January 25, 2012

Afterglow resolutions – goal setting not new years resolutions

So, by this time you have generated your New Year’s Resolutions and maybe started using an inspiration board to develop goals for your personal growth for this year (or you are humoring me by not saying you haven’t). We’re in the afterglow of the Resolutions. All done, right?

Not by half – now the real work begins. Here in the afterglow we are close enough to forming our goals to forget that within a few weeks we will be in the hustle and bustle of daily living and will have all but forgotten them. We will have forgotten all our resolutions, not just the ones we developed for our harp life. By this time of January, most of us have already stopped going to the gym, begun buying our lunch instead of packing again, and not getting enough sleep, still.

So there are some strategies to help keep ourselves on track. Here are a few to try if they work for you:

Set an appointment with yourself. Once a week (or once a month depending on how dedicated and motivated you are), set an appointment with yourself to check your progress against your goals and see how you’re coming. This shouldn’t be a punitive time. If your goals are too aggressive - modify them. If you’re way ahead and your goals weren’t aggressive enough, modify those too!

Record yourself. Most of us set goals that are related to our performance – either learning, memorizing, improvising, performing, arranging, composing or some other facet of our playing. Record your work so you can hear it better. No matter how well you play or how well you have learned something (including what you’ve written) you will be better able to review it if you listen to a recording than if you listen while you’re playing.

Don’t be afraid to change things - including your goals. This is not the same as abandoning your goals as soon as things get tough. However, if you realize that you have set an inappropriate goal (a piece you have selected has only been arranged for pedal harp which you don’t have and has a zillion accidentals) - change it.  You should consider modifying a goal that just is not working. If you achieve a goal with relatively no effort (although you have passed your grade eight exam, you decided to work on learning Twinkle Twinkle) that goal may not have been as challenging as you had hoped and you could add a new one.

None of these is focused on punishing you into meeting your goals. The point of the exercise is to keep an eye on your goals and an eye on your progress to assure that you continue to be moving forward. Be positive and friendly with yourself - and you'll make it!

You just have to start.

January 18, 2012

Coming off the season – inspiration boards

I spend a lot of time on this blog exhorting you to set goals, make plans, and do other things to help you become a better musician. But sometimes, it can be challenging to get motivated to do these things. Especially because they are hard work! Or you might just be stuck. Maybe it seems like a big undoable task. Maybe you don’t know where or how to begin. Or maybe your goals are lofty and you’re not sure how you’re going to get there. Maybe a tool would help you to focus on what you’re trying to do and to find a path to get there.

One way to get going is to start by building an Inspiration Board. This is a tool to help creative people be more creative. And it is just as good to help busy people be creative, or to help people who don’t think they are creative to be creative. It is a way to collect the things that inspire you in one place so you can be reminded what your goals are and possibly see linkages between ideas you have. I stole this idea from the home decorating shows on television (yes, all that good information and all I learned was inspiration boards can be very helpful!)

If you check on line there are plenty of ways to make this complicated.  But I would suggest something simple. First, use a means that works for you. Many people make a collage from photos that represent things they want to achieve. I have a three ring binder that I filled with sheet protectors (the kind you use to put music into binders) and with both lined paper and manuscript paper.  I collect articles, photos, bits of TAB or musical notation, quotes, and other stuff I have found.  I just stick them in the binder. You can actually set up a bulletin board or make an on-line collage, or put things into a box. The form is irrelevant – it’s the function that is important. Collect things that give you ideas and put them somewhere that you actually look at them – so you can gain inspiration – and generate more ideas!

Your inspiration board is for you. You can share it (as many online sights push) if you like, but you don’t have to – you can keep it where only you can see it. It’s your board, and your inspiration – you can do as you wish with it. Its also important to remember that the board is a tool – just like a tuning key. It can be helpful but it is just there to help, not to become a new vocation. So put as much (or as little) into it as you need to identify what inspires you - and build your goals for the coming year from that inspiration. Use the collection, not only to identify your goals, but also to document them so you can refer to them in later months (when the January clarity has dimmed). And enjoy looking at your goals and inspirations in a new way!

January 11, 2012


Winter is a time of colder temperatures with brisk, dry winds, and rain, ice, snow and combinations of all of them. I’m sure you don’t need a weather report from me. We all have to get through the winter season where we live. The winter does bring some challenges for us as harp players. We have to take self-care seriously to assure we don’t get hurt. Here are two areas that will help you get through the winter successfully.

Start with the skin. Your skin is the largest organ in your body. It protects you from a lot  including your harp – and other, bad stuff. It is your first line of defense. It protects you from disease. It is sturdy but delicate. You need to give it appropriate care. Being sure to wash your hands frequently is good for your health. But putting moisturizer on frequently is really good for your skin. Just like we get thirsty in winter because cold air and heating systems dry the air, our skin is also thirsty. Moisturizer will help keep your skin supple.  A shea butter, cocoa butter, aloe vera or other moisturizer you know works for you is good to have on hand all the time.

Moving on to your hands – keep them warm – physically. Wear your gloves or wristies* There are lots of free patterns online if you want to knit your own or you can buy inexpensive versions in knits or fleece. They are very helpful, even in warm weather, for keeping warm before performances.

While I always tell you the importance of warming up, in the winter it is essential to warm up before you play. Just like the rest of you feels the cold, your hands and forearms and their muscles will feel the cold. And if you are a more experienced human (read: older) you may feel the cold even more keenly. So that warm up to start your practice is even more important than at other, warmer parts of the year. In addition, consider adding a warm up to your office work in winter. Typing, writing, and other small motor activities (think texting) can also take a toll on your hands so think about warming up for those as well.

I’m also partial to holding a good cup of hot tea!

*"Wristies” is a patented and trademarked item, developed, according to the website, by a smart and enterprising 10 year old Girl Scout! Not an endorsement – I’ve never worn Wristies (tm) but I like the idea and the story. Here I am suggesting any sort of fingerless warmer that helps you preserve your muscle warmth).

January 4, 2012

And now, the Rest of the story

We’re working our way through the holiday season. There are things to do, gifts to wrap, gigs to play, cookies to bake, parties to attend, and we haven’t even gotten to New Year yet - yikes! You know what you need to do throughout all this, especially if you’re going to play your best – REST!

What does rest mean? For some it will mean take a week off. Don’t play, don’t think about playing, don’t do any goal setting or planning (bet you never thought you’d hear me say that). Just Rest. Maybe have a professional manicure or a massage to help care for your hands and their little muscles. Take a little “me” time for your harp too - you could  have your harp regulated or change the strings if they need it. I’m happy to recommend my favorite local luthier if you don’t have one (just send me a comment and I’ll share that with you).

We all know the importance of rest, even if we ignore it. Rest helps us recharge. It helps us get some distance from what we normally do – our everyday lives. And rest encourages us to return to our harps with a fresh perspective gained from missing our heart throb.

Use your rest time well. Schedule it when it is best for you. Now is a good time because we’ve been playing a lot, but you may have another time that is better for you, maybe at the end of the flurry of summer learning experiences when you have a lot in your head? Then the rest gives you a chance to sort through what you’ve learned and determine what to keep, what to shelve to work on later, and what was a good learning experience but not something you need to keep.

You can use your rest time to do other things – talk to your family members or read a book. Remember that these pursuits can also improve your playing by helping to broaden your perspective (and to rekindle relationships you’ve left slide while practicing – are those your children?!?!)

A little rest will do you good. And when you’ve finished resting you’ll be refreshed and ready to get back in, work hard and improve your playing.