It’s a Stretch!

We all know that stretching is a smart thing to do. We read about the importance of stretching for our good health, to improve our productivity, and to help us feel better.

Run a 5K? Clearly your legs will need stretching. Do a heavy lifting routine? You’ll be feeling it more if you don’t stretch.  It makes sense that we need to stretch after strenuous exercise. After all, you do all that hard work, and it’s clear that you will need to stretch to recover from itBut what about when you do very focused but less strenuous work? Lie in bed sleeping all night and you will need and want to stretch when you wake up. Binge watch an entire season and you will be glad to stand and stretch (probably before the big season finale!). Spend time at your harp practicing and what do you do?

It’s so easy to just get up from the bench and get a cookie! But don’t!! The time at your harp, especially if you are working hard learning or perfecting, may be the worst combination of strenuous work and lying about! Your larger muscles (think butt and legs which are not moving much) are holding still while your smaller muscles (think fingers, hands, and forearms) are working continuously. You may also be tense which will make all your muscles work harder.

In other words, when you are playing you are both not moving and moving like crazy! As we said above – both of those will leave you needing to stretch!

So be sure to add stretching to the end of your practice time. Stretch your small muscles – fingers, hands, arms, shoulders – to help them relax. And stretch the larger muscles – glutes, hamstrings, quadriceps – to help reinvigorate them.

And don’t feel like you have to wait until the end of your practice session to get a little stretching in. You can stretch at least every 45 minutes.  Alternately, you can stretch at the end of each practice segment (warm up, exercises, reading, learning, etc.) to help keep you limber, focused, relaxed, and productive so you get the most out of your time at the harp.

Checking in at the midpoint

It’s July and we’re about half way through the year. It is a good time to check in and see how we’re doing. While it is a good exercise to review goals, it is also an excellent time to review other important things. Especially those that we take for granted and think are taking care of themselves! Let’s start with….Posture!

Your posture really is the core of all your playing. That’s not just a play on words. Being able to hold yourself upright and to keep your arms up but relaxed, your hands in an appropriate position, and keep your core tight all take work. Are you ready for that work?

There are numerous resources available providing methods for strengthening your core. By incorporating appropriate exercises to strengthen your core you’ll be able to sit up straight with good balance for as long as needed with less fatigue. That means that your next long background gig will be easier. And your long practice session will definitely be easier to sit through. Your core works while you’re sitting and supports your back and your hips. A strong core will also help you avoid curling into the harp while you’re playing which can cause strain on the neck and increasing the possibility of injuring yourself. It also will provide you with the stable base from which you can build your good technique.

Of course, a strong core will also be good for you away from the harp assuring your balance and stability are better whether you’re carrying your harp or walking down the street. Strengthening your core isn’t just sit ups! Spend a little time online to learn ways to get stronger so you can play as long as you like!

* I am, of course, not an exercise physiologist or a physician – but you already knew that! Consult your physician before undertaking any exercise program.  Don’t do any of this if your physician tells you not to.  Seek specific advice from qualified individuals.  This information is presented for educational purposes only.  It does not replace or substitute professional advice from your physician, certified trainer, or any other health-care professional.  Use of the information on this site is solely at your own risk.  Don’t be daft – get the right help and don’t hurt yourself!

 

Time to tune up

In the summer, there are so many camps, workshops, programs and they all suggest that you start early to get your fingers toughened up because you’ll be playing more than you usually do.

GREAT SUGGESTION!

But what does that mean? How can you get ready for these events? Here are seven ways to tune up for a workshop so you can get as much out of the last session as the first: Picture1

