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Top 10 Reasons Every Musician Should Practice Bach

I would find it difficult to pick one composer to call my favorite. I love the way Mozart’s music glistens and the intensity of Tchaikovsky. I can get lost in the emotion of Ravel and revel in the clarity of John Field. But on most days, if I had to pick just one, I would pick Johann Sebastian Bach.

I never tire of listening to his music, to the mind-bending complexity of a fugue or the overwhelming emotion in a slow movement. Or the ingenious voicing of a chorale. Or the breadth of the St. Matthew Passion.

And I never tire of playing his music either. Yes, I know he never wrote for harp, but I wouldn’t want to be banned from playing his music on that kind of technicality. There’s so much I learn from his music whenever I attempt to play it.

And here are my top ten reasons that I think you should put some Bach in your practice rotation:

10. It’s been transcribed for every instrument, so you have no excuse. Here’s banjo virtuoso Bela Fleck’s...

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Why Your Practice May Be Holding You Back

musicianship practicing Sep 18, 2013

Here’s a radical thought – don’t practice so well.But wait! Isn’t careful practice what I am supposed to do, so I can play well, with a solid technique and mostly all the right notes?

The answer is of course, unless that’s the ONLY way you practice. Careful practice can be a trap. If our only focus is trying to play correctly, we will never learn to play much.

An example: My mother’s aunt, Aunt Floss, took piano lessons as a child. But her lessons didn’t leave her a life-long ability to play the piano. As an adult, she could only play one piece, “The Black Hawk Waltz.” I remember many family gatherings when she would sit down to play “her piece.” It was never a polished performance, and as the years went by, she lost more and more of the piece until finally she couldn’t even remember how it started.

An different example: Pablo Picasso the Spanish cubist painter lived into his nineties, and was quoted as saying,...

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Taking Music Lessons? The Three Questions You MUST Ask Your Teacher

Lessons are not given, they are taken.
Cesare Pavese, Italian author and poet (1908-1950)
                                                    © polydsign – Fotolia.com

First, the facts.

1. Music lessons are foundational. Your teacher will help you develop the essential points of technique and musicianship and lead you through standard repertoire for your instrument.

2. Music lessons are inspirational. Your teacher can help motivate you to practice. She can introduce you to musical masterworks and artists whose work you may not have otherwise known. He can open a new world of musical experience to you.

3. Music lessons are expensive. Yep. So you want to be sure you get your money’s worth. You may love your teacher and be making good progress. But by asking these three questions below, you can be certain that you are getting...

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Nervous? 3 ways to stop focusing on performing and start playing

musicianship performing Sep 13, 2013

 Being nervous is a terrible feeling. It can be physically debilitating, with symptoms from cold, clammy hands to nausea and beyond. But by far, the worst damage that nervousness causes is the psychological. We worry about how our nervousness will sabotage our well-prepared and carefully practiced performance. And in the extreme, it can prevent us from performing at all.

When I was a child, my mother and I were both taking piano lessons from the same teacher, and we were both participating in the end-of-the-year student recital. My mother went up to the piano to play, sat down and stared at the keyboard. I remember watching as she stood back up, muttered an apology and ran off the stage before anyone could see her start to cry. She was simply too nervous to play the piece she had prepared all year.

Sometimes the level of anticipation inside ourselves is so high that all we can see is the act of performing. The anxiety is much less when we can focus on the activity, the...

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Music for an American Triumph Over Tragedy

music miscellany Sep 11, 2013

I do not choose to recognize September 11 as a day of mourning any longer. We remember those we lost and grieve their passing. But we as a nation, true to our history, have overcome. We remember but we survive. We mourn but we continue. We honor and we rebuild.

Today I wanted to share with you some of my favorite music. It is music expressive of our country and our people , and I find it fitting for today.

First is Dvorak’s Symphony No. 9 in E minor, “From the New World.” Written by a Czech composer and written while in this country, it was commissioned by the New York Philharmonic and premiered in 1893. Although Dvorak insisted the symphony contained no actual native American music, he may not have realized how well the symphony reflects the quintessential American melting pot concept.

