June 13, 2018
We're about half the way through our trip - and as always the weather has been good, the sites have been great and our people are fantastic! We've already shared some wonderful tunes as well as some delightful meals! Here's a peek:
June 7, 2018
Just arrived in Edinburgh and, as always - it's lovely! Great weather, lovely people - what's not to love?
Looking forward to everyone getting here. More pictures next time and on my facebook page. Maybe you can join us next time?
Looking forward to everyone getting here. More pictures next time and on my facebook page. Maybe you can join us next time?
May 30, 2018
Well, you made it – Week Five of Boot Camp! You should be proud of yourself and your hard work. This gives you a foundation to keep building your practice and to refine it to meet your needs. Those needs will likely change as you develop as a harper, but the fundamentals stay the same. So, keep at it and finish strong!
Stretch – Small Shoulder Rolls are relatively easy, but because we use our shoulders more than we know, you might be tighter in the shoulder than you’d expect.* Begin by sitting (or standing) upright, head up, shoulders down. Place your right fingertips on your right shoulder and your left fingertips on your left shoulder with your arms in front of your chest. Your elbows should be close to your waist. Now, rotate your arms to the outside and "draw circles" with your elbows. Keep your head up. Take your time – go slowly and carefully. If your shoulders are tight, this may be challenging. Repeat three to five times. This stretch can be performed before, after, and during your practice.
Technique – Dall-ing. Not Daaaahl-ing, Dall-ing. Don’t roll your eyes, I can make up words if I need them! Dall is the Gaelic word for blind – and if the harpers of old could play without seeing, you can play without looking. Yes, it can be scary but, as with everything - if you practice it, you will get better at it. And since most people are primarily visual, giving your other senses a chance to be in charge will change your perspective and will improve your playing whether you’re looking at the harp or not. To practice Dalling, simply close your eyes – and keep them closed! Start by playing scales – make your initial placement and then close your eyes and play. Pay attention – where are your arms? Where are you stretching? How far do your fingers need to move? Once you’ve got that down (and after all – you’ve been playing scales – they’re so easy you can do them with your eyes closed!) move on to the intervals we did in week one (first left hand, then right hand, then hands together). And once that’s easy, move on to playing tunes you know well. All the time you’re playing, you are training yourself to listen, to feel (the strings on your fingers, the harp in your arms, the stretch or bend in your elbow) all those things tell you something about where you are on the harp. Don’t get discouraged – you can do this!
Practice Element – Taking the time. We are all busy. And we sometimes have difficulty cramming all the things we think are important into our days. And its easy to let practicing slip away. Or to get time, but to give our practice short shrift by just playing and not doing mindful work. All of those get in our way. Start by being honest about when you will practice and how much time you have practice. Do not get impatient and want to be able to play something immediately, if not sooner. Or get wrapped up in the illusion that someone else is performing better, faster, stronger than you are. Or be confident that you’re not getting any better. Acknowledge what that amount of time will mean to your in terms of how fast you will be able to prepare new material – and accept that. work from where you are, with what you have to achieve what you want. Give yourself the time to make things happen – in your own time.
Boot Camp - Five Weeks to Better is coming to a close. But the work continues. Keep practicing – do the things that help you move forward and enjoy the journey. At this point, you’re ready to take on the summer! Enjoy it – and let me know what you do and how this Boot Camp helped you be prepared!
May 23, 2018
If building a habit takes 21 days, then you’re on your way to a solid practice habit. And although sometimes it can feel like liver and durian on the same plate, you know it’s good for you – so stick with it – we’re almost there!
Stretch – Hand yawns: Few things are as satisfying as a good long yawn. It looks funny - but it feels good! These we’re going to spread that satisfaction to your hands. These are a fun, quick, and can be done just about anywhere. Start with your hand closed, fingers together. Take a deep breath. Now spread your fingers as wide as you can.* Reach with each finger. Hold your hand open like that for 5 – 10 seconds. Keep breathing. Do each hand 3 – 5 times. Fully relax your hand between stretches. You can do this stretch before and/or after your practice, while you’re on the phone, while driving (of course, don’t let go of the steering wheel!), or while waiting in line in the grocery – the possibilities are endless.
