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Practicing Harp Happiness

#139: 7 Ways You Could be Using Your Practice Time Better

At its most fundamental, music is sound over time. When you take away the rich harmonies, soaring melodies, complex structures and intricate rhythms, that’s all you have left: sound over time. It doesn’t sound very creative or artistic, but those two elements are the basis of all music. How any single performer combines them is where the artistry lies.

However, that kind of time, the meter and rhythm, isn’t our topic for today. The kind of time management I want to explore with you today is more about the practical side of our harp experience than the artistic side. It’s about your practice time: how you spend it, what you focus on and how you set your intentions for the day or for the week. 

We’re also going to talk about the time it takes you to learn a piece. I am frequently asked how long it should take to learn a piece, and it’s a question without a simple answer. There are numerous factors to consider, including the amount of time you...

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#138: Creating True Confidence; Why the Little Engine that Could Got It Wrong

The Little Engine That Could was just plain lucky. If you remember that children’s book, when the little engine had to take over for the bigger engines to pull the train loaded with toys over the mountain, he kept telling himself, “I think I can,” even though it seemed clear he was much too small to succeed. While the “I think I can” strategy worked for the little engine, in the real world that mindset is responsible for more failure, frustration and disappointment than we are led to believe. Thinking positively is not what is necessary for a positive result. It’s not a bad thing, but it’s not the only thing, and if it’s not grounded in reality it can be damaging.

You don’t achieve confidence by trying to build confidence itself. True confidence is a natural result of properly directed actions along with a positive mindset. Without the actions and the experience that comes with following through on those actions, a confident...

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#134: Creating Stillness When You Need It Most

As I look back over 11 years of blogging and podcasting, there are some trends I notice, topics I talk about with regularity and even predictability according to the seasons. Of course, it’s not a surprise that in December one of the topics that is on my mind - and I’m guessing on yours too - is about keeping your sanity during the holiday rush. Last week’s podcast, The Christmas Snowball, episode 133, dealt with the holiday music onslaught, and a few episodes before that, episode 130, I talked about preventing overwhelm. Timely topics, yes, but today, I’d like to look at this from the other side. I want to talk about stillness.

Here’s an example of the value of stillness. I was in an opera orchestra rehearsal with a conductor who was famous for his temper. There were days when he was complimentary to the players, but on the days when no one could do anything that pleased him, he was not shy about venting his displeasure. Sometimes the entire...

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#133: The Christmas Snowball: How to Handle Last-Minute Requests

Be prepared, the famous Boy Scout motto. I’m thinking that Boy Scouts have nothing on harpists when it comes to being prepared. We harpists have preparation down, whether it is preparing our music, or stocking spare strings or packing our harp bag. However, there are times when even the best preparation doesn’t help, and you might be about to experience one of those times. Let’s call it the “Christmas Snowball.”

The Christmas Snowball shows up when the church music director decides that since you are playing the harp for the service and you’re there anyway, it would be a shame not to use the harp for every musical moment possible. So what started as a simple request - would you come and play the harp for one anthem with the choir on Christmas Eve? - snowballs into an additional anthem, various choral responses during the service, three carols with the congregation, a prelude selection or two, and of course, playing Silent Night during the...

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#129: Performance Preparation: The Yin, the Yang and You

What’s the hardest thing you’ve ever done? Climbing Mt. Everest? Swimming the English Channel? Raising a teenager? 

Ok. I haven’t done the first two, but I survived raising a teenager and I think it ranks right up there near the top of the list of hardest things. I actually found a website the other day that listed someone else’s ideas of the hardest things to do in life. None of the ones I mentioned were on their list, but there were some that hit home, particularly as I was thinking about this podcast topic. One of them was giving up comfort, getting out of your comfort zone.

Sharing your music - playing in front of other people - is out of the comfort zone for most of us. When we play for others we are making ourselves vulnerable. It isn’t just about playing well, although that always helps. It’s also about feeling, however wrongly, that we are being judged, and that we may be found unworthy. It’s about revealing our artistic side,...

