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10 Tips on Playing Debussy

musicianship Jan 13, 2014

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What do you think of when you think of Claude Debussy’s music? Is it the sweeping surge and play of the waves of La Mer? The clarity of his piano preludes? The many moods and colors his music can evoke?

I love playing Debussy’s music. It challenges me to be my most expressive, and at the same time, use my cleanest technique. And the musical rewards it offers for doing my best are second to none.

But there’s no question that playing anything by Debussy is a challenge, whether it’s a short piano transcription, or the Danses. And I have noticed that many students, when they are first able to learn his music, have no idea of the difficulties in Debussy’s music or even how to make the beauty come through.

Here is a quick 10 point checklist of things to consider as you practice your favorite Debussy work:

1. The music is more rhythmic than you think. Much of Debussy’s music...

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How to Create Momentum, Part 2

In the last post, I offered some ways for busy professional harpists to create momentum in the new year in their playing and in their business.

Today I would like to suggest some similar momentum-creating ideas for adult students or non-professionals or teachers of the same.

I have a number of adult students, and I love teaching them. They are motivated, focused on what they want to do and hard workers. Of course, the other non-harp parts of their lives sometimes pushes their harp studies on to a back burner, but they are dedicated student harpists.

One of the challenges for an adult student is the lack of clearly defined, reachable goals. For young students, there is the year-end recital or the music exam. The landmarks seem more noticeable.

With no highlighted mileposts, adult students can sometimes languish and feel frustrated by a perceived lack of progress. This is particularly true for people who have been highly driven professionals in another field. Understandably, these...

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How to Create Momentum, Part 1

If you are one of those busy harpists who played everywhere during the holiday season, you may seriously need a break. Slow down if you need to, but don’t stop. This is the time to create momentum to keep your business thriving and those phone calls and emails coming.

Momentum is a funny thing. It is motion and direction. It seems elusive, but it is easy to create. All you have to do is get up and move.

So before you decide to pack up and head for someplace sunny, make some plans to get yourself back in shape, and keep your calendar full. Even if you only play an occasional gig, these tips can make every outing more pleasant and worthwhile.

1. Refresh your repertoire. This is a great time to add a new piece or two to your tried and perhaps tired old standbys. Fill a hole in your music list. Do you need to learn the latest wedding request? Or maybe you need something special for Valentine’s Day. Mix up the mood: something peppy, something romantic, something short,...

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All Thumbs – 4 Quick Tips to Improve Your Thumb Technique

technique Jan 03, 2014

Do your thumbs make you crazy?

Thumbs are wonderful digits to have, but trying to make them behave when you play the harp can be a frustrating experience. They don’t sound the same as the other fingers and they don’t move the same way. The truth is, it takes a lot of care and attention to have your thumbs blend in with the rest of your fingers.

Before you can really try to fix your thumbs, you need to recognize one important fact. We tend to think of our thumbs as shorter than our fingers, but they’re not. In fact, your thumb is probably as long as your longest finger. You don’t think so?

Look at your thumb. The first section of your thumb, the distal phalange, goes from the tip of your thumb to the first knuckle. The next section, the proximal phalange, connects the first knuckle to the second knuckle which is near the webbing between your thumb and your hand.

But your thumb doesn’t end there.

There is a third section of your thumb which connects to...

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Balance Your Musical Life in 2014

music miscellany Dec 30, 2013

The New Year is the time for setting goals and making plans. But without making your goals part of a balanced life plan, you are likely to miss your mark. One of the keys to setting goals you can actually accomplish is to make them part of a larger picture of your life. After all, your life has many facets and music is just one of them.

The motivational speaker and writer Zig Ziglar talked about the “Wheel of Life.” This wheel has seven areas, all of which must be kept in balance for your life to go smoothly. If one area is ignored, your wheel will be more like a flat tire. The seven areas in Zig’s wheel are these:

  • Family
  • Social
  • Career
  • Financial
  • Physical
  • Intellectual
  • Spiritual

You may have noticed that “music” is not one of the areas on the wheel. I would challenge you for 2014 to set musical goals in each area of the wheel to keep your musical life in balance. Here are some of my ideas for incorporating music into your Wheel of Life:

Family

Who is...

