Practicing Harp Happiness:
Technique and Musicianship Collection

Sharpen the practical skills you need to be a better harpist and musician.

Episode #158: Memorization Basics: How to Make It Stick

In a world of sticky notes, Gorilla Glue and tape that can hold a leaky boat together, why can’t we make a piece of music stick in our fingers. Does this sound familiar? We sit down at the harp on Monday with fresh spirit and energy and we dig into the music we want to learn. Tuesday we repeat the process, feeling very virtuous. On Wednesday, we are a little disappointed that we don’t see any progress from our practice. 

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Episode #157: 10 Tips for Terrific Thumbs

I was going through some old music the other day and came across a notation that made me smile. It was written in my best elementary school cursive script and read, “Thumbelina’s having trouble with her thumb.” I don’t even remember what piece of music it was on, but it could have been on just about any one.

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Episode #155: Shaped, Stable, Supple: A New Approach to Technique

Have you ever had one of those moments when you wonder if you’ve been doing it all wrong? It might be something you have taken for granted, a habit maybe, or a process, something you thought was the perfect system. You always have done it that way, but suddenly you have a moment of doubt.

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Episode #153: Tempo Is Not a Number: Finding the Right One for You and Your Piece

Today’s podcast is all about tempo, and I have to start by saying that tempo is a funny thing. We define it with numbers or with the familiar Italian words, or less familiar French or German ones, and it still seems elusive.

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Episode #151: How Your Three-Finger Technique May Be Hurting You…Literally

It’s high time I got up on my soapbox. It’s not often I do a rant on the podcast, but there’s an issue that has me so fired up that I had to talk about it with you.

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Episode #146: Can You Count This? Where Simple Meets Compound

See if you can guess the answer to this. What can sometimes feel gently rocking like a boat on a lake on a calm summer’s day, and other times puts a lively spring into your step? It isn’t hard, but it’s never simple. 

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Episode #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. 

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Episode #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? 

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Episode #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. 

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Episode #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.

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Episode #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?

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Episode #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. 

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Episode #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.

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Episode #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.

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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.

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Episode #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.

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Episode #117: Count, Click and Canon: a Rhythm Masterclass

While there are many notable quotes from Johann Sebastian Bach, one of my favorites is this one: “There's nothing remarkable about it. All one has to do is hit the right keys at the right time and the instrument plays itself.” Okay, the man was a musical genius, but obviously he also had a remarkable talent for understatement.

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Episode #113: Three Easy Ways To Get Your Hands Playing Together

There are markers along the road in every harpist’s development, signposts that indicate you’re making progress. These are like those highway signs that tell you how many miles you are from the next town or city, like “New York City - 90 miles.” 

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Episode #111: The Ultimate Time Machine: Harness The Power Of Your Metronome

Okay, here’s my question for you today. What would be the scariest words you could hear in your lesson? I can think of lots of possibilities but I’m guessing that one of those phrases that comes to your mind might be, “I think we need to get out the metronome.”

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Episode #108: Quick Fix: Buzz No More

Legendary harpist and composer Carlos Salzedo had this to say about buzzing: “It is important that there be no buzzing when replacing. Buzzing comes from lack of precision in replacing, and will be eliminated if the player replaces very accurately.” That quote comes from the Method for the Harp book that he wrote with Lucile Lawrence, his former student and at the time that method book was written, his wife.

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Episode #101: Quick Fix Episode: Teaching Your Fingers To Play When You’re Not Looking

What would you do if you were playing the harp in a concert and the lights went out?

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Episode #097: Why You Need To Count Aloud (Even If You Hate It)

Music is not a numbers game. You can’t quantify a moving performance or a composition with statistics like a batting average. You can’t predict how many minutes, hours, weeks or months it will take to be able to play a certain piece fluently. A player's skill isn’t solely a result of how old they are or how many years they’ve been playing. Those kinds of numbers aren’t relevant in the music world.

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Episode #096: Overcoming Left Hand Lag: Reading Ahead With Both Hands

Playing hands together is a topic of constant concern and endless discussion for harpists. When should you start playing hands together? Should you learn a piece hands separately first? How do you begin putting the hands together? And the most frequently asked question: why isn’t hands together working for me? As much as we debate the other questions, this last one is the hardest of all to answer.

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Episode #095: Freedom to Fly: Four Keys to Finger Facility

We all know that making music is more than playing the right notes at the right time. It’s about the heart and soul of the music, the feeling we put into it and the feeling that we communicate through it. Unfortunately, no matter how much feeling we put into the music, the actual communication of that feeling relies on our technique. It’s one of those apparent paradoxes in music study.

