30 Day Practice Challenge 2018

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Back by popular demand, it’s Harp Column’s 30 Day Practice Challenge 2018 edition—plan, practice, perform!

The focus is the same, but with a new, fun twist. This year, you’ll start the challenge by picking a focus piece, and plan your goal of an end-of-challenge performance! The rules are simple:

  • Pick a challenge piece. Your piece can be small or large—choose something appropriate to your level that you can learn and play in 30 days.
  • Commit to practicing a minimum of 20 minutes each day throughout the challenge.
  • Plan and execute a performance of your piece for a live audience! Your audience can be large or small, but should be someone other than your teacher and close family/roommates who hear you practicing every day. (To get the most from the challenge, commit to a date within one week of end of the challenge.)

Join the challenge by filling out the form to the right, and scroll down for daily updates. The challenge is absolutely FREE, and we’re giving away prizes EVERY DAY during this year’s challenge! All registered participants will automatically be entered to win great prizes from our challenge sponsors. Challenge participants will receive our daily motivational emails with links to Harp Column articles and videos to help you reach your goals. (Anyone can join the challenge and win prizes, but you’ll need to subscribe to Harp Column and be a member of Harp Column Academy to access articles and videos.)

Challenge updates and prize winners will also be posted right here on the official challenge page.

What are you waiting for? Sign up now to take part in the 30 Day Practice Challenge 2018 edition!


Day 30—perform

“Life is often compared to a marathon, but I think it is more like being a sprinter; long stretches of hard work punctuated by brief moments in which we are given the opportunity to perform at our best.” —Michael Johnson, world-class sprinter

Today’s goal:

Sprint to the finish!

You did it! You made it to Day 30 of the 30 Day Practice Challenge. We could not be more proud of you for doing the hard work to get to where you are today. Your job today is simple: take Michael Johnson’s advice and run your best race. You probably know we don’t mean to actually sprint through your piece, or play it at a faster tempo than you should, but just like a sprinter, you’ve only got one shot, and your moment in the spotlight begins now! Embrace where you are, trust the hard work you’ve put in, and take your place on stage. You’ve earned it!

Today’s technique tip:

Sound

You didn’t think we could let the end of the challenge come without one more reminder about the importance of sound quality did you? Take everything we’ve said about sound since Day 1 of the challenge, and reflect as you warm up before your performance: examine your physical motions; listen for buzzing; pay attention to articulation; feel your fingers close into your palm; breathe. Take this routine with you beyond the challenge and bring it with you every time you sit down at the harp. Trust us, you’ll sound amazing!

Further Inspiration

Build a sound hierarchy

Today is the perfect time to listen to J.S. Bach expert Bridget Kibbey perform his gorgeous Prelude in C. and explain how she presses into the strings to create a hierarchy of sound. Watch now

Making an impact

What makes a performance memorable? Harpists described performances they will never forget in this article from our July-August 2008 issue. Download it now

Prize

Mini subscription to Harp Column magazine
Winner: Gail Arnold
Sponsor: Harp Column

Today’s winner will a free mini-subscription to Harp Column magazine


Day 29—perform

“Will you look back on life and say, ‘I wish I had,’ or ‘I’m glad I did?’” —Zig Ziglar, motivational speaker

Today’s goal:

Dress rehearsal!

Today is your dress rehearsal. Put on your performance clothes and shoes, move your harp into place, and go for it. (If you’re planning to perform in a different location and can’t move your harp today, move it to a different spot in your house to simulate the feeling of playing in a different surrounding.) As you’re playing today, think about what you’ll do tomorrow if something should go awry. Train yourself to focus your thoughts back on the music by using a key word or phrase to cue your mind. Remember that the art of performing also takes practice!

Today’s technique tip: 

Trills

Most harpists agree that when it comes to trills, two hands are better than one. Practice your trill technique slowly today. Place 2-1 of the right hand on any two adjacent strings. Keep your left hand close by, at the ready. As you play your RH second finger replace onto the same string with the LH second finger. Same thing for the thumb. Continue the motion alternating right and left, and listen for an even sound. Be sure your thumbs are pushing toward the column and fingers are coming into your palm. Keep the fingers that aren’t in use relaxed, and move them with your second finger. Use your metronome to practice trills at an extremely slow tempo before speeding them up, and you’ll sound as effortless as a butterfly in no time!

Further Inspiration

How to play two-handed trills

“The evenness and late placing are maybe the most important parts of this technique,” says Jaymee Haefner in her video for Harp Column Academy. watch now

Find your voice

Harp Column Academy master teacher Sarah Bullen, gave us excellent advice in this article from nearly 20 years ago: “Remembering where your voice began will keep your playing on the right track.” Sarah’s advice was aimed at orchestral players, but anyone can take her words to heart. Download it now

Prize

Virginia Harp Center $50 Gift Card
Winner: Brittany DeYoung
Sponsor: Virginia Harp Center

Today’s winner will receive a $50 Gift Card from the Virginia Harp Center.


Day 28—practice

“To me, searching for perfection isn’t anywhere near as interesting as trying to find your own voice.” —Charlie Trotter, restauranteur

Today’s goal:

Embrace where you are

We’ve spent most of the challenge striving to practice and play perfectly. Today as you work out the last of your trouble spots, take a step back and realize that ultimately it’s is not about being perfect, but about finding your own voice. No two performers will play a piece the same way, and no two performances will be identical. Embrace where you are with your piece, and find your unique voice.

Today’s technique tip: 

Harmonics—part 2; creating a bell-like sound

Take your harmonic practice further today by listening to your sound. Is it bell-like and clear? Experiment with the pressure of your palm or finger where you divide the string, along with your thumb where you play, to get the best sound you can. Dig deep into the string to avoid a dull sound. Remember what you learned from yesterday about finding the middle of the string. A bad sound or thud can mean you’re not in the right spot.

