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Practicing Harp Happiness

#145: Playalong Episode: Rediscovering Your Sound

I am always interested to hear what first attracted harpists to the harp. It’s fascinating to learn the many ways that the harp can draw a potential student. My own story is that I heard the harp on the radio and told my parents that was what I wanted to do. The important part of this story for me is that it wasn’t a gold harp or a pretty dress that drew me to the harp, but the sound that pulled me in. Naturally, there’s nothing wrong with the gold harp or the glamor look, but the sound was - and is - important to me. 

Whether or not it was the harp’s sound that first attracted you, sound is important to us. So why don’t we spend more of our time listening to our playing? We devote a lot of energy to reading the notes and teaching our fingers to play the right strings. Somehow there isn’t always time to just spend listening. But it’s an important habit and one that we are going to spend a little time with today.

This is a playalong...

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#144: Beyond the Basics: How to Keep Your Technique Growing

Let’s take this as a given: our technique is at the heart of everything we do at the harp. Intellectually, we know this to be true, but that doesn’t prevent us from being surprised when we run into a passage in a piece we’re learning that our fingers just can’t manage. What the heck? We’ve been doing our daily exercises and most of the time our technique is up to the challenges in any new piece. So what happened this time?

If you’ve had that experience, rest assured, my friend, that you are not alone. We’ve all been there. Sometimes a moment like that is just a wake up call, reminding us that we’ve slacked off a bit and we’ve been taking our technique work a little too casually. Technique practice done correctly requires our attention and focus. It also requires a plan for growth.

The basic drills or exercises we rely on are scales, arpeggios and chords. In theory, keeping those skills fresh should enable us to play about three...

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#142: Rubato: Secret Sauce for Your Musical Expression

Every restaurant chain, every chef has their “secret sauce.” It’s that unique ingredient that makes their food taste special every time. It's part of their culinary signature.

There is a secret - or maybe not so secret - sauce in musical expression too. It’s rubato. It’s the element of musical pacing that breathes life into music, that keeps it from sounding dull and robotic, that helps a melody sing and rich harmonies unfold with spaciousness.

Today’s podcast is an exploration of what rubato is and how you can use it to add depth and expression to your playing. I’ll explain how to figure out where and when to use it, and equally important, when not to use it. I’ll play some examples for you too, so you can hear exactly what rubato is. I imagine that you are going to have one of those “aha” moments as you are finally able to put a name to that thing that’s been missing from your playing.

I’m not saying your...

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#140: Agile Arpeggios: How to Make Yours Ripple

If I had to choose one finger pattern that I could count on to almost always show up in a piece, it would be an arpeggio. Arpeggios and the harp go together like peanut butter and jelly. In fact, the Italian word for harp is arpa, which has the same first three letters as arpeggio. That’s because the word arpeggio comes from the Italian word arpeggiare, which means to play on a harp.  See what I mean? Peanut butter and jelly.

Whether the arpeggios show up as full sweeps of sound over the entire range of the harp or simply a left hand accompaniment pattern or anything in between, arpeggios are everywhere in harp music, so it’s essential to learn to play them well.

The first time a student comes across an arpeggio, they are shown how an arpeggio is really a chord in which all the notes are played one after the other instead of simultaneously. They are taught the rules of placing for arpeggios and given exercises to learn to read them quickly and play them fluidly....

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#131: 5 Quick Technique Routines to Put In Place Now

Tell me if this sounds familiar. You suddenly realize that everything is quiet and you have 20 minutes all to yourself. Sure, you could sit down with a book and a cup of tea. Or you could spend that 20 minutes practicing. You decide your harp is calling you, so you sit on the bench and look at the music on your stand. But where do you start? 

You may have had days like that. I know I have. Those 20 minute segments are valuable little chunks of practice time, but obviously that’s not enough time to get everything done. If you’re used to having an hour or more to practice, that 20 minutes is frustratingly short. Of course, I’m just using these time frames as an illustration. Your regular practice time and your available time might be different, but the idea is the same. When you don’t have as much practice time as you are used to, you have to find a way to make do with what you’ve got.

When we start to prioritize what needs to get done, the first...

