July 19, 2017

It’s a Stretch!

We all know that stretching is a smart thing to do.  We read about the importance of stretching for our good health, to improve our productivity, and to help us feel better.

Run a 5K?  Clearly your legs will need stretching.  Do a heavy lifting routine?  You’ll be feeling it more if you don’t stretch.  It makes sense that we need to stretch after strenuous exercise.  After all, you do all that hard work, and it’s clear that you will need to stretch to recover from it

But what about when you do very focused but less strenuous work?  Lie in bed sleeping all night and you will need and want to stretch when you wake up.  Binge watch an entire season and you will be glad to stand and stretch (probably before the big season finale!).  Spend time at your harp practicing and what do you do?

It’s so easy to just get up from the bench and get a cookie!  But don’t!! The time at your harp, especially if you are working hard learning or perfecting, may be the worst combination of strenuous work and lying about!  Your larger muscles (think butt and legs which are not moving much) are holding still while your smaller muscles (think fingers, hands, and forearms) are working continuously. You may also be tense which will make all your muscles work harder.

In other words, when you are playing you are both not moving and moving like crazy!  As we said above – both of those will leave you needing to stretch!

So be sure to add stretching to the end of your practice time. Stretch your small muscles – fingers, hands, arms, shoulders – to help them relax.  And stretch the larger muscles – glutes, hamstrings, quadriceps – to help reinvigorate them.

And don’t feel like you have to wait until the end of your practice session to get a little stretching in.  You can stretch at least every 45 minutes.  Alternately, you can stretch at the end of each practice segment (warm up, exercises, reading, learning, etc.) to help keep you limber, focused, relaxed, and productive so you get the most out of your time at the harp.

July 12, 2017

Checking in at the midpoint

It’s July and we’re about half way through the year. It is a good time to check in and see how we’re doing.  While it is a good exercise to review goals, it is also an excellent time to review other important things.  Especially those that we take for granted and think are taking care of themselves!  Let’s start with….Posture!

Your posture really is the core of all your playing.  That’s not just a play on words.  Being able to hold yourself upright and to keep your arms up but relaxed, your hands in an appropriate position, and keep your core tight all take work.  Are you ready for that work?  

There are numerous resources available providing methods for strengthening your core.  By incorporating appropriate exercises to strengthen your core you’ll be able to sit up straight with good balance for as long as needed with less fatigue.  That means that your next long background gig will be easier.  And your long practice session will definitely be easier to sit through.  Your core works while you’re sitting and supports your back and your hips.  A strong core will also help you avoid curling into the harp while you’re playing which can cause strain on the neck and increasing the possibility of injuring yourself. It also will provide you with the stable base from which you can build your good technique. 

Of course, a strong core will also be good for you away from the harp assuring your balance and stability are better whether you’re carrying your harp or walking down the street.  Strengthening your core isn’t just sit ups!  Spend a little time online to learn ways to get stronger so you can play as long as you like!

* I am, of course, not an exercise physiologist or a physician – but you already knew that! Consult your physician before undertaking any exercise program.  Don’t do any of this if your physician tells you not to.  Seek specific advice from qualified individuals.  This information is presented for educational purposes only.  It does not replace or substitute professional advice from your physician, certified trainer, or any other health-care professional.  Use of the information on this site is solely at your own risk.  Don’t be daft – get the right help and don’t hurt yourself!

July 5, 2017

Going to Grandfather Mountain

Yes, I was just away for the Ohio Scottish Arts School - where we had a fantastic time and learned so many great tunes. I can hardly wait to get them solid (although right now they are chasing each other around my head, so we're not there yet!).  But now,

I'm away for the Harp Competition at the Grandfather Mountain Highland Games at MacRae Meadows.  On Friday, I'll be teaching a workshop.  And the big show - the Competition - is on Saturday 9th July (contact Moire for more information: moire22@yahoo.com).  This is a Scottish Harp Society of America (SHSA) Sanctioned Competition and I'm delighted to have been invited to judge. 

I'm very excited to be going - such a beautiful setting and it should be a lovely day.  I'm also looking forward to a unique Grandfather Mountain competition - I'll be learning to play Lochaber trump.  Come out and play - compete or play for comments - either way you'll learn a lot and have a great time!  See you there?

June 28, 2017

I'm at OSAS!!

I'm at Ohio Scottish Arts School this week - so excited and having a great time!  We have four fantastic teachers in Sue Richards, Therese Honey, Dominique Dodge and Gillian Fleetwood

We have all learned so much but my head is getting full! More later - gotta go play!

all photos from websites of the instructors, follow the links above to learn more.

June 21, 2017

There is no end

That’s a daunting title.   
With respect to practice it is true – there is no end. 
There will always be something that needs to be worked on to improve.
There will always be some technique that needs to be refined.
There will always be a passage that is just out of reach…today.

So, it is important that we practice our practicing – because we will always be doing it.  We have talked about what you need to do for your daily practice but there is one remaining nugget to polish in our quest to become good musicians.  We must work on being good practicers.  The difference between wasting time on the bench and developing better practice is – attention.

All of those things that make up a practice won’t do a lot more than take up time unless, during the time on the bench and beyond, you think about what you’re doing.  Pay attention to what you are doing physically and mentally.  What happens when you do those things?  How far you remain from your desired end state? What specific actions will get you through that gap?

Analyze the steps you take, the actions you make. Watch what you do and identify the outcomes.  Pay Attention!  Write it down in your practice journal.  Review previous entries and determine what level of progress you are showing before and after you practice.  Repeat and improve what works, determine what didn’t work – and why – and remove it from your practice.  Remark on your progress (both good and bad) (in you journal would be a good place to put that).  Pat yourself on the head if appropriate.  Recognize the utility of your good,, hard work.

Practice may be endless but it needn’t be pointless.