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What’s Your (Metronome) Number?

musicianship Sep 21, 2015

I was sitting in the audience at a concert. A performer was onstage receiving well-deserved applause, and I heard two people in front of me commenting on the performance. “She played well, but it was too fast,” said one to the other. Just a moment later, someone behind me said to their neighbor, “I really think she should have played it a little faster. It was under tempo.” Did these people actually hear the same performance, or were they just listening for a metronome number? 

Obviously, they heard the same performance, but in different ways. And what their comments made clear was that there is no single “perfect” tempo, but that tempo is as much as part of overall musicality as dynamics and tone. Tempo is just one of the musical elements that we performers choose to communicate our musical ideas. It is part of our personal expression of a piece of music.

But if tempo can be an individual choice, what are we to do when a composer has given...

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Build Your Repertoire without Having a Breakdown

performing Sep 14, 2015

The scene: A visitor comes to your home and sees your beautiful harp in its special place in your living room. “Play something for me,” she says. You gracefully take your place at the harp and play a piece of music that enchants and delights.

Or does your scenario run this way: When your visitor says, “Play something for me, ” you respond, “Well, I don’t really know anything, that is, it’s not finished yet and you probably wouldn’t like it anyhow…”

It’s a shame not to be able to play something for friends who ask (or for an audience, for that matter), especially if you’ve been playing for some time, but that isn’t the worst part. The worst part is the embarrassment at having to admit it. It’s hard to feel like you’ve accomplished anything if you have nothing you can show for it.

That’s perhaps the most powerful reason to always have ready repertoire, nothing fancy, but music that you can...

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Does Your Music Speak?

musicianship practicing Sep 07, 2015

Can you hear me now?

Do you struggle to make your music speak? Are your hands so full of the notes that there doesn’t seem to be time to think about the music? Perhaps you know your music should communicate something, but you’re not exactly sure what it should say or even how to go about making it speak. Or maybe you’re trying, but it doesn’t feel like you’re doing enough.

In the earliest stages of music study, a teacher emphasizes basic technical skills. After all, if you can’t play any notes, you certainly can’t make music. Then the student learns about dynamics, and learns to create soft and loud notes and to make gradual changes like a crescendo or diminuendo. Often, however, there comes a point where teachers stop “teaching” students about expression and just expect the students to play musically.

In contrast, I remember my teacher spending entire lessons on how to shape a particular phrase, or pace a rallentando evenly....

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What’s Your One Thing?

musicianship practicing Aug 31, 2015

We musicians are a dedicated bunch. While we may not fit the romantic image of the musician starving and sacrificing all for Busker singing and playing guitar inside a rubbish binhis art, we all make big sacrifices every day in order to play music, whether we are professionals, students or amateurs.

Consider this. You’ve bought an instrument (or two or three), paid for lessons, and spent hours practicing. You put yourself in uncomfortable situations like lessons and performances. You have a desire to play and you are prepared to do what it takes to make music the way you want.

So here’s the question: is it working out the way you hoped? Are you having a good time? Are you making the progress you want? What new musical experiences are on the horizon for you? What are you looking forward to playing someday?

As you prepare to start “back to school” season, take a moment to look at your playing and set some new goals or recommit yourself to old ones. I just went...

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Why You Should Be Impatient – Now!

We have all heard that patience is a virtue. Patience is also a necessary skill for every musician. We must have patience while we develop our technique, learn our repertoire, or memorize a piece of music.

After all, music is an art of “becoming.” You aren’t simply born a musician; you “become” a musician, and that takes time, diligence and patience.

But impatience can also be a valuable tool. While patience is strong and steadfast, impatience urges us to take quick action and inspires us with energy, drive and motivation. Impatience is the kindling that turns our creative spark into a roaring fire. When you understand how to use your impatience, you are tapping into a powerful force.

