There is no end

That’s a daunting title.

With respect to practice it is true – there is no end.

There will always be something that needs to be worked on to improve.

There will always be some technique that needs to be refined.

There will always be a passage that is just out of reach…today.

So, it is important that we practice our practicing – because we will always be doing it. We have talked about what you need to do for your daily practice but there is one remaining nugget to polish in our quest to become good musicians.  We must work on being good practicers. The difference between wasting time on the bench and developing better practice is – attention.

All of those things that make up a practice won’t do a lot more than take up time unless, during the time on the bench and beyond, you think about what you’re doing. Pay attention to what you are doing physically and mentally.  What happens when you do those things?  How far you remain from your desired end state? What specific actions will get you through that gap?

Analyze the steps you take, the actions you make. Watch what you do and identify the outcomes. Pay Attention! Write it down in your practice journal. Review previous entries and determine what level of progress you are showing before and after you practice. Repeat and improve what works, determine what didn’t work – and why – and remove it from your practice. Remark on your progress (both good and bad) (in you journal would be a good place to put that). Pat yourself on the head if appropriate. Recognize the utility of your good,, hard work.

Practice may be endless but it needn’t be pointless.

What makes a good practice session?

So, some of you let me know that while “we all know what to do in our practice” – actually, we don’t!

And that’s fair. Many teachers assume you know what to do. Many students also assume they know what to do. But how you spend your time is ultimately up to you. And you need to be aware of what you’re working for to begin to schedule the elements of your practice.

Here are ten things that each practice should contain to be a useful practice.

  • Actually sitting down to practice (not just thinking about it) is more important than you might think – getting on the bench may be your biggest challenge.
  • Warming up is personal but still important – don’t slag off just because you don’t hurt.
  • Exercises, etudes, and technique work are the “no fun” part of practice but they are the building blocks of all the other work. Just a beginner? Think your Harp Hero doesn’t do this? Think again – doing this part may be the seminal reason that person is a Harp Hero!
  • Studying written music or listening to a tune to learn it – while this might be accomplished away from the harp, it is a good step to working with new tunes. Don’t just barrel into the music – analyze it, look (or listen) for the structure and patterns. Why make it harder to learn – a little brain work will make the finger work so much easier when you get to it.
  • Identify mistakes and focus on correcting or improving while paying attention rather than running the tunes on autopilot.
  • Play through material you have learned but need to polish (again focusing on the gaps between what you are producing and what you would like to sound like). More autopilot avoidance – this is also the opportunity to invest in your musicality.
  • Play something you know well just to enjoy playing (not working). Because all work and no play…..
  • Stretch – just like the warm up, while this may not be glamorous, it will help you remain supple, pain free, and able to play for a long time.
  • Reflect on the session and write down what happened including things to continue working or new challenges to be incorporated into the next practice session

Your practice session should include all these elements. How much time spent on each will vary and be based on what work you need to accomplish and each has a place in practice. Some days you will be identifying new repertoire and will spend more time on reading and learning. When shifting to learning those same tunes, more time will be needed for correcting and improving. You’ll note that thinking is central to many of these items.

Be sure to show up for your practice, don’t just send your body.  Bring your brain.

Plan your work – work your plan

Whew! Now that we’re back from Harpa and all the focused preparation for that, it would be easy to think that it’s time to slack off. Or because it’s summer we could argue that it’s a good time to chill a little. Or because it’s Wednesday, we could convince ourselves it’s ok to take a break. There are plenty of reasons to rationalize that we don’t need to work at practice. But these are exactly the sorts of time when reapplication of focus to practicing is precisely the right thing to do!

No matter what your level of play is, no matter how much you only play for amusement or play only as a profession, practice is still work. And like the work you do in your day job or the work you do around the house, your practice will go better if you make (and adhere to) a plan!

What should you plan to do? Well, you already know. You might not want to do it, but you know what your plan should include. Your plan needs to include elements that assure

  • that you know how much time you intend to work
  • that you spend your time effectively
  • that you don’t practice mistakes into what you know
  • that you learn new material
  • that you distribute your time across the things you love doing (playing things you already know?), the things that aren’t so much fun (etudes?), and the things you just don’t want to do (metronome?).

