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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 √Čtudes 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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5 Qualities of Successful Freelance Musicians, or How to Love Your Work

We often talk about what freelance musicians need to DO: make phone calls, send out contracts, talk to clients or potential employers, keep a music stand in the car. But the long list of tasks seems less daunting when you distill it and realize that there are habits and attitudes that you need to develop to be successful in the freelance market. It doesn’t matter whether you’re interested in playing for parties, dance clubs or the opera, the personal skills you need are the same.

This is not a checklist where you say, “I’m no good at that,” and give up on freelancing. This is a list to remind you of the habits you need to develop and ways you need to continue to grow personally. The more you attune yourself to this mindset, the more enjoyable and more profitable your freelance career will be, and the more you will love your work.

And your musical abilities have little to do with it.

The number one personal skill for a freelancer is organization. No...

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Insights from the Kaleidoscope Challenge

© Zdenek Precechtel – Fotolia.com

Recently, a group of dedicated harpists and I finished the “Kaleidoscope Challenge.” “Kaleidoscope Challenge.” This online challenge was 4 weeks of practice techniques and FaceBook camaraderie designed to make our daily practice more efficient, focused and effective. The techniques were part of the “practice repertoire” I have developed over the years and found to be invaluable at keeping the momentum through the difficult practice times.

It’s often called the “messy middle,” that point in music practice when you have the notes mostly learned but they are far from comfortable. The correct tempo seems a long way off, and the continual repetitions that are required are becoming mind-numbing and not producing results.

And so over the course of those four weeks, we tried 20 different practice techniques to keep ourselves interested and motivated. I expected good results; after all, I use...

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What is Musicality?

musicianship practicing Feb 21, 2014

What is musicality? Is it something you are born with, or something you can develop? And if you can develop it, how do you go about doing that?

Merriam-Webster defines musicality as “sensitivity to, knowledge of, or talent for music.” That’s great as far as it goes, but it’s hardly the sort of definition a practicing musician would find helpful.

There’s no question that musicality as a quality is hard to define. We tell ourselves that we know when we hear it. And obviously some people have greater intuition for musical expression than others.

But if musicality were something that couldn’t be developed and improved through practice and performance, all of us would have to give up the quest to become any better than we are today. Fortunately, we don’t have to. We can grow our powers of musical expression through practice, like any other musical skill.

In this post, I have compiled a short list of what musicality is, and isn’t to get you...

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