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Practicing Harp Happiness

#087: Breaking Free From Perfectionism

As you probably know, one of my words for 2023 is freedom. It’s a motivational word, meaning the idea of freedom energizes me. It’s an aspirational word, meaning I want to experience the feeling of freedom every day. Most importantly, it’s an action word. I want to actively bring more freedom into all areas of my life and into the lives of those around me. That includes you, my friend. And that’s where freedom in our harp playing comes in.

I’m on a mission to set harpists free from the tyranny of some of the things that keep them from achieving what they want in their harp playing. That’s the main focus for the webinar I’ll be presenting soon on Creating Harp Freedom. I’ll be talking about some of the hidden enemies of progress and what you can actually do to defeat them. 

But in assembling the materials for that webinar, I realized that there is one enemy that many harpists face, one that is too big to be covered thoroughly in...

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#085: Use The One-Two Punch To Plan Your Harp Growth in 2023

I attended one professional boxing match in my life. The reason I went was that a former harp student of mine was making her professional boxing debut. As you might imagine, I felt a little out of my element in the boxing club, which was actually one of the legendary boxing clubs in Philadelphia, but I had never been there before. And I’ve never been there since. What surprised me most was that I could actually relate to the experience a little, not because of my martial arts training, but because of my music training.

There was a nervous tension in the air that was not unlike the anticipation before a performance. I felt the same sense of the importance of the moment, the fact that each competitor needed to bring his or her best effort right at that moment; there was no second chance. Of course, we musicians are fighting a less visible opponent. And we aren’t likely to walk away with a bloody lip or a broken nose.

I also found the strategy of the boxers interesting to...

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#080: Are You Taking Too Long to Learn That Piece?

“How long should it take to learn a piece?” 

I am asked that question so many times and every time my heart sinks. Why? First of all, there’s that word “should.” There are no “shoulds” in the learning process. The word “should” leads to the idea that there is one standard against which we could judge our efforts and which we could use to plan our music learning. An objective standard, such as “this piece will take any harpist three months to learn,” is absolutely impossible. So the word “should” isn’t helpful.

But even if we reframe the question in very specific terms - “how long will it take me to learn this piece?” - we still run into difficulties trying to come up with an answer. 

Each harpist is unique, bringing a unique set of skills and experiences to their music. Each piece has challenges that are specific to that piece which may test an individual harpist’s...

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#076: Are You In the Zone or Zoning Out?

What’s the big deal about being “in the zone” and how do you get there?

You might have heard the zone described as total focus, as losing your sense of time and space, of being completely absorbed in what you’re doing. People use phrases like, “being able to perform with total concentration” or “losing all awareness of one’s self.” It’s also called a “state of flow.”

From these descriptions, you might think being in the zone is the world’s best antidote to nerves, and in some ways it might be. But the secret to getting in the zone, whether you’re performing or practicing, is really a matter of balance. It’s not magic and it’s not a trip into the matrix. You don’t need a secret mantra or to try to shut your mind away from your playing. Being in the zone is being fully present and involved.

Sometimes musicians try to find the zone by attempting to play on autopilot. You know what I...

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#075: Ditch the Drills: 3 Better Ways to Practice

Who wants a better way to practice? Yes, please!

While it's true that music practice necessarily involves a lot of repetition and drill, there are better - and definitely worse - ways to go about it. Consider how many times you have gotten up from the harp bench having spent an hour on those four nearly impossible measures and come back the next day to feel like you’re starting back at square one again. I feel your pain, my friend, I’ve been there.

Hopefully, you’re keeping in mind that progress doesn’t happen in a predictable way; it happens in its own time. It’s like a seed you plant in the ground. You water it and guard it carefully but you can’t really see through the ground to see if anything is happening. Then one day you go outside and there it is - a baby plant. 

Yes, progress happens over time and is nurtured through repetition, but unlike the growth timeline for a seed, we have a little bit of control of how quickly that progress...

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#072: Divide and Conquer: How to Practice a Piece in Sections

Have you ever wanted someone to just give you a system for learning a piece of music, a system that would work for every piece, every time? Me too. But there isn’t one.