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#127: How to Set a Practice Schedule that Will Stick

Do you feel like you’re failing yourself in your practice?

Maybe you feel your practice isn’t as consistent or as focused as it should be. Perhaps even when you have enough time to practice, you’re finding it difficult to get started. You might find yourself sitting down to practice and using all your time deciding what you should be doing. You end up feeling confused, frustrated and tired instead of energized and excited about playing the harp.

And then you skip a day of practice. Then another day. Then you really mean to get back to it, but something urgent crops up that absolutely requires your attention. Then you start to dread getting back to practice because you know it’s going to sound terrible. Even worse, you feel guilty for having it let slip.

Does this sound like you? Don’t think I have some magical power to get inside your head. I could tell your story so well because it’s been my own experience too. I don’t feel good about my...

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#124: How to Play Any Piece More Musically

A long time ago, I attended a concert by a famous pianist, and I overheard two audience members talking about how impressed they were, how the performer’s virtuosity and expressiveness showed true mastery of the instrument. And then I heard the comment that stuck with me: “He could make ‘Hot Cross Buns’ sound like a musical masterpiece.”

If you took piano lessons as a child, chances are that you played the nursery song “Hot Cross Buns” in your first few weeks of study. The melody only has five notes. It couldn’t be more simple.

But this idea made me consider what I believe is a common misconception among harpists who want to develop a repertoire of music. Whether their repertoire would be geared toward concerts or weddings or church music or local senior centers, harpists usually overcomplicate things. Naturally, we want to present music that our audiences will like and we want to play it well, but often we make it much harder for...

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#121: Being Prepared: When Practice Is Not Enough

Benjamin Franklin, who had a note-worthy thought about almost everything, authored this famous truth: “By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.”

Preparation is everything. We harpists understand that our practice is our preparation. We won’t be able to play well if we don’t practice. We get it.

But if you’ve been playing the harp for a while now, you have probably experienced the painful flip side. I’m talking about the realization that even with all the hours of practice you put into a particular piece, you aren’t guaranteed to be able to play it as well as you expect under pressure. 

After an experience like that, most of us decide to double down on our practice, thinking we weren’t prepared enough. We hope that we have hit on the magic number - of hours or repetitions or practice sessions - that will be the perfect preparation. Maybe it works. Maybe it doesn’t. 

So if practice is preparation, why...

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#119: Going Mental: How to Practice Without Your Harp

It’s all in your mind. No, I don’t mean you’re going crazy.  I’m sure you’ve come across the well-worn statement that 90% of performance, whether in sports or music or any similar pursuit, is mental. The idea, of course, is that your mental preparation, your mindset and your focus all are major factors in the success of your performance.

Even if the actual percentage may be hard to pin down, the idea is undoubtedly true. Our minds are powerful contributors to our success or our failure. Just look at the number of books and blogs devoted to this concept, from the iconic book The Inner Game of Tennis to Noa Kageyama’s insightful blog The Bulletproof Musician. (By the way, I’ve linked to both of those resources in the show notes for you.)

Today, however, I don’t want to dive into performance psychology. I want to deal with something much more practical, something you probably have heard about and wondered how to implement: mental...

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#115: Rounding Up! 3 Non-Technical Skills For Success

Today’s show is a special one. It’s a peek inside our My Harp Mastery membership. You’ll be hearing part of a recording of one of our Monday calls. On this call, our topic was three skills that are vital for your harp playing success, in particular memorizing, practicing for flow and continuity, and sharing music with friends. These skills may not sound very exciting, but I really want to share this call with you because I talk about ways to look at your harp playing that may be very different from the way you usually think about your practice and playing. It was an eyeopener for some of our My Harp Mastery members, and I hope it will inspire you as well.

Because this is a recording of a call, you’ll hear me reference some materials that our members have access to but which I can’t share with you here on the podcast. Also, I am talking about these three skills in relation to one of our My Harp Mastery resources, the Scale of Success. This is a...

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