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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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Five Fun Harp Things to Do This Weekend

music miscellany Mar 22, 2013

Put some harp in your weekend,  just for fun!

 

 

 

1. Polish your harp. I like to keep my harp clean with regular dusting and occasionally a damp cloth, but once a year or so, I enjoy “detailing” my harp, cleaning all the nooks and crannies and giving it polish all over. Here’s a YouTube video on harp cleaning from harp regulator Steve Moss.

2. Order a piece of music to play this spring. Something easy, something light, something happy, something romantic. Just something to make your harp and your heart sing.

3. Share a harp video you love on Facebook. This video is one of my favorites. I always love Harpo, and here he plays Liszt’s Second Hungarian Rhapsody with his own jazz twist.

4. Have a string changing evening. Invite a friend over and you can change the old, worn-out strings on your harp. It’s a great time to put on new wire strings too. They make your harp look like new and sound deep and rich. When...

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Grow Your Talent Seed

Black Krim Tomato

A “talent seed?” This is what I mean:

Despite the six inches of snow on the ground at my house, today is the first day of spring. And in anticipation of the eventual good weather, I have been entertaining myself with gardening books and catalogs. Did you know the Burpee seed catalog lists over 100 varieties of tomatoes? I was particularly taken by “Black Krim,” a very dark colored tomato. If you didn’t know better, you might think it had spoiled on the vine.

And then I read a short blog post from Seth Godin on talent. And the two items started a train of thought that I wanted to share with you.

I believe the two most frequent statements we make about talent to be dangerously misleading.

False statement #1: That person is so talented.

False statement #2: I’m just not talented.

If talent is something you either have or you don’t, then those statements are true. In fact, then practicing is pointless and...

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How to Tune Your Harp

musicianship practicing Mar 18, 2013

NOTE: The notes given are for tuning a lever harp tuned in C Major.
Pedal harps should tune in C-flat Major (pedals up).
Lever harps with other tunings must be tuned with levers down.

Tuning a harp is a chore. After all,  we would rather be playing. But tuning is essential. Most importantly, playing on an out-of-tune harp is a bad habit to develop. It teaches your ear to ignore what it hears. This is totally counterproductive! We want to be discerning listeners.

In this post, I outline the good news about tuning, the ultimate commandment of tuning, and a step-by-step system for tuning.

First, the good news about tuning: A harp that is kept in tune, stays in tune. The more regularly and carefully you tune, the less time it will take to tune. Also, your harp will need less tuning when you move it. So tune every day (at least!).

Next, the ultimate commandment of tuning: Never tune with levers up or pedals down. Tuning when you have the levers or discs engaged puts extra...

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No More Useless Lessons!

practicing technique Mar 15, 2013

Have you ever had a useless music lesson? Maybe you had a good lesson and then went home and were bewildered as to how to find the momentum you had in your lesson. Or as a teacher, have you had a great and productive time with a student only to find the next week she made no progress or perhaps even regressed?

I love the lessons when the student and I work hard as a team to get through a difficulty or move ahead. The lesson time flies by and it feels rewarding, even exhilarating.

Recently I heard about the most useless machine ever – you turn it on, out comes a lever and the machine turns itself off. (Check out the video.) It‘s totally useless. The energy that you spend turning it on is completely and immediately rendered pointless. This could be a metaphor for some music lessons.

The power of the teacher-student team is awesome. Together they bring out the best in the student as they strive toward a common objective. But then the student goes home. There...

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What does it mean to be in tune?Part 2: All about tuners

musicianship practicing Mar 13, 2013

How tuners work and the two different kinds of tuners

Your tuner’s most important function is to assess the pitch you play and provide feedback about how that pitch relates to a standard, as in whether the pitch is sharp, flat or in tune. The standard your tuner uses is one you can set yourself on most tuners: the exact frequency of the A. As I mentioned in the last post, the international standard for A is 440 Hz, but there may be reasons you would want to adjust that.

It is critical that you learn how your tuner makes that adjustment. It is usually referred to as “calibration,” and many tuners offer a wide calibration range, as wide as from 410-480 Hz. If you unknowingly adjust the calibration on your tuner, you could actually be tuning your A to a B-flat! Don’t laugh – it’s happened to many an unwitting harpist.

After you calibrate the A, your tuner uses equal temperament to assess the frequency of each note. Some tuners allow...

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What does it mean to be in tune? Part 1: The Science

musicianship Mar 11, 2013

What does it mean to be in tune? You can be in tune with your friend, your spouse, the times or the music of the spheres. We musicians have a particular need to be in tune. We sound best when we are in tune ourselves, and we can play better with others. Here is one of my favorite quotes. It is from the writings of Marcus Aurelius, emperor of Rome from 161 C.E. to 180 C.E. While Marcus Aurelius wasn’t speaking of music, his thought is very apt:

“He who lives in harmony with himself lives in harmony with the universe.”

So again, what does it mean to be in tune?

In theory, tuning is an exact science. Sound travels in waves. (Remember those sine waves from trigonometry?) These waves may be shorter or longer, meaning they repeat more or less frequently. The number of times the wave repeats per second (its frequency) is measured in Hertz (Hz) units. One repeat, or one cycle, per second is one Hz. The more cycles per second, the higher the pitch. 440 Hz,...

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What's Next?

performing Mar 08, 2013

This week I heard two fabulous graduation recitals at Temple University. Afterwards the performers received kudos and congratulations from their friends and family. And many of their well-wishers had the same question for them: “What’s next?”

It’s the day after. After the big recital, after the orchestra concert, after the important audtion, after whatever it is that you have been working hard to prepare for. You’ve worked, worried, sweated, had nightmares and now it’s over. So what’s next?

Ideally, you should have already had a plan in mind. But in case you didn’t, here is a quick checklist to help you get moving again.

1. Party a little. Pat yourself on the back, shout a big woo-hoo, have an extra dessert. You earned it.

2. Say “thank you.” Take a moment to thank a special person or two who helped you get through it. Your teacher, your best friend, your parents all may have played a crucial role in...

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Weird Facts and Tips for Musicians

Mr. Peabody knows everything.

Here is a collection of a few weird music tips and facts. I hope these enlighten and entertain you!

Disclaimer: take the science behind some of these tips with a grain of salt. After all, you’re reading this on the internet.

 Are you a night owl or morning person? Practicing at night may be more effective. Apparently, brains learn better at night.

Wonder why you can’t tune at school? Fluorescent lights make a hum that is between B and B-flat, in the land of the quarter tones.

Too cool to clap. When ancient Romans like a performance, they didn’t clap their hands. They snapped their fingers instead.

Let me get that door for you. Harpists, this is the best doorstop to keep in your harp bag. It holds any kind of door.

Keep your nail clippers handy. Fingernails grow about .02 inches per week. It doesn’t seem like much, but the more you use your hands (i.e., practice)...

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