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Bored with Scales? 5 Variations to Keep You Motivated

practicing technique Apr 15, 2013

Scales are the biggest proving ground of your technique and musicianship. While you may have been playing scales since you first started playing music, that doesn’t mean that scales are only for beginners.

Well-played scales demonstrate:

A thorough understanding of keys.
Technical facility and agility.
A repertoire of articulation and dynamics.

For us harpists, scales can seem rather dull to practice because all our scales have the same fingering, and we can preset our sharps and flats.  (I think I hear other instrumentalists sighing with envy.)  But that is no excuse for ignoring this important daily routine.

So in case you’re in need of some motivation, here are 5 ways to spice up your scales.

1. Try different rhythms. You can use almost any rhythm to play scales. For the traditionalist, there is long-short, or triplets, or short-short-long, or any
combination of these. If you’re more creative, think calypso, or a boogie woogie beat. Pick up the tempo...

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Do you need a coach?

Working with a coach can make a big difference in how you play. Look at the staff of any baseball team. There’s a pitching coach, a hitting coach, a fielding coach, a catching coach, a bullpen coach, a first base coach, a third base coach. Sports teams spend big bucks on coaches for their players.

When I was a Curtis student, there were times I envied the singers. While I went off to practice by myself, they went to coachings. They worked with diction coaches, staging coaches, vocal coaches, even stage combat coaches. They had people helping them constantly. I had a lesson once a week.

Sometimes, we all could use a coach. Someone to help us through a difficulty or meet a particular challenge. But most of us learn with regular lessons. Why would we need a coach?

What’s the difference between a coach and a teacher?

There are two clear differences between a coach and a teacher. The first is focus. A teacher provides all-around instruction and...

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Playing Music: The Good Parts

We love the good parts. The best scene in the movie, our favorite chocolate in the box, the center of a Tootsie Pop. In music, performances, applause, beautiful gowns, a love of music, or just being able to play a piece well are some of the good parts. And these are usually the things that inspire us to pursue music in the first place. But how do we feel about the not-so-good parts, like practicing?

 The family story goes like this: My uncle, who had a great passion for classical music, was a very talented piano student. When he was a teenager, people would stop on the street to listen to him practice. But practice was boring, and cars, friends and girls took over his time. Later he was in the army, and the great pianist Arthur Rubinstein came to perform for the troops. My uncle was fortunate enough to have a seat on the stage where he could see Rubinstein’s amazing hands at work. That night he sent a telegram home to his parents: “Why didn’t...

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When Opportunity Knocks

When an opportunity comes to you, how do you decide whether or not to pursue it? What factors should you consider? Do you take every opportunity or should you be selective? I have some guidelines that may be helpful when you have this kind of decision to make.

 Knock, Knock. Who’s there? Opportunity! Some people naturally embrace every chance that presents itself. This apparent lack of fear is astounding to more cautious souls, who may both envy it and be grateful that theirs is a more sedate nature.

But when an opportunity appears, there are some ways to make a choice that’s reasoned and intelligent, a choice that will help you make the most of an opportunity without breaking out in a cold sweat.

1. Make “Yes” your default response. When I was a student, this was my strategy. Every once in a while, I got in over my head, but in general, this improved my sightreading, grew my musical vocabulary, and provided experiences that expanded...

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Happy Birthday, Salzedo!

Carlos Salzedo: harpist, composer, teacher, innovator, born April 6. 1885. I never met him, but my teacher was his student, and I have had many opportunities to talk with others of his students.  I love the stories, much like I love hearing family stories about relatives I never knew. But in the true tradition of music, my deepest connection to Salzedo comes through his recordings and his compositions, the living legacy of any great musician.

Salzedo’s vision of the harp was groundbreaking, rewriting the future of the harp in ways no one would have expected. He created a total picture of a new instrument for the brand-new twentieth century, an instrument that was capable of adhering to tradition while exploring the possibilities of the new musical aesthetic. He extended the techniques and, in that way, the tonal language of the instrument. His music may appeal to you or not, but Salzedo opened the harp to the twentieth century, and the world to the harp.

