July 27, 2016

Give it a new twist

When you learn a new tune, there is a lot to learn and to remember.  You are trying to keep a lot in mind as you play – what are the notes of the melody? What are the needed dynamics? What about the phrasing?  And then there’s the accompaniment and harmonization!

You may recall that I am a big advocate for laziness and efficiency.  To that end, I try very hard to reduce the amount of stuff I have to learn, memorize, recall, and reproduce.  So it becomes essential to create a set of tools that allow you to wring the most playing and performance time out of each tune you learn.

One of my favorite tools is to stick to a basic chord progression – with a twist!  What is the twist?  Inversions!

Not sure what an inversion is?  It sounds complicated, but inversions are only a twist on a chord.  And with a little bit of practice, inversions can become second nature.    

How do you play inversions?  Here's an easy tutorial:

  1. Place a root position C major chord*.  [Lost?  The root position is the 1 – 3 – 5 chord with the scale name on the bottom (in our example here it is a C – E – G chord).  This is the Root.] 
  2. Now, twist that C off the bottom of the chord and place it on the top (so now you have a chord in the shape E – G – c) – that’s the first inversion.
  3. To move to the second inversion, take that E off the bottom and twist it to the top (so now you have a chord in the shape G – c – e) – that’s the second inversion!
  4. And, you guessed it, one more twist and you're back to the root chord, just up an octave!
As you play along (I know you rushed right over to your harp while you were reading!) you can hear that, while the chord is the same, each inversion is also different.  These differences meant that the inversions each give the tune a slightly different character!

Work on your inversions – practice them so they become second nature – and use them make subtle (but easy to remember) variations to your harmonies for the tunes in your repertoire and watch your repetitions become more interesting!

*I'm using the C major chord here but this applies to chords in any key - once you learn to do them, you can use them all over the place!

July 20, 2016

Reading is fun – duh – mental

I’m a big fan of learning by ear – it is easy, portable, social, and exciting. Because of this, I often encounter people who expect me to tell them that they do not need to learn to read music or that there is no need to develop proficiency in reading.

Nothing could be farther from the truth!  Reading is  
Fun Duh Mental!

Reading is Fun: First, never forget that reading music is just like reading a book – there’s a story in there, intricately coded in a way that only those who know the cypher can understand, just waiting to give you a bucket of new emotions!  There’s Romance, Mystery, Biography, History, from anywhere on in the world – something for everyone!  What could be more fun than uncovering the story within?

Reading? Duh! Reading is a necessary tool for every musician.  Music captures and retains those patterns that make the music.  And although people are typically very good at remembering patterns, you will be able to remember more, better if you have multiple ways to access them. So, if you have learned the tune by ear, you have all those audio patterns (including pitch, rhythm and tempo).  But when you add printed music, you also have the visual patterns (including direction, shape, an structure) that really help solidify what you already know (or help you retrieve what you already have stored but ….just……can’t ……………reach……………….in your memory).

Reading is Mental: Just as paper music can help you remember music as an additional pathway, the act of reading music is also a great mental exercise. Again, just like reading the letters to generate the words of a story, reading the notes to generate the phrases of the music in the visual domain provides another means of working along with the other modes including motor and auditory.  All this mental work is, well, work. However, this work will really help you develop as a musician. 

So, go read a good book (of music).  And if it helps you to read better, try reading loud – that is read along with a recording before you ever sit to your harp…because Reading is Fun- Duh! Mental!

July 13, 2016

What makes a good musician?

One can be a good musician even if one is not a full time professional .  What makes a good musician? If you're a regular reader, you might think that this is where I would say, "practice, practice, practice"! 

But there is so much more to it than that!  You see, musicianship is a journey not a destination – which is cool because it always gives you something to work toward!  In that vein, here are six things that make a musician different from someone who just plays an instrument: 

  1. Persistence and Practice.  One could argue that practice is the working definition of persistence.  But really, persistence involves more including focusing on continuing to grow, finding new music that inspires you, and pursuing places to play that fit your goals and still let you grow.
  2. Knowledge and Learning.  There is so much to learn to be a better musician and real musicians are always learning.  Whether it is gaining new tunes, mastering a new technique (coupled hands anyone? solid harmonics? you get the idea), or studying music theory, gaining knowledge can only result in stronger playing.
  3. Community.  Even soloists are part of a community!  We have communities of harp players as well as the greater communities of musicians (orchestra, sessions, workshop participants, etc.) and the environments in which we play – those communities help us grow and provide milieux in which development can be nurtured.  Communities give us a base for our other developments.
  4. Listening.  Just as we make sounds, we listen to sounds (music) from others (and ourselves).  And as we listen, we learn more about music, what we think of it, what we like (and don’t like) and other perspectives on the music we make – you cannot listen to music enough!
  5. Be willing to take (and use) critique.  Whether it is family members, audiences, or judges, gaining feedback, analyzing those inputs and using that information is a sure way to become a better musician.
  6. Enjoy the challenges you set for yourself – related to all of these is setting challenges for ourselves and enjoying stepping up to them.  These challenges don’t have to be big – they just have to be yours (and they do have to be challenging!) so that we can learn and enjoy them.

So, the next time you think you’re not a musician, check to be sure your wrong!  And just keep being you while you continue to develop into a good musician.