In a 1956 analysis of the symphony, Leonard Bernstein discusses the multiple musical influences in the work. And here is an interesting comparison of various recordings.

It is one...

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The Three Necessary Stages of Memorization, Part 1

musicianship practicing Sep 09, 2013

It is easy to know when we don’t have a piece memorized. It is more difficult to know when a piece is “ready” to be performed from memory.Memorization is a process, and one that requires time and effort. It is not simply practicing a piece until                                                                                                                 © Yong Hian Lim – Fotolia.com

you don’t have to look at the music. It is a gradual absorbing of every aspect of the piece, a deep and fundamental understanding of its message, its language and its techniques.

You don’t have to be a musical genius to memorize well. And you don’t have to have a great...

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What to Do When Frustration Threatens Your Success

 

 

 

 

From time to time, we all experience what I call “potentially terminal frustration.” This is the kind of deep frustration that causes us either to give up and walk away or break through and achieve.

The barriers can seem insurmountable. Consider what used to be considered impossible: breaking the sound barrier, running a four-minute mile, a decent frozen dinner.

At those moments of crisis there is almost always a choice, whether we see it or not. When it most seems like we are out of options, we are actually standing at a fork in our road. The way we frame our internal questions can be the determining factor between moving forward and moving on.

1. Understand the real enemy. The powerful force called Resistance is the biggest enemy anyone faces when they try to achieve. You can imagine it as an internal barrier of your own construction, but it can also be seen as an invisible cosmic force dedicated to keeping you from success. Stephen...

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A Fun Scale Pattern for the End of Summer

practicing technique Aug 28, 2013

Sometimes it’s really fun to play the harp.

Practicing is pretty hard work, and while it’s rewarding, I wouldn’t call it fun, particularly technical work like scales and arpeggios.

But the other day, when I sat down to practice, I was regretting the coming end of summer. My train of thought lead me to the famous Gershwin song “Summertime,” and my scales adapted themselves to that rhythmic and harmonic flavor. This video shows the result.

By the way, this is a great way to dip your toe in the waters of improvisation. Without worrying about the theory of jazz like blues scales and modes, you can try singing or playing any melody over your scales. Experiment with levers or pedals, rhythms and patterns and see where it takes you!

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15 Places to Share Your Music (and Make Extra Money)

performing Aug 26, 2013

This is the time of year to make plans. And if your plans include doing some extra playing in public and maybe earning a little money, you need to read this post.

Sometimes opportunities for playing are right in front of us, but we miss them. Instead we are staring at the phone or checking our email waiting for an invitation. You don’t need to wait to be asked; you do the asking!

Most of these performances will be only for tips, some only for exposure, some just for fun. They’re not high profile or resume builders. So why would you do them?

Maybe you want some practice performances before a recital. Maybe you’re a student and you could use a few extra dollars and some more experience. Perhaps you would like to build a fan base in your community or promote an upcoming concert. You might even just want to get out of the house.

This is far from a complete list. I hope it gives you some ideas and helps you be even more creative with ways to share your music with...

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What Are Your Plans This Year?

     © Chad McDermott – Fotolia.com

Here we are at the last official week of summer. The schedule is once again the ruler of our lives. with school, work, meetings, and performances.

I have always enjoyed this time of year. The beginning of everything holds such promise. I remember looking forward to the new clothes I would have for school, the new classes, the new friends.

But I looked forward most of all to my first harp lesson after the summer. It was always a little nerve-racking to play for my teacher that first time. I was hoping I had made enough progress over the summer, and that she would be pleased. If all went well, we would be able to plan an exciting new course of study for the year. If not, I would be doing technical work until I was ready to move on.

I was particularly worried the summer after my first year of college. At the end of the school year, my teacher told me that I was not progressing well, and that I may need to reconsider my...

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