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Your Metronome Speaks

You move that pile of music and there it is, underneath everything: your metronome. It stares mutely at you, reproachfully. You feel a brief pang of guilt, but you push it aside, telling yourself that the metronome is really too annoying and you’ll use it another time.

But your metronome is calling to you from under that pile of music. And if you would listen, you would hear it telling you everything it could do to help you play music better and more beautifully. It might sound a little like this…

I’ve been an essential training tool for musicians for hundreds of years. Generations of performers have known the value of using me to help them improve their technique, develop their musicianship and practice their repertoire. I could do that for you too, if you’d let me. In fact, here’s my promise to you. Use me daily and I will…

keep you honest. This is probably the most frequent and the most dreaded use of the metronome. The metronome...

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The Mastery Trait

musicianship technique Feb 01, 2016


What is “mastery?”

Scenario 1

The team is about to lose. Time is running out and in a last desperate attempt to win, the quarterback throws the ball down the field. The receiver barely catches the ball; he is clutching it behind his back. He must hold on to the ball and get across the goal line. He hugs the ball to the back of his legs and leaps. Touchdown. Team wins. Sportscasters replay that “impossible” catch over and over. How did he manage to hold on to the ball?

Scenario 2

World class cellist falls off platform during Beethoven Triple concerto. Not only is unhurt but keeps on playing while he retakes his seat. Video goes viral.

How did each of these players manage to not merely survive, but turn a challenging performance situation into a win? What makes them able to perform “in the clutch” when so many others would fall apart? That’s the mastery trait.

The mastery trait can best be understood as a total commitment to a goal,...

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Heavenly Harmonics – A Guide

musicianship technique Jan 25, 2016


In the last post , we examined the acoustical principles of harmonics. We also discussed the number one rule for playing a beautiful bell-like harmonic: you must stop the string in the exact center.  Let’s go step by step through all four elements of playing a harmonic


Harmonics Step By Step
Step One: The Center

This is the “center of the string” rule that we’ve already discussed. Remember that the center of the string can be found by measuring from the soundboard up to the lowest point of contact between the string and a pin, lever or disc. This will mean that the center of a string where the lever is raised or a pedal engaged will be lower than the center of a string with the lever down or the pedal up. Equally important is that the center is not where you place your thumb; it’s where you place the fleshy part of your left hand or your right index finger knuckle.

One trick to helping you remember the center of...

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How to Play Heavenly Harmonics

musicianship technique Jan 18, 2016

This post is the first of a two-part series to help you understand harp harmonics, the science behind them and the tips you need to make yours ring beautifully.

There is no more beautiful sound than a harp harmonic, ringing with a silvery clarity. Philadelphia harpist Edna Phillips was fond of recounting how the famous conductor Stokowski raved about the bell-like tone of her harmonics. But if like most of us, you have ever struggled trying to attain that same sound quality for your harmonics, read on…

While harmonics are part of our repertoire of expressive sounds and tone colors, our understanding of them needs to begin with some science, the science of acoustics. The reason is simple: once we know why harmonics work scientifically, we can begin to see what we need to do to make them work for us.

Imagine plucking a string on your harp, one of the low strings. You can watch the string vibrate, and you can hear the pitch that is produced by that vibration....

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What Do You NEED to Know?

musicianship Jan 11, 2016

Remember those high school classes you thought were a waste of time? Maybe you were one of those who struggled through geometry proofs. Or perhaps you scheduled a sick day when your biology teacher scheduled a frog dissection, or flung curses at Chaucer’s Middle English, joining the chorus of countless generations of students: When am I ever going to need to know this?

I’m certain your parents and teachers did their best to convince you of the benefits of a well-rounded education. As you went through your college years however, you probably discovered that a degree of specialized knowledge is essential in the pursuit of a career. Your academic track became more directed to your career path. A well-rounded education is a fine thing, but there are times when you only need to know what you really need to know.

This applies to music study as well. If you are going to be a professional musician, your musical literacy is expected to be at the highest level. This is...

