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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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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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Learn Music Faster: 3 Fixes You Must Make

practicing technique Sep 17, 2018

Imagine what you could do if you could just learn music faster…

What would it be like to learn music quickly? You could learn more music in less time. You could spend less time practicing and more time playing. You wouldn’t need so much preparation time so you could take advantage of more playing opportunities. You wouldn’t have to beg directors for the music weeks in advance. You could play all the places - and all the pieces - you want.

Does that sound like a game changer for you? If it does, I have some good news.

You probably are suffering from one of three common problems. Any one of these can slow down your music learning speed to a snail’s pace. On the other hand, all of them are easily remedied once you recognize them.

Fast Fix 1: Dive In

Imagine you are standing at the edge of a swimming pool. Are you the type to dive right in, or do you enter the water one toe at a time? I admit to being a “toe by toe” person myself. I know...

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How to Build Your Curriculum

In last week’s post, I showed you why I think that creating a curriculum for your harp studies – as opposed to simply practicing – is an essential key to progress. If you didn’t read the post, you can read it here, but basically the idea is this: begin with a goal, then create a plan and a timeline. Add in benchmarks to measure your progress and you have the fundamental structure for your curriculum.

But that’s only the structure. The structure of a curriculum is pretty much the same whether you’re studying English, astronomy or ukulele. In order to actually build your curriculum, you will need some time and careful consideration.

Today, I want to show you how to create your study curriculum. We’ll look at the three stages of curriculum building and I’ll give you some ideas for implementation too.

(I’m going to assume that you have already identified your goal, the result that you want from your curriculum. Remember that a...

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Why You Should Go Back to School

It’s back to school time. You may not be headed into a classroom yourself this autumn, but you might find this is a great time to re-organize your harp studies. I’d like to suggest that you create an actual curriculum.

You might remember from your school days the first days of every semester when each teacher handed out a curriculum or syllabus, a detailed plan for the semester’s study. You knew what books you would use, what you would be learning at various points during the semester and what were the teacher’s expectations.

Simply, you were given a plan for your learning with specific goals, benchmarks, standards for measurement of your progress and a time frame. Moreover, while it may not have been obvious to you the student, this plan was likely part of a larger course of study, for instance Biology I which led to Biology II.

The best curriculum is designed like that, as a combination of short term plans leading to long range goals. There’s no...

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Strengthen Your Fourth Finger

 

Is your fourth finger a good team player?

If you're like most of us harpists, your fourth finger might sometimes feel more like a liability than an asset. It can be weak when you're trying to play an even scale, or it might be too strong when you're trying to balance a chord. 

We also tend to undervalue the functions our fourth fingers fulfill. Although they may behave like bad boys, they are really specialists, called on to do certain specific things. When we work with them properly, they can turn from ill-behaved digits to valued team members.

So what special jobs are the duty of a fourth finger? Let's start with these two.

Perhaps the most important job of the fourth finger is to anchor the crossunder in a scale passage. Although there are instances where we cross under with other fingers, fourth fingers are commonly called on to keep our scales and arpeggios moving upward. A smooth, even-sounding crossunder depends on your fourth finger to place solidly on the next string,...

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A Support System for Your Fingers

technique Aug 05, 2018

Do your fingers have a support system?

We rely on support systems daily, whether those systems are the people closest to us or the piers and pilings underneath the bridge we drive over daily. Those systems enable us to do our work more easily, with less frustration, danger or difficulty. They often work in the background, but without their strength, our accomplishments would be impossible.

Your fingers need a support system too.

It’s easy to overlook the fact that your fingers can’t do everything you ask of them on their own. We want them to play faster, to produce a more beautiful tone, to have control over a large dynamic range, to play with energy and strength, yet be relaxed and flexible. That’s a daunting job description for the eight fingers that we use to play the harp.

It’s easy to see why your fingers may get tense or tired when you play. But your fingers will stay fresher and more relaxed if you build strength in the structure that will support them...

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Independence for Your Fingers

technique Jul 08, 2018

We just celebrated another Independence Day here in the United States and I couldn’t help carrying the celebration over into the blog.

Technical facility is one of the skills every harpist must develop and maintain. A smooth, fluid technique not only allows us to play at faster tempos, but it gives all our music expression and polish. Technique is what makes even “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star” sound profound in the hands of a virtuoso.

For harpists, developing independence in the fingers is a major part of technical study. Each finger must be able to play individually and with the other fingers. It must have an equal tone as the others and be able to match them in dynamic and expression. After all, we only use eight fingers; we can’t afford to have a slacker in the bunch.

Today, I thought I would share a video lesson that I taught to the My Harp Mastery members last year around this time. It was the first of four lessons on the theme of independence for your...

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