Technique – Lever changes: You might not think about lever changes as needing a lot of practice, but because they are relatively infrequent, you do need to practice doing them efficiently and smoothly. Making a lever change needs to be like all the other movements you make – on time, quiet, accurate, and consistent. Let’s focus on the left hand because, while you can do right hand lever changes, you will want to avoid those as much as possible! Today we’ll focus on changing a single lever. The same process occurs when you modulate or change a lot of levers at the same time). We’ll do this in ¾ and you’ll play a note, engage the lever, play a note, play a note, disengage the lever, play a note – try that until you get the hang of it. Then you can work on playing this exercise:
In effect, you start in C tuning and by the end you have moved yourself to D tuning. Move carefully and deliberately. In the left hand, (beat 1) play the D, come off and (beat 2) engage the lever, (beat 3) return to the strings and play the D. You can do any key you like – remember we’re only trying to change one lever. Go slowly at first. Be careful, stay in rhythm, be accurate (get the right lever!), and be thorough (fully engage the lever). As you get more comfortable, pick up the tempo, but do not accept sloppy. As you get the hang of it, you can move on to modulation (changing from one key to another – in this example, changing all the Cs and Fs on the harp – but get changing one down before you try that!). Once you get the hang of it, it’s easy (but still takes practice).
Practice element – Counting: Counting is essential. No matter how you feel about it, music is applied mathematics, so whether you’ll admit it or not, you should always be counting. And although you’ve been counting since you were young, you s-t-i-l-l need to practice counting your music. The challenge is to have enough spare mental capacity to ensure you are counting even when things are tough. And, lest you think that all the harp hero’s you’ve watched on stage aren’t counting – fie – they just have way more practice than you, so they are at the end of this paragraph – and you might be right here àStart by counting aloud. No really – out loud – so everyone can hear you. You might notice that this is difficult. It’s hard to talk (count out loud) and play and think about what comes next and everything else! And it won’t get any easier unless you practice it. When you can count out loud while staying on tempo and on rhythm and while playing the right notes, then you can, as always, pick up the tempo a little. And as always, when you fumble, slow down and work it some more. When you can play and count out loud successfully, then you can move to internalize your counting more. This is more challenging than it sounds – the next step is to say the numbers without saying them out loud – still a bit of extra work. From there you can verbalize the counting inside your head (and yes, you should still be able to “hear” yourself counting, only now, you’re the only one who can hear it!). This can be a slow and painful process, but it’s so worth the work.
We have only one week remaining in this summer’s boot camp – one more week to work hard to be ready for all the summer fun that awaits – hope you’re finding it useful and as always, I’d love to know how you’re coming along, what was helpful, what was hard to follow, and how you are noticing improvement in your practice and playing!
May 16, 2018
If you have been playing along at home, you have probably already started seeing differences in your practice and your playing. I hope this encourages you to keep at it. Consistency may be the most important practice element of all, and it is certainly one of the most underrated!
As before, you can focus on this week’s activities or you can add this on top of the previous weeks – whatever works well for you.*
Stretch – Bow, no, b-o-w! Because so many of us are dedicated (or foolish) we may sit at the harp for long stretches of time. Many do not realize how much work this can be for the hips, back, legs, and core. One soothing, relaxing stretch is to bow. You can do this from the bench or while standing. From the bench, sit away from the harp and with both feet flat on the floor and knees apart (wider than if you were playing), hands resting on your thighs, hinge forward from the hip with your back flat (this is easiest if you keep your head up). Move slowly and deliberately into the stretch. Keep your core strong. Go as deeply into the stretch as you are able. Breathe. Now, slowly lower your head, round your back and let your arms dangle. Breathe! You can stay here as long as you like (and as long as you continue to breathe). When you’re ready, s-l-o-w-l-y roll up to your starting position. If you prefer to stand, start with your feet shoulder width apart, weight balanced, knees soft, and hinge forward as above. Be sure to monitor and maintain your balance.
