Holiday Prep is in the Bag!

Many of you have asked me what I carry in my gig bag – especially since you’ve never seen it.

You’ve never seen it because it doesn’t exist!  It’s not that I don’t prepare to go – it’s that I have a minimal bag and I keep everything in the pocket of my case.

But, let’s think about what you should carry – even if your gig is playing for your cat.  It bears thinking about where you are playing, what the event is, and your level of comfort. I do have a small gig bag because I don’t typically take a lot of things many other people consider essential.

I have all my music in my head so I don’t carry a binder of music or an ipad – just a sheet of paper with a list of tunes (and sometimes lever settings, if I’m feeling less confident). I also carry:

  • Strings
  • Tuner (electronic and fork)
  • Tuning key
  • Event Contract/information
  • Amp+cables (if needed – see event and venue above).

Others are more comfortable knowing that they have everything they need, no matter the circumstance. One of my closest friends has a tool bag – it’s the size of a roll aboard suitcase! But it has everything she needs. She plays a very different repertoire and has had a lot of experience (which is code for bad stuff happening). So her bag includes all of those things as well as:

  • Back up tuner
  • Batteries (for tuner)
  • Stand lamp
  • Backup stand lamp
  • Music binder
  • Backup music binder
  • Clothes pins (for windy days)
  • Headband, barrettes, hair elastics (also for windy days)
  • Extension cord
  • Multi-plug surge protector
  • Make up
  • Folding music stand (back up to the Manhassett which doesn’t fit into the bag)
  • Tuning key
  • Spare tuning key
  • Umbrella
  • Tarp
  • Note pad

And we both also bring:

  • Business Cards
  • Snacks
  • Water Bottle
  • Shoes (it’s hard to haul your harp in shoes that are appropriate for the event)

We each look at the other’s gig bag and laugh. But our solutions work. Hopefully they give you a good start on deciding what you should carry in yours for the Holiday Season…something that helps you feel settled and ready for each time you play.

Harp the Highlands and Islands 2018 Dates Announced!

David and I are very excited to announce the dates for the 2018 Harp the Highlands and Islands Tour.  We will be going 9 – 16 June. As before, we will start by gathering everyone in Edinburgh to head right out to see the sites.

We’ll spend our time exploring, visiting, touring, and getting ourselves immersed in amazing Scotland – which was recently voted Most Beautiful Country in the World!*

Add in learning tunes coupled with our sites and you can’t help but love every minute.

Go here to learn more. We have honed our trip to assure that every day is full of amazing! Even the weather, which can be moody, only improves our visit.

Seats will go quickly so be sure to return your reservation form and deposit to secure yours! There are only five seats available.  A small harp will be awaiting you so you can avoid the stress of flying with a harp.

Got questions? Ask away in the comment form below.

*I can’t make this stuff up!

Tick Tock Tick Tock – Four Steps to Holiday Preparation

It’s autumn.  The leaves are beginning to turn and temperatures are beginning to subside. Days are shorter and nights are cooler. All of which means that it will be winter soon. Or stated another way – the holidays are coming!

Although retailers start putting out holiday merchandise before Halloween, it’s easy to scoff.  But don’t fall into a false sense of having a lot of time.  Don’t let the holidays catch you not quite ready – start your preparation now! I’d suggest breaking it into four steps:

  • Make a Schedule – holidays are starting earlier each year with some Christmas events scheduled before Thanksgiving! (This is especially scary if you’re Canadian and Thanksgiving is in October). Realistically, you have about a month and a half so scheduled your practice and learning to assure you get everything into your practice.
  • Make a list of the tunes for gigs. Within that list, identify those tunes you played last year and those that you’ve included because you’d like to learn them.
  • Make a practice plan – using your schedule and your list, plan time to polish those tunes you already know and to learn those that you don’t. Be realistic!
  • Make a program of holiday and non-holiday music that you’ll be able to use and get comfortable with. This is a good idea not only because it allows you to better leverage your regular repertoire but also because your listeners will enjoy the break from holiday tunes while you’re playing and it will help the old favorites seem less hackneyed both to you and to your audience.  It also helps keep your regular repertoire in your mind and hands.

By being organized you will be able to be comfortably prepared for the entire holiday season from November to January with minimal angst and stress. Now you just need to book some holiday gigs and you’ll be ready to go!

Is it a Maybe?

