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The Woodshed: Do’s and Don’ts

Woodshedding (noun) a centuries old practice technique designed to produce correct and consistent performance through relentless repetition. Sound like fun? Not likely.

The legendary jazz saxophonist Charlie “Bird” Parker is often cited as a musician who owed his success to the woodshed. As Parker told the story, after some embarrassing performances as a young musician, he began “woodshedding” eleven to fifteen hours a day. As a result, a frustrated horn player became a budding jazz genius.

“Woodshed practice” produces good results with this simple formula, which I call the Woodshed Theorem:

Repetition x Endurance (physical and mental)

Time

Repetition times Endurance over Time equals Correct and Consistent Performance

The more repetition you do, and the longer you can stand it (that’s the endurance part), the better your results.

All we musicians know that repetition is a necessary part of learning our craft. That’s why we practice....

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Bach, and My Friend Edward Aldwell

music miscellany Mar 31, 2014

Today we celebrate the 329th birthday of a musical giant: Johann Sebastian Bach.

I have always had an affinity for Bach’s music. It speaks to me in its order and its beauty, its complexity and its elegance.

And I love playing Bach’s music, although I remember struggling, as a young piano student, to play without using the pedal. (Ah, the irony – I’m stuck with seven pedals now.)

When I was a Curtis student, I was privileged to have theory classes with pianist Edward Aldwell. After my student days, we became friends and colleagues. He was a great friend, one of those who was gifted at keeping in touch with people, and his wry sense of humor was legend.

But more to the point, he could play Bach’s music like no one else.

Perhaps it was because he understood it so well. The clarity and insight he gave us fortunate students at Curtis into the master’s music astounded many who thought we knew it all, in the way young people often do.

But when he started...

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How Much Music Theory Do You Need?

musicianship Mar 28, 2014

 

 

 

 

       
               
   © Chad McDermott – Fotolia.com

No doubt about it: music theory is an essential for every music student, no matter the skill level or age of the student. As any seasoned performer will tell you, a basic understanding of music theory helps you learn music faster, and interpret it more easily. As any teacher will tell you, it can be difficult to persuade students of this.

I often have dedicated and eager students ask me about taking music theory instruction, either as additional lessons with me or in an outside class. I always encourage it, but I also try to help them understand what they really need to know.

Music theory is fascinating to me. I love the intricacies of harmony and voice leading. I actually enjoy species counterpoint and writing fugues. But this is more pedagogy than is helpful or necessary for most students. What follows below is my...

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Warm-up with Chords!

practicing technique Mar 24, 2014

Chords, especially chords with four notes, can be troublesome for harpists. We have to find all the right strings, have the notes sound balanced, roll the chords evenly, or play them perfectly unbroken. A little bit of dedicated chord practice will go far toward making your chords more beautiful and more expressive.

And of course, it’s even better when you can make that chord practice your daily warm-up. Here’s one way to do it, practicing unbroken chords, chords with both hands rolled together and rolled from the bottom up and the top down:

  • Place a four note chord in each hand.
  • Play each finger in turn, holding the other strings. Play slowly, concentrating on tone and full finger action.
  • Play the chord unbroken, once again listening for tone, using your best technique and keeping your fingers and hands relaxed. Play this several times.
  • Play right hand and left hand together, note by note, starting with fourth fingers.
  • Play the hands together, one note at a time, bottom...
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Attention Freelance Musicians: How to Get Your Clients to Ask You Back

performing Mar 21, 2014

Your freelance music business will thrive if you can count on repeat business. If you think you can’t get repeat business, let me show you how.

Suppose you play weddings. These people will only get married once, at least to each other. I’m not suggesting that you hinge your business on a future divorce, but there are likely other celebrations where your music would be ideal. How about their child’s christening party?

Or an anniversary celebration? Or a house-warming party? Suppose your freelance business is mostly freelance orchestra work. Do you know how to stay “top of mind” with the orchestra’s personnel manager?

