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Practice Solutions Part 1: I can’t get this up to tempo!

This is part one in a four-part series of posts designed to help you solve difficulties you may come across in your everyday practice. With a repertoire of techniques at your disposal, you can learn to solve nearly any practice difficulty. This post shows you ways to pull a passage up to tempo when inching the metronome up isn’t getting the results you want.

Solution #1: Practice Hands Separately at tempo, Hands Together at half tempo

Why this works: Continual slow practice doesn’t give you the opportunity to make sure your technique, fingering choices, etc. will work at the correct tempo. You need to practice each hand at the desired speed to make sure. Also, until you can play each hand at tempo, hands together will never work.

What to do: Work each hand alone until you can play it at tempo fluently. Also practice hands together, but at a tempo as slow as you need to play it correctly, possibly half tempo or even slower. You will find that as your hands...

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Don't Put Your Holiday Music Away Until You Read This!

Here is a checklist of important things to do BEFORE you put your holiday music away for another year. These tips will help you prepare now to enjoy a more relaxed holiday time next year.

Over the years and the course of many holiday concerts and parties, I have learned some valuable lessons. I’d like to share with you what I have learned as a few steps which, if you take them now, will save you much preparation time and fluster next holiday season. Happy New Year!

1. Clean up your markings. Take the time to erase all those extra markings you put in your parts and to neaten the markings you want to keep. A neat part is always easier to practice and play. Also, if you play for the same conductors every year, you might want to do as I learned to do from my teacher. Her orchestra parts always had the conductors’ names in the margin with notes about their specific tempos and directions to her. She had a reputation for being a sensitive player, and part of that was just...

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Does Your Crescendo Have the “Wow Factor?”

The crescendo (and its counterpart, the diminuendo or decrescendo) is one of the first expressive tools we musicians learn. But has your crescendo lost its “wow factor?” Here are some quick reminders of what to do, what NOT to do, and a few practice techniques.

First, what NOT to do. I can almost guarantee that you have been guilty of one of these. We all have.

What NOT to do:

1. Don’t let a crescendo be an afterthought. Practice the expression of a piece, including any crescendi or diminuendi, in the early learning stages so they incorporate into your understanding of the piece.
2. Don’t tighten up. Staying relaxed throughout the crescendo will keep your tone even and your technique fluid.  One of the literal meanings of the word forte is strong, and you can’t be strong if you’re too tense and tight to play.
3. Don’t start a crescendo abruptly. A crescendo grows (the actual meaning of the...

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Make a Difference (Musically) in the New Year

The New Year always causes us to stop and think. We make resolutions. Sometimes we keep them. This year my only resolution is to remember to make a difference. Musically and otherwise.

There is one incident I recall that showed me just how much our music can make a difference to others, whether we are aware of it or not.

I was flipping through my folder of Christmas music recently and I came across a handwritten note. I see the note every year, and I keep it with my Christmas music on purpose to refresh my perspective when the season gets crazy busy.

It was given to me one afternoon at a background music job I was playing. It was an easy job, just a few hours of soothing holiday music in a dentist’s office waiting room. The harp music was a holiday treat from the dentist to the patients, and everyone in the office seemed to appreciate the live music.

The job was easy to play. The room was quiet to start with; I didn’t have to compete with the noise and energy of a...

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Invest in Your Music – Spend Your Christmas Cash Wisely

© Steve Cukrov –

Perhaps you were lucky enough to have Santa (or Grandma) give you some cash for Christmas this year. What could be better than to put that gift to good use by investing it in yourself and your love of music? Whether you are a music student, music professional or you just play for the love of it, I offer ten tips for spending that gift to make your musical life easier, richer and more fulfilling.

1. Stock up on accessories. Take advantage of the year-end sales at many music stores and stock up on strings, tuners, metronomes and any other essential tools that you use everyday. My favorite suggestion for harpists: a spare tuning key to keep in your car’s glove box!

2. New music stand or stand light. Improve your outlook with a new, less rickety music stand or a brighter stand light.

3. New repertoire. This is the time to add a few new items to your “must-learn” repertoire list. Include a couple of stretch...

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Merry Christmas!

music miscellany Dec 25, 2012

From our neck of the woods to yours, have the happiest of holidays! Anne

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The Two Most Important Things in My Harp Bag

There are two important things that will be in my harp bag when I go to my Christmas Eve performances this year. I am counting on them to keep me from worrying about those last minute crises that tend to arise at the worst possible moments. Both of these were gifts from thoughtful (and savvy) friends. I hope that these will help you be prepared as well.

The first item is my emergency stand light. This light saved my life, or at least my performance, two years ago. I was playing at a lovely candlelight service. As I set up and prepared for the service, I noticed the low light level, and I checked to make sure I could read my music and see the strings. All was well until just before the service when someone decided to dim the lights. Knowing that I had my emergency stand lights in my bag next to me, I reached down, pulled out the lights, turned them on and set my pedals for the first hymn. Having those lights with me saved me from eye strain, wrong notes and a lot of worry.


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New Video: Harp in the Mountains Summer Festival 2012

We had a wonderful week at Harp in the Mountains Summer Festival this year. We practiced, performed and as you can see on the video, we had a lot of fun.

I created this video with some of our favorite photos from the week, accompanied by my recording of “Greensleeves,” from my Christmas CD Break Forth.

This year’s Harp in the Mountains Festival will be held July 14-20, 2013. Plan to join us! There is more information on the ARS Musica site or you can email me.


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Lyric Seasons by Chuck Holdeman: New Recording Now Available!

I wanted to share some good news. My friend and colleague Chuck Holdeman has just released our recording of his composition for bassoon and harp, Lyric Seasons.

The recording is available for download on CD Baby, where you can preview all four of the movements.

Lyric Seasons was written in 2000, and Chuck and I premiered it the same year. The four movements are not seasons in the sense of time of the year, but rather represent four very contrasting takes on lyricism, which might be defined as poetic melody.

The first “misty” movement is in part a swirl of questioning or mysterious sounds from which more specific themes emerge. The second movement is based on obstinate ostinati, or simple repeated patterns played on each instrument in turn, while the other instrument plays with complete melodic abandon. Chuck realized in hindsight that this movement might not have existed without his having heard the last number in Bill Duckworth’s Time Curve...

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Playing Too Much ? 10 Tips to Calm Your Fingers and Keep You Sane

© Karen Gentry –

This time of year we all do too much playing. We play every holiday party and concert we can, to put away some money for the leaner months. This makes for a nice fat bank account and some seriously over-worked fingers, not to mention backs, shoulders and brains.

But what if you still need to practice for some of those concerts? Or if your technique is suffering from playing at too many loud parties? Is it possible or even safe to practice when you’re already playing too much?

It is not only possible; it’s a good idea to practice. But only if you approach it the right way.

Here are ten tips, based on how I practice when I’m feeling all played out.

1. Consider your total playing time. You know your limits. Decide on a reasonable amount of time to play each day. Add up all the hours you will be performing or rehearsing. Subtract that from your total time. Whatever time remains is the amount of time you should practice....

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