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Learning and Teaching Key Signatures: Step 1

musicianship practicing Sep 10, 2012

© g215 –

Many music students hate learning key signatures. It can seem too much like “homework,” and too little like playing music. As a teacher, my job is to make sure that students learn key signatures thoroughly; it’s both necessary and important. (For the “WHY” of key signatures, see this previous blog post.) When students have mastered key signatures, they make fewer mistakes with accidentals, and we can move along to more interesting musical material.

I have two goals when teaching this subject:
1. To make the learning as relevant as possible to playing music, and
2. To make sure the students only have to learn the key signatures once.

I have developed a three-step method for teaching key signatures that addresses both goals, and helps students learn and understand key signatures . Basically, these are the three steps:

1. Teach students to write, recite and play perfect fifths. Without understanding this fundamental interval,...

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Don’t practice for perfection!


© Ingor Normann –

If you are practicing for perfection, working to make a piece or an excerpt note-perfect, you may not be using your time wisely and you may be missing out on the real benefits of good practice. You may be frustrated, and even setting yourself up for failure.

A music student was telling me about his practice. He was discouraged; the things he was working on didn’t seem like they were getting any better, and it was taking too long to move on to the next thing. I could hear the frustration in his voice. His lack of progress was making him question whether he should even be studying music.

But as we talked a little more about the music he was working on and his specific goals in his practice, I realized that despite his best efforts, his practicing was all wrong. On the good side, he was practicing for hours and had particular areas of focus. But his overall focus was to “do it right,” which was setting him up for...

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Harping on Pinterest

I’m new to Pinterest.

It usually takes me awhile to figure out new social media sites, but Pinterest intrigues me. I love to learn about people, places and ideas. I could wade through web pages for hours looking for an elusive bit of information or possibly just exploring, looking for a serendipitous discovery.

And Pinterest is the perfect “bulletin board” for organizing and sharing some of those discoveries.

Today I would like to share just a few of the quotes I have collected about things related to music, music practice and performance and the harp.

I have “pinned” them on my pinboard. Please feel free to share and re-pin. I expect to keep updating the collection as it grows, so don’t forget to check back!

In case you can’t visit the board right away, here are some of the quotes I have pinned so far:

A note of music gains significance from the silence on either side. – Anne Morrow Lindberg

We are what we repeatedly do....

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Why not pretend to be organized?

music miscellany Aug 29, 2012

© Gabriel Blaj –

I pretend to be organized, and I think you should too.

If you’re one of the few truly organized people, this post is not for you.

But if you’re like me, you want to be organized, but it’s a constant struggle. With concerts, students, family and just daily life moving so fast, there’s no time left for organizing. At the same time, I know I can’t afford not to be organized. I used to feel guilty and embarrassed.

But not any more. I follow three simple rules, and I pretend to be organized.

Before I share my three rules, I want to explain the power of the word “pretend.”

First, there is magic in make-believe. Remember the commercial in which the boy dressed as Darth Vader tried to use the Force on everything in his house? Part of the emotional appeal of that ad was in the boy’s belief in his costume. We have all felt that feeling – when you put on the costume, you put on...

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Allow Enough Preparation Time in Your Music Practice…

…or, You Can’t Rush the Pig

Trying to hurry through your music practice? When practicing music for a concert, or even for your weekly lesson, it is vital that you allow yourself enough preparation time.

Lately in this blog, we have discussed how to create your personal musical vision statement. This process includes setting intermediate goals as steps toward your ultimate vision, each goal with a specific time frame. Today, I would like to remind you how important it is to give yourself enough preparation time, and give you some guidelines for success in figuring out how much time you need.                                     © DerL –                                                               ...

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The Value of a Personal Musical Vision Statement – Part 2


Do you have a personal musical vision statement? By turning your dreams and goals into your own musical vision, you can achieve more, enjoy productive practice time, and take more pleasure in your playing.

In part one of this two-part blog post, I explored the differences between dreams, goals and vision. Here in part two, I will help you create your own personal musical vision statement.

If dreams are the fruit of our imagination, we can think of vision as a dream with a commitment. Your dream becomes a future reality. When it becomes a vision, it becomes a destination, one you can arrive at if you know the route. And goals are your route, your waypoints on the path.

The basic formula is this: Your dream is where you think it. Your vision is where you see it. Your goals are how you do it.

And you start with creating your vision statement. It will be a written statement that commits you to the actions required to achieve your vision within a...

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Musicianship Rule #11 – Practice with Your Brain


Practice with Your Brain, my Musicianship Rule #11, is all about “informing your performance.” It means bringing the best of your musical knowledge to your practice and paying attention to everything on the page. It means going beyond just playing the notes, and seeking to understand everything you are able about the piece of music you are learning.

Over the years I have developed some rules of musicianship that I try to keep in my practicing, performing and teaching. Like Gibbs’s rules on NCIS , my list isn’t complete and it’s completely arbitrary. The rules aren’t always easy to follow, but every time I try to skirt the rules, I pay a price. Sometimes it’s just a little embarrassing; occasionally it’s more painful.

I was caught in a Rule 11 violation this past weekend. I was playing the Tournier “Sonatine” in a church service, the first movement as a prelude, the second movement during the...

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The Value of a Personal Musical Vision Statement – Part 1

Do you have a personal musical vision statement? By turning your dreams and goals into your own musical vision, you can achieve more, enjoy productive practice time, and take more pleasure in your playing.

In part one of this two-part blog post, I explore the differences between dreams, goals and vision. In part two, I will help you create your own personal musical vision statement.                                                   ©

Helping students set goals is an important part of my harp teaching. We all need to have a goal to work toward, an “end” to the practice process. Without short-term and long-term goals, it is difficult to measure progress, or even be fully committed to a practice schedule.

Here near the end of summer, my students and I take some time to set goals for their harp study during the year. At...

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Harp Care When its Hot, Hot, Hot!

We have just survived the hottest July on record, and there’s no reason to expect August to be any cooler. Try these harp care tips to get you and your harp through the dog days of summer.

In the Philadelphia area where I grew up, the three H’s – hazy, hot and humid – are an almost daily constant in the summer weather forecast. And in my parents’ house, we didn’t have air conditioning. There were many days when inside the house didn’t feel that different from outside. All of us complained about the heat, including my harp.

Half the strings broke and the other half sounded terrible. The harp felt sticky. I stuck to the bench when I practiced. It was miserable, but I learned a lot about how to care for a harp when the sultry weather hits.

1. Harps are happiest indoors. This one’s obvious, but you should pay attention to your harp’s indoor environment. Your harp should not be in direct sunlight or in the direct breeze of an air...

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The Aeolian Harp

music miscellany Aug 10, 2012


The Aeolian harp  is a stringed instrument that is played by the wind. It is named after Aeolus, the ruler of the winds in ancient Greek mythology. You have heard one if  you have ever had your harp outside, and heard the breeze play the strings by itself.  Enjoy this short tribute to the Aeolian harp.

The Aeolian harp summerhouse shown here is in Pyatigorsk, in the Northern Caucasus Mountains in Russia. It was constructed in 1828, designed by the Bernardaccy brothers who also designed the town’s mineral baths and fanciful Diana’s Grotto .

The harp inside the pavilion was not strictly an Aeolian harp. Instead of relying on the wind to stroke the strings, the two harps mounted on the floor of the pavilion were played with a device attached to the weathervane on the dome. When the wind turned the weathervane, the device played the strings. The sound could be heard throughout the valley:

On one of the loftiest...

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