There are three action areas – before, during and after your gig – that can make the difference between a thriving musician and a starving one:

  1. Focus on client service. In your dealings with your client, let your actions show that you care about their event. They are spending their money to make their party, wedding or...
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You Can Have Even Fingers in 7 Easy Rhythms!

practicing technique Mar 17, 2014

We all want more even fingers, more fluid scales, rippling arpeggios and dazzling speed, but often that seems light years away. However, using these simple rhythms to practice your scales, arpeggios and even trouble spots in your repertoire pieces, you can get results quickly.

The basic principle is this: Some fingers develop more strength than others, and this is because we generally ask them to perform the same role in most of our playing. For instance, our right thumb is usually our melody finger, and so it becomes rather dominant. Our left hand fourth finger plays the low bass wires, and it also becomes very strong.

But our third fingers are usually weak. They don’t regularly play accented notes. We mostly just want them to fill in the notes of a chord, arpeggio or scale, which is precisely when we find out just how weak they are.

While there are lots of techniques to develop even fingers, one of the easiest, most effective and most enjoyable is to use rhythms as we...

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You Can Have Even Fingers in 7 Easy Rhythms!

practicing technique Mar 16, 2014

We all want more even fingers, more fluid scales, rippling arpeggios and dazzling speed, but often that seems light years away. However, using these simple rhythms to practice your scales, arpeggios and even trouble spots in your repertoire pieces, you can get results quickly.

The basic principle is this: Some fingers develop more strength than others, and this is because we generally ask them to perform the same role in most of our playing. For instance, our right thumb is usually our melody finger, and so it becomes rather dominant. Our left hand fourth finger plays the low bass wires, and it also becomes very strong.

But our third fingers are usually weak. They don't regularly play accented notes. We mostly just want them to fill in the notes of a chord, arpeggio or scale, which is precisely when we find out just how weak they are.

While there are lots of techniques to develop even fingers, one of the easiest, most effective and most enjoyable is to use rhythms as we practice...

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Tips for Painless Performing

performing Mar 14, 2014

There’s really only one secret to performing. Do it a lot. You get better at it. That being said, there are skills you can actually develop that will make it easier.

Too often, students are thrown into difficult performance situations without really being prepared for them. If things go well, everyone’s happy. If things go badly, the damage can be difficult to repair. I think it’s easier to get back on the horse that throws you, than to take the stage again after a bad experience.

My own worst performance experience came at a harp society gathering in New York City when I was a Curtis student. I was performing a solo in front of an entire audience of harpists and had a memory slip. So I started over, and had a slip at the same point. I walked off the stage. Eventually, with much encouragement from my classmates, I grabbed the paper music, walked back out and played the piece. It was not my finest moment, and it stuck with me for a long time.

There were a number of...

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Do You Practice Your Why?

musicianship practicing Mar 10, 2014

“Why?” is the biggest question in the world. It’s annoying when a toddler asks it incessantly. “Why?” is your frustration when your computer chooses the worst possible moment to crash. And it’s the question that almost never has an answer.

“Why” is also a popular question. Simon Sinek’s book “Start With Why” presents the bold assertion that, “It doesn’t matter what you do, it matters Why you do it.”

I am a person who needs to know why. I love to learn and I want to know. Wikipedia was made for me. Ask me something I don’t know, and I’ll find out.

I remember questioning my choice of music as a career when I was in my first year of college. That was an important Why, and I found out that, like most of you reading this, I played music because I loved it, and I played the harp because that was my voice. There was no better reason, and it was enough. Just knowing the Why made everything...

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Why Études are Important

practicing Mar 07, 2014

"And your étude for this week…”

Etudes When I was a young student, hearing my teacher say those words made my heart sink. An étude meant boring. dull and possibly difficult work that seemed unrelated to the music I wanted to play. As a piano student, I hated the Hanon book. And as a young harpist, I loathed the LaRiviere.

Piano technique is no longer something I concern myself with, and I have since come to respect and use the LaRiviere. In fact, some place along the line I learned the value of études. Études are part of my daily practice routine, and I now follow the good examples my teachers set, and I assign them to my students as well

Why are études so valuable? Surely we can practice technique in other ways, and études are almost always less musically rewarding than our regular repertoire. Here’s what I have learned about études:

       1.They are all about helping you read faster, learn...

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