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Is it Done Yet? The Final Stage of Music Learning

musicianship practicing May 26, 2014

This is the third in this three-part series of posts on the Three Stages of Music Learning. This post is about the final stage: the Finish. You can find Stage One and Stage Two here.

I have a cake recipe that my family loves. It’s a recipe for pound cake, and when I bake it right, it’s sweet, moist and delicious. The trick is in the baking.

It has to start in a cold oven, not preheated. If you open the oven door even once before the cake is close to done, the cake doesn’t rise properly. The recipe says it should bake for at least an hour and a quarter. But almost always, my oven needs an hour and a half.

So at the end of an hour and a quarter, I start checking. I get a long metal skewer and test the cake to see if it’s done. If not, it gets the extra fifteen minutes, during which I hope I’m not overbaking it. I’ve made this cake enough that I’m fairly confident about my results, but I cross my fingers anyway.

Taking a piece of music to...

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Making it Through the Messy Middle: Music Learning Stage 2

musicianship practicing May 23, 2014

This is the second in this three-part series of posts on the Three Stages of Music Learning. This post is about the second stage: the Messy Middle. Here’s the previous post about Stage One.

“When will we get there?”

The traffic is backed up for miles on the interstate, or the flight is cancelled. Tempers are beginning to feel the strain, and the child picks this time to ask the question, “When we will get there?”

This is also how the middle stage of music learning can feel. We can be bored, restless and impatient. Even worse, we can feel frustrated believing that things should be better by now. We should have mastered that difficult passage or at least be able to play through the piece without stopping. But that level of proficiency still seems off in the distance.

Many people refer to this stage as “the messy middle.” There is a “messy middle” to most endeavors, not just music practice. And it’s the most difficult stage in...

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Do You Know the Three Stages of Music Learning?

musicianship practicing May 19, 2014



When you learn a new piece of music, you take it through three distinct stages of learning: First Sight, the Messy Middle, and Finish. Each stage has different learning objectives and techniques. This series of posts will introduce you to each of the stages to help you focus your practice and speed your learning.

So that new piece of music is on your stand. Maybe it’s one you’ve wanted to learn for a long time. It’s like a gift waiting to be unwrapped.

What are you feeling? Excitement, a sense of adventure, determination, maybe a little fear? How you feel as you approach a new piece depends greatly on your past experiences, good and bad, with practicing and performing.

Ideally, your past successes should have built your confidence in your abilities. You should know that you have the musical, technical and personal resources to tackle new challenges.

I call this beginning stage of learning First Sight. It’s that clean slate feeling when the...

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The Top 10 Reasons Why You Aren’t Practicing

practicing May 16, 2014

The scariest thing I found about compiling this list was that in the space of about 10 minutes I thought of more than 20            reasons. While you read this, I’m going to go practice…

     10. The weather is too awful (or too nice).

       9. I can’t find my music/lesson book.

       8. My instrument is out of tune.

       7. I don’t know what I’m supposed to do.

       6. It’s too boring.

       5. My fingers are sore.

       4. I don’t have to because my lesson’s not until next week.

       3. It’s not going to make any difference anyway.

       2. I have to clean the house/walk the dog/do the dishes.

Drum roll please. And the number one reason you aren’t practicing is…

       1. I...

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Seven Steps to More Gigs This Summer

performing May 12, 2014

Have you looked at your summer calendar lately? Do you have a full schedule of performances? Or are you hoping some more work comes along so you can be sure of making the rent payment?

Here is a quick seven step system you can use to put your summer to good use. It will not only help you fill your calendar this summer, but it can help you long term to build your freelance music business.

There are seven questions that you need to answer. The more thought you give to your answers, the busier you can be. One warning – if you don’t write your answers down on paper, you won’t get the same results.

Something about seeing the facts in black and white gives the words more power.

