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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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5 Reasons Holiday Music is a Great Teaching Tool

musicianship practicing Nov 12, 2013

Holiday music is always part of my students’ lessons at this time of year. Often it’s just fun for them to have some holiday music to play. Sometimes they need to have holiday music in their fingers for a performance. Whether they prefer religious music or pop standards, I am happy to include it in their lessons. And with a little creativity, it can be a great teaching tool, even if you’re just teaching yourself.

Holiday music has some distinct advantages over more regular repertoire. The time frame is limited, the music can be chosen according to the student’s preferences, and it relieves some of the holiday stress. Beyond that, however, there are some specific ways to get extra benefit from holiday music:

1. Brush up your technique. My favorite Christmas-themed finger warm-up is Salzedo’s Variations on O Tannenbaum, but just about any carol will provide good practice in chords or arpeggios.

2. Great for sightreading. Get a book of simple carol...

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The Pursuit of Mastery

                                                   The pursuit of mastery bears gifts.
                                                            – Gary Keller, The ONE Thing: The Surprisingly Simple Truth Behind Extraordinary Results

I love this quote. Of course, a person with the website “Harp Mastery” would naturally be drawn to it. The genius in this statement is the phrase “pursuit of mastery.” We often assume that achieving mastery brings rewards, but I find Keller’s assertion about the pursuit of mastery more interesting.

In writing about “The ONE Thing,” Keller’s co-author Jay Papasan writes,”When we practice mastery, we become experts at...

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So How Was the Concert?

performing Nov 05, 2013

The concert is over. I pack up the harp, drive home and anticipate the first question I will hear as I come through the door: “So how was the concert?”

My husband never wants to hear about the difficulty of trying to neatly thread the ensemble needle between the flutes and the celli, or what the intonation challenges were. He wants an answer that’s more along the lines of “It was great.” So why do I almost never say that?

This week I came home from two different concerts with two different answers. One concert felt much more successful to me than the other. The audiences were equally enthusiastic about the concerts. But I found one much more satisfying than the other.

And that’s really why I find it so difficult to tell someone how any concert was. My point of view is subjective and completely wrapped up in how my performance felt at the time.

It is almost impossible, I think, to be objective about your own performance. We are so highly sensitized...

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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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