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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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Two More Practice Solutions

musicianship practicing Mar 04, 2013

Alternating Hands, note by note

This post follows up on my Practice Solutions series with two more ideas for solving difficulties you may come across in your everyday practice.

Problem: I can’t get this hands together!
Solution: Alternate hands note by note

Why this works: By playing both hands, you are practicing the “hands together” skill. But by alternating the notes hand by hand, you will be able to focus on what each hand needs to do. This is similar to alternating hands by measure, but provides a little more challenge.

What to do: You will be playing both hands, but out of sync, instead of truly together. Place both hands as if you were going to play hands together. Instead of playing the notes simultaneously, play the left hand note, then the right hand note. Work through the entire passage playing left hand then right hand. Follow the rhythm of the piece, playing any notes that should be played at the same time with your...

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Are you still keeping your New Year's resolutions?

Are you still keeping your New Year’s resolutions? If so, congratulations! You are in a very small group. According to a 2007 study by Franklin Covey (as in Stephen Covey, author of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People), 35% of people who make resolutions break them before the end of January and only 23% manage to keep them all year. Another study is even more discouraging, showing that only 8% of people succeed in keeping their resolutions.

Maybe like many people, you need some help to get motivated and get back on track. Here is my four-step system for redirecting my steps when I lose my sense of direction toward my goals.

1. Review. You need to take stock of your plan and what went wrong. This is the most important step and the most difficult. It is important because without assessing your situation you can’t move forward. It is difficult because you must be completely honest with yourself. Consider these three areas where you might...

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The Mysterious Case of the Extra Accidental

I love detective mysteries, whether the detectives are cerebral like Sherlock Holmes, witty and cultured like Lord Peter Wimsey or more earthy like Jesse Stone. And I love puzzles; crosswords, cryptic crosswords, sudokus, double acrostics, whatever. The harder they are, the better I like them.So when I was asked for help with a musical puzzler recently, I grabbed my deer stalker hat and called for Watson.

My friend, conductor and composer Scott Lavender, had emailed me with a question about the harp markings in the score of Debussy’s Prélude à l’après-midi d’un faune. The pedal markings and the rhythm of the opening two glissandi in the part weren’t clear and he was looking for a harpist’s explanation.

I wasn’t home when I got his email, but I was able to look at the harp part on line. I could easily explain the rhythm. The notation isn’t rhythmic, but it is fairly easy to see the harp plays one (dotted quarter...

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Make Your Summer Plans Now!

It’s that time of year when we are dreaming of summer. Summer is the perfect time to put some extra focus on your harp playing by attending a harp camp. And today I want to offer two ways you can step up your playing this summer: the Harp in the Mountains Summer Festival and the first ever Harp Mastery Retreat Weekend.

Harp in the Mountains Summer Festival, now in its seventh year,  is dedicated to providing an intense,  fun harp ensemble experience for select high school and college age harpists.  The week-long camp gives students the opportunity to improve their harp playing and their musical skills while enjoying practicing, performing and spending time with other harpists. This year’s theme is “Be Prepared.” Students will learn how to be prepared to be a working harpist: the music you need to know,  the marketing materials you must have,  and how to grow your business sense as you grow your harp skills. The dates are Sunday, ...

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How Seth Godin Improved My Teaching

Seth Godin is an author and marketing guru and the man behind the idea of permission marketing. In his daily blog, he writes with succinct and sometimes painful clarity on marketing, respect, our society and the way ideas spread. I find his writings always give me something to think about and often, as in this post, something to write about.

In a recent blog post called “Those People,” Seth describes his shock and grief in response to an educator’s characterization of some of her students. This woman had written off many of her students as people incapable of achieving greatness and therefore somehow undeserving of the education they sought.

This led me to consider my responsibility as a harp teacher. What am I called on to do for each of my students? What should I require from each of them? And what is the greatest good I can do for each?

I came up with some essential guideposts for my interactions with my students, whether in a lesson, a...

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