Ok, don’t give up on me yet. I do have one that will work for most pieces, most of the time, and I’m going to teach that to you today.  

Why are we always looking for that single system, that magic bullet? My idea is that it’s because learning music is so complicated, with so many considerations and moving parts. At the same time as we are dealing with all this complexity, we are trying to make the music beautiful and expressive, something that transcends mere notes and rhythm. Not a small task my friend. 

I found a quote the other day that really spoke to me. It’s a quote from a Danish computer scientist who teaches at Columbia University. His name is Bjarne Stroustrup. I think I was drawn to this quote and some others of his because his sense of humor reminded me of my...

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#070: Failure to Finish: Why You Might Be Missing Your Goals

Have you ever looked at your closet full of clothes and said, “But I don't have anything to wear”? Maybe you've looked at that big stack of music next to your harp and said, “But I don't have anything I can play!” I don’t know which is more frustrating.  Actually, I do.

When we spend hours, days and weeks practicing a piece of music, and it still doesn’t get to the point where we can actually play it for someone, it goes beyond frustrating. How is it possible for some people to have hours worth of music that they can play and others don't even have a single piece?

I remember how shocked I was the first time I realized how common it is for dedicated, hard-working harpists to have nothing ready to play. I was teaching a workshop and talking about what to do when you finish a piece and getting a roomful of blank stares. I asked the question, “How many of you don’t have a piece that’s finished right now?” and about 80%...

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#069: Steps to Taking the Plunge into the Digital World with Kristina Finch

Today we’re talking technology, the technology that has changed the lives of harpists everywhere. It’s the world of digital sheet music - PDFs, tablets, computers, foot pedals, all the things that have made thick binders of sheet music a distant memory - thankfully! - for so many of us.

Consider how an innovation works. Usually it doesn’t change the world all at once. The Wright brothers managed to get their airplane off the ground, but it took a lot of time and development before the general public could fly coast to coast. There was a span of nearly a hundred years between Alexander Graham Bell’s invention of the telephone and Motorola’s first handheld cellular phone. It takes time to sort out what is really useful about a new technology and how it can benefit the person on the street, or in our case today, the harpist at the harp.

Sheet music downloads have been around for a long time. I published my first downloadable music PDFs way back in 2004....

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#063: Practice Prescription: What to Do When Nothing Is Working

Here is a cry for help that I received from one of our coaching students recently:

 “I'm feeling discouraged because I don't feel that I'm making the progress I want. No fault of my coach, she's excellent! I feel like I'll have really effective practice days then go backwards.” 

We had a check-in call scheduled, so we were able to talk through some of her concerns, but I think what made the most difference to her was simply knowing that she is not alone, that we all feel this way sometimes, and that the backwards slide is actually a necessary part of the learning process.

Progress on the harp or any instrument is a very forwards and backwards kind of thing. Often when we feel that nothing is going right, we are on the verge of a big step forward. It's not unlike a teenager's physical growth spurt where the joints hurt and everything seems out of whack and and then all of a sudden, they're several inches taller. 

It takes some experience to realize that...

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#060: Enjoy a Guilt-Free, Harp-Free Vacation with the Perfect Re-Entry Plan

Summer is definitely here, at least where I live. The sun is shining, the grass is tall, the roadside vegetable stands are back in business. The bees buzz busily in the daytime and the fireflies make each night sparkle. It’s time for picnics and trips to the seashore. It’s also time to prepare for the end of summer, at least where your harp playing is concerned.

I could almost hear your mental brakes squealing. Summer’s barely started and we want to bask in every moment of it. Why should we think about the end of summer now? 

Because a little bit of planning now will save you a couple of weeks later. Don’t believe me? Maybe this scenario will sound familiar.

Let’s pretend it’s late August or early September. Your vacation is over; it was terrific fun but you’re glad to be back home. Of course, there is a mountain of laundry to be done, and a stack of bills to be paid. The dog is acting weird since he came back from doggie camp (a.k.a,...

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