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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 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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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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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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Speed Up Your Bass Clef Reading

Is bass clef slowing you down? It’s something of a mystery to me why bass clef should present a stumbling block to harpists who read treble clef perfectly well.

Perhaps we just put more effort into learning (and teaching!) treble clef and figure that bass clef will get better over time. Or maybe we are so eager to play more music that we don’t spend quite enough time on all the fundamentals that would make learning music easier.

But it’s not too late. You can improve your bass clef reading. And it’s not too hard, either.

But you need to do a little practice on it every day.

In this post, I will give you five ways you can start improving your bass clef reading today. (Of course this will work for any clef you need to learn or just want to read better.)

  1. Let your right hand help. Play a bass clef line with your left hand and have your right hand play along one octave higher. Often our right hand “reads” music better than our left hand, and by...
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How to Play Music You Hate

I don’t like starting a blog post with such a negative title, but I might as well admit it; sometimes we have to play music we just don’t like. You can probably instantly bring to mind that one piece of music you really can’t stand. Maybe it’s a holiday carol you’ve heard in too many shopping malls or maybe it’s just a piece that is definitely not your musical style. But now you have to play it, and so you sigh, maybe grit your teeth a little, and prepare to endure – oops, I mean, practice – it.

Just because you love music doesn’t mean you like all music. I have fairly eclectic musical interests myself, but I always smile when I remember my parents’ totally divergent interests. Both music lovers, they enjoyed a subscription to the opera for a number of years. My mother wept happily through the Italian grand opera masterworks, while my father slept his way through them. His interest, though, was captivated by the Mozart...

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5 Things Football and Music Have in Common

music miscellany Nov 09, 2015

It’s Sunday night, and I’m watching football, fingers crossed for the success of my Philadelphia Eagles.And then it hits me.May be music and football have more in common than I thought…

1. “Football” doesn’t mean the same thing to everyone, just ask a Brit who thinks it should be played with a round ball and a goalkeeper. Music isn’t just one thing either. Different styles and genres, instrumental or choral, rap, pop or jazz – it’s all still music. Find your particular focus and passion and enjoy the ride.

2. Football is about showing up every day. Peyton Manning, quarterback of the Denver Broncos, is known for his dedication not only on the practice field but in his off the field studies as well. His in-depth study of the opposing teams and his dedication to every aspect of his sport have contributed to his superstar football career. This kind of dedication is what makes a superstar musician as well. Practicing, performing,...

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