Be sure your plan includes all the necessary work.  These things may not happen every time you sit to practice, but having a plan assures that you remember to work on things over time.

Once you have a plan – make sure you actually work that plan!  Don’t go through the exercise of making a plan and then leaving it in a drawer.  Write it down – and keep it near your work place practice spot.  Set yourself up to succeed by checking it each and every time you practice so that you are always moving forward. Occasionally review your plan to make sure it is still pushing you toward your current and long term goals.

Do you have a practice plan? Do you use it?

Harpa 2017 is a wrap!

We are now all back from our Harpa trip to Scotland! We had a great time – over and over again.

We went to St. Andrews, seeing the Castle, Cathedral and the town and then through Glen Coe and on to Fort William.

While in Fort William we rehearsed and raised over £70 for Great Ormond Street Hospital for children!

We spent two amazing nights on Skye at the Sconser Lodge continuing our preparations and seeing beautiful, breathtaking Skye. And jamming…

From there we went down to Ayrshire and spent a lovely time at the Lodge at Dumfries House where we also played our first concert with special guest and resident harpist – Meredith McCrindle. Proceeds went to the Prince’s Trust.

We visited Glasgow, the Kelpies, Rosslyn Chapel, and more of the Ayrshire area. After getting a delightful tour of the Robert Burns Birthplace Museum from the Curator, Sean McGlashan, we played a concert there as well!

We spent two nights in Moniaive, arranged by Wendy Stewart. We played with our guests Dumfries and Galloway Branch of the Clarsach Society and Wendy, raising money both for the Branch and for the venue – the Mill on Fleet.

We returned to Ayrshire and our final concert at Culzean Castle – a lovely all day “progressive concert” with some subset of us performing throughout the day, raising money for Ayr Hospice.

Throughout our trip we were collecting fun times and continued documentation of the lands of tiny sinks as well as a relatively thorough exploration of available hot chocolates across Scotland!

As a group and as individuals we enjoyed our vacation, had a blast performing to raise money for charities, and getting to meet and know people. We can hardly wait for next time!

If you’d like to see more of our photos, and keep up to date with us as we plan the next one, visit, Like, and Follow us on facebook.

 

Harpa wraps up for 2017

Tomorrow is the final day of the Harpa’s trip for 2017. We have had a great time, played in some incredible places, made new friends, laughed and just enjoyed ourselves immensely. We are so fortunate to have had the experience of playing for great causes in out four concerts…and a pop-up rehearsal in which we raised money for an additional charity.

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We captured a lot of the fun on a facebook page @Harpaniks. We have loads of pictures to share.

We’ll start planning our next trip soon. Can’t wait for it? We’ll be posting more information soon on the next Harp the Highlands and Islands trip soon.

Harpa’s Third Concert

All the Harpaniks are having a great time! We’ve been to St. Andrews and Glen Coe and Skye. Loads of photos on our facebook page so give them a look!

We are also excited that our first concert at Dumfries House was super! We had a great time meeting and playing with Meredith McCrindle, the Harpist in Residence. There was a full house and the event raised money for The Prince’s Trust.

We are preparing for our second concert as I write this and we are so looking forward to playing! But quickly after that we will play our third concert at Gatehouse on Fleet – 21st May at The Mill on the Fleet in Gatehouse on Fleet. It promises to be a total revelry! We will be sharing the stage with the Dumfries and Galloway Branch of the Clarsach Society and we are so looking forward to meeting them and playing with our harp brethren in such an amazing facility. The Mill is a very interesting venue, a cotton spinning mill built in 1788. It had a water wheel used to drive the machinery. The mill changed over time as industry changed around it and in the 1980s the mill was restored by Dumfries and Galloway Council and later opened to the public. It has an exhibit, a bookshop (yea!) and we also hear they have a lovely café on site! Hope you can join us there – it’s in the middle of everything!

Harpa’s Second Concert

Our second concert Harpa concert will be at the Robert Burns Birthplace Museum in Alloway. This museum is part of the National Trust for Scotland and consists of six sites within the city including the Burns Cottage, the Monument and Gardens, the Poet’s Path, the Museum, as well as the Alloway Auld Kirk and the Brig o’Doon (should we look for Meg’s tail?).