Further Inspiration

Creating beautiful harmonics

More great advice on creating beautiful right- and left-hand harmonics from Isabelle Perrin in her lesson at Harp Column Academy. Watch now

Imperfect Completion

Are you stuck with a case of perfection paralysis? In her article from our May-June 2015 issue, Deborah Henson-Conant explains why doing something less than perfectly may be the most perfect thing you can do. Read it now 

Prize

My Harp Mastery membership
Winner: Joyce Matanguihan
Sponsor: Harp Mastery

Today’s winner will receive a three-month membership to Anne Sullivan’s My Harp Mastery online learning website.


Day 27—practice

“There is no map, and charting a path ahead will not be easy. We will need to invent, which means we will need to experiment.”
—Jeff Bezos, entrepreneur

Today’s goal:

Chart your course

Just two more days to refine your piece and brush up on trouble spots! As you practice today, develop a clear road map for your performance. Remember those eight sections you worked on at the beginning of the challenge? Could you start at any one of them now, with the right pedals or levers set? While we don’t want to dwell on what might go wrong during a performance, knowing in advance how you’d handle an unexpected situation will give your confidence a boost. Have clear starting places marked in your music (or memorized) in case you get lost, and have a “back door” where you can jump if things get really out of control. At the very least, be sure you’ve memorized the final chord!

Today’s technique tip: 

Harmonics—part 1; finding the middle

There’s a good chance your piece has a harmonic or two, and if not, you can still brush up on this essential harp technique. Harmonics shouldn’t be difficult if you’re doing them correctly. If yours sound dull—or they’re just flat-out not coming out—now is the time to review your technique. The first step is to examine whether you’re dividing the string exactly in the middle before you play. Eyeball the middle of the string to play a harmonic on middle C. If you don’t like what you hear, resist the urge to try again until you’ve identified why it didn’t work. Too high on the string? Too low? Eyeball the exact place on the string you want to hit, and go for it. Once you’ve zeroed in on the magic spot, try it again with the string set to sharp, then flat.

Further Inspiration

Harmonic basics

“A harmonic is a harpist’s stock in trade,” says Lynne Aspnes. She’ll show you how to find the middle of the string and create a beautiful harmonic in her tutorial at Harp Column Academy. Watch now

Charting your course

Do you have a road-map for performance success? In her article from our November-December 2016 issue, Jaymee Haefner shows how to chart your course for a great performance. Read it now

Prize

Harp Column Academy membership
Winner: Heather Sanchez
Sponsor: Harp Column

Today’s winner will receive a one-year membership to Harp Column Academy.


Day 26—practice

“Don’t only practice your art, but force your way into its secrets; art deserves that, for it and knowledge can raise man to the divine.” —Ludwig van Beethoven

Today’s goal:

Go beyond the notes

As you continue to polish your piece today, go beyond the notes. Take a cue from Beethoven, and force your way into its secrets. What is your piece telling you, and what do you want to tell the audience with it? If you’re not communicating something with your performance, you might as well be playing for yourself. Ask yourself what story you want to tell.

Today’s technique tip: 

Playing without tension

By now, your piece is nearly at the performance stage, which means you can probably play it start to finish. As you play for longer intervals, be sure you’re not letting any tension creep into your playing, which can interfere with the story you’re trying to tell. Identify where in the music you tense up, and look for ways to avoid it. Identify the symptoms: Are you hunching your shoulders? Holding your breath? Clenching your jaw? Try to catch yourself when you experience these tension symptoms, and nip them in the bud. Relax your shoulders, exhale deeply, and let the tension melt away.

Further Inspiration

Avoiding tension

“Playing more and more doesn’t make you a more relaxed player…it’s all in your approach,” says Sunita Staneslow in her tutorial on avoiding tension at Harp Column Academy. Watch now

Leave ’em breathless

“You’ve learned the notes—now learn how to leave ’em breathless,” says Tisha Murvahill, who offers even more suggestions for going being the notes in this article from our November-December 2002 issue. Download it now

Prize

Ginastera One Hundred CD
Winner: Vivian Dure Prado
Sponsor: Oberlin College & Conservatory

Today’s winner will receive Oberlin’s “Ginastera One Hundred” CD featuring Yolanda Kondonassis.


Day 25—practice

“Music expresses that which cannot be said and on which it is impossible to be silent.” —Victor Hugo

Today’s goal:

Polish your piece

We’re going to spend four days polishing your piece before your dress rehearsal on day 29. Pay greater attention to the details of your piece today—dynamics, articulation, tempos, phrasing—are you executing every mark on the page? How about what’s not written on the page? Are you making music, or simply playing the notes? Ask yourself if you are conveying what you want to the audience with your performance.

Today’s technique tip: 

Dynamics

Dynamics are more than soft and loud. You want to use an entire palette of colors when creating dynamics for your piece. Pull out your colored pencils and choose a color for each dynamic marking. What color sayspianissimo to you? How about forte? Use one color for each dynamic marking in your piece. Don’t forget the crescendos and dscrescendos. Hopefully this exercise not only adds some color to the page, but also to your music.

Further Inspiration

Creating dynamics

Dynamics can bring notes to life. Learn how to create beautiful dynamics with master teacher Isabelle Perrin. Watch now

Paint a picture

You know your notes, have all the right rhythms, so what’s left? How can you make your piece more than just notes? Take Elizabeth Richter’s tips for using imagery to create shading, tone, and color from her article in our May-June 2003 issue. Download it now

Prize

Mini subscription to Harp Column magazine
Winner: Belle Divine
Sponsor: Harp Column

Today’s winner will a free mini-subscription to Harp Column magazine.


Day 24—perform

“Anyone can have a good day, but you have to be able to perform on a bad day.” —Jurgen Klopp, German soccer coach

Today’s goal:

Perform second run-through

Today is your last run-through before your dress rehearsal on day 29. The more you can make this run-through fee like the real deal, the better. Try to create a less-than-ideal performance environment—if you can succeed there, you can succeed anywhere. Allegra Lilly told us back in our November-December 2013 interview with her that when she was preparing for the St. Louis Symphony audition (that she eventually won) she would make herself play through her audition excerpts first thing when she woke up in the morning, before she warmed up or even brushed her teeth. You can brush your teeth (or not), but you don’t want the run-through to feel like just another practice session in your socks.