So, here we are, about ¾ of the way through the year. Everyone’s back to school and the holidays are fast approaching. By now, hopefully, you’ve sorted out your yes’s and no’s. The next question is do you have your maybe’s?

Perhaps the biggest maybe at this time of year is related to the goals you set for yourself. So maybe it is a good time to review them. How are you coming? Do you need to tweak any? Do you know?

This is where that journal comes in handy – it’s a good time to review your notes to see if you are getting where you wanted to go. If not, can you see what you need to work on?  Do you need to:

  • Rededicate your practice time
  • Actually practice
  • Reprioritize your practice time
  • Actively schedule elements of practice
  • Review your goals to make sure they are realistic for your real life
  • Examine your journal to have a better idea how it’s going so you can continue to meet your goals

Are you getting there? Maybe part of the way?  Maybe isn’t bad at all – as long as you mean it!

Just Say NO!

After at least a week of saying “Yes!” perhaps it’s also time to start saying “NO!”

No can be so negative but sometimes it’s the best answer to allow you to hang onto your sanity! Or to make progress toward your goals.  I will always encourage you to stretch – to do things that are a little scary or uncomfortable. This is because typically these things only l-o-o-k scary but are actually a lot of fun once you break through.

But some things are scary for good reason. They are better avoided – a stretch piece that is a huge stretch, a stretch piece with an unreasonable or unrealistic deadline, something you just really do not want to do (or don’t agree with doing), something that will just add the straw that broke the camel’s back to your schedule.

Here are some things it might be helpful to say “NO!” to:

  • Weddings – if you don’t like to be stressed, don’t book weddings! Only do them if you feel confident – otherwise they will chip away at your confidence and possibly your self-esteem.
  • Short notice gigs – if you don’t have regular practice time in on your repertoire, you will not be ready at the drop of a hat.  So don’t do that to yourself. Only book gigs for which you can be confidently and competently prepared.
  • Music you’re not interested in – now, I’m not saying don’t experience new things but this music is also typically music you don’t know (so you won’t have tricks up your sleeve for dealing with not being rock solid on the tunes).  Or it’s music you haven’t worked with (so you’re likely not solid and confident).  And this is often coupled with short notice and/or weddings!
  • Only playing for the cat and the curtains – Get over yourself! No one plays perfectly and you never will either. The only way to get better at playing for people is to do it. You know – to practice doing it by doing it. The longer you put it off, the more you tell yourself you’ll do it later, the harder it will get. So get out there.

Say no to anything that will require more preparation than you will be able to devote. If you are only able to practice 30 minutes a day, don’t even think you’ll be able to take on a challenge and succeed (Carol of the Bells from scratch in 2 weeks? Ha, don’t even). You will be stressed and unprepared and miserable.

Practice saying No at the right times so you are ready to say Yes as appropriate.  And if you’re knocking yourself down (over these or anything else) – Definitely Just Say No!

Just say “Yes!”

Music can open so many doors. People are genuinely interested in how we make music – our instrument, ourselves, our repertoire. And we should be honest – making music is a rare gift. We are very fortunate. Did you know that a Gallup poll indicated that 96% of adults surveyed thought music could be learned at any age? Perhaps more surprising, a whopping 85% of adults wish they had had music lessons as a child! And 70% stated that they’d like to learn to play an instrument. Further, 66% stated that there were too many impediments to learning to play*. And only 5% of adults are proactive and arrange to have music lessons in their own lives**.

That makes those of us who took up the harp as adults a rare breed! And whether we were trained in music as children or came to our instruments as adults – we are making music and we are extraordinary!

You may not feel special. You may not feel accomplished. You maybe still comparing yourself to others and therefore maybe unwilling to share your music. But maybe it’s time for you to just say Yes.

Yes – to those people who visit you and ask you to play for them.

Yes – to going into schools to share your instrument and your talent with young people who might not otherwise ever see or hear a harp – and certainly are unlikely to ever get to touch one!

Yes – to volunteering to play at a local care home on a regular basis.

Yes – to your local church or civic gathering.

Mostly, say Yes to yourself – Yes, I am a musician who is continuing to grow and Yes I will share with others. Yes I will commit to investing in myself and my practice.

Just Say Yes to plucking up the courage to do more with my harp!


How to select a teacher

There are teachers all over the world so selecting one can be a challenge.

Some are out of reach (they keep a very small studio or you’ve decided you wouldn’t be acceptable as a student).  Some aren’t a good fit (they don’t teach what you want to learn).  Some are just too far away.

