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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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Lose the Lucky Socks: 3 Strategies for Performance Nerves

Nearly everyone experiences some physical manifestation of performance nerves.

Whether it’s butterflies in the stomach, cold feet, sweaty palms, shaky hands or scattered thoughts, these symptoms can threaten to undo all our hours of hard work and preparation. Even worse, it’s often fear of the symptoms, not the anxiety about the performance itself, that causes the most damage.

This is why performers are always on the hunt for the silver bullet, the magic cure that will keep the nerves at bay. Ask around and you will find people who put their trust in meditation, deep breathing, medication, bananas and lucky socks. If any of these work for you, that’s fantastic.

But that’s not what this post is all about.

I would like to share three strategies for coping with nerves and anxiety that have more to do with management than with magic. You might not have heard many people talk about them, but they are powerful core strategies that will work even when your lucky...

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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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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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Making It Look Easy: Creating Flow

performing practicing Oct 15, 2018

They make it look so easy, the great masters. From the long putt that wins the match, to the artists quick sketch that reveals more than a photograph could, to the lightning fast scales in a Mozart piano sonata, we mere mortals know the depth of mastery needed to perform at that level. We understand why our attempts at these tasks don't have the same easy grace.

What's more perplexing is why tasks that should be within our skill level don't have grace and polish either. For instance, that Mozart sonata may present a technical challenge for you, but why does that one page minuet that you've been practicing for months still sound choppy, hesitant and uneven? How do you make the music flow?

In my e-book, Kaleidoscope Practice: Focus, Finish, and Play the Way You’ve Always Wanted,I call that flow continuity. Continuity is the sense of inevitability, the seamless musical progression that draws a listener into the performer’s world. While continuity creates a magical musical...

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Five Steps to Build Your Repertoire

performing practicing Oct 08, 2018

“A repertoire of 60 minutes begins with a single piece.” – Anne Sullivan

Okay, so I’m not Lao Tzu and my paraphrase of his famous saying about a journey of a thousand miles is not nearly as profound. But it is just as true.

The truth is that if you have just one piece that you can play, a piece that you enjoy playing and play fairly well, you can develop a repertoire of the scope and size that you want.

It is also true that it will be a gradual process and not an overnight one. Your repertoire will develop as your musical skills strengthen and grow. But if you have ever wanted to have 15 minutes or 45 minutes or an hour of music at your fingertips, it is completely possible, as long as you have one piece to start with.

You may wonder how I can be so sure that this is possible. You may even have tried to learn a repertoire and keep it in your fingers and met with less than resounding success. I invite you to try the process I outline below. It is likely there...

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Facing Fear: To Act Rather Than React

performing practicing Oct 01, 2018

The only thing we have to fear is fear itself. – Franklin Delano Roosevelt

 

As a performer, I never found much comfort in that thought. My fears or nerves before a performance weren’t lessened by knowing that they were my enemies. I already knew that. What I was looking for, hoping for, dreaming of, was a way to not be nervous.

The truth in Roosevelt’s statement, however, lies in the nature of fear. When we are fearful, our fight-or-flight response is triggered. We choose to run away from the perceived threat, or we decide to fight against it.

In the context of musical performance, neither reaction is ideal. There is a part of us that actually wants to play, not run away. On the other hand, if we choose to fight the fear, we create tension that sabotages our playing before we start.

A musician’s fears aren’t all around performance, either. There may be situations that you avoid because you are afraid you lack the required skills or because you may...

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How to Build Your Curriculum

In last week’s post, I showed you why I think that creating a curriculum for your harp studies – as opposed to simply practicing – is an essential key to progress. If you didn’t read the post, you can read it here, but basically the idea is this: begin with a goal, then create a plan and a timeline. Add in benchmarks to measure your progress and you have the fundamental structure for your curriculum.

But that’s only the structure. The structure of a curriculum is pretty much the same whether you’re studying English, astronomy or ukulele. In order to actually build your curriculum, you will need some time and careful consideration.

Today, I want to show you how to create your study curriculum. We’ll look at the three stages of curriculum building and I’ll give you some ideas for implementation too.

(I’m going to assume that you have already identified your goal, the result that you want from your curriculum. Remember that a...

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The Line Between Difficult and Too Difficult

performing Aug 13, 2018

“Is this piece too difficult for me?”

When students ask me this question, I know it’s not because they’re lazy and don’t want to have to work hard.

On the contrary, I know they are ready and willing to put in the practice time needed to be able to play the piece. They just want to be assured that their time and effort will get them results. Why spend hours practicing if you will eventually have to give up and put the piece away?

There are many well-known quotations meant to encourage and inspire you to undertake a challenge. I’ve listed a few of my favorites below.

The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. – Lao Tzu

Everything is hard before it is easy. – Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

There is nothing difficult, only new things, unaccustomed things. – Carlos Salzedo

When you come upon a difficult task ... start. - Harbhajan Singh Yogi

But most students don’t need the inspiration to get started. They want to...

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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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