Pennsylvania, we have beautiful summers, much of the time. We have beautiful days when the sun shines and the air is so clear it almost shimmers. Then there are the days when the humidity is as high as the temperature. The outside air is muggy and heavy, so heavy it even seems to penetrate the inside air conditioned spaces. And humid air can make your harp and harp strings very unhappy.
So what is your SPF - String Protection Formula? How do you protect your strings from breaking and your expensive harp from suffering in the summer heat?
Air conditioning is as important for your harp as it is for you. Keeping the humidity at a fairly constant and comfortable level will help your harp stay in tune and keep the joints in the wood from swelling. It will also help keep your strings from breaking, although with strings, there are no guarantees.
Gut strings are...
“A bell's not a bell 'til you ring it - A song's not a song 'til you sing it - Love in your heart wasn't put there to stay - Love isn't love 'til you give it away!”
― Oscar Hammerstein, II, lyrics from “Sixteen Going On Seventeen” from The Sound of Music
If there’s one statement that always furrows my brow, it’s this one: “Oh, I don’t want to perform. I just want to play for my own pleasure.”
I understand that a performance can add pressure that takes away from the enjoyment of playing music. Further, I completely agree that we should always play for our own pleasure. If we don’t enjoy it, what would be the point in working so hard at it?
But I firmly believe that we should not play only for our own pleasure. Music is a means of communication, particularly for thoughts that are hard to express in words. Also, if your music pleases you, why wouldn’t it please others too?
I’d like to suggest that we...
Do you know why you’re playing music, why you have chosen to make music an important part of your life?
Perhaps, like me, you’ve always felt the call to make music.
According to my mother, who wasn’t prone to making up these kinds of stories, I heard the harp on the radio when I was two years old. I asked her what it was and said that I wanted to play it. I started piano lessons at age four and was told that if I still wanted to play the harp when I was eight, I could start harp lessons then. I did, and the rest, as they say, is history.
There have been times, however, when I had to do some very serious introspection about why I was playing the harp. In fact, there have been a number of figurative forks in my path which necessitated deep soul-searching. Was the harp something I was doing simply because I always had? Was it something I could, and possibly should, leave behind me to pursue something else? Should I forge ahead, or strike out on another road?
Harpists, do you ever feel like your technique practice is getting you nowhere?
You put in the time with your exercises and etudes, but your fingers still seem to have minds of their own. They falter, fumble, and flail. You can’t seem to get them moving faster than adagio, and when you do, you can’t rely on them to do what you want. It’s exasperating.
So you go on the hunt for a better exercise book, more etudes and vow to devote more time to developing your technique.
Any of those may help you solve your problem, but only if you know what you really should be teaching your fingers. Naturally, there will be those specific situations which require specialized work, but there are three general skills that your fingers must develop. These skills will allow you to rely on your fingers to perform securely and musically. At least most of the time.
Accuracy shouldn’t be an elusive skill. It can, and should, be purposefully trained. Accurate fingers place...
What is this supposed to be?
The jigsaw puzzle pieces were spread on the table and I had just completed the first critical phase in any jigsaw puzzle assembly, putting all the edge pieces together. My question arose from a discovery I had made along the way: the puzzle I was assembling was definitely not the one pictured on the box. The box had a beautiful view of Neuschwanstein, the famous German castle that was the inspiration for the Disney Cinderella castle. From the pieces on the table, it looked as if the picture might be a building, maybe even a castle but it was clear from the colors and the edge pieces that it wasn’t going to be Neuschwanstein.
Not knowing what the puzzle was going to look like made the challenge of putting it together considerably more difficult. It’s like being lost in a strange city without a map or trying to read a book in a language of which you only know a few words.
It’s like trying to be a musician without knowing anything about...
Yesterday was Father’s Day. According to Hallmark, it is the fourth largest greeting card holiday, right behind Mother’s Day, with approximately 72 million cards exchanged. As I was writing a message on the card to send to my dad this year (he is 92 years old), I reflected on the unconditional support my dad gave me, not just as my dad, but especially as a “harp dad.”
What is a “harp dad?”
A harp dad doesn’t just provide his young harpist with a harp and lessons. He also provides all the necessary accessories – covers, stands, benches, music - and of course, the car to move it all. And then, he gives up his evenings and weekends to transporting harp and harpist to lessons, rehearsals and concerts.
That was what my dad did. From the time I played in my first harp recital at age eight until I went to college, my schedule was his. My mom had broken her back years before, so harp moving was not something she could help with. My dad became...
A metronome is a must-have accessory for every musician. It can help you speed up your music or slow it down. It can help you fix your technique or line up a complicated rhythm. It can help you prepare to play in an ensemble or train your inner pulse so your solo music has a steady flow.
But just having the metronome on while you practice won’t necessarily help you attain any of these results. The metronome isn’t a magic cure. It’s a tool, and as with any tool, you need to know how to use it.
In order for you to get the most benefit from working with your metronome, it is helpful to know what your metronome can’t do for you.
Metronomes Can’t Count
I was working with a student some years ago who couldn’t figure out what the problem with her rhythm was. Her music seemed out of rhythm somehow. In her lesson, I told her that she needed to work with a metronome to keep the beat of her music steady. “I use the metronome every day,” she told...
I've written a lot about effective practice and efficient practice, creative practice and deliberate practice. I believe that practice, the right kind of practice, is the number one contributor to every harpist’s success. Harpists who practice correctly and consistently are able to play the music they want to play.
Today, however, I'm going to look at practice in a different way. I'd like you to consider making your practice healthy practice.
Healthy practice isn't about eating right and exercising, although those are certainly important factors in any endeavor. Healthy practice is practice that is fun, enjoyable, creative, satisfying and sustainable, in addition to being efficient and effective.
We've all started new practice habits from time to time; we feel a rush of new energy and focus and for a while, we get results. But then the energy begins to dwindle and the motivation dies. Our practice habit has not proved sustainable.
When we practice well, when our practice...