It will be exciting to perform in the place that so inspired one of the world’s best known poets! There is also an interactive website so you can prepare for our visit right alongside us. The website highlights an excellent collection of items and writings – we are so looking forward to visiting and sharing our music there!

We’ll be there Friday, 19th May – hope if you’re in the area you’ll come out and meet us (and learn more about Robert Burns!).

We will start our trip tomorrow so our next few posts will be from there including what we’re up to and we’ll let you in on the fun! You can also watch our progress and travels on our facebook page.

Harpa News

We are all pretty excited, preparing to go on our vaca to Scotland – with a great group and our harps!

In Harpa tradition, we’re going to be playing concerts along the way. Each one will be somewhere interesting AND all the money will go to a charity of choice of each venue.

Our first concert will be at Dumfries House – one of Britain’s most beautiful stately homes. It has an interesting history, not least because of its recent restoration. There is also a collection of Chippendale pieces that is notably large. We are scheduled to play 16th May.

The property is incredible – 2000 acres and an immense house as well as an arboretum, gardens and walks, all in Ayrshire – a beautiful place.

We know you can’t all be with us, but check out the Dumfries House website and facebook page – maybe you’ll see us there!

It wouldn’t be summer without OSAS!

The summer really gets started with the Ohio Scottish Arts School or OSAS, presented by the Scottish American Cultural Society of Ohio at Oberlin College in Oberlin, OH. Each summer, for one week, the residents of this small college town get the joy of nearly continuous harp music (as well as pipe, fiddle, and dance music with drumming too!).

This year marks the 39th OSAS and it will be held June 24-30, 2017.  Really enhance the experience and kick off with participation in the Ohio Scottish Games the 23rd in Wellington, OH.

Coming to OSAS can be nearly a pilgrimage with some participants returning annually! The days are filled with learning tunes from stellar instructors in the aural tradition, lectures from those same instructors on other related and fascinating topics, and a little processing time to relax or practice. It’s harpharpharp! The evenings are filled with fun with the others jamming and sharing tunes we’ve learned, enjoying the evening air, snacks, and each evening also has a special event – the Instructor Concert, the Variety Show, every night, something wonderfully different and all OSAS.

If you’ve been to OSAS before, you’re calculating how you’re going to get there this summer. If you’ve never been to OSAS before – you cannot conceive how much you are going to learn, how much fun you’re going to have, how much you are going to bore your non-OSAS friends with stories when you get home – for months! You will laugh, you will work hard, you will have a great time, and you’ll start counting down to your next OSAS experience the day you get home.

For all the details go to http://ohioscottishartsschool.com/

  • Photos shamelessly stolen off the OSAS website – I’m always having too much fun to stop and take pictures!

First Harp Quest this summer!

Change is good

For 21 years we have enjoyed Harp Camp, first Marianna and Kris, and then later me too. Every year we used the feedback we got from participants the previous year to modify our offering, always with an eye to making it better.  We know how much the people who came enjoyed it and how much fun we have putting it together – but we felt it was time to make a bigger change – a shift.  We realized that while Camp is a fun thing to look forward to happening in the summer, our lives with our harps set us on a QUEST!  Our quests are each different as we seek to learn what our harp is there to teach us.

So, in 2017, we begin a new journey – a new HARP QUEST.  Plan to join us for our new Journey – becoming what we’re meant to be.

Harp Quest will remain easily accessible to harpers from anywhere and at any level.  Our focus will be a short and intense experience that we will each take with us into the coming months and years – perhaps not fully appreciating what we have learned until much later.  But secure in knowing that we will get there – each of us.  And we’ll make part of the journey together!

Harp Quest will occur in the beautiful and bucolic valleys of South Central PA 11 – 13 August.  The setting is pastoral and relaxing – just the thing to learn and grow and go a little farther on the road we travel.

Kris and I will be your Guides.  We are both looking forward to a very personalized time of sharing and learning.  We will have fun, support one another, and work together to get as much from our lever harps as we can!  We will expand technical skills and exercise our brains.  As always, we will work on building healthy self-esteem and encourage ourselves to try new things.  We start where we are and build on that. We’ll work individually and together experiencing three days of creativity, sharing, and fun.

A Quest requires a small but mighty band – space is limited.  We’re looking forward to traveling with you!  For more information or a reservation form, Contact us.