Technique – Ornaments. Sorry, this is not the fun of decorating but the work of adding ornaments to tunes. To practice ornamentation, you need control. To get light, accurate, beautiful ornaments – you must control your fingers and the strings to control the weight and length of the notes. As you know, ornaments are light, quick, and ahead of the beat. To get them light and quick, practice them. Today we are looking at cuts (you can, of course, extend this to other ornaments, but let’s focus here for now). This is a variation of the intervals you did in Boot Camp Week 1. Select your favorite key and scale and work your way, in intervals of a second, from root to octave and back again. Play the first note (the cut) just ahead of the beat with the second note occurring on the beat (because I’m sure you are counting, even if playing scales!). Be careful to work slowly and make the first note light and quick; the second will be heavier and have all the weight of a proper note. Quicklight/HEAVYFULL. When you have it in the right hand (where you are going to use it most) do it in the left hand. While you might not ever make an ornament in the left hand, practicing that level of control will only serve you well. Once you have that down, move to different intervals (use the 3rd, the 4th, the 5th, etc.) and learn which ones you like best. If some are more challenging than others – well, now you know where you need to direct more work!
Practice Element – Dynamics. Since we’re already working on control – let’s extend that to dynamics. Being in control of the harp gives you a better firmament from which to build more musicality and presentation. Dynamics often get short shrift or just forgotten. Now this might be forgivable (m-i-g-h-t) in a set of dance tunes, it is unforgiveable in songs and airs or any classical music. The dynamics are one of the easiest things you can do to help you sell the story, so they are definitely an important part of playing. The point of injecting dynamics is to enhance the inflection of the tune. Dynamics don’t always have to be dramatic – even small changes really make an impact to your listeners. To start practicing dynamics, first think about the markings for crescendo/decrescendo – a very long arrow – that’s how you want to play. Let’s stick to a major scale and play it with those arrows – start very small and build the sound as you go up to the octave. Each note should be just noticeably louder than the note before. On the way down, do the opposite with each note just noticeably softer than the previous. This week there’s a twofer – after you’ve done those scales, follow it with a three-scale – place your fingers for the scale and play each note three times – p, mf, f (always with the same finger) up the octave and f, mf, p on the way back down. When you’ve mastered one hand, move on to the other, and then do both together – always careful to assure you have the volume you intended. Too easy? This time do the same scale but as you go up play f, mf, p (and when it’s too easy go to four fff, mf, mp, ppp) and come down at p, mf, f (or ppp, mp, mf, fff). Bored? Now play the scales with two hands – play the left hand p and the right hand f, then switch. Be careful but gentle – and do the work you need to do. Soon you’ll have the skill to be as dynamic and dramatic as you wish – for each tune – exactly as you mean to deliver it!
Hang in there - you're more than half the way there and you're building a solid practice habit!
*Remember that I’m not that kind of doctor, so please be careful, work within your own abilities (which isn’t to say don’t stretch yourself but also, don’t hurt yourself!). Be careful and only do what you can do. This blog provides general information about trying to stay health and other subjects related to playing the harp. All the content provided in this blog, and in any linked materials, is not intended to be, and should not be construed to be, medical advice. If you have a medical concern, consult with an appropriately-licensed physician or other health care worker. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay seeking it because of something you have read on this blog or in any linked materials. If you think you may have a medical emergency, call your doctor or 911 immediately. The views expressed on this blog and website have no relation to those of any academic, hospital, practice or other institution with which the author is affiliated. Don’t be thick – these are just suggestions – take care of you!