Today’s technique tip: 

Scales for sound practice

Yep you read that right. We’re spending yet one more day on scales. We know it’s hard to believe, but this essential technique means more than just clean crossunders and crossovers. Scales also provide a great opportunity to work on your tone, because it’s really obvious if one finger isn’t pulling its weight. So spend another day playing some slow scales, but this time focus on your sound. Feel your fingers as they close into your palm, and listen for the sound connection. It’s a great exercise!

Further Inspiration

Creating a beautiful sound

We’ve spent a lot of time working on different techniques, but there is perhaps nothing more important than understanding how to create a beautiful sound at the harp. Master teacher Lynne Aspnes gives you some great tools to work on your sound in this video. Watch now 

 

Stage presence

For your second run through, it’s time to think about your stage presence. In her article from our March-April 2003 issue, Lynne Abbey-Lee tells why you can’t overlook this important performance element. Download it now

Today’s Prize

Sylvia Woods free music download
Winner: Rebekah Hou
Sponsor: Sylvia Woods Music

Today’s winner will receive a choice of PDF download by Sylvia Woods.


Day 23—plan

“Nerves are good. They keep you alive.” —Idina Menzel, actress and singer

Today’s goal:

Finalize details for your performance

You are just one week away from your final performance, so take some time today to iron out all of the remaining details for your concert. Start with your music—make sure all markings are clear and all page turns are choreographed. What are you wearing? Pick out your concert attire and practice in it (especially the shoes if you are playing pedal harp) so you aren’t surprised with a wardrobe malfunction in your performance. Confirm your performance venue—if you are performing at home, make sure you have good lighting and enough seating for your audience. And speaking of audience, invite your audience to your final performance if you haven’t already!

Today’s technique tip: 

Scales as a warm up

Scales are the perfect exercise because they involve several technique fundamentals—hand position, sound production, closing, crossunders, and crossovers. Since you’ve spent the last four days working on them, why not incorporate them into your daily warm up? There are an infinite number of ways to warm up with them, depending on your level—one octave, two octave, hands separate, hands together, intervals of a tenth, etc. Whatever you choose, your warm up scales should start slow with lots of big and beautiful sound.

Further Inspiration

Scales

Work on your scales with master teacher Isabelle Perrin in this essential lesson. Watch now

 Stomp out stress

Stressing out about your upcoming performance? Don’t! Follow Constance Whiteside’s tips from her article in our September-October 2002 and nip stress in the bud. Download it now

Prize

Soaring Strings free download
Winner: Douglas Cole
Sponsor: Harp Column Music

Today’s winner will receive a free PDF download of the Soaring Strings solo harp collection by Kathryn Cater from Harp Column Music.


Day 22—practice

“Change is inevitable. Progress is optional.” —Tony Robbins, entrepreneur

Today’s goal:

Mental preparation

If you chose to memorize your piece for your final performance, today’s the day you should finish up any remaining memory work. If you are not performing from memory, use today’s practice session to test whether you know your piece as well as you think you do. Turn your harp around to face the opposite direction you usually do, or move your harp to a different room to practice today to make yourself play with a different background. Have a family member or roommate offer some subtle distractions as you play to work on maintaining your focus. Adjust the lighting and temperature of the room to different levels to make yourself get used to a new environment. Being able to perform under any circumstances takes practice, just like any other skill.

Today’s technique tip: 

Crossovers

In hiking and harping, going downhill is usually easier than the uphill climb. Though crossovers are easier to execute than crossunders, they are not without their own difficulties. Pay special attention to two points as you cross your thumb over your fourth finger: 1). Thumb placement—not so low that your second and third fingers are squeezed, but not so high that your hand gets stretched and you can’t play your fourth finger; and 2.) Hand position—it should remain round and stable rather than collapsing or rotating with your wrist.

Further Inspiration

Crossovers

Learn the keys to crafting clean crossovers in this lesson from master teacher Jaymee Haefner. Watch now

Improving your focus

Improving your focus behind the harp can be as simple as getting off your bench and moving your body. Find out how to work out your stage stress away from your instrument in this feature story from our November-December 2014 issue. Read it now

Today’s Prize

Harps Etc. $50 Gift Card
Winner: Paula Compton
Sponsor: Harps Etc.

Today’s winner will receive a $50 gift card from Harps Etc

Day 21—practice

“If you’re any good at all, you know you can be better.” —Lindsey Buckingham, rock musician

Today’s goal:

Iron out last of the rough spots

Smooth out the last of those stubborn trouble spots in your piece today. It can be tempting to play the best parts of your piece and gloss over those that are less than perfect. Listen with a critical ear today, and spend your practice time making sure there are NO trouble spots come performance day!

Today’s technique tip: 

Crossunders and hand position

Playing a seamless crossunder is made easier if your hand position is solid. Take a look at your hand as you cross under in a scale. Does your hand remain supple and round as you play the the first three notes with the 4, 3, and 2 fingers? Does your hand stay stable and round as you cross your fourth finger under, or does it wobble and collapse? After you play your thumb and place 3, 2, and 1, does your hand maintain that that round, curved shape or or does your elbow fall and hand follow suit? Keep your hand stable throughout the scale and let your fingers do the work.

Further Inspiration

Scales with one hand

Master teacher Lynne Aspnes shows how to make your scales sound as beautiful and even in one hand as they do in two hands in the second part of her lesson on scales. Watch now

  

Double Duty

If practicing your scales seems tedious, find out how to work some musicianship training in at the same time in Anne Sullivan’s Student Scenarios article for the current January/February 2018 issue of Harp Column. Read it now

Prize

Puzzles for Harpists
Winner: Joan Steinberg
Sponsor: Judy Ross

Today’s winner will receive the Puzzles for Harpists book by Judy Ross.


Day 20—practice

“Practice does not make perfect. Only perfect practice makes perfect.” —Vince Lombardi, legendary football coach

Today’s goal:

Wipe out trouble spots

Take your plan from yesterday, and resolve to wipe out trouble spots. Review notes, fingering, levers and pedals, and make sure you’re practicing perfectly. It’s the only way to avoid a sloppy performance later on!

