Etude a Day Challenge


—by Anne Sullivan

What a feeling! You finished it, whatever it was – a task, a project, a piece. There is power in finishing, in reaching the end. You can close the book, start something new.

How often do we musicians have that feeling? For us, a performance is a work of the moment, created new each time. The music we create is not a static, one-shot deal, but a snapshot of how the elements came together at that particular time. From that perspective, no piece is ever finished.

Last September, I offered my students and online readers an opportunity to reach the finish line: the Etude a Day Challenge. We challenged ourselves to finish an entire etude book in 25 days, playing through one etude a day from a book of etudes I selected for the course. My goal in presenting the challenge was to give harpists the experience of playing through something new each day and working for quantity and breadth of experience, rather than for quality. It was an eye-opening experience for some and a fun way to stretch and refine technique for others.

Does that sound like heresy to you? I don’t mean that we shouldn’t strive for perfection in all that we play and practice pieces to a finish point. But in my experience, it is very easy for students to get bogged down in their practice with the result that they limit their musical experience and growth. This is especially true with adult students, who in general work more carefully and are more determined to play correctly.

So the challenge was designed to be a stress-free, fun way to encourage people to move out of their comfort zones and try something new. Each day, challengers received via email links to three videos with instructions and hints for working on the etude and demonstrations. We also communicated on a private Facebook page, where we shared our successes and struggles.

I had hoped that the challengers would get a boost from the new etudes that were coming their way each day and that it would give them new insights into their harp playing. What happened was so much more.

First, they definitely got results. We had some newbie harpists and some experienced professionals, although most of the participants fell somewhere in the middle. But there was something here for everyone. Here are just a few of the comments.

“I actually looked forward to every day’s new etude lesson. That never happened before.”

“I need some discipline in my practice times and the course outline showed that it would help with that. It was more challenging than I expected (which is a good thing).”

“I was surprised to discover that progress can be made with rather limited time spent on a different (not so simple) etude each day…who-da thought??”

“I was out of my league, but it didn’t matter. I took from each challenge what I could. I learned so much and it DID jumpstart my practice.”

The biggest bonus for me personally was getting to know these harpists. A few of them I knew outside of the challenge, but getting to work together with them and the others in this way was really fun. The good spirits and determination, not to mention some great senses of humor, that came through on Facebook made all the effort of creating the 75 videos for the course completely worthwhile.

In fact, it was so successful and so much fun that I am re-running this very same challenge beginning on March 31. You can find more information, including answers to questions you haven’t asked, and register for the challenge on the HarpMastery blog. Or find out more with this short video introduction. Join us- it’s fun!

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