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Follow Your Ambition

music miscellany Apr 01, 2018

Ambition is not just the property of the young and upwardly mobile. It isn’t exclusive to those destined to be superstars. Ambition is a natural part of the human condition.

It is sometimes viewed as prideful, immoderate, immodest, overbearing or selfish. But it is more properly cast in a neutral role: ambition is what you do with it.

When was the last time you thought about your ambitions, gave your thoughts over to your dreams without regard for probability, just enjoying the idea of the possible?

At least once a week, I receive an email from a harp student who is concerned about whether “it’s too late” for her to become the harpist she wants to be. She is nearly ready to give up on her dreams because she fears she doesn’t have enough talent, her fingers are too slow or she’s too old.

Most often, she has been caught up in one or more of three limiting beliefs, false beliefs which can kill even the strongest ambition.

Ambition Killer 1: Accept...
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Focus: Keeping Your Eye on the Ball

practicing Mar 25, 2018

Focus is the difference between whiffing and missing the ball or hitting it out of the park.

I am finally starting to believe that spring is on its way. We still have snow in our yard, but the sun feels stronger and the scent in the air has changed. And baseball opening day is this week.

When baseball season starts, summer can’t be too far behind. Soon major league stadiums, community parks and backyards across the country will be fields of dreams for players and fans young and old. Parents everywhere will be encouraging their young players, saying, “Keep your eye on the ball!”

A batter must stay focused on that ball to hit it.  There is only a split second when the ball crosses the plate. If the batter has been watching the ball, the bat will be coming across the plate at the right moment and in the right place to connect with the ball. If the batter hasn’t been focused on the ball, the swing will fan the air and he’ll be out at the plate.


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What You Don't Know About Deliberate Practice

practicing Mar 18, 2018

Do you understand “deliberate practice?” If you don’t you’re not alone.

Much has been written about deliberate practice since K. Anders Ericsson, a Swedish psychologist and professor at Florida State University, first wrote about it in the 1990’s. Ericsson’s research led him to the conclusion that it was not so much innate ability that led the highest achievers to their success but was more a product of the work they did to get there. And specifically, the way in which they worked. That was what he termed “deliberate practice.”

Since then, bookstore shelves have displayed more books on this topic every year, each book promising to lead us to the success we crave by showing us the path.

At the risk of adding to the clutter, I would like to offer a brief practical look at some of the most basic elements of deliberate practice and how you can use them to each and every day in the work you do – whether it’s music practice or...

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Tempo Is Not a Number

musicianship Mar 11, 2018

“Tempo is not a number,” I said to my student.

My student was trying hard to work his piece up to speed, one metronome notch at a time, and was still some distance from the metronome mark printed on the page. I thought his current tempo was actually fine and told him so.

“But it’s not the right speed,” he said.

“It’s a good speed,” I countered. “You play it smoothly and musically.”

“But it’s too slow!”

“Why do think so?”

“Because it’s the wrong number!” He was a little exasperated now, and I knew he needed a new perspective.

“Tempo is not a number,” was all I said.

It was not what he wanted to hear, and what’s more, he didn’t believe me. After all, the number was printed right there on the page. And so I began to explain…

Fundamentally, tempo is an expressive element that supports the musical construct of the piece. It combines with dynamics,...

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Do You Worry About the "What-Ifs" ?

performing Mar 04, 2018

Do you suffer from the "what-ifs"?

My student was preparing for an important performance. We still had two or three lessons before the date, and I was confident she was prepared.

But at her next lesson she surprised me. Her playing was excellent, but she didn’t have the confidence in her playing that I did. She had a case of the “what-ifs.”

  • What if they don’t like me? They know you already and they like you.

  • What if I forget my music? You put your music on the stand and keep going.

  • What if I push a wrong pedal? You fix it and keep going.

  • What if I totally screw up? Really???

This student was an experienced performer and was well prepared. All she needed was a little pep talk.

For less experienced performers or musicians who have never performed at all, the thought of playing “in front of people” can give them a more serious case of “what-ifs.”

The good news is that there is a cure, even for first-timers. It’s a...

