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Traction! Ten Steps to Making Progress

practicing Jul 29, 2018

Before you can get anywhere, you need traction.

Every year at about this time, my entire community where I live in Pennsylvania suspends its regular activities and heads for the fair. It’s one of those traditional state or county fairs with prizes for the most beautiful vegetables, most delectable baked goods and best livestock.

There are musical performances and magic acts, amusement rides, craft displays and just about every fried food imaginable, including some I couldn’t possibly have imagined. Have you ever eaten a deep-fried Oreo cookie?

Among the popular events at the fair are the tractor-pulling contests. Being a city girl, I didn’t know about such things until I moved to farm country, and maybe you’ve never seen one either. The idea is simple: hitch a heavy load to a tractor, and measure how far and how fast it can pull the load before it loses control or the motor burns up.

The tractors are loud, and their fumes are smelly; this isn’t an event...

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Find Your Fire

music miscellany Jul 22, 2018

Suddenly her soul was on fire. It had been a long weekend, and she was clearly worn out from information overload. It looked to me like she had reached her limit. But then came the fire. She wasn’t just engaged or interested. She was alive. She was on fire.

This past weekend I attended and taught at the Somerset Folk Harp Festival in New Jersey. Hundreds of harp players gathered to listen, learn and share their love of the folk harp. The assemblage of so many world-class performers and teachers super-charged the atmosphere. It was exhilarating.

It’s possible to sustain that energy level only so long, though, and so when I noticed my student showing the effects of the long day, I understood. But I was wrong.

One minute it looked as if she were about to nod off, and the next moment she came alive. I don’t remember the point in the workshop when it happened, but I saw her regain her fire.

As she joined in the discussion, it became clear that she was far from...

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No Time to Practice? Try 15 Minutes!

news practicing Jul 16, 2018

You have no time to practice?

Perhaps you’re getting ready for a trip or you have a special project at work. Maybe a family member needs extra care right now. Or maybe things are just crazy.

Whatever the situation, if you can find 15 minutes, you can do enough practice to tide you over the busy period.

Can’t find 15 minutes? I can help you with that too. But first let’s talk about why that 15 minutes is critical.

If you’re like most musicians, you would like to be doing an hour or two of practice each day. When that hour is used efficiently, you can experience growth over time, developing your technique, expanding your repertoire, preparing music to perform. An hour may not be enough to accomplish everything you would like as quickly as you wish, but it will get the job done.

I know how frustrating it is to feel that you have no time to practice. When things feel out of control, it’s so easy to tell yourself, “I’ll get back to it next...

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Independence for Your Fingers

technique Jul 08, 2018

We just celebrated another Independence Day here in the United States and I couldn’t help carrying the celebration over into the blog.

Technical facility is one of the skills every harpist must develop and maintain. A smooth, fluid technique not only allows us to play at faster tempos, but it gives all our music expression and polish. Technique is what makes even “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star” sound profound in the hands of a virtuoso.

For harpists, developing independence in the fingers is a major part of technical study. Each finger must be able to play individually and with the other fingers. It must have an equal tone as the others and be able to match them in dynamic and expression. After all, we only use eight fingers; we can’t afford to have a slacker in the bunch.

Today, I thought I would share a video lesson that I taught to the My Harp Mastery members last year around this time. It was the first of four lessons on the theme of independence for your...

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A Family Reunion, Harp Style

music miscellany Jul 02, 2018

Have you ever attended a big family reunion, one of those massive ones where each branch of the family tree can be identified by the color of their T-shirt? If so, you know what an adventure it can be. You discover cousins you’ve never met, maybe never even knew of. You share meals and stories, play games, look at photo albums, discover connections. Maybe you simply relax and share the moment. It’s exciting, exhilarating and sometimes exhausting.

When you leave the reunion, you go home with a collection of addresses and phone numbers, along with that special feeling of having reinforced your sense of belonging and forged new connections to your roots.

I attended one such reunion last week, only with name tags instead of T-shirts. I’m referring to the 2018 American Harp Society National Conference, held last week in Redlands, California. As I write this, I’m on the airplane on my way home from the conference, and I am moved to share with you how powerful these...