  1. What type of performances/gigs do you want to play? Are you looking for weddings, club dates, cafes, outdoor festivals? Write down as many different types as you like. Don’t be shy!
  2. What are the names of 10 places you would like to play? Be specific.
  3. Who is your “target...
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Happy Harpist Habit #6

musicianship practicing May 09, 2014

I recently presented a workshop that I call “The 12 Habits of Highly Happy Harpists.” (My apologies to Stephen Covey.) Over my years of performing and teaching, I have noticed that the harpists who find more enjoyment and fulfillment in their harp lives have these particular habits in common. This is even more true for those harpists who make the harp their career. And I was pleased to present this at Philly Harp Day last March to a very active and inspiring group of harpists.

On my list of habits, Habit #6 is connecting with other harpists. We harpists are very social people, but playing the harp is rarely a social enterprise. We usually don’t have a large section in an orchestra where we can find harp friends. Getting together with other harpists to play can be difficult because of the harp moving involved. And sometimes, we live in a place that just doesn’t have a large harp community.

Nevertheless, keeping in touch with other harpists is crucial to our...

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Do Your Performances Have the Inevitability Factor?

performing May 05, 2014

The most memorable concert I ever attended was a performance of Bach’s Goldberg Variations by pianist Edward Aldwell. This work, dating from 1741 (Bach died in 1750), is an aria and a set of 30 variations. The title page of the first edition includes this rather elegant description: “Composed for connoisseurs, for the refreshment of their spirits“. It is a massive work, and its beauty, variety and complexity make it an irresistible challenge for pianists and a special favorite of fans of Bach.

But this performance was special.

The piece came alive as I have never heard it before or since, and it felt as if everyone in the audience sensed the same thing. We were spellbound. The air in the room seemed to shimmer with every note.

Why was this so special? For me, it was the sense of inevitability inherent in each moment of the performance. As soon as he played a note, I knew that, of course, that was exactly how that note HAD to be played. There were no musical loose...

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Living a Musical Legacy

music miscellany May 02, 2014

Each of us is a product of our upbringing. That’s no less true in music than in a family. Our teachers have a profound effect on us. For those of us who go on to make music an important part of our lives, we realize the impact of our teachers in our work every day. We recognize the place we hold, the responsibility we have to continue traditions and walk further down the musical road.

My teacher, Marilyn Costello, embodied the harp for me, since I began studying harp at age 8. I had long wanted to play the harp, and my piano teacher insisted that my parents take me to play for her. We lived in the Philadelphia area, and it was relatively easy to arrange an interview.

Miss Costello did not usually take young students, so she arranged lessons for me with a Curtis student for my first year. After that, she took me on herself. I studied with her until my graduation from Curtis, and was privileged to know her well long after that.

But she shaped my musical experience in other ways...

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Pedal Pushing 101

practicing Apr 28, 2014

The big day has come – you are a pedal harpist at last! Pedals expand your musical horizons, free up your left hand, and give you two more limbs to coordinate.

Don’t get discouraged; the rewards far outweigh the inconvenience. And though you will hear pedal harpists complain about “the feet,” we wouldn’t want to give up playing the fabulous music that the pedals make possible.

So for those of you who have just taken the plunge – or those of you who want a refresher course – here are some basic pedal tips.

How to sit

Chair height becomes even more important when you have a pedal harp. You still need to sit at the correct height for playing. But now, it’s no longer enough to be able to have your feet flat on the floor. Your feet should learn a “resting position” on the C and F pedals, heel on the floor and the ball of your foot on the pedal. You should be able to reach the farthest pedals without changing your body position,...

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Out of the Box Ideas for Wedding Ceremony Music That You Already Can Play

performing Apr 25, 2014

Wedding repertoire is usually predictable. Even with the occasional request for an unusual pop song or family favorite, most brides like to stick to the tried and true, the evergreen favorites.

So I am always delighted when a bride tells me to pick the selections myself. I usually ask her what sort of mood or atmosphere she envisions for her wedding. Does she prefer formal or romantic? Serene or joyful? Sometimes I take cues from the location, choosing different music for a garden, a mansion or a beach.

And then I let my musical imagination run wild. What have I always wanted to play at a wedding? I have a number of pieces that are favorites of mine that I am able to suggest to wedding couples, and I find that the couples are usually very receptive to my musical ideas.

Would you have some ceremony music suggestions ready to offer, should a bride ask? It’s a good idea to prepare a response, so you can sound assured and confident, which will help your bride feel confident, too.

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