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Episode #094: 7 Skills That Mark Your Growth

If you’re into computer games, you know it’s all about getting to the next level. Even if you’re not into computer games, you probably know what I mean. Many computer games are built in levels and moving to the next higher level requires the player to complete certain tasks or amass a specific number of treasures or experience points.

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Episode #092: Quick Fix: Roll Your Chords Right

Welcome to a “quick fix” episode of the podcast. I love these episodes because I get to teach at the harp, which is just about my favorite thing. Actually, playing music on the harp would be my favorite, but this runs a pretty close second. Today’s quick fix is for rolled chords.

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Episode #089: Masterclass: The Tempo Pyramid

Today’s episode is another in our series of masterclasses, our podcast at-the-harp workshops where you can follow along with me as we do a deep dive into a vital aspect of technique or musicianship. In this masterclass, we’ll be working on my tempo pyramid.

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Episode #086: The Wrong Way to Practice Etudes - and 3 Right Ways

Fundamentals, exercises and etudes are the three pillars of harp technique, or any instrumental technique for that matter. I’m sure this is not news to you, but the reminder never hurts.

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Episode #081: Peaceful Hands: How to Look More Graceful and Feel More Relaxed

It is a true joy to watch a fine musician play their instrument, whether its a harp or another instrument. There is a physical flow, a sense that no motion is wasted. You can practically see the mastery they bring to their music.

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Episode #077: How to Reach that Unreachable Left Hand Chord

How are you supposed to reach that left hand chord? You know the one I mean. It goes by a lot of different names, a root-position triad in open spacing, a 1-5-3 chord, or maybe just the chord you can’t ever place accurately. Certainly when we first encounter the chord, it’s a stretch for our hands, but eventually most of us can manage it without too much difficulty.

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Episode #074: Everyday Etudes: The Right Way to Use What You’re Already Practicing

Quick question: hands in the air if you’ve ever decided to skip your technique drills and etudes because you are doing that work already on a challenging passage in one of your pieces. Yes, I thought so. Everybody’s hand is up, including mine. So we all do it, skip our technique work because we’re short on time and we can get the same benefits by doing double duty practice - working on technique with one of those sticky spots that we need to drill anyway.

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Episode #073: Tuning Masterclass: Learning to Listen

If I had to choose one tool that made a harpist’s life easier, I know exactly which one I would choose - the electronic tuner. I belong to the last generation of harpists that grew up in a world without them, so I know what I’m talking about. Having a device that allowed you to tune in a noisy environment and be confident that your harp is really in tune was new technology when I was a student, and it was a game changer.

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Episode #071: Quick Fix Episode: Fumble Free Fourth Finger

I can almost always tell the skill level of a harp student by the way they use their fourth finger. It’s not the strength of the finger or a lack of coordination. A less advanced player simply avoids using it. It shouldn’t surprise you if you give it a moment’s thought. Remember back to the very first pieces you learned on the harp, at whatever age you were when you started. They used mostly the thumb and second finger.

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Episode #067: 7 Ingredients of a Glorious Glissando

Here’s a riddle for you: What can go up or down but never side to side, can be like a gale-force wind or a whisper of a breeze, and is easy to do when you don’t know how and much harder when you do? I’ll bet you got it in one guess - it’s a glissando. In case you didn’t get it, here’s why a glissando is the right answer.

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Episode #066: Hands in the Air: Raising and the Art of Letting Go

Form follows function. I expect you’re familiar with that quote but you may not know the entire context. The phrase is a vast simplification of an idea put forth by architect Louis Sullivan, mentor to Frank Lloyd Wright, in his 1896 article titled “The Tall Office Building Artistically Considered.” Working from an idea of the ancient Roman architect Vitruvius that a building should be solid, useful and beautiful, Sullivan developed his overriding philosophy, what he called the single "rule that shall permit of no exception."

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Episode #064: Spice Up Your Scales for Technique, Flexibility and Speed

Scales are so simple on the harp. Unlike on other instruments all our scales have the same fingering. I remember being a young piano student and struggling with the fingering patterns that seemed different for each major and minor key. Those black and white keys caused a lot of fingering complications. But on the harp, all our scales are fingered exactly alike. All the changes are in our levers or pedals, not our fingers. It couldn't get any easier.

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#059: Confused About Markings? 10 Common Harp Markings Explained!

