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Don’t Do This! 7 Sneaky Harp Happiness Killers

It’s spring cleaning time, the season to spruce up, refresh and brighten, to clean out the closets, sort out the drawers and get a fresh start. I’m always amazed to realize that, once again, my junk drawer is full, my closet is a disorganized mess and I need to do something about it. It seems to be so easy to accumulate those piles and so daunting to face getting rid of them.

I generally give my harp playing a “spring cleaning” too. While the need for musical refreshing is less obvious than the pile of papers on my desk, it is no less real. There is a “winter rust” that accumulates, due to over-crowded schedules and too little practice time. I need to brush away the cobwebs and bad habits and get my playing back in shape.

Perhaps you don’t have any harp “spring cleaning” to do. But maybe you haven’t realized some of the seemingly innocuous habits – I call them Harp Happiness Killers - that can drain your energy,...

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Quick Fixes for Left Hand Octaves

 

Not happy with your left hand octaves? Let’s fix that!

The octave is a defining interval in Western music, marking the outer limits of the progression of half steps and while steps that form the scale.

It is also a critical interval for a harpist’s left hand to master. It’s not that the right hand doesn’t play octaves, of course; it’s simply that left hand octaves often create a harmonic and rhythmic foundation for a right hand melody. Put more bluntly, your left hand octaves can make or break your music.

There are two primary considerations for playing any octave: even sound between the fingers and rhythmic precision. (This pertains to either hand, naturally.) Let’s consider what each of these may mean in context.

EVEN-SOUNDING OCTAVES

An octave sounds like an octave when we can hear each of the two notes. While there may be musical considerations in a specific piece to make one note more prominent than the other, in general both notes should...

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Habits: Is It Time For a Change?

habit practice technique Jan 28, 2019

There is no question that we all are creatures of habit. The only question is whether our habits are intentional or accidental, whether they propel us forward or hold us back from the future we deserve.

From a scientific viewpoint, a habit is merely a triggered response that has become automatic. What I find interesting is this: the power of the habit lies in the trigger. If you’ve ever tried to break a habit, you know what I mean. You want to eat fewer calories, but you always order fries with your burger. You want to stop smoking, but you always smoke with a cup of coffee. You want to watch less tv, but that’s what you always do after dinner.

In order to change those habits, you have to resist your usual response to the trigger and create a new response. Yes, that’s much easier said than done, but we do have a secret weapon: focusing on the result that we desire, the benefits that our new habit will bring to us.

This is the same strategy that dieters use when...

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Flute and Harp: Forging the Future

Joan Sparks, Louis deLise, Anne Sullivan

What is it about the flute and the harp? These two instruments in combination evoke elegance and grace, both visually and aurally. Perhaps a Jane Austen drawing room comes to mind, or the most recent wedding you attended. Whatever else flute and harp music may be, it certainly is everywhere.

Like many harpists, I can remember my first flute and harp experience. It was typical, I imagine. I was asked to play at a wedding, and in the next sentence asked if I had a flutist who could play with me. I was in high school at the time and needed the paycheck, so without ever having worked with a flutist before, I promptly answered, “Of course.”

I found a school friend, Laurie, to play with me, and over the next few years, we performed a number of times at different venues. During that time, as I played with more community and youth orchestras, I also discovered that nearly every flutist I met was eager to work with a harpist.

Soon I had a...

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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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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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