Today’s technique tip: 

Crossunders

Continue your focus on scales today by examining your cross-under technique. Play an eight-note scale in your right hand using 4-3-2-1-4-3-2-1. What happens when your fourth finger crosses under your thumb? Does your thumb stay high and your fourth finger low? Isolate this motion until you’re comfortable with it and happy with the the sound of both your thumb and fourth finger. Repeat the exercise with your left hand, and then both hands. Practice slowly and perfectly! It’s not about speed, but about building muscle memory and a clean, even sound.

Further Inspiration

Crossunders

Learn how to execute a perfect crossunder in Jaymee Haefner’s tutorial. Watch now

 

Practicing for perfection

Is one nasty trouble spot still hanging you up? Find out how to conquer it in Susan Bennett Brady’s article from our January-February 2004 issue. Download it now

Prize

Harp Care with Steve Moss DVD
Winner: Sarah Jones
Sponsor: Steve Moss

Today’s winner will receive the DVD Harp Care with Steve Moss


Day 19—plan

“Failing to plan is planning to fail.” —Alan Lakein, author

Today’s goal:

Identify spots that still need work and plan your final performance

Review your first run-through yesterday and take note of where you stand. What still needs work? Are any sections still giving you trouble? Are your pedal or lever changes smooth and solid? How’s your memory? We’ll spend the next few days working on these spots before your next run-through on Day 24. Think some more about your final performance today, and make any necessary preparations now so that you have fewer distractions leading up to your big day.

Today’s technique tip: 

Scales with two hands

Scales. The very words can bring a feeling of panic to harpists! But scales don’t have to be difficult if you approach them with a great technique. We’re going to spend the next few days perfecting scale technique, starting with an eight note scale using two hands. Try this ascending scale starting with your fourth finger on C in the left hand and continuing with the fourth finger on G in your right hand. Is your sound strong and even between the left-hand thumb and right-hand fourth finger? What about when you go back down? Make sure you can play an awesome two-handed scale before moving on to scales with one hand.

Further Inspiration

Scales with two hands

Master teacher Lynne Aspnes shows the right technique for playing a clean and even scale using two hands. Watch now

  

Begin Again

Too much negative energy getting in your way? Check out Deborah Henson-Conant’s strategies for clearing your mind of thoughts that will get in your way of accomplishing your final goal. Read it now

Prize

“Blackbird” pop lesson searies
Winner: Amanda BiggsHume
Sponsor: Michelle Whitson Stone

Today’s winner will receive a subscription to Blackbird—The Pop Lesson Series taught by Michelle Whitson Stone of Harpworks Music.


Day 18—perform

“When you play, never mind who listens to you.” —Robert Schumann

Today’s goal:

First run-through

Yep, you heard it right—today’s goal is to perform a first run-though of your challenge piece! You’ve done the slow diligent work, now put it together and take a first try at playing your piece all the way through, start to finish. Record yourself and listen later to identify problem spots and areas for improvement.

Today’s technique tip: 

Glissandos

Ah, the glissando! It’s the easiest and yet arguably most important harp technique around. Even a rank beginner can play a gliss on the harp, but it takes experience and finesse to sound like an expert. Examine your glissando technique today. Are your glisses smooth and even? Are your turnarounds clean and clear? If there are glisses in your challenge piece, pay extra attention to them today to make sure they sound amazing!

Further Inspiration

Glissandos

Learn the “figure-eight” method for playing the perfect glissando turn-around in master teacher Jaymee Haefner’s tutorial at Harp Column Academy. Watch now

 

Keeping your cool on stage

“How do you maintain composure when you play for other people?” Experts answered this age-old performer’s question in the advice column from our November-December 2000 issue. Download it now.

Prize

Harp Column Academy one-year membership
Winner: Jodi Ann Tolman
Sponsor: Harp Column

Today’s winner will receive a one-year membership to Harp Column Academy.


Day 17—practice

“Mastering music is more than learning technical skills. Practicing is about quality, not quantity. Some days I practice for hours; other days it will be just a few minutes.” —Yo-Yo Ma

Today’s goal:

Developing quality practice

As you continue to fine-tune trouble spots today, ask yourself if you’re spending quality practice time. Yo-Yo Ma says it best: “Practicing is about quality, not quantity.” Shut the door, move the phone out of reach, and make every minute on your bench count today. You’ll be glad you did when you give an awesome performance of your piece in just two weeks!

Today’s technique tip: 

Arpeggios—part 3

Take your arpeggio practice to the next level today, by working on hand-over-hand arpeggios. Use what you discovered yesterday about connecting your hands and apply that each time a hand moves to the next position. Examine your posture and hand position, and make sure your movements are ergonomic and effortless. Say good bye to shrugging shoulders and wriggling wrists, and check to make sure your hands are always playing on the same plane of the strings as you move up and down the harp.

Further Inspiration

Hand-over-hand arpeggios

Lynne Aspnes shows how to develop an ergonomic position for playing hand-over-hand arpeggios in this classic lesson in her Harp Column Academy studio. Watch now

 

Baby it’s cold outside!

Are you experiencing a winter-time deep freeze? Cold hands can lead to inefficient practice and wasted time on the bench. Check out our expert advice on how to keep hands warm from our March-April 2017 issue. Read it now

Today’s Prize

$50 Gift Card from Kolacny Music
Winner: Carol J. Levin
Sponsor: Kolacny Music

Today’s winner will receive a $50 gift card from Kolacny Music.


Day 16—practice

“Practice means to perform, over and over again in the face of all obstacles, some act of vision, of faith, of desire. Practice is a means of inviting the perfection desired.” —Martha Graham, dancer

Today’s goal:

Focus on trouble spots—dig deeper

Whoohoo! You are officially over half way there today! By now your piece is probably starting to sound pretty good, but there’s still plenty of time for improvement. Just think how much you’ve accomplished over the last 15 days! Continue to work on trouble spots, methodically identifying how you can improve them, and resisting the urge to just “play through” your piece. Think about whether you will play from memory or use music. Don’t wait until the last minute to make this decision or leave it up to chance.

