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Music Memorization Tips for Harpists

January 18, 2019

Let’s be honest, for most harpists memorizing music is hard. Really hard. “I want to give up and never memorize any piece of music ever again” hard. I’m here to tell you to know that you are not the only harpist, let alone musician, to feel that way!

To help out the general harpist population I’ve compiled a list of tips that I find useful for memorizing music in any kind of situation. Let’s all take a deep breath…memorizing music doesn’t have to be scary. Here we go…

First things first…What kind of learner are you? There are three learning styles.

  1. Tactile 
    1. You may be a tactile learner if…Playing the piece over and over allows you to recognize familiar patterns and remember which chords and notes come next.  
  2. Visual
    1. You may be a visual learner if…You can visualize the notation while playing and work best learning off the music.
  3. Aural
    1. You may be an aural learner if…You can hear the music in your head even if you can’t play it and learn best by hearing a piece over and over. 

After recognizing what your learning style you are better able to determine the best approach to memorizing music for you. 

NOTE: To some extent everyone uses aspects of the three learning styles when memorizing but if you best learn through one particular style focus on that approach for faster results. 

Suggestions For How to Approach Music Memorization

  1. Tactile Learners
    1. Go through your piece and focus on the patterns, the different types of chords with an emphasis on patterns and distance between your fingers. 
    1. Play the piece silently and play “block” sections with the finger placements. Sing the piece silently in your head as you do. 
    1. Note where lever or pedal changes fit in the overall structure. 
  • Visual Learners
    • Take a pencil and section the piece into parts and label each section “A” “B” “C” “D” etc. 
    • Analyze your music and mark it up. It can be just as basic as…
      • What is the tempo?
      • What is the time signature?
      • What key are we in? 
      • Are there any accidentals? 
      • Do any themes or sections repeat themselves? 
    • Memorize one part at a time and “stack” them together with multiple repetitions as you go along. For example: play “A” five times, then after memorizing “B” play “AB” five times. If you mess up in the middle then start the counting over. Laborious but effective. 
  • Aural Learners
    • Make a recording of your teacher playing the piece slowly. Perhaps she can say what the intervals or chords are that she is playing with the left hand. 
    • She can also say the fingering as she goes along. 
    • Listen to the recording over…and…over. 
    • Sing the melody from top to bottom. 
    • Learn sections one at a time. See “C” under Visual Learners. 
    • Play along with the recording. 
    • Learn to listen for patterns and qualities unique to that piece. 

Final Comments and Advice

  • Every student will use a combination of the above techniques. But if you find something that works for you—USE it! 
  • Be consistent with your memorizing. If it’s hard for you don’t give up! Devote a little practice time every day to specifically focusing on memorization. 
  • Do memorize hands alone before putting them together. You will find it easier to combine the two parts once they are both solidly fixed in your brain on their own. 
  • Overall memorization is just getting to know your piece on a very deep level. It’s really not scary, I promise!
  • Once memorized, you will notice things about your piece that you overlooked before because you were focusing on reading the notes. This opens up the door for further interpretation and dynamic contrast in performance! 

Now it’s your turn to try out the different techniques! What worked for you, what didn’t? Feel free to leave me a comment below. I’d love to hear from you.

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How to Record a Debut Album: Preparation

April 15, 2018

As I write this, I am in the throes of preparing to record my first professional solo album.  I’ve very recently begun the recording process at Wild Sound Studio in Minneapolis and over the next several weeks will record twelve tracks for the album.  I thought I’d invite you into my living room (virtually) and let you in on the process I’ve been experiencing this past year from deciding to record an album all the way through releasing it in this coming autumn. This is the first part of a four part series (Preparation, Recording, Post-Production, and Release), which will include my thoughts on my experience recording my debut album.

Ready? Here we go! Let’s start at the very beginning (it’s a very good place to start)…

1. Decide what kind of album you want to create

This may seem obvious but the very first preparation that needs to be done in order to record an album is to decide exactly what kind of album you wish to make.  Classical? Folk-rock? Indie? Look at your own music and what you regularly perform and enjoy. Whatever it is that you find the most creatively invigorating and personally enjoyable is what you should record! Don’t worry about what you think will be “popular.” The most important thing is make something that is an expression of your own creative interests. You shouldn’t try to copy someone else’s art or change your own style to fit into what you think people will buy. Be an original!

My door of songs that are going on the album.

2. Create a track list

Now that you have a plan for what kind of product you wish to make you have to decide what the right songs or tunes are for the project. Do you have a speciality or area of interest musically? That’s the best place to start. When I decided it was time for me to record my first album, I sat down and looked at my own repertoire and knew right away that I wanted to create an album of Traditional Irish music since that is what I play/perform consistently, am the most qualified in, and enjoy the most as a musician.

3. Change your mind about the songs you want to record

Have you decided on the songs you want to record? Great! I guarantee that you will change your mind regarding at least half of the songs in the next few months. When I decided on the tracks I wanted to record for my first album I had a mixture of Traditional Irish songs in English and the Irish language. By the time two months had passed the album had changed direction entirely so that all the tracks were songs in the Irish language. Who would have thought? This ties into point #1, which is to make music that you love and enjoy and not make something because you think it will be popular.

4. Learn/Arrange the Songs

Now that you have an idea of the pieces you wish to record it’s now time to learn and arrange them! Chances are if you are making an album of Celtic or Traditional Irish music you will be creating your own arrangements of songs or tunes.  This is most definitely one of the most important steps of all! The most significant amount of time through the entire process should be spent on creating, recreating and fine-tuning all the tracks. This point leads us to the final step…

Practice…You gotta do it even when you don’t feel like it!

5. Practice, Practice, Practice

Did I mention practicing? I cannot emphasize it enough. PRACTICE, PEOPLE! You can have the best arrangements in the world but if you don’t practice them enough the next step in the process, the recording, will be a NIGHTMARE! I don’t think I can even count the hours I’ve spent preparing to record my album over the past eight months. This is the very un-glamorous part of being a professional harpist/singer. I always laugh inwardly when people ask what I do every day. Who wants to hear that you voluntarily choose to sit all alone in a small-ish room for hours on end, day in and day out, playing/singing the same pieces of music OVER and OVER until they are so ingrained you could play them in your sleep! Sounds fun, right?! But that’s what it takes to create any music worth listening to.