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A Scale for the New Year

music miscellany Jan 04, 2016

The New Year. New beginnings, New ideas, goals, hopes and dreams. All exciting and energizing.

I love the wonderful possibilities that a new year presents. Each year I look forward to setting goals and putting in place systems that will help keep me on track to achieve them.

I’ve used complicated systems and I’ve used simple ones, but I have found over time that I stay on track best when I keep a simple set of guidelines in mind. These guidelines help me make good choices consistent with my goals, assuring me that at year’s end, I will have accomplished a lot of what I set out to do.

To help me remember them, I write them out like a musical scale, C to.C. I share them now with you, hoping that you will find them helpful with whatever wonderful things you want to achieve in 2016.


Cut the clutter. Get rid of the excess that clogs your space, your mind, your schedule. Consider new opportunities the same way. What will you have to give up to make room for them?



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7 Surprising Facts about “O Holy Night”

music miscellany Dec 21, 2015

Adolphe Adam, composer

Whether you know it as “O Holy Night” or “Cantique de Noël,” you probably either love it or hate it. You may find the music and words moving and inspiring, or you may just have heard one too many singers struggle through the high notes. Either way, I have a few facts that, while they might not change your mind about the song, are sure to give you a different perspective on this timeless Christmas favorite.

1. Have you ever wondered why this lovely melody is paired with those bombastic sounding organ interludes? Perhaps it’s because the piece was commissioned to celebrate the renovation of the church organ in Roquemaure, France. The organ had been moved from a convent in Avignon and installed in the church, but had required extensive work. The parish priest asked a local poet by the name of Placide Cappeau to write a poem for the occasion. Cappeau’s poem, “Minuit, Christiens” (Midnight, Christians) was then...

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Are You Practicing or Just Doing Time?

practicing Dec 14, 2015

Has your practice become just another chore? Are you just doing time?

You know you need to practice, but it just isn’t interesting. Or maybe you’re not seeing any progress, so you soldier on, getting more frustrated by the day. Or maybe you don’t know what to do in your practice, so you play a few things through and call it done.

I have news for you. Practice may be a daily commitment, but it doesn’t have to be a chore. I commend you for your determination and preseverance, but maybe I can make things easier for you and save you some painful and possibly pointless practice.

Odd as it may seem, just putting your nose to the grindstone is really not the most efficient, effective or interesting way to learn a piece of music. You will find that taking a step back to look at the bigger picture and the end result you want to achieve will take you further faster. And it’s more fun.

Here are three ways to refresh your outlook on your practice. They will help...

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Are You Ready to Burst Your Bubble?

Have you ever thought about a simple soap bubble?

It’s a beautiful and amazing creation, air trapped in layers of soap film, a fragile phenomenon combining surface tension and elasticity.I always enjoyed playing with bubble wands, seeing how big I could make the bubbles and how long they would last. How hard it is to keep that bubble from breaking!

“Living in a bubble” is a common metaphor for being protected and isolated from potentially harmful surroundings. But what if in escaping from the bubble, we actually become free? What if “bursting our bubble” means the release from confining limiting beliefs or habits? What possibilites might exist for us on the outside that we don’t see when we are on the inside?

Imagine for a moment that your musical habits and perceptions are your bubble. That bubble is made of all the positive ways in which you support your musical growth, like continuing to learn and study, regular practice, and sharing your music...

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Two Ways to Get a Music Conservatory Education

Concert at the Paris Conservatory, 1843

The music conservatory: a hothouse for nurturing musical talent and an opportunity available to only the select few. For hundreds of years these elite music schools have trained world-class musicians and the tradition continues. The focused atmosphere and the access to instruction from the finest teachers and performers make a conservatory education the goal of many ambitious music students.

So how do you get a conservatory education? There are two ways. First, let’s consider the content of a “conservatory education."

(One quick note: in using the term “conservatory” I am by no means excluding the many excellent university and college music departments and their programs, many of which equal any conservatory in superb faculty and famous alumni. I myself am proud to be part of such a university music program at the University of Delaware.)

What exactly constitutes a conservatory education? There are many components of...

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