So how do you select the best teacher for you?  Look for these things:

  • Approach – does their approach work with your way of learning?
  • Level – do they teach at a good level for you? A little stretch is good but no support or a big stretch may not work for you.
  • Time – be honest, do you have time for the lesson, the commute, and the expected practice?
  • Cost – again, be honest.  This is a recurring cost, so plan for it.
  • Content – do they teach what you want to learn?  If you are set on playing something specific (Folk? Orchestral? South American?) say so up front and work with someone who can help you get there.
  • Personality – again, be honest.  You have to enjoy the teacher enough to spend the time.  Don’t work with someone you don’t like.  This is a biggie.  Don’t take it personally – they won’t!  If it’s not a good fit, ask for suggestions for a better fit!

Teachers teach because they genuinely enjoy seeing their students develop, grow and eventually outgrow them – take them up on it!


What about after the lesson?

Whew! That’s over!

Hopefully you leave any lesson with your brain full. That’s why the notebook and recorder are so helpful – they make overflow space!

But what you do after the lesson is also important, before all that good content falls out of your head. Of course, you know you plan to practice and that will help, but what else could you do?  Here are some additional ideas:

  • Think! Away from your harp, really think about what you learned. What has already escaped you? Sometimes you’re not ready for what you learn – don’t worry, it will fall into place when you are! What puzzled you? Make a list and try to fill the gaps.
  • Review your notes. That will fill a number of gaps.
  • Review your recording. That will fill additional gaps.
  • Practice. No really, preferably as soon as possible! Really work what you learned into your head and your hands.
  • Start a new want list. Whether a regular lesson or the occasional workshop, get a leg up and start capturing what you’d like to learn next. Of course this is always in flux, but it helps to keep it up to date.

The lesson lasts longer than the hour – it will last as long as you work it in your head!

What do you bring to the lesson?

If you have already identified what you want to learn in your lesson, you are ready to prepare for the event. What will you need to bring to make the most of your lesson time?

Of course you will bring you – all ready to go, on time and tuned! But the following things will also help:

  • Notebook. Plan to take notes to help capture the gems you came for. You might think you’ll remember it all, but you won’t! You’re likely going to get full answers to your questions (your wants) and it will likely be a lot of information!
  • Recording device. Especially if you want me to be taught a tune. You won’t be able to play it until you have it in your head – which is best accomplished by listening to it. By the way, this doesn’t replace the notebook!
  • Music you are currently working. Even if you have it memorized, bring it so everyone can read it! Just bring it!
  • Your wants list. I swear there is a switch in the bench which evacuates your memory. Being able to state what you’re hoping to leave with will help you both focus on the most important things in the time you have.
  • Journal. Another memory aid, the place you have been collecting your thoughts – and an aid to sharing your progress (this can be your notebook if you’re already keeping a journal).
  • Your full attention. Enough said.
  • A confidence builder. I get it – there’s a lot of stress at a lesson, especially if you don’t have regular lessons. Anything to help you have a good lesson (maybe a “no fail” piece) is a good idea and will help you settle in.

Being ready will help you have a great lesson and learn a lot. Be ready!

What do you want?

I enjoy teaching lessons. I learn so much each time and I get to help someone learn – it’s a win-win! But sometimes it can be challenging. Teaching regular and recurring lessons to the students in my studio is fun and the progress (and pitfalls) are relatively easy to find.

But when I’m teaching one off lessons, figuring out what I can best offer can be difficult. That’s when my fervent hope is that the student will be able to tell me what they’d like to get from me. And few things are more frustrating than the answer, “I don’t know” or “Whatever you want”!

You are paying good money for the lesson, so it’s worth taking a few moments to figure out why you are there! Don’t know where to start? Here are a few ideas:

  • Consult your practice journal – what continuously crops up? Maybe that is something to work on?
  • Record yourself – review the recording and find what isn’t working for you (bring the recording if you think it will help).
  • Review your competition comments – judges are great at spotting things you could work on.
  • Are there things you never learned that you’d like to work on (Harmonics? Arpeggios? Key signatures?)?
  • Is there a specific tune you’ve heard me play that you’d like to learn (please don’t ask me to teach you a tune you haven’t heard me play – what if i don’t know it either?)?

Knowing what you want to get from the lesson before you go in will help both you and the teacher get as much as possible from the time you have. Even a vague idea will make your lesson better – and get you farther along your journey.