November 27, 2013

November 20, 2013


I ran across this quote the other day

“Strive for Progress not Perfection”
As we continue the run up to the holidays, we are dusting off our Christmas repertoire and making ready for the season – playing church services, holiday parties, and winter weddings.  We work extra hard on the Christmas songs – we have to, everyone knows them and they’ll know if we make a mistake.
And so we get stuck on the perfection treadmill – certain that people will know our every “jazz improvisation” and find us wanting. 

And yet, has this actually happened to you?  We have all had some challenging opportunities to play.  Sometimes we do not actually recognize the tune that came out of the harp – what comes out is so different from what was in our heads! But has anyone stood up and shouted, “You should have played a Bmin chord there!”?? Has anyone ever up and left while you were playing because you didn’t play perfectly?
The answer, we all know, is NO!  It is much more likely that no one even noticed that you didn’t play to perfection.  And we shouldn’t strive for perfection.  If you look beyond your next performance and focus on the future you’ll see the importance of striving for progress rather than perfection.
We all have room to improve.  But to do so, we have to be prepared to do some work. And you have to identify where you should make progress.  Progress will come from consistent practice and careful work.
Then you have to be sure to watch for your progress and chart it in a visible way.  And when you have made progress, you can then celebrate your achievement!
Perfection is dull - strive for progress and enjoy!

November 13, 2013

Why being in Eb isn’t necessarily best

A lot of people tune their harps to Eb.  The question is, should you?

First, you might want to know why so many people choose to be in Eb.  Many people like Eb because it is a very flexible tuning that allows you to get into eight major keys.  Since you’re asking those keys are:
  • Eb (3 flats – E, A, B)
  • Bb (2 flats – E, B)
  • F (1 flat – B)
  • C (no flats or sharps)
  • G (1 sharp – F)
  • D (2 sharps – F, C)
  • A (3 sharps – F, C, G)
  • E (4 sharps – F, C, G, D)
Being able to get into so many keys certainly limits the number of pieces you can’t play.
However, that flexibility comes at a price.  You get all those different keys be engaging the levers.  That engaging the levers means that before you have even started, you have stopped the string.  Stopping the string means that you won’t get the same full resonance, the true fullness of the sound, the depth of the tone.  For the best tone you need as many open strings are possible.
So you should think about your tuning before you commit to it on your harp.  Do you need to be able to get into all those keys or do you typically stay in just a few keys (think about which levers you typically use)?  You can use the answer to that question to finalize which tuning you want.  If you want the best tone from your harp, keep it open and select the tuning that gives you the fewest engaged levers. 

Then sit back and enjoy the full throated singing of your harp most of the time.

November 7, 2013

I absolutely can ONLY use my electronic tuner to tune, right? (I can never tune by ear?)

Most people use their electronic tuner for a number of reasons – it’s easy, effective, consistent, and it gives you the impression that your harp is tuned accurately.  But are you really in tune?

You can choose to tune by ear.  Many people do this because it results in I won’t kid you, learning to tune by ear requires some willingness to work – you have to practice doing it and you have to practice listening closely.  But if you start tuning by ear it won’t take you long to get good at it.

First, the equipment.  Assuming you do not have perfect pitch, you will need something to give you a pitch to reference.  You can use a tuning fork or a pitch pipe (available on a number of websites) or a piano (assuming it is in tune).  You can choose which pitch you’d like to tune to.  I have a 440 A tuning fork.  That might not have been the best choice as I have my harp tuned to Eb which means that I have to set a lever and occlude the string to get to A.  I’d suggest a pitch you can tune to on an open string.

I’ll focus on the tuning fork as it is easy to carry and use.  The tuning will be the same regardless of your reference.  Strike the fork on something solid (I use my ankle bone) and then place the base on the sound board.  You will hear the pitch loud and clear.  Then tune the appropriate string (A in my case) until you can’t hear it.

‘Til I can’t hear it????  Yup – when you can’t hear the string differently from the tuning fork, it is in tune…they are inseparable.  Remember that the 440Hz refers to the frequency of the string – so if you have it tuned, it will “disappear” into the tone of the tuning fork. Then I’d suggest you tune all of that string (all the As for example).  Tune them against each other (based on the A you started with).  Octaves are directly related (so if the middle A is 440 Hz, the A below it will be 220Hz and the A above it will be 880Hz.  If you play them in octaves you will be able to hear if one is out because of this relation.

If you’re willing to give it a try, start with your A’s strike your tuning fork and bring them in line.  We’ll move on to tuning the rest of the strings later!  Don’t get frustrated, just take a breath and listen – you’ll hear it when it happens.