November 28, 2012

Stealing ideas from the knitters again!

You might know that I have a real like for knitting.  Of course, it doesn't show in my knitting because I very unreasonably expect to be able to knit like a pro with no practice or experience!  However, this does not blind me to the great philosophy, knowledge, or understanding that knitters have and share.

I have stolen ideas from my wonderful local knitting lady, Ellen, before and I'm going to do so again!  She recently wrote about muscle memory and how people who haven't knitted in a long while can, once they get started, knit "from memory" because their hands haven't forgotten how, even if their mind tells them they have.

We have the same thing you know.  It is called muscle memory - when your hands remember how to play a tune the rest of you is pretty sure you've forgotten.  I'm sure you have had the experience of playing a tune you haven't played in a long while.  You sit and try to find it, and (if you've well learned it) it comes back out with just a little coaxing.  This is your muscle memory (ok, it is a little more complicated than that - you'll also need your auditory memory, but we'll save that for another time). 

How do you build muscle memory?  You already know what I'm going to say - Practice!

But (just as the knitters would tell you) you also have to be mindful - let yourself pay attention to where you are in the world and in relation to your harp and the strings - how does your elbow feel? where are your fingers? how are you breathing?

One way to help focus on these muscle elements of playing is to practice with your eyes closed. It might be painful at first - you might be so used to looking that you might believe you can't play without looking - but you'd be wrong! Closing your eyes really lets you focus on how your body feels. It will also make repeating those feelings (building the muscle memory) easier.

Trust yourself to know where your harp is and where the tune is on the harp. 
Of course, practice helps you develop and build that trust!

If you think you can't go cold turkey playing without looking, I'd suggest practicing by a window at the gloaming.  Let the night come while you keep playing.  Eventually, you will be playing in the dark - just like if you had your eyes closed (this is also especially helpful for preparing for gigs at candle lit weddings and restaurants in grottoes!).

At first, it will be challenging. Start small - playing tunes you know extraordinarily well without looking.  Eventually add more of your repertoire.  Soon you'll be able to learn tunes without looking at your harp (or your hands - trust me, they are right there at the ends of your arms, no need to watch them!).  But if you keep at it you will get better and you will build strong muscle memories that will allow you to play even things you think you have forgotten!

November 21, 2012

Holidays are coming fast now!

Hope you have a wonderful Thanksgiving holiday - and use it to practice for those upcoming holiday gigs - formal and informal!

November 14, 2012

Did you get what you came for?

I’m still on a high from the Washington Area Folk Harp Society Getaway that was held at the beginning of the month.  It was well executed and brilliantly taught.  The only negative comment I have is that the instructors were all so good and had so much great stuff to share that I had a really hard time trying to select which workshops to attend!

Workshops and other learning opportunities are like that – there’s so much to learn and so little time to learn it all.  The number one thing we have to do to really get the most out of a workshop is to be open to learn whatever the tutor is prepared to teach.  
That can be quite a challenge.  Don’t let these things get in your way:
  • Sometimes you’re not ready to learn what is on offer.  Just because you’re not ready doesn’t mean that you won’t learn something useful.
  • Sometimes you don’t have the ability to keep up - don’t get focused on being frustrated at what you can’t do yet, but rather focus on the concepts that are being shared.
  • Sometimes you just can’t keep up – again, don’t get frustrated.  And believe the instructor who says it’s ok if you don’t get it all right now – you have time later to come back to it.
  • Sometimes you don’t understand what was being said.  It is really hard to learn concepts if you don’t have the vocabulary yet.  Of course, the best way to build your musical vocabulary is to learn what things mean be being taught.
  • Sometimes, it just isn’t a good time to be learning – if you’re tired, stressed, or focused on other things – just sit in the workshop and absorb.  And enjoy the social aspect – nothing wrong with that!
What I find interesting though, is how much I have learned – even when I thought I wasted my time (and the instructors!).

I often say many things when I’m teaching – I talk a lot!  I have a lot to share and I want to give it all to the students!  I can tell by the looks on people’s faces if they understand what I’m saying (and when they do not).  And I typically tell them that it is ok to not “get” what I say - just listen.  All that good stuff is going in. Even if you don’t understand what is said.  Or you understand the words but don’t know what to do with the information.
Just hang on to that knowledge.  When you’re ready it will suddenly become clear – what it meant, how to use it, why you didn’t get it until now.
And don’t be frustrated if you leave thinking, “I didn’t learn a darn thing I wanted to!”  You have learned more than you know.  Sometimes you’re not ready to learn what you think you want to learn and what you did learn will prepare you for what you were looking for.  Sometimes what you are looking for (or what you think you need to learn) is not what you really needed to learn.
And why did you go to the workshop anyway?  Oh, that’s right, because someone who knows more than you about your chosen avocation came to share something with you – maybe in this instance you didn’t actually know best?
I wish I could impart to you how many times I have been sitting at my harp and have an “a-ha!” moment when something I didn’t understand just fell into place – and the sun came out and the rain stopped and I was brilliant!  That’s exactly how it feels.
Until that time, keep going to workshops, learn from the people you admire and like, take it all in, listen.  And go home and work…and wait for the A-HA!  to hit you.

November 7, 2012

You know how I find good ideas from everywhere and just about anywhere.  The other day, I was reading the Harvard Business Review blog (because I’m a geek). Miniya Chatterji had a blog post.  I can’t remember what the overall point of that post was, but for me the takeaway was this quote,

“in the world where there are no precedents, you have to trust your own judgment.”

What a great point – the trusting your own judgment part.  We often believe that there are a lot of precedents in our world and there are.  But it seems that we tend to give those precedents too much weight. 

We should focus on our capabilities and on sharing our music with other people.  Those people who are simply ready to listen.  They are not critics waiting to pounce on our flaws.  They are open to whatever you choose to share.  And that’s where your judgment comes in.
Here are three ways to shift your focus away from judging yourself and your music and find yourself wanting:

  1. Play what sounds good (don’t say “duh” – you’d be amazed how many people don’t do this!)
  2. Record your ideas, review those ideas, and keep the good ones
  3. Look up from your harp, see the faces of your audience and note that they are enjoying your music.
So don’t be afraid – set your own precedents, suspend your judgments and share your music!