September 7, 2013 at 1:22 am #112976JaniceParticipant
I could really use your input. I’ve been taking pedal harp lessons from an excellent professional harpist for about a year and a half. I’m starting later in life and am passionate about learning as much as I can. I have a full time job but make it a priority to practice as much as possible. I’ve turned down social invitations, travel, and even shopping because I don’t want anything to take away from valuable practice time. I’m really focused on my goal. Despite the hours of practice and study, I can’t say that I have anything I can play that I would even consider playing in public let alone in front of my friends. I can’t figure out if I’m just a slow learner when it comes to harp or if I’m just impatient. I’ve heard others on the forum talk about their relatively short time learning harp yet they play gigs. Can anyone comment on my situation? I know everyone is different but quite honestly, I wonder if I will ever get to that level. My teacher says I am beginning intermediate level right now. Because of all the corrections I get in my lessons, I worry that she may think I don’t practice at all!! So, for those of you who didn’t already have an extensive musical background prior to starting harp, how long did it take before you had a repetoire of songs and felt comfortable performing in public? I don’t have anyone to compare to and I won’t bring it up again with my teacher as she completely took it the wrong way. Don’t worry-I’ll NEVER give up!!!!September 7, 2013 at 1:40 am #112977Paul and BrendaParticipant
We had a great teacher. She constantly corrected us, and it has paid off. We were frustrated for a year, then things rather quickly came together. In other words, our progress sped up. We first played in public after a year very shakily, but people clapped so we were encouraged to keep playing out. We slowly got better at it.September 7, 2013 at 5:24 am #112978Philippa mcauliffeParticipant
I am younger and played individual items in teacher concerts and in ensemble but for a solo gig my teacher told me to pick a date and a time and commit to it. But playing things that were “easier” than the sort of pieces I was working on in lessons. It’s Christmas soon so perhaps make a commitment to playing at an old peoples home for a tea party. Then you can do some of the easy Sylvia Woods carols and whatever else you can get ready. They wont mind if you just repeat your repertoire a few times if its rather short but you have to start somewhere. Nothing like a deadline to focus the mind and practice sessions in my experience. If I dont have a deadline I take much longer to learn anything.September 7, 2013 at 8:55 am #112979
I don’t think you’re a slow learner or particularly impatient (any more than any of us, of course). You may well be a bit of a perfectionist and hear mistakes in your playing that others wouldn’t notice but I’m guessing most of the problem comes from your own idea of what is ‘fit to play’. I’m an older learner too and have been having lessons for about the same time as you and although my tutor is now gently encouraging me to play in front of others, I still don’t feel that confident about it.
One point she has made to me though, and I believe her, is that very few people play harp and it just sounds so great that most people are stunned that you can get anything out of it at all – it’s a very impressive instrument and is assumed to be a lot harder to play than it really is. Unless you are playing for a room full of experts (in which case they will remember what it was like the first time for them too) people will be pretty darned impressed.
A couple of suggestions. I spent a year and a bit learning to play a piece that my much-loved aunt used to play on the piano – she was quite elderly and losing her sight at the time and I’d got it into my head that it would give her pleasure to hear me attempt it. Although it was still far from perfect and I was nervous enough to make a lot of mistakes, I finally plucked up the courage to play for her about a week before she died (don’t think it was my playing that did it) and I’m so happy to have done so. My point here being that people who love you will forgive mistakes and simply be happy to hear whatever you can attempt.
Secondly, you could pick a piece that you know reasonably well and set a date (maybe a month from now) when you will play it for someone . . . anyone. Then make sure you rehearse it every day, stopping whenever you make even the tiniest mistake and going back to the beginning. If your mistakes come at the same place every time then you need to extract those few bars and practise them over and over on their own until they come together smoothly. Don’t pick something that it beyond your capabilities because the whole point of this exercise is simply to play for another person, not to take over the world. I would guess you will be so pleased with the response that you will be itching to play again.
Now all I have to do is learn to take my own advice!September 7, 2013 at 10:04 am #112980TacyeParticipant
Lyn, I don’t feel that stopping every time you make a mistake and going back to the beginning is a good way of practicing. Firstly, You end up with the beginning of the piece much more practiced than the end. Secondly, you have practiced in the habit of stopping at every mistake which you don’t want to do in performance. If you are playing piece through in pracice play it through – and then go back and work on all the corners than need extra attention.
