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Listening With Your Third Ear

aural skills news Sep 24, 2018

Are you listening?

Good, because I want you to hear this: while practice, particularly properly focused practice, is the primary path to progress for any musician, the most important skill you can develop to propel you on that path is listening.

What makes listening so critical to your success?

First, it is your most important tool for identifying errors in your practice. If you don’t hear what is wrong, you can’t fix it.

Second, careful listening helps you match your actual playing to your ideal playing. You can assess your current skill level in relation to the way you want to play. Improvements in your tone, technique and expression, for instance, begin with hearing where you are now and comparing it with where you want to be. Once you hear an issue, you can create a plan to eliminate it.

Third, listening is perhaps the single most important skill in ensemble playing. Whether you are part of an orchestra, a harp ensemble or just playing with one other person, your...

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Aural Skills: Yes, They Really Matter!

aural skills Apr 04, 2016


I won't say I told you so, but...

I was reading a post on one of my favorite music blogs, The Bulletproof Musician, and was so excited to find someone else talking about one of my favorite subjects: aural skills.

The latest post begins by exploring the very real benefits of mental practice, meaning practice away from the instrument. My students have heard me talk about this before.

There are many effective ways to practice and make meaningful progress even when you don't have your instrument at hand.  Perhaps the first and most obvious way is to listen to recordings. We are musicians and by extension, we are auditory learners, at least in part.

I also recommend that my students play the "air harp." I know it sounds funny, but pantomiming your practice can help you learn your music in a different way. You can review the basic physical movements required to play while you are listening to a recording or simply reviewing the music in your mind. Both these...

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Two Ways to Get a Music Conservatory Education

Concert at the Paris Conservatory, 1843

The music conservatory: a hothouse for nurturing musical talent and an opportunity available to only the select few. For hundreds of years these elite music schools have trained world-class musicians and the tradition continues. The focused atmosphere and the access to instruction from the finest teachers and performers make a conservatory education the goal of many ambitious music students.

So how do you get a conservatory education? There are two ways. First, let’s consider the content of a “conservatory education."

(One quick note: in using the term “conservatory” I am by no means excluding the many excellent university and college music departments and their programs, many of which equal any conservatory in superb faculty and famous alumni. I myself am proud to be part of such a university music program at the University of Delaware.)

What exactly constitutes a conservatory education? There are many components of...

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Speed Up Your Bass Clef Reading

Is bass clef slowing you down? It’s something of a mystery to me why bass clef should present a stumbling block to harpists who read treble clef perfectly well.

Perhaps we just put more effort into learning (and teaching!) treble clef and figure that bass clef will get better over time. Or maybe we are so eager to play more music that we don’t spend quite enough time on all the fundamentals that would make learning music easier.

But it’s not too late. You can improve your bass clef reading. And it’s not too hard, either.

But you need to do a little practice on it every day.

In this post, I will give you five ways you can start improving your bass clef reading today. (Of course this will work for any clef you need to learn or just want to read better.)

  1. Let your right hand help. Play a bass clef line with your left hand and have your right hand play along one octave higher. Often our right hand “reads” music better than our left hand, and by...
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Got Rhythm?

aural skills musicianship Nov 03, 2014

How is your sense of rhythm? Are you not sure if you have one? rhythm Before we can decide whether you do or don’t, we should get our terms straight.

Let’s look at the building blocks of rhythm:

The Beat

The beat is the basic unit of time. It can be expressed by a particular note value, a quarter note for instance, but essentially it is a duration of time. We experience this time span as a beat when it is used in a series of identical time spans. Remember the “thump, thump, thump” of the stereo in the car stopped next to you at the traffic light? Almost everyone can “feel” the beat.


A tempo is established by a series of beats. Tempo is the speed at which the beats repeat. Tempo can be described by a metronome marking, which indicates the number of beats per minute, or by those familiar terms like Allegro or Andante.


Meter is a repeating pattern of beats where some of the beats are more accented than others; the first beat in the...

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Are These 3 Things Holding You Back?

Are you putting the brakes on when you play or practice? Or are you frustrated with slow progress?

A quick story…

One summer when my husband, son and I were vacationing in Europe, we stopped in the Alps to take a ride on a Sommerrodelbahn, a summer version of a toboggan run. After all, what do you do in the Alps in the summer if you don’t have snow?

This particular ride was a long, winding, downhill track, shaped like a trough, and the riders sat in small individual sleds. Each sled was controlled only by the rider, so you could go at your own pace. My son and husband zoomed down the hill, their sleds scooting up the sides of the track like an Olympic luge. I was much more cautious, applying my brake often. In fact, I applied my brake much too often for the person in the sled behind me. I still had a good ride, but I knew that I really wanted to go faster on my second ride. My caution might have won awards for safety, but I missed some of the thrill I could have had on...

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The Art of Subdivision

aural skills Apr 18, 2014

Subdivision of beats is the number one way to keep your inner metronome even and accurate.

How often have you been told by a teacher or a conductor to subdivide the beats? I know I was told more than once when I was a student. Now as a teacher, I find myself giving the same reminder to my students.

What is subdivision, and why is it so necessary?

Each beat is really not the instant the metronome clicks, but the space between the clicks. This space can be divided into any number of equal parts. In a meter that uses the quarter note as the beat, 4/4 for instance, we could subdivide that beat into 2 eighth notes, 4 sixteenth notes, 3 eighth triplet notes, etc.

Good so far. But if the note is only a quarter note, why should we be thinking about subdivisions when we play it?

Because it’s easier to be accurate with shorter spans of time.

Try this experiment: Look at a clock with a second hand. (I know it’s the digital age, but you must be able to find one somewhere.) Feel the...

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Do You Hate Your Metronome?

Most of us musicians will admit to a love/hate relationship with our metronome. Its relentless clicking, ticking or beeping reveals our failings. It has no mercy, and it never gets tired. Batteries even seem to last longer in a metronome than in any other electronic device.

So why has the metronome been an essential tool for generations of musicians?

Consider carefully what the metronome does.

The metronome is the audible representation of the space between two beats. A beat in music is actually a span of time, a space between two pulses. The consistent length of those spaces provides the framework for the rhythm of the piece. And the metronome is one way we can hear that framework.

The metronome is precise; it defines beats that are even and equal. Music without an even pulse is not satisfying to the listener. A rhythmic beat is a primal, instinctive sort of communication. It is one of the most important ways we connect to music. When the pulse is unsteady, it can make us feel...

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Sightreading in Slow Gear? The Three Things You Must Fix

Is your sightreading stuck in slow gear?

When I was growing up, I used to love riding the bumper cars at the amusement park. You remember those tiny little cars where you actually try to crash into everyone else and there are no rules? My brother and I would zoom around the rink, aiming for each other, but usually one of us would have a faster car than the other. It was so frustrating to have the slower car and know that no matter how hard you pushed that pedal to the floor, you would never go as fast as you wanted to.

Sightreading can hold that same frustration. The music can slip by too fast for you to keep up and everything falls apart. The difference with sightreading (as opposed to the bumper cars) is that you are in charge of how fast your car goes.

I’m not referring to the actual tempo that you are playing or trying to play. Rather, there are three main skills that are required to sightread well, and by developing your proficiency at those skills, you can sightread...

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