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#128: Etudify Your Pieces with the Technique Stacker

If you attended my “Cut to the Chase" webinar a couple of weeks ago, you’ll remember that we were talking about some harp hacks, shortcut “outside the box” solutions for common harp problems. We’re going to talk about another one today.

Imagine that you’re learning a piece and it’s going along pretty well. In fact, you may even be excited to think how much you have improved because you’re learning so quickly. You may even let your mind wander to the sorts of pieces you can tackle next with your new and improved skills. 

And then it happens. You hit the wall. You’ve found the passage you can’t play. It may be a new technique that you’ve never tried or one that you aren’t very comfortable with. It may just be a combination of two skills that you haven’t combined before. But whatever it is, you can’t do it. Your technique isn’t up to this particular challenge.

So you do what we all have to...

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#125: 8 Tips for Perfect Lever Or Pedal Pushing

I’m a pusher, and I hope you are one too, a lever or pedal pusher, that is.

Just imagine a world of harps without levers or pedals. Certainly, there are folk harps that don’t have levers and still play beautiful music. But to me, that’s a little like living in the forest. There is endless beauty in the forest, but I like the seashore and the prairies too. The world of music has so much harmonic richness and I really love having my pedal harp to explore it all. 

Of course that harmonic richness isn’t exclusive to harps with pedals. Lever harps can play music every bit as chromatically varied as pedal harps and sometimes even more easily. 

But perhaps you’re new to the world of pushers, of harp music – either lever or pedal – with accidental changes that require pushing a lever or pedal. If so, or if you’re not a newbie to pushing but would like some help with ways to improve your pedal or lever technique, then you’re...

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#122: Finger Fumbles: Is the Problem with Your Technique or Your Reading?

How can you correct a problem – any problem from a water leak to paper jam in the printer – if you don’t know where the problem really is?

Harp playing is no different. Our practice is supposed to help us fix mistakes and even prevent them from recurring, at least to a degree. But if we don’t know where the underlying issue is, it’s nearly impossible to find a fix for it.

The obvious solution to this dilemma is to ask your teacher. Unfortunately, though, even if you have access to a teacher or other harp expert, the things we want to fix usually reveal themselves in a practice session when we are working by ourselves. So we rely on our own experience to find the fix for whatever challenge we are facing, whether or not we have the experience we need to do it.

Of course, teachers don’t always have an instant solution either. Often we arrive at the solution through a process of trial and error: the student tries our suggestion and we discover we...

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#120: Make Your Warm Up a Triple

Let’s talk warm-ups.

You likely have a favorite way to warm up at the beginning of a practice session. It might be short and sweet, like an arpeggio and a scale. It might be a fairly thorough routine that allows you to check everything from your posture to your focus. Or possibly it’s just a passage from a piece that you’re learning.

Whatever you do, however you like to warm up, that’s great. I don’t want to change that today. 

What I want to do is show you three different and important ways your warm-up can help you, that’s the “triple” referred to in this episode’s title. These aren’t earth-shattering or revolutionary new techniques. They are simple, clear approaches to your warm-up that will allow you to develop critical skills beyond what is usual in a warm-up. I have a warm-up that I will use to demonstrate as I teach you these approaches and it’s available for you as a free download. You’ll find the...

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#118: Play Tension Free: How to Calm Your Body, Mind and Music

Wouldn’t it feel great to relax? 

Of course, since this is the Practicing Harp Happiness podcast, I’m not just talking about a cool drink, a good book and a bubble bath. I’m talking about being relaxed when you play the harp. 

You know why it’s important to be relaxed when you play. When your hands, arms, shoulders and the rest of your body feel relaxed, you can practice and play without strain and with freedom, flexibility and flow. When your mind is relaxed, you can concentrate and focus without fear or distraction. When your mind and body are relaxed, your music can also relax so that it can communicate its mood or story in a clear, relatable way.

Does that sound too good to be true, like an impossible dream to you? Let me tell you that it isn’t impossible to achieve. More importantly, this kind of relaxation shouldn’t be just a happy accident for you. 

We teachers are experts at telling our students to relax, but not so expert...

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