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Why Mastery is a Horrible Goal

 

Mastery is one of those hot-button words. It sounds good, but it comes with some pretty heavy baggage.

As we commonly use the word, mastery is the ultimate measure of accomplishment and proficiency. By that definition, mastery represents a standard upheld by a very few people and aspired to by everyone else.

Making that kind of mastery your musical goal will likely engender more frustration than progress. It makes it hard to persevere. Why keep trying so hard if you aren’t ever going to get there?

However, when we look at mastery as a process rather than a place, as a journey not a destination, it becomes a path to progress, to becoming a better harpist, a better musician. Mastery in this sense is less about “doing” well and more about “growing” well. When we make growth our goal, the relative level of mastery happens as a matter of course.

Don’t mistake this for a feel-good, easy path. While I believe that musical mastery is a journey,...

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Why You Can’t Prevent Performance Crashes

musicianship performing Nov 12, 2018

Practice doesn't work.

Now that I have your attention, let me clarify.

The normal everyday practice that we usually do doesn't build the skills we need to play our music well. If you have ever practiced a piece and then had it crash when you performed it, you know this is true.

Consider this list of just some of the many distinctions between what we do in practice and what we need to do in performance.

In practice, we take time to warmup our fingers and our focus.
In performance, we start “cold.”

In practice, we go back and fix our mistakes.
In performance, we must play on.

In practice, we choose what we want to play and when.
In performance, we play on demand.

In practice, we are in our comfy practice space.
In performance, we are in an unaccustomed place.

In practice, we achieve calm and focus.
In performance, we feel the rush of adrenalin.

In practice, we are discriminating about our playing.
In performance, we become hyper-critical and judgmental.

In practice, we delve...

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Break Through: What to When Your Technique Is Holding You Back

Is your technique keeping you from playing the music you love?

No matter what your playing level is or how many years you’ve been playing, your technique may be holding you back.

Your technique is the foundation for everything that you play. It is the essence of your tone, speed, fluency and musicality. If your technique isn’t ready to handle that piece of music on your music stand, you can practice the notes until your fingers fall off and still not be able to play the music the way you want.

I expect that you know that already. You probably practice your scales and arpeggios, perhaps even exercises and etudes, regularly as part of your practice. At least, I hope you do. But you may have discovered that you still aren’t moving your technique to the level you want.

Are You Ready?

Not sure if you need a technique break through? See if any of these statements sound familiar.

  1. You can get your pieces to ¾ tempo but not up to speed, even though the piece...
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Are You Paper-Trained? Playing With and Without Music

musicianship practicing Oct 29, 2018

There are many divides in the musical world, but perhaps none as charged as the question of whether to memorize or not.

There was music long before there was any way of writing it down. Learning was passed from one generation to the next. Of course, music was pretty simple back then. The earliest example of polyphony– music that combines more than one separate melody – dates from the 10th century.

As music grew increasingly complex, it became more important to have a way to repeat it and to learn and teach it quickly. Hence the systematization of musical notation of Guido d’Arezzo around the same time. The notation we use today is direct descendant of that early system.

You may prefer to play from memory or from the printed page, paper or electronic; there is clearly precedent for each. Each has its benefits and its drawbacks, and each should have a place in your musical toolbox.

Why Memorize?

You know I am a huge advocate of developing your note...

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Genre Neutral: Music For All Occasions

Read that title carefully, please. I’m not getting political; I’m being practical.

Playing music that you love is a great base for your repertoire, but if you want to play anywhere other than your living room, you will eventually need to play music that other people want to hear. The practical purpose of this post is to help you choose music to add to your repertoire that will serve you well, both because people will enjoy hearing it and because you will be able to use it appropriately in a variety of settings.

I started thinking on this subject after a recent My Harp Mastery Q and A call. One of our members opened the discussion by asking the question, “What are the gold standard pieces every harpist should have in her repertoire?” That question opened the proverbial floodgates. Everyone on the call had suggestions of music to include, music that they love to play. By the time the call was over, we had amassed a sizeable list.

Later, however, I began to...

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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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Listen Like a Superhero

musicianship Apr 29, 2018

"Be sure to listen!"

This was my teacher's final piece of advice before I played my first orchestra rehearsal. I was only 12, and I was playing with a local community orchestra. I was a little nervous. All the other players were grown-ups. The part I was playing was unfamiliar, but back then every orchestra part was unfamiliar.  Adding to my discomfort was the conductor’s heavy German accent and the fact that he addressed me only as "leetle girrrl."

I would have loved to listen, but I was too uncomfortable and inexperienced to do more than pray that I would come in at the right time.

Unnerving as it was, the whole experience taught me to listen. Even better, over time I learned the skills I needed to become a constant and reliable ensemble player. I learned to listen like a superhero.

If you’re a Marvel Comics fan, you know that the superhero Wolverine is a mutant who possesses a set of amazing retractable claws and ultra-keen senses, including a fantastic sense of...

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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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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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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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