Today’s technique tip: 

Arpeggios—part 2

Continue your focus on arpeggios today, paying special attention to how your hands connect. Does the thumb of your left hand lead nicely to the fourth finger of your right going up, and vice versa going down? Are you pushing your thumbs towards the column of the harp to get the best sound? Does this sound match that of your right-hand fourth finger? Listen to the sound of each finger and be sure you like what you hear!

Further Inspiration

Arpeggios—connecting hands

Master teacher Isabelle Perrin offers more insights for learning arpeggios, and especially for how the hands connect when playing them. Watch it now

 

Mind Games

As we learned yesterday, you don’t have to play from memory. But if you do, you may give a more confident performance. In her article from out March-April 2007 issue, Laura Byrne will help you discover what kind of memorizer you are so you can memorize more efficiently and confidently. Download it now

Today’s Prize

“Ellen at Sea” novel
Winner: Kela Walton
Sponsor: Diane Michaels

Today’s winner will receive the novel “Ellen at Sea” by harpist Diane Michaels.


Day 15—practice

“Take chances, make mistakes. That’s how you grow. Pain nourishes your courage. You have to fail in order to practice being brave.” —Mary Tyler Moore

Today’s goal:

Focus on trouble spots

Congratulations on your eight-day regime of slow, careful practice! Now it’s time to really hone in on trouble spots. Take your list from yesterday and begin to methodically work through these spots. We’ll spend three days on this to give you plenty of time. Try to isolate exactly what’s hanging you up rather than just playing the same thing over and over. Are you using consistent fingering? Is your hand position steady so that scales and arpeggios are perfectly even? Identify exactly what’s causing the problem so you can find a good solution.

Today’s technique tip: 

Arpeggios—part 1

What harp piece doesn’t involve an arpeggio or ten? After all, it’s where the name “arpa” comes from! There’s an art to playing a beautiful one, so take a good look at this technique today. Play an eight note arpeggio using two hands and listen for a clean, even sound up and down.

Further Inspiration

Arpeggio basics

Don’t know where to begin with arpeggio technique? Jaymee Haefner will show you how to use a steady hand position to build a beautiful eight-note arpeggio. Watch it now

  

Remember This

Will you perform your piece with music or from memory? If the latter, you’ll need to start planning now. In her article from our March-April 2004 issue, Tisha Murvahill lays out the pros and cons to playing from the printed page. Download it now

Today’s Prize

Sunita Staneslow “Solo Harp” free download
Winner: Elizabeth Webb
Sponsor: Harp Column Music and Sunita Staneslow

Today’s winner will receive a free download of Sunita Staneslow’s Solo Harp collection of Celtic and Jewish music.


Day 14—plan

“Without reflection, we go blindly on our way, creating more unintended consequences, and failing to achieve anything useful.” —Margaret J. Wheatley, writer and researcher

Today’s goal:

Take stock of where you are

Take a breath and have a look at where you are. Nearly half way through our 30 days, and you’ve learned your piece—that deserves a pat on the back. Now turn your focus to the work left to do before your final performance. Identify the rough spots in your piece and come up with a plan to work them out over the next few days so you are ready for your first run through on Day 18!

Bonus tip: It’s time to start planning for your end-of-challenge performance. Choose your performance venue. Will it be your house, or will you go somewhere else? Who will hear you play? Finalize your guest list and send out your invitations so everything is ready for your big day.

Today’s technique tip: 

Breathing

While you are taking a metaphorical breath today, take some time to focus on your actual breath—specifically how you breathe while you play. If you have never thought about your breathing while you play, the first step is to bring awareness to it. Is it deep and full or shallow and short? Maybe you hold your breath while you play. Start by taking steady, full breaths while you warm up (and have the mental space to think about your breathing). Once you have deep, full breaths while you play, work on your breath so it enhances your phrasing and fuels your playing.

Further Inspiration

Breathing

Breathing is essential both physically and musically. Master teacher Isabelle Perrin shows how to get the most out of each breath in her lesson at Harp Column Academy. Watch it now

  

Understand Your Learning Style

Anne Sullivan’s “Style Points” article was written for teachers, but students can see how Anne’s advice applies to them as well. Are you a Greyhound or a German Shepherd? Identify which learning style works for you and focus your practice accordingly for the remainder of the challenge. Read it now

Today’s Prize

Sylvia Woods free music download
Winner: Allison McLean
Sponsor: Sylvia Woods Music

Today’s winner will receive a choice of PDF download by Sylvia Woods.


Day 13—practice

“Talent is only a starting point.” —Irving Berlin

Today’s goal:

Practice Section 8

Grind it out! Today’s the last day of learning your piece. While there is still a lot of work to do, take heart that today marks the completion of the heavy lifting required in the first half of the challenge. Finish today’s practice session strong—slow, steady, and solid work for the win!

Today’s technique tip: 

Rolled Chords—Digging Deeper

Nearly every piece of harp music uses good ol’ rolled chords, so we thought we could use one more day of drilling down on this important technique. Listen carefully to your rolled chords. Can you hear each note? Does each note sound even in terms of rhythm, tone, and articulation? Deconstruct and reconstruct your rolled chords today to make sure they sound beautiful and even.

Further Inspiration

Rolled Chords

The middle of your rolled chords should sound as warm as the center of a molten chocolate cake, says master teacher Lynne Aspnes in this colorful lesson at Harp Column Academy. Watch now

Channeling the Learning Process

Are you practicing the right way for you? In her feature article from our January-February 2001 issue, Carrol McLaughlin delves into the channels we all have for learning and memorizing music. Download it now

Today’s Prize

Mini Subscription to Harp Column magazine
Winner: Laure Ziembroski Smith
Sponsor: Harp Column

Today’s winner will a free mini-subscription to Harp Column magazine.


Day 12—practice

“You achieve long-term success step by step. Try to achieve your goals one at a time, like you do target practice.” —Daniel Snyder, entrepreneur

Today’s goal:

Practice Section 7

It can be easy to want to jump ahead, maybe skip a step or two or two when you have a big performance goal looming at the end of the month. Resist the urge to cut corners, and trust the process. Tackle section seven of your piece today with the same methodical, slow practice you’ve used for the previous six sections. Take the advice of Daniel Snyder’s quote above today and knock out your goals one day at a time. Come January 30, you’ll be happy you did!