If the fairy godmother of harp appeared today to grant you just one wish, what would it be? Would you wish for a new harp, flying fingers, an endless supply of music? I know what I would wish for: standardized harp markings.

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Episode #058: Quick Fix Episode: Fixing 3 Common Thumb Issues

Today's episode is a brand-new podcast feature, a “Quick Fix'' episode. These are special episodes designed to take your harp learning out of the realm of the theoretical and get totally practical. It’s obviously not enough just to know why something is important, although that’s a great place to start. Sooner or later you have to actually do whatever it is, and for that you need to know how

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Episode #053: How to Add Color and Variety to Your Sound

My harp teacher could make any harp sound amazing. I was astounded every time I heard her do it. On the occasions when she came to my house and played my harp, her magical touch on my very ordinary harp brought it to life in a way my practice never did. And it was MY harp! My teacher was Marilyn Costello. She studied with Carlos Salzedo at the Curtis Institute of Music and had a lifetime career as principal harpist with the Philadelphia Orchestra. And she had the warmest, richest, most liquid tone I have ever heard.

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Episode #052: Need a Fix? Try My Favorite Exercises!

There will never be a shortage of exercise books. As long as there are harpists, they will want to develop a more facile technique to make their playing easier, faster, more fluid and more musical. Scales and arpeggios will always be staples of our technical work but obviously, there is so much more that goes into harp technique. And with the plethora of choices of exercise, etude and method books, where does a harpist start?

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Episode #050: Metronome Methods For The Unconvinced

Tick, tick, tick, tick…the constant click of a metronome could conceivably drive a person crazy. I am now - although I wasn’t always - a metronome fan. Though this may sound crazy to some of you, the metronome is my favorite practice tool because it helps me fix errors, create flow and it gives me time to play a piece or a tricky passage correctly.

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Episode #049: It’s All in the Wrist: The Crucial Link

Do you suffer from uneven scales, particularly when you cross under or over? Do your fingers sometimes fumble to find the strings? Is your tone warm and lovely some of the time and other times thin or weak? Have the drills you’ve tried made no real difference? Here’s the miracle solution to all these problems… and more!

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Episode #047: Left Hand Literacy: Skills Your Left Hand Is Missing

Does your left hand struggle to keep up? Your right hand seems to have its act together, but your left hand always takes longer to feel comfortable with the notes, no matter what piece you’re learning. Are you thinking that I have a hidden camera in your practice room? Not at all; it’s simply that I have had my own left hand issues too.

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Episode #044: Five Fingering Rules You Need to Break

Ask a group of harpists what the hardest part of playing the harp is and you’ll get a lot of different answers: the technique, playing hands together, reading the notes, playing chords, putting on a new string, or maybe even moving the harp. Every harpist has his or her own bugaboo, a particular challenge in their playing. But we all agree that one of the trickiest parts of playing the harp is the fingering.

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Episode #041: Your Questions Answered: Questions From The Podcast Email

Today’s show is dedicated to you, the podcast listener. I have gathered some of the most interesting questions from our podcast inbox and I will be answering them in this episode. After all, advice is only good if it’s the advice you need when you need it. Obviously, a podcast isn’t the same as individual instruction, or having your harp teacher on speed dial, but it’s important to me to talk about the topics that matter to you, those things that will make a difference in your harp playing.

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Episode #039: Love Your Chords! 3 Ways To Make Them Lush and Lovely

You and your harp are the perfect Valentine’s love story. You met your harp, fell in love and the rest is history. When I talk about harp happiness here on the podcast and elsewhere, I’m talking about that love connection you have with your harp - that magical feeling that you began with and about continuing that feeling, deepening it, nourishing it, helping it flourish.

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Episode #036: Sight Reading Should Be Easy: 4 Simple Strategies

Does sight reading scare you? Do you wish you could instantly play any new piece you want to learn, even just enough to get the idea of how it sounds? Being able to read music fluently and learn it quickly is a “someday” skill for many harpists. Fortunately, you can improve your sight reading with a few essential skills that you are probably already practicing. The dramatic and nearly instant results will amaze you!

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Episode #034: Tweaking Your Technique: 3 Ways to Level Up

Is your technique your biggest harp issue?
Perhaps you know your technique is holding you back. Maybe you know you need to find the next level but aren’t sure how to get there.
Today Anne reveals three ways to level up your technique and free your fingers to do your bidding. The good news? You might be doing the right things already. The better news? A faster, more accurate and secure technique is just a few simple tweaks away.