Think of how impatient you might be to:

  • Start learning your “dream” piece.
  • Plan a special performance.
  • Develop your personal repertoire.
  • Play music with a group of friends.
  • Try playing music in a different musical style.
  • Compose your own music.
  • Have some fun...
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Fingering Followup: a Checklist

musicianship practicing Aug 17, 2015

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote a blog post about why you should write less fingering in your music. I started getting quite a number of questions and some nervous reaction to the post, so I’d like to post this followup to clarify some of those questions..

Some people seemed to think I was advocating not writing in fingering at all, which is not what I meant. I do write fingering in my music, and I can’t imagine that there is any harpist who doesn’t.

But there are important distinctions to be made between which fingering is necessary or even essential, and why, and which fingering is not only unnecessary but quite possibly counter-productive. When you are using fingering markings correctly, they will help you play your pieces more reliably, fluidly and musically. When you are using your fingering markings incorrectly, you are likely actually slowing down your technical and musical development. Who needs that?!

So to help you make these distinctions and keep your...

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Where Creativity Finds Direction: the Teacher-Student Partnership

music miscellany news Aug 10, 2015

Sometimes tension is a good thing.

Tension happens at the place where two opposite forces or desires meet. At that place or in that moment, the forces are equal. The tension is resolved either when one of the forces prevails over the other, or the forces work together.

Picture the surface of a pool of water, calm and undisturbed. A leaf floats down to the water and the surface tension of the water supports the leaf and it floats. But a swimmer dives into the water, breaks the tension and plunges into the depths. Or a young boy skips a stone across the water, the surface of the water helping to project the stone on its journey.

The music lesson can be that moment as well, that place where the interests of the student and the expertise of the teacher meet with the dual aims of expressing and directing the student’s musical creativity. And that is why the integrity of the partnership is so critical to the student’s success. What are the two opposing forces in the...

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Forget the Fingering!

practicing Aug 03, 2015

What?! Forget the fingering?!

 We harpists need our fingering so that we can play smoothly and musically, and so our practice will be efficient. Those fingering marks are essential for us, right? Not really, or at least, not as much as you think.

Consider this paint by number illustration. Those numbers in the picture show us which color to put where. When we follow the numbers, we can see the picture. We usually think of fingering the same way: when we follow the fingering, we can play the music. What’s wrong with that?

Simply that following the fingering instead of the music will give us the same result as painting by number. We get the basic idea, but no one will call it great art.

I will agree that fingering is important, and I usually ask my students to follow fingering that is printed in their music. But I also insist that they learn to play without marking in fingering. And here’s why…

First, fingering can become a reading “crutch.” Every...

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Is There Life After Music School? Part 2

musicianship practicing Jul 27, 2015

In the last post, I presented the first part of my seven step checklist for those of you who are “Waiting to Hit It Big.” That doesn’t necessarily mean you’re waiting to be discovered by Hollywood music producers. This is for any musician who is someplace between the graduation parties and a paycheck. You may be ready to start your music career, whatever that looks like for you, but the world may not have noticed you yet, and you’re not sure how to get started.

The “Waiting to Hit It Big” checklist won’t tell you how to find your dream job, but it will help you plan and prepare for it, and use your time wisely in the meantime. And you won’t be caught in the “woe is me, the starving musician” mind trap, like many hopeful young musicians who are struggling in pursuit of their dreams.

If you haven’t read the last post, I suggest that you start there. Those first three steps will give you direction and a way to...

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Is There Life After Music School?

musicianship performing Jul 20, 2015

Congratulations, graduate! You are now a real musician, with the degree to prove it, and you’re ready to set the world on fire!

But what will your life be like after music school? And how will you keep from ending up living in your parents’ basement?

You have plenty of talent, education and dreams, but no job in sight. Maybe you’re waiting for your big break into the music scene or that plum orchestra job. You know that there’s hard work ahead and you’re willing to do it, but you’re not quite sure where to start.

As someone who once was where you are now and has become a successful musician despite the odds, let me pass along my “Waiting to Hit It Big” Checklist. These are the survival strategies that will make it possible for you to hang in there, stay positive and eat something other than ramen noodles.

(This is the first of a two-part post. In this post I will cover my “Essential Three,” the three things you MUST put in...

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