March 26, 2014

An Affair to Remember

We are all busy it seems.  We have work, family, friends…and harp.  Sometimes it seems like something has to give – that there’s just not enough time to get everything done. This is especially exasperating if the thing that brings joy to your day is the one thing you don’t seem to get to. Yes, I’m talking to you.  Yes, I’m talking about playing your harp!

When time gets tight and you don’t have time to practice, it is disturbing – being parted from that which adds goodness to your day is not pleasant.  But it also worrisome – because you know that with each day you miss practicing you are getting further from your goals (whether you are focused on learning a particular tune or trying to be prepared to perform)…and that is frightening as well.

If this is happening to you, maybe it’s time to have an affair with your harp!  If you were having an affair, you’d force time into your day to have your fling.  You’d make excuses to be in the same place, to catch a glimpse, to run your hand along the arm.  You might sneak around, hoping that no one caught you. You would expend significant energy to get to the object of your affection. And each time you did, you'd be delighted and eager!

The time might be fleeting, but the frission of excitement each time you were near would be titillating.  And you’d so look forward to the next time – even if you had to manufacture it.

Go ahead.  An affair would be good for you – you could fall in love again...with your harp. 

March 19, 2014

Harp Care

It has been a rough winter for just about everyone - temperatures going up and down, rain, snow, ice, more snow.  Heater on, heater off, windows open, windows closed.  All that change can be hard on your harp. You probably find your harp is out of tune more than "usual".  While all that is happening, don't forget to check your regulation.

Regulation is a technical term for periodic maintenance for your harp.  It keeps it in good working order (or playing order if you prefer!).  Lever harp regulation is important and no less essential than it is for pedal harp.  How often you need to regulate is determined by harp type (with pedal harps needing more frequent regulation than lever harps) and how often you play (with more played harps needing regulation more periodically).  And if you are very picky about your tuning you might want your harp regulated more often.  If your lever harp is needs regulation, you will notice that when you set your levers your sharps are not accurate or your naturals aren't right.  Your levers can be off in either direction (too sharp or too flat).

Not sure if you need regulation? Here's a way to tell:
  1. take all your levers off and tune each string as accurately as possible*
  2. set all your levers
  3. check the tuning of each string (do this carefully - remember that you have set every lever not just the ones you usually set, so make sure you are getting sharps and naturals where they should be)
If your tuning with the levers set is not as accurate as it was with the levers off, you may need regulation.   There are, of course, matters of degrees (how far off are they) and your tolerance for any variance.  It is most likely that the levers you use the most will be the most affected (because you're are always engaging and disengaging them, the bracket has more opportunity to move).

If you do need regulation, you can do it yourself, although I recommend you go to your luthier.  If you decide to do it yourself, I suggest you find more experienced harpers who do their own regulation and ask for help and guidance before doing it yourself - it requires patience and calm.

Regulation is a small maintenance activitiy that will allow you to enjoy your harp as well as making it "healthier" so you can play it longer.  Stay regular my friends!

* you can do the same procedure to check your pedal harp regulation

March 12, 2014

Stage fright Challenge

People who have stage fright often think that the people they see on stage are different. That the people on stage don't have any anxiety about being up there, in the spotlight, the object of the attention of all the people in the audience.  Boy are they wrong!

The only difference is that the people on the stage have mastered looking calm. I don't know a single performer who doesn't have some level of anxiety about performing.  Granted the level of anxiety and come of the symptoms are different, but everyone feels it.

The other difference is that performers have, one way or another, overcome the anxiety.  That is because the reward is too great to miss.  However, if you haven't overcome the terror, you don't know what you're missing [it is also possible that it isn't a reward to you!].  If you have set yourself the challenge to overcome your stage fright, there are a few steps you can take:
  1. Identify precisely what your "bugaboo" is - are you afraid you are not prepared? not good enough? going to trip on stage?  
  2. Once you have identified it, address it - not prepared?  practice more.  Not good enough? there will always be people who are better than you are...and you will always be better than others. Tripping?  well, that's been proven to be endearing - at least on national television!
  3. Define what venue will be doable for you at this point in time - where can you play (or for which audience) that will be outside your comfort...but not too far?  Schools and nursing homes are great places to play with audiences that are thirsty for and appreciative of your performance.
  4. Acknowledge that you will feel trepidation - and that it will affect your playing...and go with it!
  5. Be prepared to learn from getting out there - you will be able to be proud of your accomplishment and you can learn what happens (not what you fear will happen but what actually happens!).  Leverage what you learn.  Then you can work on those things as you prepare for your next performance!  
And don't go too fast - give yourself time to adapt...and enjoy the process!

March 5, 2014

Choosing new music

There is so much great music in the world and many of us want to play it all!  However, at some point you must select the music that you are going to choose to learn and acknowledge that it is not possible to learn it all.  When you select a tune, whether it’s for competition, performance, weddings, healing or simply to amuse yourself, you should think about a few things to assure that you select the right music for you.
  1. Do you like it?   Early in my harp career I got excellent advice - don’t play music you don’t like!  Just don’t.  Life is short, enjoy the music!  (If you are booking weddings, this does have the unintended consequence of requiring you to know more music so you have something to suggest to counter a request you don't like.)
  2. Does the arrangement work for you?  We all have strengths and weaknesses.  We have “tricks” we like, while there are others that just don’t fit our hands.  Make sure you select arrangements that are a good match to you…or arrange the tunes to make that match.
  3. Does it match your comfort zone? This goes both ways – if you are seeking to add to your repertoire, staying in your comfort zone will make learning the tunes easier and faster.  However, if your goal is to learn new things while learning new tunes, work outside your comfort zone and stretch!
  4. How are you going to play it? What’s it story to you? There is more to playing than getting the notes in the right order – what do you want to do with the tune?  You can be forming those ideas while learning the notes but coming to the tune with the story in mind might make it easier to learn.
  5. Is it over-played?   If everyone is playing a particular tune (especially if you’re choosing a “party piece”) do you want to be playing the same music?  Select the tunes to catch your attention.  [Note – this does not include session tunes, in which case the entire point is to learn tunes everyone is playing!]
  6. When you play the song for the first time, does it seem easy?  One of my favorite  indicators that a tune is a good fit is that it comes "falls into my hands".  Don’t beat yourself up learning a tune that will not come together in your hands.  There are so many to choose from.  And if you really, really love the tune - come back to it later - it might just surprise you.
And don’t forget to have fun while selecting new tunes.  Enjoy the process!