We just finished another fun week here at Harp in the Mountains. Harp camp is always fun, and this year I was privileged to have a great group of students. As always, we rehearsed a lot, but we had fun too. And this year’s heat wave made the swimming pool the best place to take a break from practice.
We like to call ourselves the only harp garage band. The garage is a perfect space for us to rehearse as an ensemble and to store the harps. Some years here at harp camp we have enjoyed our pleasant and balmy summer days and rehearsed with the garage doors open. This year, we kept the doors closed and relied on a dehumidifier AND an air conditioner. Even so, we had more string breakage than usual.
You can’t always prevent string breakage. Gut strings especially are vulnerable in hot, humid and changeable conditions. But there are things you can do to keep the inconvenience and expense to a minimum.
1. The obvious: keep your harp indoors, in climate-controlled conditions,...
As I am writing this, I am beginning another year’s Harp In The Mountains Festival. This is the seventh year that I have hosted a small group of dedicated harp students, mostly high school and middle school age, for a week of ensemble playing and learning about the harp.
This year the students range in age from 11 to 17, and as you might guess, their skill levels are very different. But I am sure that this year will be no different from other years. The week will work its magic, and we will surprise ourselves with how much we can accomplish in one week.
Perhaps my favorite thing about this week is the feeling of pride that the students come away with. They know they are performing at a higher level when they leave than when they came. And they leave camp not only having had a fun week, but having improved reading skills, ensemble skills, technical facility and confidence. How does this happen in just one week?
There are several factors behind this growth spurt, and they...
Have you ever been stumped trying to figure out how to organize your practice? Sometimes it’s because we have too much to do; other times it’s because we don’t have enough to do and our practice is aimless. Here’s my solution for those times I need a little structure: I use my “40/40/20” recipe.
The “40/40/20” method is easy to explain. Every day, 40% of your practice time should be devoted to technique and musicianship, another 40% to pieces in progress, and the remaining 20% on reviewing repertoire. I would divide a one-hour practice session like this: 25 minutes for technique, 25 minutes for current pieces, and 10 minutes for review. The math isn’t exact, but it’s close enough.
From a teacher’s standpoint, it’s like a megavitamin: everything is in that one formula. You will be working on scales and arpeggios or other exercises and etudes, which are necessary to warm up your fingers and develop your technique....
It was a little over a year ago that I started blogging at Harp Mastery. My idea in starting the blog was to share some of the things that I have learned about the harp and harp playing, music and being an active musician. Through this blog, I have been privileged to virtually meet harpists from all over the world who are on all different kinds of harp journeys. It has been a wonderful adventure for me, and I am excited about this way we can connect no matter how far apart we may be.
I was very fortunate. Not that everything was easy or went smoothly for me. That was certainly not the case. But I had amazing opportunities, generous parents and wonderful teachers. Along the way, I discovered the one major roadblock to my own success, and it was me. Since my teen years, I have understood that the biggest challenge facing me was inside of me. So my learning process has been devoted to solving problems and working...
Practicing is difficult. It requires concentration, discipline and time.
And often at least one of those three are lacking. We have too much on our mind and we can’t concentrate. Or we lose our focus as we are practicing and our mind wanders elsewhere. Or we simply are too busy. Conquering ourselves and our circumstances is the first challenge to meet in order to have successful practice.
Try these techniques to get your practice done.
Performance injuries are every musician’s greatest fear. Our playing is so intrinsic to our being that just thinking about having to stop playing due to an injury can cause nightmares. Even worse is the sense that when you are injured, your colleagues, although they will express their sympathy, take a step or two back from you, as if it were contagious. This fear breeds all sorts of superstitions and misinformation. Even worse, it can prevent some players from seeking the help they need.
Below is the recent experience of a student of mine at the University of Delaware. Our journey through her injury to her recovery began for me when I walked up to her at the end of an orchestra rehearsal and discovered her in tears from pain and frustration. I had intended to tell her that her sound wasn’t coming through when it needed to, and instead realized...
Posture is arguably the most important physical factor in playing any instrument. It is the first thing our teachers teach us and unfortunately often something we forget to check as the years of lessons roll by. Our posture is the foundation for our technique and our best defense against fatigue and injuries. Whatever instrument you play, if you understand
correct posture with your instrument, and you check it each time you practice, you may discover a new sense of freedom and comfort.
I have reviewed the advice on posture from three standard harp method books: Complete Method for the Harp, by...
Fear is a part of everything we do. And in music performance we confront our fears daily. Unfortunately, sometimes it can become an obstacle that seems to big to overcome.
You don’t need to let fear hold you back. There are clear strategies for battling various specific fears. But whatever you’re afraid of, there are some basic steps to take to arm yourself for the fight.
1. Accept it. Fear is an inescapable part of the human condition. We are all fearful about some of what we must do on our path to our desire. You are not less of a person for being afraid, just part of the human race.
2. Investigate it. What will happen if you give in to your fear? What WON’T happen if you give in to your fear? What’s the worst thing that could happen if your fear is realized? Answering these questions honestly will give you an honest assessment of the reality of the situation.
3. Decide if the reward is worth the risk. Yes, you get to choose. You don’t have to do...
Old School. Back in the day. Whatever you call it, I’m old enough to have been there. And a recent Facebook post by a former student brought home to me some of the important changes that I have seen in the harp world.
Her post was this photo with the comment “Well that’s a new one.” But it’s not; it’s an old one. She had never seen a patched string before. Harp strings were not always as affordable or easily available as they are now. When a string broke, if a harpist didn’t have the correct string it was sometimes possible to tie to pieces of string together and have a decent replacement. The Method for the Harp book even shows you how to tie the knot.
I never did this myself. My teacher had used this technique from time to time but recommended her students to keep a full complement of strings.
But there are some other changes I have seen that have made a huge difference to harpists, and musicians in general. These are the three biggest...
Perhaps you are a fan of Evernote, as I am. I use it for everything. It’s my notepad and my filing cabinet, and I can access my files from anywhere.
In case you don’t know Evernote, here’s a quick overview. It is a filing system in the cloud. You can keep your files in Evernote and they sync seamlessly between your computer, your smartphone and your tablet. You create a “note,” and then store your note in a “notebook.” These virtual notebooks keep your notes organized. You can also add tags so you can easily search for items. You can even create stacks of notebooks, which is a great way to keep similar information together.
For instance, I have a notebook stack titled “Students,” and in that stack is a notebook for each of my students. In that notebook, I can have as many notes as I like. I keep track of a student’s repertoire, billing, deadlines. I even...