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You CAN Improve Your Sightreading

musicianship practicing Jan 26, 2015

For some musicians, sightreading remains the last great mystery. They can practice; they can perform. But the idea of sightreading still makes them break out in a cold sweat.

There are limited occasions in life when you actually must sightread. It is often required at auditions for colleges, sometimes at competitions and music exams, always for orchestra position.

But even if you aren’t auditioning anywhere, when you are a confident (or at least relatively confident) sightreader, all kinds of opportunities present themselves. Your preparation time for rehearsals and concerts is considerably shorter, allowing you to accept more engagements or at least not be so stressed about those that you have. You have less fear and so you are more willing to experiment with different musical experiences. Making music becomes easier and more fun.

But sightreading is not a skill on its own. Your sightreading facility is supported by the foundation you have built for it in terms of technical...

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Essential Chord Techniques

practicing technique Jan 19, 2015

What's in a chord? Or more to the point, how do I play this chord and make it sound the way it should?

The harp was made to play beautiful chords, and yet they are a source of frustration for many harpists.

In this post I describe the four essential ways in which we encounter chords and what you need to do to make your chords the best they can be.

Be sure to get the one page PDF Chord Practice Sheet too

1. Flat (unbroken) chords

In a flat chord, all the notes are played at the same time. Sometimes a square bracket like this [ indicates that a chord should not be rolled, but often the choice is left to the performer. This is also the best technique for a beginner to use, as it uses the most basic technical skills.

What are the qualities I am looking for?

All the notes of the chord should sound exactly at the same time, and with the same volume and tone. Not as easy as you might think.

How do I practice them?

Be sure to use impeccable technique, playing each finger fully...

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Is There a "Perfect" Practice Routine?

I love organizing things. I remember as a teenager using the wee hours of the morning to organize my dresser drawers. My mother didn’t approve of my being awake so late, but she loved opening my closet. (Not so much my brother’s…)

I love organizing my practice too. I like experimenting with different etudes, exercises and warm-up routines, new practice schedules and techniques.

And while I don’t believe in ONE perfect practice routine, I have found over the years that the routines that work the best for me (and I believe, for you too!) have five things in common.

So here, presented in David Letterman countdown style, are my top five components of a perfect practice routine:


5. It must be personal.
What works for me may not work for you. Your practice routine must fit your objectives, your musical style and your goals. A practice regimen to prepare for a recital will obviously need to be different from one that will keep you in condition for therapeutic...

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The Year of the Snowball

practicing Dec 29, 2014

One of the things I love about living in the mountains is our annual snowfall. Each year, I can count on having significant snow on the ground by December, a guaranteed white Christmas. Granted, I’m tired of the snow long before our spring arrives, but for most of the winter, I find peace and energy in our wintry woods.

This year, however, our November snow disappeared, and we have unusually warm temperatures and bare ground. I miss my snow.

So as I have been designing my new year plans and goals, I have resolved to make this year the “Year of the Snowball.”

A book I read this year that made a big impact on my thinking was The One Thing by Gary Keller and Jay Papasan. The One Thing is a Wall Street Journal #1 bestseller, and although its aim is to help business people with their productivity, the principles apply pretty universally. Here is the key question that the authors suggest you use to help you focus: What is the one thing I can do right now, such that by...

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What You’re Not Practicing (and you should be!)

uncategorized Dec 16, 2014

We are coming up to a new year and a time for new beginnings. We make resolutions, committing to creating new habits and achieving new goals.

If you’re like me, you have a stack of new music that you want to learn in the new year. I love the idea of starting something new and exploring the musical possibilities and challenges that I may find.

But are you planning ahead for the finish line? Do you expect, based on past experience, that you will finish that piece and be able to play it to your satisfaction?

If crossing the finish line hasn’t been your experience to date, you probably need to change the way you’re practicing. Ordinary repetitive practice alone will not give you the performance results you are looking for. You need to do what the athletes do, and practice for the finish.

Professional athletes in every sport have rigorous practice schedules. Their workouts, their diets, their sleep routines are all carefully modulated to help them work at peak...

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Harp Mastery Insider Test

news Dec 09, 2014

Harp Mastery Insider Test

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The Philadelphia/Bethlehem Connection

music miscellany Dec 08, 2014

When I was a student in Philadelphia, I often had occasion to perform at the Church of the Holy Trinity,

just across Rittenhouse Square from the Curtis Institute of Music. The 1859 church building is beautiful, but I was always impressed by its associated history, and I’m always reminded of it at this time of year.

The rector of the church from 1862-1869 was Phillips Brooks,  famous for his vocal opposition to slavery and for composing the poem, “O Little Town of Bethlehem.”

I also used to walk by a small bronze plaque on a storefront on Walnut Street that marks the site where Lewis Redner, real estate                  Phillips Brooks 

agent and organist at Holy Trinity, penned the tune for the poem by Brooks.

Lewis Redner

The following excerpt is from a commentary by Louis F. Benson from Studies Of Familiar Hymns, First Series (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press. 1924). It tells of the trip to the...

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5 Tips to Make Your Holiday Performances Sparkle!

musicianship performing Dec 01, 2014

It’s a little ironic that at the time of year when we most want our music to help set the holiday mood in the performances we play, we are also  our most over-worked and are least likely to play our best.

Holiday performances are fun, but there are so many in so short a time, that it’s easy to feel underprepared and over-stressed.

With a few simple tactics, however, you can prevent the holiday struggle and bring out the sparkle!

  1. Over-prepare now to counteract stress and fatigue. If you know you have some challenging music to play during the season, double up on your practice now. Don’t count on having time to practice later; as the holidays get closer, it gets harder to find practice time. If you put in the effort now, you won’t have to worry when the time crunch hits. You won’t only FEEL prepared; you will BE prepared.
  2. Don’t bring out your hardest or least familiar repertoire. Resist the temptation to play that fabulous and fabulously...
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A Quick Musical Note of Thanks

music miscellany Nov 26, 2014

As we prepare to celebrate Thanksgiving here in the US, I thought I would offer a quick “thank you” tribute to all our harp-cestors, those incredible teachers, performers and composers that gave so much to the instrument we love. And “thank you” too, to all of you who contribute to the world of the harp and to the musical universe today. Without the many-faceted accomplishments from so many, our world would be so much poorer.

Thank you for your generosity, your gifts and all your music.

(And a quick word of thanks to all the participants on Monday’s teleseminar. As always, you are why I do what I do. Thank you!)

Here is a wonderful performance by Xavier de Maistre of Henriette Renié’s fanciful Danse des Lutins (Dance of the Goblins).

Enjoy and Happy Thanksgiving!

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The Doctor is In!

Are you plagued by a persistent problem in your practicing or playing? 

Often I have harpists come to me with a particular concern. There seems to be one issue, one real stumbling block that is in their path no matter what they do. These harpists are usually the “good student” type, even if they aren’t taking regular lessons. They practice diligently; they love music and the harp. But this difficulty has been so persistent that they have come to doubt their ability to play the harp at all, let alone overcome this one problem.

They have usually tried several different methods to resolve the problem and are frustrated by a lack of positive results. Sadly, by the time they come to me for help, they are near the quitting point.

Most often, much of this frustration could have been avoided with a proper diagnosis.

I’d like to share with you seven of the most common complaints that I help harpists with every day. Each of these problems could have one of several...

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