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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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Three Reasons I Love My Air Turn (and Why You Should Have One)

music miscellany Dec 02, 2013

 

 

 

 

          Air Turn BT 105

Last spring, I finally purchased my Air Turn bluetooth pedal for hands-free page turning. Very simply, it works with my tablet computer to turn pages of music that I read from the tablet in PDF format. It’s easy, convenient, and I should have gotten it sooner.

I first learned about the digital music revolution from my former colleague at Curtis, Hugh Sung. Hugh is an amazing pianist and was a member of the collaborative piano faculty as well as Director of Student Recitals at Curtis. But more importantly, as anyone who has ever met Hugh can tell you, he is a techno-geek-wizard. So naturally he was drawn to thinking of a way get music off of paper and onto computers. As a pianist, he knew page turning was going to be the biggest issue. And eventually the Air Turn pedal was reality.

For me, as for many others, the Air Turn has eased some of the difficulties that seemed to be an inseparable part of...

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The Practice of Thanksgiving

Do you practice Thanksgiving, practice giving thanks?

I write a lot about practicing on this blog. In fact, there are 113 posts in the Practicing category. The frequency of the topic is not really surprising, since practice is the single biggest part of a musician’s musical life.

The word “practice” has many shades of meaning. It can refer to a habit or custom as in “practice random acts of kindness.” The term “best practices” means a set of standards or procedures. We can practice, or pursue, a discipline or profession, as in “the practice of yoga,” or “medical practice.”

I think music practice is all these, and something else as well.

Yes, practice builds correct habits. Through practice we seek to meet a certain standard, and it most certainly is a pursuit.

But consider what our music practice really does. It doesn’t just make us play better, or make wrong notes right. Our practice is about making...

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Fill Your Technique Toolbox

practicing technique Nov 22, 2013
Is your technique toolbox well stocked?

In the last post, I wrote about the three things you need to work on to improve your playing. The first of those three is technique, and I would like to go into a little more depth about that in today’s post.

As I described in the post, your technique is your toolbox. It exists to serve your playing and the more tools you have in your toolbox, the more challenging playing tasks you will be able to take on.

Have you ever been in an old fashioned hardware store? This is the kind of place where you can go and ask the person behind the counter what sort of tool you need for the job you want to tackle. Back behind that counter are all the tools and little parts – nuts, bolts, screws, nails – and from out of that huge collection, the hardware guy picks exactly what you need. You need that particular size wrench, that one and no other.

When you work on building your technique, you are working on your own hardware store. Whatever...

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Improve Your Playing by Working in These Three Areas

musicianship practicing Nov 19, 2013

The truth is that there are only three things you need to work on to improve your playing. These things are true whether you are planning to play concerts for thousands of   

people or just play    for yourself in your own living room. They are true whether you play the harp or another instrument. And the principles actually apply to any endeavor, musical or otherwise.

Learning to play an instrument, and to play it well, is a process and a puzzle. The process part seems easy – practice. The puzzle is when your practice doesn’t seem to be getting you the results you want, or getting them fast enough.

The problem lies in at least one of three areas.

Are the three things magic solutions? Of course not. They all involve hard work and dedication. The amount of hard work depends on your personal goals for your playing. The more lofty your goals, the more work you will need to do.

But if you HAVE a goal for your playing, even if you think your goal is a...

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Is Your Hand Centered? Why You Need to Find Out!

practicing technique Nov 15, 2013

Is your hand centered?

Often I will have a student complain to me that their fourth finger is weak, or they can’t reach an octave comfortably. Usually they ask for strengthening or stretching exercises, but often those aren’t the solutions they need.

One of the most important things we harpists can do to have an even technique and tone is to keep the hand centered. What is “centered?” Your hand is centered when the bulk of your hand is distributed evenly over the distance between your thumb and fourth finger. Your hand should have a round shape, not a flat one, and your thumb and second finger should look like the letter “C”.

The tendency is to pull the hand back toward the thumb. This makes the space between thumb and second finger too small and prevents the thumb from making a full closing motion when it plays. When your hand is too far toward your thumb, your fourth finger needs to stretch to reach the notes it must play, and it is too straight...

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