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Design Your 2019: Finding the Pea

practicing technique Dec 31, 2018

In this third post in the “Design Your 2019” series, we discover the most important factor in achieving your goal.

The “Princess and the Pea” was always one of my favorite fairy tales. In this 1835 classic story, Hans Christian Andersen writes about the test that a prince’s mother devises to ascertain if a prospective bride for her son is truly of royal blood.

A young woman who appears at their castle door one dark and stormy night claims to be a princess but cannot prove it to the mother’s satisfaction. So the mother places a pea in her bed under 20 mattresses and 20 feather beds, believing that only a true princess would be sensitive enough to feel the irritation in the bed. When the princess awakes the next morning, exhausted from a sleepless, uncomfortable night, the mother concedes her royalty, and the price and princess live happily ever after.

The true test of the princess was not in how she looked or acted, but in her deep sensitivity, not...

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Design Your 2019: The Sorting Hat

practicing technique Dec 24, 2018

In last week’s blog post, Design Your 2019: Write Your Movie, you created your movie trailer, your description of your harp vision for yourself. You identified your happy ending as well as some of the obstacles you might encounter along the way.

Your next step is to look at what you will need to do and NOT do in order for your vision to become your reality. Most people would begin by setting out the steps they need to follow. Unfortunately, it’s easy to bog down in that process; there are so many steps that it’s hard to know where to start.

You probably won’t be surprised to know that I have a different approach for you to try. We will use the Sorting Hat.

If you know the Harry Potter books or movies, you’re familiar with the Sorting Hat. As each new student enters Hogwarts Academy, the Sorting Hat is placed on his or her head and the hat assigns them to one of the four houses: Gryffindor for the courageous, Hufflepuff for the humble and hard-working,...

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Design Your 2019: Write Your Movie

practicing technique Dec 17, 2018

You may not be familiar with Don LaFontaine’s name, but I guarantee you have heard his voice. His deep and resonant voice became synonymous with the words, “In a world where…” Yes, Don LaFontaine was the movie trailer voice, warning us of the perils that awaited our hero and his eventual triumph over them.

What if your harp story were a movie? What would be your happy ending? What difficulties would you encounter along your path and how would you surmount them?

Today I want to walk you through the first step in planning for 2019. I want to help you design your harp happiness, not just hope that you stumble across it. And we will do it together by writing your own “In a world where…” movie trailer.

Possibly you have tried to set goals before and failed. The way most people approach it, it’s a painful process. But it doesn’t have to be, and the process we will start today is not only painless; it’s even fun.

Before we...

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Not So Silent Night: Going Viral 200 Years Ago


In today’s world, fame is just one viral video away.

The internet stream of cute cats and adorable toddler antics is the modern megaphone for getting your new message out to the world.

The internet, and YouTube in particular, has transformed the music industry from one in which you had to know the right people to get any notice to one where all you need is your cell phone. As we become ever more accustomed to the instant worldwide audience that every musician has access today, we find ourselves wondering how music could possibly spread in a pre-high-tech era.

As it happens, this year we celebrate the anniversary of a piece of music that “went viral” 200 years ago. It was Christmas Eve of1818 when one of the world’s most beloved Christmas carols was written and performed for the first time.

That day the assistant priest of a small church in Oberndorf, Austria handed the church organist a poem he had written and asked the church’s organist to set it to...

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Stay Relaxed to Play Your Best

practicing technique Dec 03, 2018


It’s nearly impossible to play your best when you’re tense. And whether that tension comes from nerves, stress, holiday headaches or all three really doesn’t matter. Tension can ruin your health, your music and your mood.

Before the holidays reach their fever pitch, let’s look at some commonsense ways to ease the stress and create relaxation and – dare we say it? – beauty in your playing.

There’s nothing mystical here, no crystals or aromatherapy. Just a few simple ideas to help you add your musical touch to the holidays and enjoy it. Does that sound impossible? Fear not; read on.

Relax Your Body

The most important thing you can do for your playing is to have strong and supple support from your body, and that starts with your posture. Here are a few key elements of posture to keep in mind and check regularly:

  • Sit over your hips. Don’t lean forward or backward. When your weight is squarely on top of your hips, your abdominal muscles...
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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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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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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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