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What Did You Do This Year? What Are Your Goals for 2014?

music miscellany Dec 27, 2013

What did you do this year? Now is a great time to take stock of what you accomplished in the past year, so you can make new goals for the new year.

As the New Year approaches, we turn our thoughts to resolutions and goals. I start thinking about my goals around Thanksgiving, because before I can make any goals for next year, I need to take stock of the year I’m finishing. What did I do, or didn’t I do? Did I achieve my goals for this year? Do I want next year to be more of the same, or do I want something different? The answers to these questions can be found in the hard numbers of what I did this year.

Here’s how my year looked in some of the areas that I was focusing my efforts on: The blog: I wrote 120 posts this year, totaling over 60,000 words, enough for a decent-sized novel. My readership increased by over 300%, and I successfully launched my first “Etude a Day Challenge.”

Sheet music arrangements: I wrote 12 new arrangements this year. This is...

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10 Quick and Easy Stocking Stuffers for the Musician on Your List

music miscellany Dec 23, 2013

Need to finish up your shopping in a hurry? Try these 10 easy stocking stuffers for the musician on your list.

I’m not one of those people who shops for Christmas in August. Occasionally, I will find the perfect Christmas gift in the summer. But I really prefer to leave my shopping until November and December, when it helps with my holiday mood.

The difficulty with this is that I really don’t like shopping very much, so I order a lot online (thank you, Amazon!) and try to consolidate any shopping trips I need to make.

In case you are like me, or perhaps just a procrastinating Santa, I want to share some of my favorite stocking stuffers for the musicians on my list. They are easy items to find, so shopping is a breeze. And you don’t even need to venture farther than the corner pharmacy for many of them.

1. Nail clippers. I have German-made nail clippers that I love, but any pair of nail clippers will be a good emergency pair to keep in a gig bag.

2. Hand lotion....

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Why You Shouldn’t Practice Over the Holidays (and 3 Things to Do Instead)

practicing Dec 14, 2013

“Don’t practice over the holidays!”

That’s something all my students would love to hear me say.Unfortunately for many of them, it’s the best time to get some concentrated work done. Finals are over, recitals are coming up, and they must practice.

But for the rest of us, the holidays are the time to chill out, push “pause,” relax, and yes, NOT practice.

The reasons are obvious enough. Rest is important. We need to refresh our bodies, minds and spirits. We need to let the noise and clutter in our minds settle down so we can reconnect with what we love: our families, our friends and the music that is such an important part of who we are.

We need time to regain our perspective, to get out of the trees and take the eagle’s eye view of the forest. It’s time to review the past year, to plan for the next and to rediscover our joy and our energy.

If we continue to practice as usual at this crucial time, we can get stuck in our work...

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Five Books for Your Holiday Gift List

music miscellany Dec 10, 2013

Are you looking for something to give your favorite musician this holiday season? Or possibly a new book or two for your own collection? Here are some suggestions for great books for any musician on your list, including you.

 

 

 

 

1. Just for harpists: Harps and Harpists, Revised Edition

This is a classic, and one that every harpist should have. I usually give this as a gift to my students when the graduate from high school. The book is not only filled with information that every harpist should know, but it is a beautiful book, truly coffee table worthy.

 

 

 

 

2. Classical music: The Life and Death of Classical Music: Featuring the 100 Best and 20 Worst Recordings Ever Made

Norman Lebrecht’s books always command my attention. He has written twelve books on music, and his daily blog, Slipped Disc (I am a subscriber), is a leading source for news about classical music in Britain and the U.S. This book is a fascinating look at the...

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Are You Having Technical Issues?

practicing technique Dec 06, 2013

Sometimes we have technical issues. They may slow down our practice, mar an otherwise good performance, or just be a continual source of frustration. Whether it’s one finger that isn’t as strong as the others, or just a general need to improve our fingers’ agility, there is a four-step process that will help you meet your technical challenges.

Step 1: Eliminate. The first step in solving your technical issue is to figure out what it ISN’T. At first glance you may think the problem lies in a couple of measures that never seem to work right. Usually, you can reduce the problem area down to one single beat or group of notes, or one fingering that isn’t working. This step is critical in making your work efficient and effective. Eliminate what is not the real problem and move on to step 2.

Step 2: Identify. You should now be able to see what the problem really is. Consider it thoughtfully. It is situational, something that is a problem just in that spot of...

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