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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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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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