Today’s technique tip: 

Rolled Chords

No matter what piece you are working on, chances are there are rolled chords in it. A beautiful and evenly rolled chord requires the mastery of several underlying techniques, including a relaxed hand position, closing, and articulation—so if you aren’t happy with your rolled chords, take another look at some of those foundational techniques.

Further Inspiration

Rolled Chords

Master teacher Jaymee Haefner breaks down a staple of a harpist’s technical arsenal in this lesson on rolled chords at Harp Column Academy. Watch now

Roll With It

Whatever piece you’ve chosen to play, chances are it involves a rolled chord or two. Brush up on rolled chords by reading Megan (Spezeski) Metheney’s How to Play article from our November-December 2004 issue. Download it now

Today’s Prize

“Ravel Intimate Masterpieces” CD
Winner: Shelby Roberts
Sponsor: Oberlin College & Conservatory

Today’s winner will receive Oberlin’s “Ravel Intimate Masterpieces” CD featuring Yolanda Kondonassis.


Day 11—practice

“You are what you practice most.” —Richard Carlson, author

Today’s goal:

Practice Section 6

Six sections down, just two more to go after today! You’re nearly done learning the notes for your piece, but be sure you continue to review the notes you’ve already learned. Think of these 30 days of practice as  building a house with bricks—the new bricks you lay each day build upon the previous days’ work, so make sure each practice session lays a solid foundation for tomorrow’s practice.

Today’s technique tip: 

Tuning

You’ve probably heard the old joke, harpists spend 90 percent of their time tuning and 10 percent of their time playing out of tune. While we take issue with the playing out of tune jab, there is no denying that tuning that many strings—and keeping them in tune—can be a struggle. If you’ve been so caught up in practicing this month to pay much attention to your tuning, take a few minutes today to asses your tuning process. Is it efficient? If not, come up with a streamlined process to use each time you tune. Is it accurate? If not, use your ear more or your tuner more, depending on where you need improvement. Is it stable? This can be a tough one, depending on your instrument and the weather, but at the very least, be sure your strings are in good shape and you are pushing your pins towards the neck as you turn them.

Further Inspiration

Tuning

Tuning your harp can be a daunting task, especially for beginners, but it doesn’t have to be says master teacher Lynne Aspnes in her tuning lesson at Harp Column Academy. Watch now

Drop the Distractions

Are you able to leave distractions at the door and focus on the problem spots? Lynne Abbey-Lee tells how in her How to Play article in our July-August 2004 issue. Download it now

Today’s Prize

Harps Etc. $50 Gift Card
Winner: Kimberly Goodwin-Helton
Sponsor: Harps Etc.

Today’s winner will receive a $50 gift card from Harps Etc.


Day 10—practice

“I am always doing that which I cannot do, in order that I may learn how to do it.” —Pablo Picasso

Today’s goal:

Practice Section 5

Slow and steady wins the race, and you’re over half way there with our eight-day regime of slow and steady practice. Don’t stop now! As you move through this stage of the challenge, begin to envision the shape you’d like your end-of-challenge performance to take. Coming up, we’re going to ask you to make some performance plans. Begin to think now about where your performance will take place, and who you might invite.

Today’s technique tip: 

Muffling

The harp is one of the only instruments that keeps ringing long after we pluck a string. It’s up to us to stop the sound. Think about your muffling (or “dampening”) technique today, and make sure you’re executing a clean muffle that doesn’t add any extra sound. Muffles don’t always have to happen at the end of a piece. Listen for harmony changes or other transitional spots within your piece that might benefit from an added muffle.

Further Inspiration

How to Muffle

“The most important thing is that your muffle should not create a sound,” says master teacher Jaymee Haefner in her introductory video on muffling. Watch now

Practice Makes Perfect

Are you practicing for perfection? Felica Coffey gives eight tips for perfect practice in this short and sweet article from our March-April 1999 issue. Download it now

Today’s Prize

Harp.com $50 gift card
Winner: Tess Maxwell
Sponsor: Lyon & Healy

Today’s winner will receive a $50 gift card from Lyon & Healy’s Harp.com online catalog.

 


Day 9—practice

“Success is a journey, not a destination. The doing is often more important than the outcome.” —Arthur Ashe, tennis great

Today’s goal:

Practice Section 4

Keep up the slow and steady momentum as you work through your challenge piece. Enjoy the journey of learning something new and doing something you love. Relish the small successes you accomplished in the first week of the challenge.

Today’s technique tip: 

Hand Position

Most teachers agree that a good hand position involves a high thumb and steady hand. As you think about technical elements like closing and articulating today, examine whether your hand position is helping you achieve these goals.

Further Inspiration

Hand Position

Master teacher Bridget Kibbey offers excellent advice for keeping a “localized position” on the harp and developing “complete command of one finger over the other.” See her brand new video now at Harp Column Academy. Watch now

Technique—Why bother?

Yesterday we talked about the big five technical elements. Today, you may be asking “Why bother?” Susan Brady has great answers in this article from our November-December 1999 issue. Download it now

Today’s Prize

Sharon Thormahlen Music Book
Winner: Greta Closius
Sponsor: Sharon Thormahlen of Thormahlen Harps

Today’s winner will receive a choice of any music book by Sharon Thormahlen of Thormahlen Harps.


Day 8—practice

“Recipes tell you nothing. Learning techniques is the key.” —Tom Colicchio, chef

Today’s goal:

Practice Section 3

Move on to section three of your challenge piece. By now you should be getting used to the art of careful practicing. Resist the urge to speed things up, and instead continue to practice slowly, steadily, and methodically.

Today’s technique tip: 

Playing Ergonomically

Are you sitting ergonomically at the harp? Do you have a full range of motion with your hands and arms as you travel up and down the instrument? Examine any areas of your posture that need a second look.

Further Inspiration

Moving Around the Harp

“On the Celtic or lever harp, we have fewer strings, so you need to learn to use them all,” says master teacher Kim Robertson, but her tips for moving around the harp easily and freely apply to a harp of any size. Watch now

The Big Five

The new year is the perfect time to re-examine “The Big Five” technical elements Lynne Abbey-Lee describes in her article for our July-August 2003 issue. Download it now

Today’s Prize

$25 Harp Column Music Gift Card
Winner: Susan Koskelin
Sponsor: Harp Column

Today’s winner will receive a $25 Gift Card from Harp Column Music; use it for Rhett Barnwell’s Basically Bach collection or another great instant music download.