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Episode #028: Expression from the Ground Up: Form and Flow

The most powerful musical expression isn’t created by magic. It’s written into each note. It’s up to the performer to discover it and bring it to life. If you’ve ever questioned your expressive choices or felt uncomfortable making those choices, today’s show reveals how to discover the composer’s intention and interpret it with creativity and confidence. Plus I’ll show you where to look - and listen - for the hidden expressive clues in any piece.

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Episode #024: Glorious Glissandi: Your Essential Practice Guide

Without question, the glissando is the signature harp sound. It’s likely the very first thing you ever tried when you first touched a harp. It’s equally likely that at this point in your harp journey you have questions about how to make them sound glorious. On today’s show I will share the expressive secrets to a sweeping glissando plus the technical specifics. Whether your favorite term is glissando, sdrucciolando or flux, you can make it magical.

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Episode #021: Music For The Ears: Are We Too Visual?

I used to listen. For instance, when I first started playing the harp there were no electronic tuners; I had to learn to tune by ear. I am convinced we harpists have lost some essential listening skills. What role does listening play in your daily practice? I believe listening is too often the last resort. On today’s show I suggest some practical strategies for making focused listening and informed musicianship part of your harp playing every day.

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Episode #020: Finger Agility For The Accident Prone: Your Guide To More Facile Fingers

Do you think you’re too old or too uncoordinated to have agile fingers? Think again. Agile fingers aren’t just for the young or the gifted and they don’t happen by magic. Developing finger facility is key to faster learning and more stumble-free playing. Listen and discover the three things you need to stop doing and the three you need to start doing now to teach your fingers to play with more speed and security at any age.

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Episode #017: Goal Setting For Harpists 2: Choose Goals You Can Meet

The first step in achieving a harp goal is believing you can achieve it. On this show I interview Houston harpist and Harp Mastery® Certified Coach Caitlin Mehrtens. Caitlin is expert at helping her students succeed and she shares her advice on how to choose the right goals for you, as well as the two most powerful factors for success.

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Episode #016: Goal Setting For Harpists 1: The Four Levels of Goals

Do you resist setting goals for your harp playing? Maybe setting goals feels like it will stifle your creativity or take the fun out of your harp playing. Maybe you think goals are only for “serious” harpists. This show reveals why goals are crucial for every harpist who wants to improve.

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Episode #014: Taming the Terrible Thumb: 3 Secretes to a Musical Thumb

Is your thumb timid or a tyrant?
We harpists rely on our thumbs - just try playing a scale without them. They are our longest fingers and undoubtedly our strongest. They double our reach on the harp strings. But how musical are your thumbs? In this episode, I will show you how your thumbs can be expressive with a supple, fluid sound that can make a melody sing or blend in beautifully with your other fingers, and how to fix common thumb problems.

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Episode #013: Master Your Metronome: Do's and Don'ts for Metronome Haters

Which would you choose: practicing with the metronome or sitting through your kid's favorite cartoon AGAIN?
If the metronome feels like torture, this show will save you from going click crazy. The metronome isn't just for playing fast; it's for creating time to be correct and musical too. You'll learn the proper (and nearly painless) ways to use the metronome - not as a paperweight- and save tons of practice time too! You can play along with me too!

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Episode #010: Beyond Dynamics: 3 Keys to More Musical Harp Playing

Musicality is so much more than dynamics. It is truly our own self-expression, our individuality revealed through our music. In our role as interpreters of music written by others, we often limit ourselves to following the indications the composer has written on the page. But with so many more tools and options for bringing creativity to our music, why should we stop at dynamics?

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Episode #009: Fingers on the Strings: Pointers for Placing

Placing is the first thing we learn when we start playing the harp. After our first glissando, after we find middle C, our first discovery is that we must suspend our hands in mid-air and that placing is how we stay physically connected to our instrument. But placing brings its own set of challenges.

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Episode #006: Minor Keys: A Scale of a Different Color

Have you ever thought of your music as having colors? Or thought about a color difference between major and minor?Maybe to you a minor key is just another key. But to me a minor key is so much more. As a musician, I first learned to listen critically with minor keys. As a teacher, I have seen that minor keys (much more so than major keys) open the door to understanding music theory.

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Episode #004: What Does a Shaky Technique Really Cost You?

Fast flashy scales and graceful arpeggios are one sign of a strong harp technique, but they aren’t the only indication. In fact, even if you never expect to play fast music or super-difficult music, you need a strong technique.

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