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Work on Your Technique – a Four-Part Practice Strategy

practicing technique May 08, 2013






         Technique practice

We all want to work on technique, so we play a few scales, do a few exercises, learn some etudes. Often we take a rather haphazard approach. Is there a better plan?

Like any other part of your music study, your technical work should be focused and goal-driven. You should know what you want to accomplish, whether it is building your technique from scratch or a seasonal overhaul.

At this time of year, I am ready for a technique overhaul. The concert season is winding down. I am planning my repertoire for next year, but I still have plenty of time to get everything in my fingers. It’s my fingers that need my attention now.

Just because you’ve been playing a lot doesn’t mean you’re in shape. In fact, when you have a stack of music to prepare and perform, it’s very easy to get out of shape and let bad habits creep in.

So as the concert season ends, I renew my technique....

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May 2013

uncategorized May 06, 2013
In this issue:
Breaking News
Q and A with Anne Sullivan
Summer performances
Harp in the Mountains Festival I nsider Focus for May
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Breaking News… Watch for the May/June issue of Harp Column Magazine, with part one of a two-part series dedicated to tuning, written by Anne Sullivan. Don’t miss it!
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Featured on the Harp Column Website: Q and A with Anne Sullivan.
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An Open Letter to My Other Students

music miscellany May 06, 2013

In a previous post, I wrote about what graduating music students need to be prepared for the road ahead. This post is dedicated to my other students, graduating college seniors who are not making music their careers.

Dear Students,

What a pleasure it has been to get to know you, and what a privilege to be a part of your time with the harp. You came to me with different harp backgrounds and varying levels of accomplishment, but I am proud of you and the work we have done together. I hope you will take three things with you as a legacy of our lessons.

First, I hope you have grown in your love for the harp. At some point in your life, you chose the harp as a means of self-expression. In our lessons, I tried to foster that feeling, and share with you some of my own deep attachment and affection for our instrument, its music and its players. Let the harp continue as a creative outlet for you, and never hesitate to share it with others.

Second, I hope you have enjoyed our exploration of a...

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Practice around the Potholes with Preparation Points!

mucisianship practicing May 03, 2013

One of my favorite practice techniques came in handy with a student today.

The piece was “La Source” by Alphonse Hasselmans. The problem was the bar lines. Not just one bar line, most of them. The student was having difficulty getting from one measure to the next. Everything was fine at a slow tempo, but as soon as we tried to speed it up, the bar lines turned into concrete barriers.

Maybe you have experienced something like this. Much of a piece is playable, but there are some spots that always seem to go awry.

I compare this situation to driving on a road with potholes. There is one exit ramp I drive on frequently, often late at night. At the top of the ramp at the merge onto the main road, there is a pothole. It has been there for years. Still somehow nearly every time, I manage to hit the pothole, after which I yell at myself for forgetting it was there. The pothole is avoidable; all I have to do is remember it’s there, and take appropriate...

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Do You Know This Harp Chord?

There is one particular chord that my students and I grapple with frequently. It is used more often in harp music than perhaps any other chord. Yet it still can be a source of difficulty. Until we stop and examine the chord: what it is, how it is used,  how to practice it.

The chord is a simple triad, or three-note chord, like C-E-G. What is different about this chord is the arrangement of the upper notes. The chord is in open spacing, or open voicing. Instead of having the three chord tones as close together as possible, (see the first chord above) they are spaced apart (the second chord): C, then G, then E.

This open-spaced triad is one of the most often used, and most useful, chords in any harpist’s chord vocabulary.

Why? Because the wider spacing of the notes allows for the resonance of the harp. The tones are separated enough that we hear a rich full sound with distinct pitches. Play the two chords above and compare. The first chord will sound a little blurry,...

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Life after College: The 5 Essentials for Every New Music Graduate

Congratulations, new music graduate! You have your music degree at last. You are now officially prepared to commence life as a musician. Do you feel prepared?

I came across this thought-provoking story in the newspaper recently. Several recent graduates of Widener Law School are suing the school for false advertising. They are claiming that the school misrepresented the employment statistics for its graduates. These new lawyers have expensive educations and no jobs. Here is my thought: if lawyers can’t find work, how much harder will it be for newly minted musicians?!

All schools want their students to be successful. After all, a successful alum makes the school look good.

But your success is your responsibility.

Here are five things I think are essential to have as you start on your path. (The first two are things you should already have learned in school, and none of them is a calendar or a website.)

1. A firm technical foundation. This is not just having a good...

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I was a Question on Jeopardy

I was a question on Jeopardy. Well, not exactly. Here’s the story.

The answer was, “Composer Lowell Liebermann wrote a Sonata for flute and this instrument, often heard at weddings.” The correct question: “What is a harp?”

So how do I figure in? My friend flutist Joan Sparks and I are the duo SPARX, and we commissioned the Sonata from Lowell Liebermann. Our names are on the top of the music. And we are very proud to have been part of this contribution to the flute and harp literature.

We were admirers of Lowell’s work, and decided to celebrate our 10th anniversary as a duo (in 1996) with this commission. We met with Lowell, and had a really fun meal together, and told him the kind of piece we had in mind. We wanted a work of substantial length, a powerful work that would reflect the strengths of the two instruments, rather than their delicate sides. The result: Sonata for Flute and Harp, Op. 56.

What Lowell wrote was an astoundingly...

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Three Reasons Why Singing Will Improve Your Playing

aural skills musicianship Apr 24, 2013

If you can sing it, you can play it. Well, maybe not quite, but it is true that singing is the best way to develop some key musical skills.During the years I taught ear training at Curtis, I noticed a pattern. Among the students without perfect pitch, those who had choral experience almost always found ear training easier than the students who had never sung in a chorus.

One obvious reason for this is that students who had sung in chorus were more comfortable vocally. Ear training classes require singing, and students who had never sung were more reluctant to sing in front of others and more unsure about their pitch matching abilities.

Interestingly, vocal quality was not a factor. Even the students who didn’t have a particularly good voice but were used to singing did well.

Why? What is it about singing, especially choral singing, that helps you musically?

1. It’s all about the line. Singing requires you to pay attention to the direction of the melody, to the...

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7 Ways to Eliminate Distraction and Get Focused


Distraction is one of my major problems, and I suspect I am not alone. When I was a young music student, I used distraction to help me avoid practicing (“Oops, I forgot to check my math homework!”). As an adult, I can sometimes be too distracted to focus on the practice I actually want to do.

Because practicing is a priority for me, I have learned to recognize the main causes of my distraction, and some ways to put the distractions aside and focus.

There are three main sources of distraction: things, other people, and yourself. Two of these are fairly easy to eliminate, if you take appropriate action. The third is a little more challenging. Here are some of the things I do to avoid distractions and to focus on my work.

1. Things. Turn it off, put it away, give it to someone else. No matter what it is, if it is keeping you from focusing on your work, you don’t need it around. Resist the temptation to leave your cell phone on....

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No Boring Scales Part 2

practicing technique Apr 19, 2013

In Monday’s post, I wrote about ways to energize your scale practice. I received a number of comments and questions asking for more details. So I put together a quick video to demonstrate the techniques. I show you how you can use rhythmic motifs from any piece to practice your scales. In particular, I show you how to play scales in calypso and boogie woogie rhythm.




Ps. I hadn’t used my tablet to edit a video before. Clearly my editing skills need work…

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