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Macro Practice – the Big Picture

musicianship practicing Nov 01, 2013

Have you ever felt bored or frustrated with trying to perfect all the details when you practice? This is necessary work, however difficult, but trying to perfect all the details can keep you from getting a piece to the stage where you can play it, even if you only play if for your own pleasure. It’s like looking at a drop of water in a microscope and never seeing the ocean. Or not seeing the forest for the trees.

Incorporating some “macro” practice with your “micro” approach can help you get to the finish line with any piece faster. Even better, it’s a fun way to practice.

My point is this: practicing for details is the little picture, but the piece of music is actually a big picture. We like the image of the composer carefully choosing every note and every dynamic, but the reality is that composers create a whole piece. All those notes create a work that is greater than the sum of its parts. All together the notes create a mood, a story, a...

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Compared to What?

“Compared to what?”

“It’s not good enough,” I say when my practicing isn’t going well. “It’s not ready yet,” says a student when the recital date is getting close.

What I find interesting about these statements is that they feel like statements of fact, but they are not. They are judgment statements. And although we may feel certain about their truth, our perceptions may need some adjustment.

Those statements are really comparisons, and we need to evaluate the validity of those comparisons before we pass final judgment. To be certain we aren’t comparing apples to oranges, we need to ask a crucial question: “Compared to what?”

It’s not good enough compared to:

The idea and sound I have in my head.
The way I hear someone else play it.
How my teacher wants me to play it.

It’s not ready compared to:

How I wish it were.
How it might have been if I had more time.
The goal I set.

Some of those...

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Etude a Day Challenge Wrap-up

musicianship practicing Oct 25, 2013







                    © jro-grafik –

Last month I launched my first “Etude a Day Challenge.” The participants were challenged to play through one etude a day from a book of etudes I selected for the 25 day course. My goal in presenting the challenge was to give harpists the experience of playing through something new each day and working for quantity and breadth of experience, rather than for quality.

Does that sound like heresy to you? I don’t mean that we shouldn’t strive for perfection in all that we play and practice pieces to a finish point. But in my experience, it is very easy for students to get bogged down in their practice with the result that they limit their musical experience and growth. This is especially true with adult students, who in general work more carefully and are more determined to play correctly.

So the challenge was...

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The Third Stage of Memorization

Memorizing music is a long process. Once most people have passed the first two stages, they think they are done. But that really is only the beginning.

In previous posts, I wrote about the first two stages of memorization: rote memorization and conscious memorization. Rote memorization relies on repetition to develop knowledge strengthened by physical habit. Conscious memorization requires committing the details to your conscious memory so you can recall them when you need to.

But it’s the third stage of memorization, intuitive memorization, where the magic really happens. This is the stage that changes your performance from a recitation to a creation.

Intuitive memorization is not about using your intuition. It is about developing your intuition for the piece. It is about knowing the piece so well that there is a sense of inevitability in your playing, one that blurs the distinction between composer and performer.

This stage requires the most time of any of the stages. It...

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Weird Music Teacher Tips




              © vlorzor –

No, not tips for weird music teachers. Just some offbeat ideas to help with those difficult music lessons.

Your student didn’t practice this week? Did they forget to bring their music to their lesson? Maybe they need some help, motivation or inspiration? Or maybe they just feel stuck?

Sometimes teachers feel stuck too. But I have learned a few tricks over the years that help me turn a potentially frustrating lesson into one where the student makes progress and we both have fun. I hope these tips can help you too!

1. Sightread duets. My favorite, and it’s extremely helpful. If you don’t have two harps, you can always each play one hand of a piece and share one harp. Tricky but fun!

2. Play “Measure Lotto.” With a difficult piece or passage, I assign random numbers to each measure. The student chooses a number and then must play that measure. A fun...

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Are You a Good Listener?

musicianship practicing Oct 16, 2013

Here’s a thought for the day: Music is about listening. Ok, so it’s not earth-shattering news, but sometimes we get so caught up in making music that we forget to listen. We practice, play and practice some more. But if we are not listening, we are not using our best resource for correction and inspiration.                                                         

So how do you listen while you are practicing, and what should you be listening for?

The “how” is the easy part. You simply have to pay attention. This means not taking a mental nap while you’re doing ten repetitions of a passage. It means staying focused every moment you are practicing, not thinking about what you need to do later in the day. It means being present as you play. It isn’t easy, but the good news is that it will make your practice...

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Why Memorization is a Poor Substitute for Note Reading

aural skills musicianship Oct 11, 2013

Do you memorize instead of reading the notes?






       © Elnur –

If so, you’re not alone. Many people do this believing it is easier, at least for them, to learn the notes for a specific piece rather than learn to read them in general.

If you are one of these people, you are probably aware that you do it and that your teacher says you shouldn’t. But reading the notes is so slow for you and looking at the harp is a necessity. So you have taught yourself to play watching the strings and following along with the music on the page. Maybe you write in some of the notes.

When I was taking piano lessons as a child, my teacher prevented me from developin

g that habit in the time-honored way – she held the lid over the keys so I couldn’t watch my hands. As a consequence, I became a fluent music reader, a skill which has been key to my success as a professional musician.

And let’s face...

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Happy birthday, Camille Saint-Saëns!

music miscellany Oct 09, 2013

    Charles-Camille Saint-Saëns
  "(October 9,1835 – December 16, 1921)

Charles-Camille Saint-Saëns (October 9, 1835 – December 16, 1921)

Today I would like to honor the birthday of composer Camille Saint-Saëns, born October 9, 1835.

The Saint-Saëns work we harpists most often play is perhaps “The Swan,” whether we perform it as a harp solo or accompanying a solo instrument. But of his three works actually written for harp – the Fantaisie, Op. 95, the Morceau de Concert, op. 154 and the Fantaisie for violin and harp, op. 124 – my favorite by far is the Fantaisie for violin and harp.

This piece was a product of the later period of his life, one that was very productive. Saint-Saëns had survived numerous personal emotional upheavals, and by this time was firmly established as a musical reactionary against the music of the young Impressionists like Debussy.

The Fantaisie was composed in March of 1907 on a trip...

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How is Your Alberti Bass?

musicianship practicing Oct 07, 2013

How is your Alberti bass?

This familiar bass pattern is named after the Venetian composer and singer Domenico Alberti (c. 1710 – 14 October 1740). It bears his name due to its frequent appearance in his popular harpsichord sonatas. In the centuries since, it has become a stock accompaniment pattern. You can find it harp music from Dussek to Damase. And despite its ubiquitous presence, it can still pose coordination difficulties for us harpists.

The above quote from the Oxford Dictionary of Music is a favorite of mine, and highlights the love/hate relationship many musicians have for the Alberti bass.

But since we must play it, here a few basic facts and technical tips:

In essence, the pattern is an arpeggiated three note chord. The notes are played in this order: lowest note, highest note, middle note, highest note. While it most characteristically used in the bass, it can be used as an ostinato over a bass line, or even as a figurated melody.

The most usual fingering is...

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Pre-Holiday Performance Checklist

performing practicing Oct 04, 2013

It’s still nearly a month until Halloween, but it’s not too soon to begin planning for your holiday performances. In fact, now is the time, before the craziness of the holiday season closes in, to get everything in order so that you can actually enjoy the holidays this year.

1. Check your calendar. Make sure all your dates are written in correctly in your calendar now. Don’t trust your memory. As those last minute gigs come in, you don’t want to find yourself having to remember if you promised someone a rehearsal on that evening. Double  check any tentative dates or times.

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