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Leave the Harp at Home: Guilt-Free Vacationing

practicing Jun 24, 2018

“Have harp; will travel.”

That’s my motto for most of the year. My harp and I have watched more than one odometer tip the 200,000 mile mark, and one of my cars made it over 300,000 miles. You might think my harp and I are never separated.

Nevertheless, I always have at least one vacation each year that is harp-free. I figure it’s good for both of us. He sits at home peacefully and I enjoy the beach or sightseeing or any number of activities that he wouldn’t. (Yes, my harp is a boy and his name is Eric.)

I have taken my harp on vacations from time to time. It’s lovely to relax with the harp as well as without, but I find that the break from harp playing is restorative. I am able to come back to my playing with renewed energy and purpose.

I have learned not to worry about my time away. My fingers will be rusty; Salzedo’s Conditioning Exercises are waiting for me on my music stand. My music will take some refreshing or re-learning as well, but...

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Change Up Your Warm Up: 10 Easy Tweaks

practicing Jun 17, 2018

It’s just a warm up routine. No big deal, right?

For most musicians most of the time, that is probably true.

But your warm up could be an agent of change in your playing, an opportunity for growth. The trick is to take the “routine” out of the warm up.

Certainly there is comfort in the habit of a warm up routine. It becomes a tripwire for focus, clearing your mind and preparing you to concentrate on the work before you. It limbers your fingers and eases them into the technical rigors of practice while giving you the opportunity to review and strengthen your technique.

So why change anything? Simply because when you introduce variety into your warm up, you open the door to growth.

Your warm up likely feels comfortable, but growth isn’t about comfort. It’s about stretching yourself, testing your limits, setting new goals. By adding just a little variety into your daily routine, you set the stage for significant progress in many areas of your playing,...

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How to Be a Successful Musician

music miscellany Jun 11, 2018

A successful musician doesn't just happen. It’s not really about innate talent, and believe it or not, it's not all about practice. It is about three specific qualities that allow a musician to be able to practice effectively, play fluently and perform confidently.

The good news is that these are all qualities that can be developed. It's not a question of having them or not. Any musician can cultivate them. 

What happens to many aspiring musicians, however, is that they become trapped. Their actions are guided by misconceptions with the result that they never experience the progress and satisfaction that they expected. Their hard work hasn't brought them any closer to their musical goal.

First, let me clarify what I mean by success in this instance. I’m not talking about professional success. In this post I’m referring to what I call “harp happiness:” playing the music you want to play the way you want to play it, with musicality, confidence and...

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3 Skills Essential to Sight Reading

musicianship Jun 03, 2018

Do you want to improve your sight reading? Are your efforts not yielding visible results? Maybe you're going about it the wrong way.

Sight reading is an essential part of musicianship. When a musician can sight read fluently, he can learn music faster, saving practice time and developing more confidence at the same time. And while most musicians know they should be practicing sight reading, it can be difficult to know how to go about it.

One tried-and-true method is the obvious one: sight read a piece every day. Choose the pieces carefully so that they are within your ability and maintain your tempo strictly. This method only works, however, if you have been developing three underlying skills.

You see, sight reading isn't so much a skill in itself as it is a demonstration of your skill level in three key areas. The stronger your skill in these areas, the better your sight reading will be.  Conversely, if  one or more of these skills is weak, it will make fluent sight...

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A Musical Memorial Day

music miscellany May 27, 2018


Band of the 114th Pennsylvania Infantry

Beyond the picnics and parades, Memorial Day is a day of solemn remembrance, a day to honor those of have died in battle. It began as a way to honor those killed in the Civil War, a war which remains the costliest by far in terms of American lives lost.

It is interesting to note that while the volunteers were being mustered for service at the start of the war, regimental bands for both North and South were being created also. While some bands were formed as semi-professional groups with flashy uniforms, others were simply assembled from those volunteers who had some musical experience.

At the beginning of the war every regiment . . . had full brass bands, some of them numbering as high as fifty pieces. When it is considered that in every brigade there were from four to five regiments, three brigades in one division and three divisions in each corps, an aggregate of from thirty-six to forty bands is shown for every corps. When a division...

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