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Repetition: Mindless or Mindful

practicing Feb 25, 2018

Much has been said – and I have said my share – about how to practice. Practicing with intention, deliberation and focus is the practice method that separates the successful musicians from the rest. (By successful musicians, I don’t just mean those with big music careers. Every musician is successful who is learning, playing, sharing and enjoying her music in ways that are personally meaningful.)

A quick internet search will disclose numerous research studies and scientific papers that reveal proven strategies to efficient and effective practice.  You will also find creative approaches to practice that resonate with different learning types.

All of those practice methods, suggestions, techniques, tricks and tips share a common purpose: to enable you to play the music you want the way you want to play it.  Moreover, they all address the one principle that is at the heart of music study. That principle is repetition.

But wait, you say. I thought repetitive...

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Rejecting Perfection

musicianship Feb 18, 2018

Perfection has its good points, I guess. I wouldn’t  know because I’ve never been there.

Perfection appears to us as an ideal, our Mount Olympus, the place we strive for. It is that ever-elusive musical rabbit we chase in each practice session and every performance.

But is perfection really a suitable goal for a musician?

Perfection isn’t just a nearly impossible task. I believe that a “perfect” musical performance doesn’t exist …and shouldn’t.

That’s not to say that I haven’t heard performances that I considered flawless and ideal. But as a performer myself, I can say that even when I get all the notes right, there is always some musical detail I know I could have handled better. Following that thought further, if I hear perfection, but you didn’t feel you played perfectly, can perfection really exist?

But let’s be a little less philosophical and a little more practical.

Perfection in the usual sense is...

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Sophia Dussek: A Valentine’s Day Tribute

music miscellany Feb 11, 2018

With Valentine’s Day approaching, I found myself reflecting again on how much of our harp music we owe to love and romance. I don’t mean that harp music is “romantic,”  though certainly much of it could be interpreted that way. Rather, there is a substantial portion of harp literature that  was composed by someone who loved a harpist.

The harpist was often a mother (as in Micheline Kahn, the mother of Jean Michel Damase) or a wife (remember Dorette Spohr, wife of Louis Spohr), and I shudder to think what gaps there would be in our repertoire were it not for music being the language of love.

Coincidentally, today February 12 is the birthday of Czech composer Jan Ladislav Dussek (1760-1812).  Perhaps you first encountered Dussek’s music as I did, as a young piano student fumbling through his florid and elegant sonatinas.

Dussek also wrote numerous works for harp, no doubt inspired by his accomplished wife, singer, pianist and harpist Sophia...

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Practicing Technique the Right Way

technique Feb 04, 2018

Practicing technique is a cornerstone of a musician’s long term growth and daily practice habit. But that doesn’t mean that every moment you spend in technical practice will be well-spent.

Technical practice has one very clear objective: to solidify the habits that make it possible to you to play the music you want. A good technical  foundation gives you the ability to worry about everything else when you play – notes, tempo, expression and musicality – everything related  to what you are trying to play instead of how you will manage to play it.

When you are first learning to play an instrument or to sing, you spend most of your time practicing technique. You will study the basic principles of how you physically produce your sound. You will begin developing the habits that will form the core of your relationship with your instrument.

Later in your studies, you begin addressing the finer points of technique that are necessary for more advanced...

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Advocating for Digital Music

music miscellany Jan 28, 2018

Composer Milton Babbitt with the RCA Mark II


I like digital music and I’m not afraid to say it. Surprised?

If that statement pulls the figurative rug out from under you, you may feel on firmer ground by the time you read to the end…

Electronic music, or digital music, has a history well over a century old. With the development of the telegraph in the 1830’s and the invention of the telephone in the 1870’s, electronic sound transmission was in the forefront of innovation. It was an American Elisha Gray, employed by Western Electric as a telegraph supervisor, who first brought this technology to a “musical instrument.”

In 1874, he developed what he termed a “musical telegraph,” a two-octave keyboard that produced electronic sounds, a very primitive version of the electronic organ which wouldn’t make its debut for another sixty years.

In 1896, American inventor Thaddeus Cahill developed the first music synthesizer, a...

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