  1. Make a schedule – you know you have a finite amount of time to prepare, so plan to use it – each day increase your time on the bench a little (add no more than 10% each week – just like running).  A small increase allows you to build up without adding too much at once, which will help you stay on track). Be sure in also increase the number of times each day that you sit at your harp – the workshop might be 8 hours a day but that won’t all be on your bench so you might want to practice sitting to your harp 3 times a day rather than one really long stretch!
  2. Work your plan – it’s all well and good to make a plan but then you have to actually use it! Be sure that you actually do the things you set up in your plan
  3. Be realistic – if you never have time to practice on Sundays (for example) – build that into your plan, don’t think that suddenly the time will appear. This is especially true if you are working around your current schedule – if you only have 30 minutes a day to practice, do not think that suddenly you will find 3 hours a day to practice.  However, if you are so strapped for time that you can only practice for 30 minutes a day – know that you will need to modify what you expect to get out of each day of the workshop.
  4. Remember your braces: when you had braces, you didn’t expect all the movement at once – it was gentle progress you were after – same thing here – gentle positive progress will not only allow you to feel better about your work but will result in a noticeable benefit.
  5. Warm up – this is not the time to skimp on the fundamentals – do plan to spend a little time warming up (and when you get to your workshop, don’t forget to do this!)
  6. Stretch – just as you know that a good warm up is essential to avoiding injury, a good stretch at the end of your time at your harp is also important while you are increasing your time on the bench. And when you are at your workshop, stretching will also be important – you will be working hard.  In addition, workshop participants are often a little stressed (concentrating, wanting to “do well” (whatever that means – everyone is learning!), trying to learn a lot in a little time with the tutor all add to your stress).
  7. Journal – keep a record of what you are doing and how it is going – while this is always a good idea, it’s especially important when you are trying to prepare.

Summer workshops, camps, and other events are a great way to learn, meet new friends, catch up with old friends and really expand your harping – be sure you are ready to make the most of the event!

Stand up for Harping

You might have seen in the news lately that the new rage is to work standing up.  Stand up desks are popping up in all sorts of places – even on treadmills. Working standing up has many benefits including:


  1. Expending more calories than sitting
  2. Better alignment of the spine

  3. Improved flexibility of the large muscles of the lower body

  4. Better posture

  5. Reduced perception of fatigue.

You might think it is impossible to bring this trend to the harp, but you would be wrong.  There are a number of good reasons to play standing up –


  1. Better visibility of the harp and of the harper for the audience
  2. Better visibility of the audience to the harper

  3. Expending more calories

  4. Better alignment of the spine

  5. Postural improvements with concomitant breathing improvements

  6. It looks cool!

You might want to try playing standing up.  It is very effective for stage presence.  It is not so appropriate for background gigs (weddings, cocktails, parties, etc.) where the point it to become “sonic wallpaper”*

But when you are meant to stand out, standing is a good way to start. It is essential that you find a platform that is the right height (standing is not license to slouch).  The platform must be stable and you must be able to keep the harp on the platform safely while playing (and preferably while not playing).  The harp should not be wobbly, nor should you have to grip the harp while playing to keep it stable and upright.  Finally – you must practice with the harp in the standing configuration.  Many of your muscle memory cues will be slightly different.  Your sight picture will also be different so rehearsing standing will help you recalibrate.

So, give standing a try, see if it works for you – take a stand!

*thanks Kris Snyder for sticking this phrase in my head!

Stand up for Harping

You might have seen in the news lately that the new rage is to work standing up.  Stand up desks are popping up in all sorts of places – even on treadmills. Working standing up has many benefits including:

  1. Expending more calories than sitting
  2. Better alignment of the spine
  3. Improved flexibility of the large muscles of the lower body
  4. Better posture
  5. Reduced perception of fatigue.

You might think it is impossible to bring this trend to the harp, but you would be wrong.  There are a number of good reasons to play standing up –

  1. Better visibility of the harp and of the harper for the audience
  2. Better visibility of the audience to the harper
  3. Expending more calories
  4. Better alignment of the spine
  5. Postural improvements with concomitant breathing improvements
  6. It looks cool!

You might want to try playing standing up.  It is very effective for stage presence.  It is not so appropriate for background gigs (weddings, cocktails, parties, etc.) where the point it to become “sonic wallpaper”*

But when you are meant to stand out, standing is a good way to start. It is essential that you find a platform that is the right height (standing is not license to slouch).  The platform must be stable and you must be able to keep the harp on the platform safely while playing (and preferably while not playing).  The harp should not be wobbly, nor should you have to grip the harp while playing to keep it stable and upright.  Finally – you must practice with the harp in the standing configuration.  Many of your muscle memory cues will be slightly different.  Your sight picture will also be different so rehearsing standing will help you recalibrate.

So, give standing a try, see if it works for you – take a stand!

*thanks Kris Snyder for sticking this phrase in my head!

Spring Cleaning

Spring cleaning is that annual ritual in which we shake off the old detritus of the last year, clean our space, let in the light and the fresh air.  Of course, we mostly put it off so we can practice.  But maybe we should consider spring cleaning our playing.

Technique is essential for good performance and will help you get new music down.  I know you have good technique.  You have worked hard to achieve it.  And it has served you well for all this time.

