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Practicing Harp Happiness

#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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#057: The Success Habit: How to Fuel Your Courage, Confidence and Creativity

What is success when it comes to harp playing? And is it something you’re really interested in anyway?

Success is a loaded word. It’s easy to imagine success only in terms of applause, record deals and bouquets of flowers, even if we know that’s a Hollywood-style illusion. Even considering success from a more realistic perspective, you may not feel that success is what you’re looking for in your harp playing. Your goals may not include winning competitions or playing solo recitals or making CDs. I want to challenge your idea of success on today’s show, to show you how your success is more important to you than you may think and that it is the single most important factor in your harp happiness. If that sounds difficult, let me reassure you right now. It’s much easier than you think and quite possibly more rewarding than you have imagined.

I want to share a quote from Albert Schweitzer, a theologian and musicologist as well as an organist, and...

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#056: Learning versus Practice: Which End of the Binoculars Do You Use?

I love silly jokes, and I hope you do too, because I’m going to share one with you now.

Here goes: 

How do you catch an elephant?

You hide in some tall grass and make a sound like a peanut. When the elephant comes by you look through the wrong end of your binoculars, pick him up with a pair of tweezers and put him in a pickle jar.

Silly joke, right? But it’s appropriate for our show today. We are going to be talking about how we learn a piece or how we practice it, which may be slightly different. Then we’ll look at our music learning through the lens (hopefully through the right end of the binoculars) of big picture practice and little picture practice.

Let me ask you a question: if I asked you to tell me how you practice, what would you say? You’d probably describe your practice plan and if you begin hands separately or hands together, how many times you repeat a passage and how long you practice. 

But if I asked you to describe how you learn...

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#051: Get Out of Your Own Way: The Story of the Sacrificial Leaf

Are you trying to do too much? 

As a harpist or harp student, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed. There is so much music to learn, so many skills to develop, so much technique work you need to do and not nearly enough time to do it all.

If this sounds distressingly familiar, I have good news and bad news. 

The good news is that this is totally fixable. The bad news is that only you can fix it.

Don’t give up yet though, I do have powerful suggestions and advice for you today that will help you figure out what is really important for you to practice and what isn’t. My guess is that about half of what most of us practice daily isn’t really essential or helpful. That’s a scary idea! 

Stop for a moment and imagine the implications of that. It could very well be that you’re spending an hour of practice and getting only 30 minutes worth of results. You think you’re using your time well, but you may be doing too many repetitions or...

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#045: Bridging the Gap Between Practicing and Playing

Practice makes perfect.
Perfect practice makes perfect.
Exactly what are we making perfect?

There is truth in those two statements but they are misleading too in a potentially dangerous way.

The truth is that how we practice determines how we play.

The danger comes if we take this to mean that if our playing isn’t as perfect as we want it, we haven’t practiced hard enough. So when our playing falls short of our expectations, we practice longer or more carefully or with more grit and determination. Longer practice can lead to injury or boredom. Practice focused on being correct often fails to be musical. And grit and determination are not conducive to beautiful, relaxed harp playing.

But there is one kind of practice that causes our practice to translate into the kind of playing we want. If we practice in this way, we play better in our lessons, we are more relaxed and we are able to be more expressive. 

This kind of practice is absolutely critical to our success, to...

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#042: Use Your Practice Time Wisely - Even If You Can Never Stick To a Plan

Sometimes planning is counterproductive. 

I know this sounds strange coming from me because I am a huge advocate of having a plan and working the plan when it comes to your practice. That’s truly the secret of being able to play the music you want and creating harp happiness over the long haul.  There’s power in a well-conceived and consistently executed plan, particularly when it comes to your practice.

But planning doesn’t come naturally for everyone. The good news is that it isn’t the only path to progress. 

In my house, my husband is the true planner. For example, while I was working on this podcast, he was browsing the web, planning out activities to schedule for a trip we have coming up. I like to do my research on these things too, but he likes to have everything planned out day by day as soon as possible. I prefer to get where we’re going and get the feel of the place before I make my decisions. I want to get my bearings, to sort...

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#041: Your Questions Answered: Questions From The Podcast Email

Today’s show is dedicated to you, the podcast listener. I have gathered some of the most interesting questions from our podcast inbox and I will be answering them in this episode. 

After all, advice is only good if it’s the advice you need when you need it. Obviously, a podcast isn’t the same as individual instruction, or having your harp teacher on speed dial, but it’s important to me to talk about the topics that matter to you, those things that will make a difference in your harp playing. That’s one of the reasons I like to give you an action step or two with each podcast. Taking action, doing something rather than just talking about it, is how progress happens. It’s how we grow. Just think; if we only talked about practicing and never actually did it, our harp playing would never improve. In fact, it would start to wither and die. 

If being a harpist - or harper if that’s more “you” - is part of who you are, then...

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