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Hymns: A Harpist’s Guide to Playing Along

performing Dec 03, 2017

“Could you play along on these hymns too?”

It seems like a reasonable request. A well-intentioned choir director wants to take full advantage of having a harpist participating in the service. So now you find yourself with a sheaf of print-outs of the hymns with notes to “play along on verses 2, 4 and 5, whatever you feel like.”

Quite possibly you are clenching your jaw just thinking about this. You won’t be heard above the organ and the congregational singing. The pedaling is awkward. The written notes don’t fit well on the harp. While you’re happy to add beauty to the service music, this doesn’t feel like the right way. It feels like a waste of your time and talent.

You’re right. It is.

I used to feel that way too.

For a while I tried gently refusing to play on the hymns. Even when directors were sympathetic, though, I felt as though I were not really doing my best for them.

That’s when I determined to find a way that I...

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Harp Gratitude Day - Giving Thanks

music miscellany Nov 26, 2017

Gratitude is on my mind at the moment.

Here in the U.S. we just celebrated Thanksgiving, arguably the most beloved of our national holidays. In the midst of all the food, fun, family and football, even the most cynical citizens manage to find a moment or two to feel gratitude for something or someone.

I am far from being a cynical person, and I’d like to share a few of the music-related things that inspire my gratitude, not just at Thanksgiving, but just about every day. I encourage you to read my list, to comment and to share some of the musical things or people you are thankful for too.

I am thankful for…

…my harp teachers whose commitment to the harp, to music and to my growth as a musician is still a daily inspiration.

… the generous community of harpists. I am awed by the giving nature of harpists all over the world. And an extra thanksgiving for the technology which brings us all so much closer.

…the amazing caring members of My Harp Mastery....

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Motivation: Rust Proofing Your Practice

practicing Nov 19, 2017

“She just doesn’t have the motivation.”

I remember hearing a performance many years ago by a young musician who seemed to have it all going for her: the kind of talent that makes everything seem easy and natural, and the poise to let her audience see how much she enjoyed performing.

Later though her teacher confided in me that this student was not really making progress. She just wasn’t motivated enough to put in the effort it was going to take to move to the next level.

Many of the students I work with now are adults whose main purpose in the harp study is to play for their own pleasure. That’s a fine goal and one I am happy to support. But it can be hard for these students to maintain their motivation to learn, practice and play without the kind of external pressure that performance deadlines can exert.

I will share with you the secret to keeping your motivation strong, and it’s not having a goal or taking lessons or scheduling performances. All...

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Making Progress: 3 Simple Ways to Sustain Momentum

practicing Nov 12, 2017
I was taught that the way of progress was neither swift nor easy. – Marie Curie

You’re a musician; you understand the struggle to make progress.

You practice every day and try hard to improve. But you’re not certain if things are actually getting better.  Perhaps the same issues crop up over and over. Or despite years of study, you don’t really have any music you feel you can play.

Are you making progress? Are you moving toward a higher musical plane, or are you spinning your wheels?

We all understand the loose nature of progress when it comes to music. There’s no simple metric to measure where you are or how far you’ve come. There’s no litmus test for each day’s practice session; if the trip turns blue, you made progress but if the strip turns red, you wasted your time. Thank goodness that litmus test hasn’t been invented!

I think that we feel progress primarily in that feeling of satisfaction that we get from seeing our...

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Adult Music Student? Enjoy the Privileges of Age

music miscellany Nov 05, 2017

Adult Music Student.

Perhaps this phrase conjures up an image of a nightmare recital where you, the quaking gray-haired student, stumble through a beginner piece while the 8 year olds play like virtuosi and take the pressure in their stride.

Banish that vision from your thoughts. Being an adult music student is about freedom and possibility, adventure and fulfillment. At least, it should be.

In the 1959 movie Gigi, a white-haired Maurice Chevalier watches his nephew Gaston suffer through a string of love affairs and sings his relief that, “I’m glad I’m not young anymore.”

You, my adult music student friend, should be feeling the same way. You may have come to music lessons because you wanted to try something new, or maybe return to an instrument that you learned long ago. Maybe this is a bucket-list project or just a whim. Whatever brought you to music, you should be enjoying the pursuit.