Sarah, I think you probably have high standards, and also second and subsequent instruments are much faster to learn than the first. Probably you are uncomfortable performing the pieces you are currently learning – but look back to easier things from six to nine months ago. Is there anything you learnt then you could relearn and play for others? To answer your question, I would say I became moderately comfortable performing for others after about eight years of learning.September 7, 2013 at 7:56 pm #112981Gretchen CoverParticipant
Speak to your harp teacher about not having anything you can play in public. There is a lot of wonderful music that is not too difficult. I would suggest you take a look at music written by Frank Voltz and Kathryn Cater (they write for both pedal and lever harp). Some of the harp music websites like http://www.harpconnection.com and http://www.folkmusic.com show the first page of sheet music so you can try it. Christmas is coming up. Now would be the time to find one or two carols you could play for friends. You do need to work on technique pieces to improve but having a couple show-off pieces is important, too.September 8, 2013 at 2:41 am #112982carl-swansonParticipant
Sarah- It may be that, although you are practicing a lot and working very hard, your practice techniques are not working. A lot of lower level students have this problem. Ask your teacher to talk to you about how to practice. Even better, if it’s possible, see if you can go to her house sometime and practice while she’s someplace in the house and can hear what you are doing. You may think you are practicing one way when in fact you are doing something completely different. You can practice for hours every day. But if the practice techniques you are using are not working, you won’t learn anything and in fact may be teaching you bad habits.September 8, 2013 at 6:00 pm #112983JaniceParticipant
So glad I posted. As I had hoped, I’ve gotten a lot of good suggestions from a variety of perspectives. Lyn and Tayce, you are correct about the perfectionist in me. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been told that by people. Not knowing any other harpists, I guess I have subconciously been comparing myself to my teacher. She has over 50 years of professional experience! What was I thinking? She always challenges me with new pieces and at the beginning I think to myself, “Oh, if I could just play that piece, I’d feel like a real harpist!” Then when I finally learn the piece I think I was crazy to think it was so hard and that I need something a little meatier to feel like a real harpist. I start the whole process over again with the next challenge.
I guess I was thinking that I had to be able to play like a professional (that is, as well as my teacher) to play in public. I suppose I do have some songs I could polish up and play: “Rouet”, “Gimblette”, and a couple of Salzedo pieces like “Song in the Night”, as well as the carols from the Sylvia Woods books. Several of you suggested I commit to a time and date for a public performance and stick to it. I think that is good advice. (Although, even if I play something in a nursing home I think I’ll pick someplace several counties away. Ha!).
Carl, thanks for reminding me about my practice technique. My teacher is a stickler for that. Too often I try to learn a piece just to be able to find the correct strings quickly enough to make the piece sound fluid. That doesn’t gain me much. My teacher won’t let me play past the first measure if I don’t play it with the proper technique. She always says she prefers I can only play a few measures using the proper technique over playing an entire piece from memory without the correct technique. So lately, I’ve slowed down and used pauses while watching hands and fingers more carefully. I think it is helping.
Finally, I’ll just share something with everyone. None of my friends or family (except husband and children) know that I’ve ever even touched a harp. I’ve kept it a complete secret! Maybe its time I invited them over and gave my first performance. (Gulp!)
Thanks again for everyone’s helpful replies. You all are the greatest! Thanks so much for taking the time to reply. I truly appreciate all the expert advice.September 8, 2013 at 7:10 pm #112984TacyeParticipant
Those are lovely pieces to listen to – I am sure the first time you heard your teacher play La Gimblette you enjoyed listening! You could sit your kids and husband down for a practice concert – I know they will have heard you before, but have they really listened (and given you the sensation of being listened to by someone other than your teacher)? I occasionally invited friends round as a trial audience – they often turned into very nice afternoons.September 9, 2013 at 10:07 am #112985
Tacye, you are quite right about the futility of going right back to the beginning of the piece – thank you for picking me up on it. What I meant to say was ‘go back to the beginning of the problem section’. I still have some pieces I can’t bear to play because I’m bored to death by the first few bars. In fact, I like your idea of completing the piece much better because one thing I really need to get right is continuing to play despite little errors. Thanks for that bit of advice.September 9, 2013 at 10:17 am #112986
Wow! Aren’t your friends and relations in for a surprise Sarah! I have known plenty of people who have started learning an instrument and immediately thought they were at performance level and it’s not always pleasant for the audience so I think it’s probably far better to be a little reticent at first. However, your friends don’t even have any expectations – no matter what you play they are going to be amazed and delighted
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