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The Way You Do the Thing You Do: Mechanics, Technique and Method

musicianship technique Mar 02, 2015

Have you ever thought about how you play music, about how you do what you do?

 It’s not just about style. The way you play, what you actually do to make the music happen has much more significance than just style.

And it’s not magic either, not pulling a rabbit out of a hat. Musicians work and practice hard to be able to produce flowing melodies, rippling scales and arpeggios, beautifully shaped phrases and an even tone.

But maybe there is magic that happens. We experience that magic in a performance by a master when the performer and instrument almost seem to become one being. There is a sense of ease with no wasted motion and no extraneous gesture. We sense that the physical exertion of the performer is exactly what is required to produce the music. no more and no less.

That magic is not an accident, of course. It is the result of years of practice dedicated to physical training with an artistic goal, teaching your body to make music.There are three different...

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Do You Do Positive Practice?

practicing Feb 24, 2015

Positive Practice is something I work on for myself and for my students. I define it as practice that is focused, time-efficient and goal-oriented. Even my younger students are able to practice in a way that is more interesting than mere repetition and yields faster results.

This is the story behind my Positive Practice system: When I was in college, I had hours to practice. Practicing was how I was supposed to spend my time. Then in the years after school, I still had plenty of time to practice as a young professional musician.

But after I had a family and a busier teaching and performance schedule, I found myself with a dilemma. The musical demands of my performing were greater, so I wanted more time to practice, but I had much less time available.

My options didn’t look good. I could spend less time with my family, especially my young son. Or I could perform less frequently or less challenging music. Neither choice was acceptable to me.

So instead of being negative and...

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Revolutionize Your Practice by Learning from the Inside Out

When you think about it, “inside out” starts in the most important part, the center.

Consider the maze in this picture. Those twisty paths full of dead ends confuse you on your way to the center. But if you were able to start from the center, it would be relatively simple and much faster to find your way out.

When we practice, we envision the final performance or finished piece as the goal, the “center” of the maze. But suppose that we take that piece as the starting point for furthering our musical development, so that we not only learn the piece, but learn more about music and the way we play, the bigger issues in our music-making?

If you had music lessons as a child, your lesson books probably looked like mine: Each week, my teacher assigned me a scale and arpeggio to play, an etude that worked on a specific technical challenge, and a repertoire piece that illustrated that particular skill in a “real music” context. This kind of lesson plan is...

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How to be the World’s Worst Music Student

Many music teachers have rules for their teaching studio. Some publish their rules as a list of do’s and don’ts; others as a contract between teacher and student. The rules usually reflect the teacher’s expectations for practice and behavior in the lessons, commitments to performances, etc.

And the rules are usually designed to support the happiness of both teacher and student. The student will learn, the teacher can truly teach, and the parents know they are getting their money’s worth.

But for those of you with a slightly contrary nature, here are my top ten suggestions for you if you would like the award for “World’s Worst Music Student.”

10. Tell me you practiced when you didn’t. I can tell. Really.

9. Decide to use your own practice methods instead of the ones I suggested to you. I don’t mind you trying creative ways to practice, but if we have spent lesson time crafting a careful plan to move you ahead, I would like you to...

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Are You Facing a Moment of Truth?

Have you ever questioned whether you can ever play music the way you want?

It’s a moment of truth: when your desire to play music butts heads with your current level of accomplishment. It is that moment when the pleasure you found or hoped to find in making music is all but gone, replaced by frustration and disappointment. It is the time when you are forced to consider making a choice, going down one path or the other.

I faced that question in my moment of truth many years ago. Actually, I had several moments of truth. The most significant and painful one could have cost me my harp studies at the Curtis Institute of Music. It was a moment of decision that could have been a moment when a dream died or a moment of action. Guess which I chose. And that moment led me to some of the insights that became my Kaleidoscope Practice system.

Those moments seem to be a natural part of studying a musical instrument. And they’re not just for musicians who are looking toward...

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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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