But just like our homes, our technique could use some spring cleaning.  There are 3 things you can do to give your playing a tune up:

1.       Work on your exercises – I know, no one likes exercises – but they are good for you.  The real reason to include exercises though is that they allow you an opportunity to evaluate your technique.  Use the time to work slowly and carefully through those basic elements of playing that are the building blocks (or technique).  If you are inclined you can enlist the aid of a friend or use a video camera to learn more – what are your hands actually doing while you’re playing?  These are always useful – I try to monitor my technique like a hawk especially when doing scales, arpeggios and building patterns which give you a good idea of areas you need to work. 

2.       Tune up old tunes – I had the opportunity to take a lesson recently and in the course of it, learned that I had developed a very bad habit.  I never noticed it because I never do it when I’m watching myself work through exercises.   This bad habit had developed over the course of building comfort with the tune and its arrangement.  If you develop a problem, go back to old tunes that you know really well.   In effect, they become like the exercises in that you know them so well you don’t have to focus on the tune and can instead look at your technique.  Because you’re playing a real tune you can explore even greater aspects of your playing than with the exercises.

3.       Do a real cool down – Most people don’t think they really need a cool down after practicing or playing.  After all, it’s not like you ran or anything – you certainly didn’t break a sweat!  However, each time you practice you are doing a lot of work.  And just like an athlete, you need to cool down and stretch to help build strength and allow the muscles to recover.

Of course, this spring cleaning is something you should do throughout the year.  It will help you strengthen your technique which will improve your playing in the spring and throughout the year.

Spring Cleaning

Spring cleaning is that annual ritual in which we shake off the old detritus of the last year, clean our space, let in the light and the fresh air.  Of course, we mostly put it off so we can practice.  But maybe we should consider spring cleaning our playing.

Technique is essential for good performance and will help you get new music down.  I know you have good technique.  You have worked hard to achieve it.  And it has served you well for all this time.

But just like our homes, our technique could use some spring cleaning.  There are 3 things you can do to give your playing a tune up:

1.       Work on your exercises – I know, no one likes exercises – but they are good for you.  The real reason to include exercises though is that they allow you an opportunity to evaluate your technique.  Use the time to work slowly and carefully through those basic elements of playing that are the building blocks (or technique).  If you are inclined you can enlist the aid of a friend or use a video camera to learn more – what are your hands actually doing while you’re playing?  These are always useful – I try to monitor my technique like a hawk especially when doing scales, arpeggios and building patterns which give you a good idea of areas you need to work. 

2.       Tune up old tunes – I had the opportunity to take a lesson recently and in the course of it, learned that I had developed a very bad habit.  I never noticed it because I never do it when I’m watching myself work through exercises.   This bad habit had developed over the course of building comfort with the tune and its arrangement.  If you develop a problem, go back to old tunes that you know really well.   In effect, they become like the exercises in that you know them so well you don’t have to focus on the tune and can instead look at your technique.  Because you’re playing a real tune you can explore even greater aspects of your playing than with the exercises.

3.       Do a real cool down – Most people don’t think they really need a cool down after practicing or playing.  After all, it’s not like you ran or anything – you certainly didn’t break a sweat!  However, each time you practice you are doing a lot of work.  And just like an athlete, you need to cool down and stretch to help build strength and allow the muscles to recover.

Of course, this spring cleaning is something you should do throughout the year.  It will help you strengthen your technique which will improve your playing in the spring and throughout the year.

Conditions are favorable for Conditioning

Last week I listed things that might help you prepare to get the most out of the summer program you choose for this year (or programs if you’re lucky!).  As I mentioned, all the events I listed are wonderful opportunities to learn new stuff, meet great people, and harp, harp, harp! But to get the most out of any event – you MUST be prepared. And to be prepared for the rigors of these summer outings – you must be in good condition.

We all know that even a weekend workshop can be really draining – it is a lot of work to be in early lessons and late night sessions, lectures, practicing, coffee breaks and shopping – they all take their toll. In addition, these are chance to be surrounded by other harp players – some less advanced than we, others the shining stars of our world who turn out to be real, approachable people. All this amazing stuff takes energy. And it’s not that we don’t have the energy – we just don’t usually expend it all at once like that! Most of us are lucky to get an hour a day at our harps. So a weekend workshop in which we are at it from breakfast ‘til bedtime is a significant ramp up! And the week long events are even more challenging

So, regardless of the program you elect to participate in this summer – make sure you condition yourself. Be prepared to spend more concentrated time on your bench – concentrating. Be sure your fingers, arms, shoulders, back and tush are ready for the demands you’re about to place on them.

