February 24, 2016

Focus and listing

We have been very fortunate all month to have Sue Richards generating guest blog content.  As we approach the end of February, we have some closing thoughts from her.  She has shared some excellent thoughts about practicing and preparing tunes for performance.  We have learned the importance of patience and of choreographing our fingering.  The last bit she has to share with us is the importance of thinking!  She tells us,  

“Brain focus. The hardest thing to teach to harpers is to think ahead to where you need to be in the next measure. You don't need to watch your hands play because you are playing by feel, right? Think ahead! Don't think about the audience unless you are playing something slow and have the time. In reels, you have to think only about the tune. If there are jumps in the tune, spot them with your eyes until your hand gets there.”

Your brain is working for you, doing the heavy lifting while you shine!  But you have to support it.  Not only while you’re performing as Sue said above, but also each day as you practice and prepare.  She has a very do-able method to help her practicing,

“So I keep a book with every page listing the ten or so tunes I am working on for that month. They come and go, and sometimes come back.  I think I'll get some star stickers for the ones that graduate. It feels like a big accomplishment that only I know about, and am very proud of. It is good.”

Now that you know some of the ways that a Harp Hero makes it looks so easy – you can add some to your own toolkit. Give your brain and your fingers a boost in practice and on stage - and you don't even have to wait for March!

February 17, 2016

You can Dance -

In last week’s post, Sue Richard’s mentioned “choreography” of the fingering for a tune.  This week, Sue expands on the importance of practice and getting your fingering right - 

“Part of smart practicing that I think people don't pay attention to is the way the tune feels, phrase by phrase. Memorize the way it feels when you have a crossover or an odd fingering. Memorize the feel of the occasional chords and relish them. If it is an Irish tune where you should play variations, practice them. Don't just expect them to pop up. And don't play the tune exactly the same way every time.  Have at least one variation of a measure or two on hand, all practiced up. And most importantly, relaxing is part of the choreography. Know where you need to loosen up, and where you need to play hard to make a phrase exciting and interesting. 

"Choreograph your fingering! Try difficult phrases many ways, using all the available alternatives. Crossovers, slides, taking a note or two in your LH, skipping a note or substituting a note are all good. Pay attention to the heavy and light notes, and figure out where you might want cuts. Then move into the stage where you play it the same way every time, for 500 times. (That's what takes seven years.) Also, understand that many things like triad patterns and runs of 5-6 notes and walk-down LH are common to many tunes, and will transfer."

Are you ready to learn your choreography and dance on your strings?

February 10, 2016

Like the swan

You will remember from last week that all this month I'll be sharing some excellent thoughts put together by the incredible Sue Richards!  She is a consummate professional and you will never see her perform when she doesn’t resemble a swan – serene, gliding from note to note.  She is clearly enjoying herself.  It is highly likely that only we other harpers have any concept of just how hard she is working.  Like the swan, that serenity belies the “paddling below the water” - working hard but giving no outward sign of it.  She tells how that can be:


"I recently debuted a couple reels that I have been working on for several years. That is, I played them in public.  I have been working on them for about seven years, off and on. No I didn't play them every day, but I did practice them for a few weeks at a time, then took a break. And what I was really doing was tweaking the choreography- fingering.  I knew they were ready when they had "flow". That doesn't mean I can play them perfectly every time, but that they had the right feeling and I mostly didn't make mistakes. And I know that as I perform them this year, they will become solid.

"While it may seem that famous Celtic harpers are fluidly swimming when they play jigs and reels, it is probably an illusion. Those notes are probably pretty carefully choreographed, and their brains are trained to look ahead to where they will be going. The fluidity comes from smart practice, concentrated relaxation, and brain focus."

SEVEN YEARS!?!  Yes, you read that right.  She works long and hard to bring the tune out.  So the next time you leave a workshop or lesson feeling like a failure because the tune you learned is not ready for prime time – remember what Sue has said – and be prepared to work on it a good long time to get it ready to see the light…so you too can glide along (like that swan).