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Three Musical Lessons I Learned from my Computer Crash

music miscellany Jan 31, 2014

Musical lessons from a computer crash? Absolutely! Read on…

My laptop’s hard drive died this week. The data on the drive is unrecoverable. This is an incredible inconvenience, and one that many people face everyday. As we entrust more of our lives, our work and our memories to these technological marvels, we discover how dependent we become on them. And in those first few hours without my precious computer, I realized that the lessons I was learning about my relationship with my technology were lessons that could, and should, be applied to my musical life as well.

Lesson #1: Backup.A no-brainer in the computer world. We have to prepare for the probability that something will go wrong, as Murphy’s law reminds us. And so I will remember to backup my computer files.

Musical Lesson #1: Preparation is the key. Plan enough time to prepare before a performance, leaving margin for the unexpected interruptions that arise. Practice properly, using my time and resources to...

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No Teacup Pinkies!

practicing technique Jan 29, 2014

We all know that the harp is a four-finger instrument. Our pinkies are just too short to be useful, no matter how much we might long for just one more finger to help us out.

This leaves us with the problem of what to do with those diminutive digits. The proper thing to do with your pinkies is to let them follow your fourth finger like a shadow. Those two fingers should move in tandem, opening and closing together, not stuck together as if with glue, but like elegant dancing partners. Think Fred and Ginger, not teenage slow dancing.

I often correct my students who are curling their pinkies, looking like they are having afternoon tea. It’s not just that it doesn’t look right, but it prevents their hands from functioning properly, and can even lead to tension-related problems. Obviously, curling any finger and holding it in one place will create tension in your hand. That is the last thing we need. But does your pinky serve any useful end at all in your harp playing?...

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Finding Your Professional Musician Spirit

What is the spirit of an professional musician? And do you have to be one to have one?

image The usual definition of a professional musician is a person who gets paid for playing music. Simple, and true enough, as far as it goes. But most professional musicians would define it much more broadly.

Professional musicians know it’s not just about the money, although that’s certainly part of it. It’s about attitude, life habits and choices. Music is part of the life force of every musician, and professionals have made that life force their destiny. In more down-to-earth terms, it’s not just what they do, it’s who they are.

Perhaps you are one of those, as I am. Or perhaps music is part of you, but not with that level of intensity. Whatever kind of musician you are, you can “grow” your professional spirit. You can develop those skills that set professionals apart in the same way you develop your technique and repertoire.

Interested in what makes...

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Sightreading in Slow Gear? The Three Things You Must Fix

Is your sightreading stuck in slow gear?

When I was growing up, I used to love riding the bumper cars at the amusement park. You remember those tiny little cars where you actually try to crash into everyone else and there are no rules? My brother and I would zoom around the rink, aiming for each other, but usually one of us would have a faster car than the other. It was so frustrating to have the slower car and know that no matter how hard you pushed that pedal to the floor, you would never go as fast as you wanted to.

Sightreading can hold that same frustration. The music can slip by too fast for you to keep up and everything falls apart. The difference with sightreading (as opposed to the bumper cars) is that you are in charge of how fast your car goes.

I’m not referring to the actual tempo that you are playing or trying to play. Rather, there are three main skills that are required to sightread well, and by developing your proficiency at those skills, you can sightread...

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How to Energize Your Practice by Learning ABOUT Your Piece

practicing Jan 17, 2014

Has your practice lost momentum? Try learning ABOUT your piece. You might just find a new perspective and new energy.

Does this scenario sound familiar? You have a new piece on your music stand and you feel like a race car, revving up for a lightning fast start. Ready, set GO! You dig into the notes, fingering, pedals. You are excited about playing this piece.

Starting a new piece is fun and exciting. I can remember as a young student coming home from a lesson, thrilled to be allowed to learn a piece I had heard the older students play. And still I am energized by the challenge and promise of a new piece.

And so should you be. But sometime during the long learning process, after the first glow has faded and the work is more tedious, take some time to learn ABOUT your piece. This is a great way to re-energize your practice, just when you need it.

Use the internet or your favorite musical resource and do some sleuthing. What do I like to look for?

1. Are there any foreign terms on the...

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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:


Who is...

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