Ear training is a subject that makes people either shrug their shoulders or shudder. The many different approaches breed confusion and the methods inspire fear.
I should know. I taught ear training at the Curtis Institute for 19 years. I was the mean solfège harpy that made Catholic school nuns look like Mary Poppins. Ok, not really.
But ear training is no student’s favorite subject. It takes time to practice the assignment. You have to perform it in front of the class. It takes time away from practice. But it’s essential to any musician’s education.
Ear training develops what I call the Sensory Triangle: your eyes, ears and fingers. It doesn’t just train your hearing. It teaches you how to hear what you see, play what you hear and play what you see, all of which are the skills that help you sightread, memorize, improvise and just learn music faster and better.
When eyes, ears and fingers work together, they can process all the musical information...
The metronome is an essential tool for any musician. It can help you build your rhythmic confidence and keep a steady beat. You can use it to check your subdivisions or to solve a problem. I never practice without one handy.
Here are three ways you might not have thought of to use your metronome:
1. Click on the offbeats. We are used to hearing our metronome click on the beginning of every beat. Have you ever tried letting it click on just the half beat? If the piece calls for the quarter note at 80, set your metronome to 80. But instead of starting to play ON the click, let each click represent the eighth note in between the beats, so you hear the clicks on the “ands” instead of on the numbered beats. It’s an interesting technique for making your subdividing exact. Tip: to help keep your concentration, be sure to count while you play.
2. Practice two against three. Most electronic metronomes will allow you to set a subdivision of the beat. Start by setting your...
Are you inspired to take your music to the masses? Or at least find a place to play? Here are twenty . These are not venues that will hire you. They are places where you can play just by asking permission. You will gain experience, build a fan base, get exposure. Some places may pay you. Other places may let you play for tips.
So grab a tip jar, some business cards and your best smile, and go make some music.
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....
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.
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...
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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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...
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,...
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...
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...