And just in case you’re feeling uneasy following that 8 year old...

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10 Ways to Cut Your Practice Time in Half

practicing Oct 29, 2017

Practice time is probably the number factor in your music success.

Let me clarify – practice time spent efficiently and effectively is the number one factor in your music success.

Time is a precious commodity and trying to dedicate some of it to your practice can seem daunting. There are so many demands on our time, and practice can easily find itself falling to the bottom of our list.

So once you’ve found time to practice, you want to be sure that you’re spending that time in a way that will help you play your music confidently and enjoy your progress.

Here are 10 simple ways to add efficiency and power to your practice, so you can stop wasting time or practicing in circles, tips to cut your practice time in half or possibly get twice as much done.

  1. Don’t always start from the beginning. It’s likely that the first few bars of your piece are the ones you have done most often and know best. Try working from the middle or the end for a change.

  2. Use a...

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Eat Your Vegetables – Review Your Music!

musicianship Oct 22, 2017

Do you review your music as a regular part of your practice, or a “maybe if I get around to it” part?

Do you review your music as a regular part of your practice, or a “maybe if I get around to it” part?

My totally non-scientific guess is that 9 out of 10 music students don’t include regular and systematic review of their past repertoire in their practice.

It’s natural for review to get regulated to the time we have left over in our daily practice. We only have a limited amount of practice time and we need to use it to meet our musical deadlines and goals. Review seems like a luxury.

I have seen, however, that not including review in your daily practice is like not eating your vegetables. Your health and your growth will be affected, possibly not in immediate or obvious ways, but in ways that will keep you from reaching your full potential.

Our progress as musicians isn’t just a path forward into more challenging music. The path to growth...

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Control: Why It’s Out of Your Hands

performing Oct 15, 2017

Life, especially in these hectic days, has become a search for control.

We look for more control over our calendar and our working days. There is an explosion of books, blogs and courses about productivity, all aimed at helping us bring more order to order lives.

We meditate, exercise and diet to gain control over our minds and bodies.

All the while, we know that control, at least the way we imagine it, is an illusion. We are powerless over many of the circumstances which affect us.

Given that understanding, why do we persist in thinking that we can dominate or control our music-making? Or from another perspective, why are we so reluctant to accept the fact that, as in every other part of our lives, some of the circumstances around our playing and performance are beyond our power to control?

I’d like to suggest an alternative to the quest for control, or perhaps just an alternate definition.

What if true control were to be found in resilience instead of in perfection? If,...

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I'm Stuck! What to Do When Nothing Is Working

practicing Oct 08, 2017

I’m stuck!

We’ve all been there, when the piece you’re trying to practice and perfect just seems to go into neutral gear. No matter how much you practice or how focused you are, you can’t seem to get off the plateau.

Sure, you could keep practicing, hammering away at it, with the hope that eventually it will move ahead.

Or you could put it aside, give the piece (and your brain) a rest. Working so hard with no results to show for it is fatiguing and depressing.

Is there another option? You bet.

First let’s look at how you got stuck in the first place. Mentally rewind to the first time you opened the music…

The music was new. The page was clean, unblemished by markings and full of promise. You dove right in.

You worked out the fingering and all the other technical details. You drilled the tricky passages. You practiced hands separately and together. You worked slowly and carefully, using the metronome, checking the details of technique and...

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Etudes: The Case For and Against

news technique Oct 01, 2017

There are etudes, and then there are etudes.

In harp pedagogy, we have the basic fundamental studies like the Pozzoli etudes in the Grossi Metodo per Arpa and the flashy concert etudes of Zabel and Posse.

For those more familiar with the piano repertoire, these translate roughly as Czerny studies and Chopin etudes.

In fact, Chopin is likely the name we associate most with etudes, no matter what instrument we play. Chopin wrote 27 studies for the piano in the 1830’s and these works are legendary for their technical demands and musical depth.

But not all etudes are like that.

Some are written specifically to help us develop our technical skills. These are usually less musically rewarding, much shorter and less interesting to practice.

Still, etudes have been considered an important component in musical training for centuries. For instance, the keyboard studies written by 16th century Italian organist Girolamo Diruta (c. 1554-1610) are still considered significant today.

Despite...

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