Day 7—practice

“For the things we have to learn before we can do them, we learn by doing them.” —Aristotle, philosopher

Today’s goal:

Practice Section 2

Continue with slow practice, this time working through your second section of music. Hone your concentration skills to keep your attention to detail strong throughout the week.

Today’s technique tip: 

Articulation

Continue your thoughts about closing today, but take it to the next level. Think about how your closing and finger action affect your sound. Are you articulating each note cleanly and clearly?

Further Inspiration

Articulation

Lynne Aspnes takes closing one step further in her tutorial about articulation. Find out what it is and how to create a perfectly articulated sound. Watch now

12 Practice Tips for the New Year

Need tips for how to practice? Kela Walton has a year’s worth of tips in this article from our January-February 2007 issue. Download it now

Today’s Prize

Harp Column Academy one-year membership
Winner: Rebecca Todaro
Sponsor: Harp Column

Today’s winner will receive a one-year membership to Harp Column Academy.


Day 6—practice

“If you can’t play it slow, you can’t play it fast.” —Susan Bennett Brady, harp teacher

Today’s goal:

Practice Section 1

Time to get down to business. Yesterday you broke your piece into eight sections, and today you’ll focus on section one.  Use your metronome to slow it down to a snail’s pace. Can you play it perfectly? If not, what’s hanging you up? Examine every technical element at a slow tempo so you won’t have messy playing later.

Today’s technique tip: 

Closing—part 2

Playing super slow is a great time to think about closing, so reflect on it again today during your practice session. Try to make the connection between how your fingers follow through into your palm and the sound you hear. Now is the time to make adjustments for the best sound.

Further Inspiration

Closing and Following Through

Master teacher Lynne Aspnes demonstrates the importance of closing to move effortlessly from one note to the next. Watch now

How Slow Can You Go?

Learn why starting with slow practice will ultimately help you learn your piece more quickly in Susan Bennett Brady’s article from our Jan-Feb 2003 issue. Download it now

Today’s Prize

Harp Column Music $25 gift card
Winner: Roberta Ede
Sponsor: Idyllwild Arts

Today’s winner will receive a Harp Column Music gift card along with an Idyllwild Arts sweatshirt given by Idyllwild Arts


Day 5—Plan

“Life is short, fragile, and does not wait for anyone. There will never be a perfect time to pursue your dreams and goals. ” —Unknown

Today’s goal:

Make a note-learning road map.

We know what you’re thinking. “Another day of planning?” Trust us. Your assignment for today is to break your piece into eight sections that you’re going to spend the next eight days working on, one section at a time. Whether your piece is eight lines, eight pages, or 30 pages, break it down into eight smaller chunks that you can focus on, one day at a time.

Today’s technique tip: 

Fingering

As you work through your challenge piece, think about consistent and logical fingering. Some patterns—like four notes in a row—may be obvious, while others may require experimentation to find the choice that is easiest to execute while also giving the best sound. Be meticulous with your markings so that you can repeat the same fingering every time, which will lead to muscle memory and a confident performance.

Further inspiration

Placing

“Think of your hand as opening just to the space of the strings…you’re opening up as if there are magnets on the strings. It’s a gentle but precise movement,” advises master teacher Sunita Staneslow. Watch now

The Big Day

Are you practicing the skill of performance? In his article from our March-April 2002 issue, Carl Swanson explains how what you do in the practice room today can have a huge impact on your performance tomorrow. Download this issue

Today’s Prize

My Harp Mastery Membership
Winner: Susan Ash
Sponsor: Harp Mastery

Today’s winner will receive a three-month membership to Anne Sullivan’s My Harp Mastery online learning website.


Day 4—Plan

Unless commitment is made, there are only promises and hopes, but no plans.” —Peter F. Drucker, management guru

Today’s goal:

Analyze your piece

Take a good look at your piece. What skills are involved? Scales? Arpeggios? Rolled chords? Make a list of all the techniques you’ll need to execute your piece well, so that you can pay particular attention to these skills in the days ahead.

Today’s technique tip: 

Closing

How you close your fingers into your hand affects your sound and also helps keep your hand relaxed. Is your closing technique up to par? Examine how your fingers react when playing and whether you need to make adjustments.

Further Inspiration

Closing

“Closing should come from your knuckles, not your fingers,” says master teacher Isabelle Perrin in her video for Harp Column Academy. Watch Now

Leave the Nest

We’d never tell you to ditch your teacher, but taking a piece from start to finish on your own is a skill we all want to work towards. In her article from our Nov-Dec. 2014 issue, Angela Schwarzkopf delves into how to “Leave the Nest” and approach a piece on your own. This year’s 30 Day Challenge is the perfect place to test out your alone-time skills! Read it now

Today’s Prize

Harp Column mini-subscription
Winner: Susan Radley
Sponsor: Harp Column

Today’s winner will receive a mini subscription to Harp Column magazine!


Day 3—Plan

“A good plan today, is better than a perfect plan tomorrow.”
—George Patton, army officer

Today’s goal:

Pick your piece.

The time is now. Hopefully by now you’ve already zeroed in on your challenge focus piece, and if not, take General Patton’s advice. Don’t agonize over your choice, just pick something!

Today’s technique tip: 

Listening for buzzes

Today we’re honing in even further on tone production by confronting a harpist’s biggest nemesis: the buzz. Everyone buzzes from time to time, but the best players know how to anticipate and nip a buzz in the bud. Really listen to yourself as you warm up and practice today. Do you hear a buzz? Stop and fix it now, and ask yourself how you can avoid that buzz in the future.