Every great...

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No More Memorization Mistakes

performing practicing Apr 03, 2013

With recital season upon us, it may be the perfect time to check your memorization techniques.

Memorization mistakes are probably the most dreaded of all performance difficulties. But it is possible to learn to avoid making them, or at least minimize the aftermath.

How do you make certain your music is well memorized? I have a few suggestions.

First of all, you need to understand the real nature of the problem. So-called “memory slips” are almost always caused by lapses in concentration or focus, not actually forgetting the music. Playing from memory is like driving on a road with lots of potholes. You may be able to drive around the potholes, or you may accidentally hit one. In your practice, you actually want to try to hit the potholes, so you can locate them and repair them.

But as every driver knows, repairing potholes is not a “once and done” thing. The old potholes come back and new ones form. But the more you practice, the deeper your knowledge of...

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Push Back to Develop Your Strength

Feeling overwhelmed or discouraged with your practicing, playing or anything else? Push back!

“Dynamic Tension” is an exercise system developed by bodybuilder Charles Atlas in the 1920’s. The core principle of Dynamic Tension is self-resistance, using your own muscles to provide resistance to train other muscles.

Atlas always said he got the idea for this system from watching the lions and tigers at the zoo. Watching the animals display their strength, he realized that their fitness didn’t require barbells or other equipment. They simply pitted one muscle against another to maintain and develop their strength.                                                     Charles Atlas

Dynamic tension is said to very safe, as you use only your own strength to provide the resistance. Similarly, as you grow stronger, the...

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Music for a Good Friday

music miscellany Mar 29, 2013

On this Good Friday, I would like to share with you the music of Good Friday 286 years ago, the music of Bach’s St. Matthew Passion.

The St. Matthew Passion is a monumental work, calling for double choir and double orchestra. It is imposing in length, around 3 hours. It is dramatic, a moody and emotional depiction of Christ’s suffering on the cross. It has been sung, staged, and choreographed, but the music by itself tells the story powerfully.

If this is a work you don’t know, this is a great day to discover it. But because it is so lengthy, your best introduction to it may be through some of the work’s most beautiful and moving sections. The magnificent opening chorus Kommt, ihr Töchter,” the famous chorale O Haupt voll Blut und Wunden, the sublime Erbame dich are all great places to start. Just check them out online.

I have included here one of my favorite movements, the bass aria, Mache...

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Some Lessons I Learned

In today’s post I share with you some of the lessons I have learned on my musical journey.

I am often asked for my opinion on the most important things for a young harpist to learn. Usually students who ask the question are looking for the ultimate practice secret or repertoire piece. Parents of students are looking for practical information on harp buying and colleges.

But the things I think are important are different from these. They are important to every harpist, whether student or professional, old or young.  And so, speaking from my experience, I hope that you will find something useful to you.

Three things I wish I had known when I was starting my harp journey:

1. I wish I had experienced more of the wider harp world. The harp world was much smaller and more isolated when I started playing the harp. Without the internet and social media, even a big city like Philadelphia didn’t provide much harp camaraderie. The insight and support of other harpists is...

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Could you tune without a tuner?

What if all the tuners and tuner apps disappeared tomorrow? Could you tune your harp?

Of course, the tuners will not all disappear. In fact, tuners and tuner apps are everywhere and easier to use than ever.

But could you tune your harp without one if you had to? Have you developed your ear to “hear” intonation instead of merely “see” it on your tuner?

It’s funny when you think about it. Music is something we hear, but tuners are essentially visual. The visualization of pitch from a tuner is great for making each note absolutely correct. (See previous post.) It’s also invaluable when it’s too noisy to hear clearly.

But the old fashioned tuning fork  made us listen and use our ear to tune. Today, we rely on our tuners so much that some students never develop their critical hearing skills. It takes some effort to develop your hearing, but it is worth the effort.

Here are three ways you can use your tuner to help train your ear:

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