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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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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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