Further Inspiration

How to Avoid Buzzing

“Listen. Use your ear. Once you hear a buzz, you need to analyze, ‘Why do I have a buzz? Where is the buzz coming from?’ And then you have to find a way to fix it,” says master teacher Isabelle Perrin. Learn more of her tricks for eliminating buzzing in her lesson on Harp Column Academy. Watch now

Creating Music in Silence

In her article from our September-October 2016 issue, Jaymee Haefner describes “how to harvest the white space between the notes.” Find out Jaymee’s tricks for how to get rid of unwanted noise including buzzes. Read it now.

Today’s Prize

Virginia Harp Center $50 Gift Card
Winner: Holly Bayly
Sponsor: Virginia Harp Center

Today’s winner will receive a $50 Gift Card from the Virginia Harp Center.


Day 2—Plan

“I think goals should never be easy, they should force you to work, even if they are uncomfortable at the time.” —Michael Phelps, Olympic athlete

Today’s goal:

Analyze your choices.

Spend time today analyzing your options. Play through the first page or line of the pieces you picked out yesterday and zero in on what would make a good challenge focus piece. Things to consider: Do you have the skills necessary to play the piece? Will you use music or play from memory? Could you learn the notes in about a week so you can spend the rest of the time perfecting the piece? Take Michael Phelps’ advice to challenge yourself, while at the same time not biting off more than you can chew.

Today’s technique tip: 

Tone production

There’s no time like the present to re-examine your sound. Whether you’re a rank beginner or you’ve been playing 20 years, great tone production is key to a great performance. Examine your physical motions: Are your fingers closing into your hand? Are you playing on the part of your finger that gives the best sound? Listen for imperfections like buzzing and finger noise. Record yourself and be honest: Do you like what you hear? If not, how can you change it?

Further Inspiration

Tone Production

“Because we use our fingertips to produce the sound, we are the instrument, in many ways,” says master teacher Jaymee Haefner in her lesson on how to build a great tone. Watch now

Optimal Performance

Megan Sesma examines why planning and goal setting will help enhance your ultimate performance in this article from our July-August 2004 issue. Download this issue

Today’s Prize

One Stone to the Building
Winner: Carol Freshour
Sponsor: Jaymee Haefner

Today’s winner will receive a soft-cover edition of “One Stone to the Building,” the biography of Henriette Renié by Jaymee Haefner


Day 1—Plan

“A goal without a plan is just a wish.”
—Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

Today’s goal:

Outline your plan for the month ahead

During the next few days, you’ll need to choose your focus piece to perform at the end of the challenge. Your choice should be something appropriate to your level that are capable of learning in about a week. Identify some options today and listen to recordings if possible. Think about what you want to accomplish, and what areas of technique you want to strengthen.

Today’s technique tip: 

Warming up

Warming up is always important, but even more so if you’ve taken a holiday hiatus from the harp. Start slow and ease back into your practice routine. Pick an easy etude or some slow scales and arpeggios and focus on staying relaxed and strong.

Further Inspiration

How to Strengthen your Fingers

Whether you play lever harp or pedal, whether you are a beginner or more advanced, Kim Robertson’s finger strengthening exercises will make a great warm up. Watch Part 1 now. (More advanced players can skip ahead to Part 2).

Instigating Invention

“Dream it to life” are Deborah Henson-Conant’s words from this article in our Jan-Feb 2015 issue. In the first installment of her motivational series, Deborah tells how to make your fantasy real. (Like this article? Read more from Deborah in her Harpist Reinvented series.) Read it now

Today’s Prize

“Autumn Leaves” free download
Winner: Lauren Longo
Sponsor: Harp Column and Riza Printup

Today’s winner will receive a free download of new Harp Column Music artist Riza Printup’s arrangement of “Autumn Leaves.”


 

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The Harp Column Staff has been bringing you great editorial content, interviews, features, and reviews since 1993!

28 Comments

  1. Should we have received a confirmation email when signing up for the challenge? I didn’t receive anything in my email, but don’t want to mess anything up by signing up again!

  2. This is such a Great idea! I’m debating between To Drive the Cold Winter Away finished by Aiga Helmer’s Snow Flakes (what better way to drive the cold of winter away than by playing the harp?!? 🙂 or a beautiful Romantic Classic from West Side Story or the like… I’ve been playing lots of winter/snow tunes this afternoon on the harp and my Native American Flute and looking at a number of new pieces of sheet music before I decide later today 🙂

  3. Teresa Monastero on

    I am so excited. I am in need of a new harp but will be practicing with my older harp, sans a couple of strings 🙁
    This is going to be a great year. Thank you Harp Column

  4. I’m assuming I’m signed up as I received an email today with this information; however it also includes links to join the challenge, and I don’t want to have multiple entries. Thanks for checking, and happy new year!

  5. Carol Freshour on

    I’m very excited to be the Day 2 Prize Winner! My teacher just gave me some Henriette Renie’ music for Christmas so it’s especially timely. Plus what a fun way to start my day, seeing the mention in today’s 30-DPC email. Thank you so much! :^)

  6. One of the suggestions for day 2 was to make a recording, so that you can listen to yourself? Any ideas on how to record without investing in extra equipment? Is there a good app for the I phone or IPad that would work?

    • Harp Column Staff on

      Hi, Robyn. The easiest way to record audio with your iPhone is to use the Voice Memos app that comes with your phone. If you want to add an extra dimension, you can also record a video using your regular Camera app. Have fun!

  7. I am enjoying and learning greatly from the “plan” being put forth in the 30 day challenge to systematically learn a piece of music. I have decided to put this in a simple chart form so that I can easily apply the “plan” again. In doing so, I found that days 13 and 14 are missing from the list above. Thanks

  8. faye-fishman--2 on

    I love reading the whole issue of the Harp Column Magazines that you mention. Some are before I started playing the harp so never saw them. And great to review issues I’ve read before. Thanks!

  9. Thank you for the 2018 Challenge. I have gained a method for learning a piece of music that works. As an adult learner I have always forged ahead full steam and always found it difficult for that reason to correct errors. Thanks, for showing me how to dissect and slow down so that I could learn from the section level. I can’t wait for the 2019 Challenge.

  10. christina-maree on

    Love the Challenge! Although I missed some days of the Challenge due to work deadlines this year, it moved my harp playing forward wonderfully. Thank you for the generous knowledge sharing and inspiration!

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