Also give your calendar a good hard look. Every workshop is chock full of information – new tunes, new techniques, new people, new approaches, new outlooks. So be kind to yourself – clear a little time around the event so that you won’t be rushed or stressed before you get there – be sure that your mind is in good condition to learn too!

And when you get there – be there! Enjoy the time but focus on your harp life – don’t bring a bunch of other work with you – there’s not that much time, you’re going to be tired, and mostly likely, you came to the event to focus on your harp playing – other stuff can wait (not true emergencies of course, but work – make it wait!).

Just imagine the condition you’ll be in when the activity is over – you’ll be flush with excitement, primed to go home and play more, ready to take on new challenges – you’ll be in fantastic condition!

Conditions are favorable for Conditioning

Last week I listed things that might help you prepare to get the most out of the summer program you choose for this year (or programs if you’re lucky!).  As I mentioned, all the events I listed are wonderful opportunities to learn new stuff, meet great people, and harp, harp, harp! But to get the most out of any event – you MUST be prepared. And to be prepared for the rigors of these summer outings – you must be in good condition.

We all know that even a weekend workshop can be really draining – it is a lot of work to be in early lessons and late night sessions, lectures, practicing, coffee breaks and shopping – they all take their toll. In addition, these are chance to be surrounded by other harp players – some less advanced than we, others the shining stars of our world who turn out to be real, approachable people. All this amazing stuff takes energy. And it’s not that we don’t have the energy – we just don’t usually expend it all at once like that! Most of us are lucky to get an hour a day at our harps. So a weekend workshop in which we are at it from breakfast ‘til bedtime is a significant ramp up! And the week long events are even more challenging

So, regardless of the program you elect to participate in this summer – make sure you condition yourself. Be prepared to spend more concentrated time on your bench – concentrating. Be sure your fingers, arms, shoulders, back and tush are ready for the demands you’re about to place on them.

Also give your calendar a good hard look. Every workshop is chock full of information – new tunes, new techniques, new people, new approaches, new outlooks. So be kind to yourself – clear a little time around the event so that you won’t be rushed or stressed before you get there – be sure that your mind is in good condition to learn too!

And when you get there – be there! Enjoy the time but focus on your harp life – don’t bring a bunch of other work with you – there’s not that much time, you’re going to be tired, and mostly likely, you came to the event to focus on your harp playing – other stuff can wait (not true emergencies of course, but work – make it wait!).

Just imagine the condition you’ll be in when the activity is over – you’ll be flush with excitement, primed to go home and play more, ready to take on new challenges – you’ll be in fantastic condition!

In the good ol’ summer time

Its Summertime!  As I mentioned last week, its also time for summer camps – especially harp camps!

I hope you’re going to join me in PA in August.  But if not, I hope you’re going to get to one of the other learning opportunities available for adult learners at all levels of harp performance.  Or that you’ll be able to get to one of the conferences such as Somerset Folk Harp Festival or HarpCon.  And I hope I’ll get to meet you at some of these events!

But one of the downsides to all this is also an upside.  Its summer, our schedules seem to be more free and there are plenty of opportunities to play.  And this is where the downside comes in – if you have a sudden ramp up in the amount of time you’re playing you are exposing yourself to the potential for injury.  Not good – it totally cramps your practicing and playing!

It is also when we’re learning so many things that we start tweaking our own play and that too can sometimes lead to injury.  If you get a great tip – how you sit at the harp, the type of seat you use, the shoes you wear (and not just if you play pedal!), the geometry of your hands, arms or shoulders – all of these great ideas and tips will be NEW TO YOU!  Therefore you must incorporate these changes slowly into your practice.  Don’t modify your sitting position and then practice for 2 hours in this new position – you’ll greatly increase your probability of injury. 

And it doesn’t have to be so noticeable – simply changing the type of music you play (going from all traditional tunes to reading classical off a page for instance) can also open you to potential injury.
Athletic trainers suggest you implement changes like these about 10% weekly. 

Being a musician, regardless of your level of performance requires physical conditioning – you’re asking a lot of your body.  So, just like runners or boxers, you must, as a musician, remember to warm up, cool down, stretch and stay strong and fit for the long haul.