December 18, 2013

Looking back

The days are short, the nights are long, the solstice in nearly upon us, and the weather is tailor made for reflection.  Take a moment and look at your past Harp year.  Did you meet your goals?  Did you do well?  Are you happy with your progress?

If yes, it is time to begin to identify what your goals and desires for 2014 will be.
If no, why?  Did you set overly ambitious goals that didn’t take into account the rest of your life?  Did you set unrealistic goals like moving from your first lesson to performing Ceremony of the Carols within the year?  Did you not plan for the work your goals required (including enough practice time)? Did you have too many competing goals?  Were your goals vague such that you could not actually determine if you made any progress?  Or did you not set any goals, preferring to see what happened naturally?
Remember that the point of goals is to guide you, to help you see that you have made progress, and to remind you over time, not to generate yet another way to beat yourself up! 

As the new year looms, we will, of course review goal setting. Whether you met goals or not, the year is nearly past and we can look forward to next year.  Many things will change and many will be different, but your harp will be there with you – take the time to be there too!

December 11, 2013

There is no substitute for having a teacher

This may be sacrilegious in some quarters, but I’m going to say it anyway.  There really is no substitute for having a teacher.  Now, before you write this week’s content as self-serving drivel from someone who makes money teaching, hear me out.  There are so many things about playing the harp that are challenging, why not learn someone who can save you the difficulty of learning those things the hard way?
Here are ten things teachers will do that will help improve your harp playing:
  1. Give you wisdom, gained at the knees of their teachers.
  2. Give you the benefit of their experiences.
  3. Provide you timely feedback that will help you spend less time learning (and then unlearning) things that are not productive.
  4. Provide you positive feedback that will allow you to focus on growing rather than have you smarting from falling backward.
  5. Although there are some very good books available, nothing is the same as having someone who’s walked the road before you to show you the ropes.
  6. Inspire you to grow to your full potential rather than letting you fester where you happen to be.
  7. Encourage you to stretch and grow, to achieve your potential and reach your goals.
  8. Coddle you when you hit the inevitable plateaus that are so disheartening.
  9. Give you their knowledge – they’ve been in your seat and left it behind…wouldn’t you like to move along too?
  10. Work with you, to help you develop yourself.
You need to find the teacher that fits you and there are plenty of really good ones around.  I highly encourage you to work with a teacher - you don’t have to commit to unending lessons and in the end, the progress you make will be a function of your hard work.  But a teacher can coach you through that progress so you can make good time on it!

December 4, 2013

Go Gently, Go Slowly

We have spent a while talking about tuning.  I hope you’ve come to realize that tuning is an essential skill although it is often glossed over.  Be sure that no one glosses over it because they are uninterested.  It’s just that, as you play longer and longer and more and more, tuning becomes a habit and it frankly, it is so ingrained it is hard to describe.

Another thing that is so engrained it is difficult to describe is the physical act of tuning – how much is too much?  How far do you go before you should don eye protection (against the string you just know is going to break)?  How do you get past this fear of breaking a string?

Well – I’m not sure you ever get past the fear of breaking a string, but you do learn to manage it!
As for how much is too much and how far do you turn the key, when do you stop?  These are complex questions.  The answer to each truly is – “It depends.”

First, each harp is different.  I am fortunate to have an embarrassment of harps so I do a lot of tuning.  Each of my harps tunes up differently. 
Secondly, remember that earlier I said that tuning takes practice?  I told you that the more you tune, the easier it becomes.  One of the reasons it becomes easier is that, with practice, you begin to learn a lot of things –
  • what your harp sounds like as the tone comes to pitch (that is, you begin to learn how each string sounds as the needle gets closer to straight up and the lights get closer to green)
  • how the string feels against the key as it comes to pitch (as you get more comfortable with tuning, you will have the capacity to notice how the pin feels as your turn the key, how the key feels in your hand as your ears (and eyes) tell you you’re getting there)
  • what your harp feels like as the string comes to pitch (as the strings begin to ring sympathetically as you get closer to the correct frequency)
Go gently, make very small adjustments. It doesn't take much to move the string too much.  And it is easier to make another small adjustment than to change a broken string!

Take your time, go slowly.  Tuning can be very therapeutic and relaxing once you’re comfortable with it.  Move the key ever so slightly.  See if you can change the pitch of the string without being able to detect the movement of your hand.  With practice you may begin to enjoy the simple ritual of tuning (NB, this is not true if your Harp Circle, Ensemble, or Conductor are waiting!)