February 23, 2010

Harp Care

Thanks to Kris Snyder for pointing out the need to remind people about the potential danger to your harp lurking in your home…dryness.

She has some great hints including checking the humidity inside your house…it might feel really good to you, your hair might look great, but even if you’re not getting shocked every time you touch something that doesn’t mean your house has a high enough humidity to keep your harp happy.

You don't want your sound board to dry out and look like this!
And by happy I mean that it will stay more in tune and more importantly you’re not stressing the wood to the point that it might break.

Very early in my harp career (before it was even a harp career at all!) Kris gave me the sage advice to treat my harp like a baby (like the middle school project of carrying an egg around all the time – but heavier). Never leave it in the car, or in the sun, or in cold or the heat, make sure it has an appropriate humidity level, keep it tuned, and never just stand it up and walk away (or it will fall – mine have proven that more than once).

If you’re concerned about the dryness in the winter – put the lid of a 2 part travel soap keeper upside down on the bottom of your harp (inside the sound box) and place a dampened sponge inside the lid. Check it daily to assure the sponge is damp. This will provide enough local moisture to keep your harp happy – and you won’t be broken up at finding a cracked sound board.

February 16, 2010

Practice Makes Practice

No one is born with so much talent that they don’t have to practice. We ALL have to practice. And the real difference between those people we admire so much and the rest of us is usually the amount of time spent practicing. I once heard someone tell a group that playing the harp came so easily to (another person) and that she just sat down and started playing.  That was a very hurtful comment - No one who plays well does so without practice (they just make it seem that way!).

We spend a lot of time practicing. And those people we admire practice even more.  If you get consistent practice you might spend between 5 – 20 hours a week practicing (I know, 20 hours might sound like an impossible dream for most, but it is not unreasonable - really - if you seek to gain mastery). There is a popular statistic going around that it takes about 10000 hours of practice to gain mastery of anything. If your calculator is handy that is 417 days of practice – 24 hour days…if we make it “work days” instead – it’s a much more reasonable 1250 days ( or 3 ½ years – no days off of course) and if you think of it as work years (including vacations and weekends, and holidays) its just about 5 ½ work years….ouch!

So, it is essential that you use your practice time well (since it will add up – but only slowly). And to acknowledge that true mastery will take a while (remember that 10000 is a hand-wave – not a minimum). And work slowly and steadily toward mastery through practice.

In a later post we talk about specific techniques to improve your practice.

February 9, 2010

The Creativity Habit

Do you think of yourself as creative? Or do you think that’s something other people are – and you just enjoy the outputs of their creativity?

I know someone who has an amazing capacity to think up interesting meals. All my life, I have been in awe of her ability to look into the pantry and visualize a tasty, appealing and filling meal. When I look in there – crickets. Seriously!

We are all creative in some way. And the best way to tap into that creativity is to get into the habit of being creative. Are you in the habit of being creative? Do you thrive on your own creativity or do you stew on what you’re not good at?

To be more creative – to write new compositions, to develop new arrangements for tunes, to paint, to write, or to plan interesting meals, it is essential that you get into a creativity habit. Set aside time to be creative- free from distractions and surrounded by the things that help you create. Make certain to schedule this time with yourself – put it on your planner. Stick to your schedule. Make sure to “attend” the meeting you have scheduled with yourself and pursue your goals.

In a later post, we’ll talk about techniques for being productively creative and ways to channel your creativity into completing projects.

February 3, 2010

Thinking about injuries

In my other life, I work in ergonomics and that makes me prone to thinking about injuries, injury prevention and the development and practice of good technique. I am keenly aware of challenges to playing that may result in injury. Using good technique is about more than getting good tone - it also helps to keep you focused on playing without injury or pain.

While I’ll rail on some other day on technique at the harp, let’s focus on something far more insidious today. One thing that many people do not think about when considering their technique is the time spent away from the harp. Spending hours a day slumped over a poorly placed computer screen and keyboard, or sloped into a couch watching television can impact the time spent at the harp.

In addition, our technique must include many things beyond playing the harp. Do you spend hours a day working on your computer? Playing games? On the phone? Walking around?

All of these things have an impact on your technique. Consider this: if you work on a computer all day and practice for an hour every day, your technique at the computer has 8 times more practice (in terms of time) than your technique at the harp. Eight times! This is akin to a recent blurb I saw that reminded that, even if you spend 15 minutes a day working your abs (to get your washboard tummy back), that is a drop in the bucket compared to the 23.75 hours you spend not working your abs!

All these “mundane” activities can also cause injury – either at the harp or away from it. So be mindful of your posture and technique throughout the day and in all your activities. When speaking on the phone, keep your head up and your neck aligned. Breathe. Keep your shoulders down and relaxed. Stretch your body more often than you think it needs it. Use good technique when typing, or slaying monsters or slacking on the couch. Every day all the time…this will improve your technique at the harp.

Like everything you learn while playing the harp, having good general technique requires practice – so be sure to check yourself out throughout the day and use good technique for all those mundane activities. Then you’ll have that strong foundation when you sit to your harp.

February 2, 2010

Make Sure You Count!

Music certainly encompasses the notes, but it also includes the silences, the relationships between the notes and each other, as well as the relationship of the notes to the not-notes (or silences). Sometimes, as harp players, we become inured to the silence - we get so little of it with our wonderful resonant instruments. Harps love to keep on playing and that lovely sound "hanging around" may make us lazy - it's easy to get away with not counting.

But it is essential to be true to the melody, share the message, communicate with our listeners. An essential element in that communication is time. Be aware of the full times and the empty times - and don't rush through them (or become a sonic squatter and languish in between).

Counting can be a challenge when you first begin to actively use it. Time is challenging but it can be so rewarding! It will help you audience follow you message, it will make playing with other musicians a greater joy, and it will help ensure your tune is what the original composer meant it to be.

I'm not advocating rigid adherence to the beat - espeically if you're engaged in a particularly poignant piece in which expression is conveyed with each toying of the time. After all, a Lament needs to convey sorrow but it should never be lamentable!

You must learn to count and to maintain that counting. Only when you have mastered this tool of communication can you begin to modify its application as appropriate.
So, stand up for music - make sure you count!