January on #YouTube

Recently I’ve been investing much more time into my Youtube channel. My aim is to upload videos weekly so make sure you subscribe (after you’ve subscribed to this blog of course).

My first video of 2017 is a short introduction to how the harp actually works:

I get so many questions when I’m playing and gigging about how the harp works and how it’s played, so I thought this would be a good opportunity to introduce the instrument and answer some of those questions.

Moving on, the next video is a firm wedding favourite and one that is often requested – Eric Clapton’s Wonderful Tonight:

I’ve invested in some new lighting for my videos so do let me know what you think.

Next up: I’m continuing my project of recording pieces from each of the ABRSM grades. Here is my first offering from Grade 4:

I remember playing this for my Grade 4 back in the day (time to update the syllabus, perhaps?)

I’m one of those strange people that actually enjoys studies and scales. They are such a good way of measuring your progress, work on your sound, and hone your technique, which brings us nicely to my Grade 5 video:

This is another piece that I remember playing when I was doing my grades. A lot of harpists dislike Naderman but I’ve always found his music rather enjoyable – just the right amount of twee mixed in with some drama, and of course, plenty of scales and arpeggios to keep those fingers warm. This may not be the last piece by Naderman we see on this project.

So that was January on YouTube. Do you have any requests for upcoming videos? Leave me a comment and let me know. I’d love to have your input as I seek to grow my channel. I particularly enjoyed making last month’s CLOUDS video, so maybe there are more of these vlog-style videos coming up too.

 

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Sight-reading: Tips & Tricks

Sight-reading. Just saying the word aloud is enough to strike fear into many musicians. But, you can learn to become more confident at sight-reading, it may even become enjoyable!

Like anything else, it just takes practice. But isn’t it hard to practice sight-reading? I mean, you have to find new things to sight-read, but apart from that, it can be practised just like anything else.

I’ll split this post into two parts: tips for learning how to get better at sight-reading, and tips for while you’re in an exam and a piece of sight-reading is put in front of you.

Learning to sight-read

Start off easy:

Find something you know you will find easy to play, and off you go! Just have a go. Don’t let mistakes bother you.

Always look ahead:

Imagine someone is covering the bar you are actually playing with their hand and all you can see are the next few bars (or get someone to do this for you!) Don’t worry about what you’ve already played, just keep moving on to the next bit.

Try to not look at your hands and just stay focussed on the music:

Have you ever tried to play with your eyes closed? Give it a go! The more confidence you have letting your hands find the right notes means the more you can look at the music you are trying to play, which gives you a better chance of doing a good job!

Remember that the notes are only part of the end product:

There is so much more to sight-reading than getting the right notes. What is the performance direction? Do you want it to sound happy or sad? What speed should it go? These things are just as important as the notes themselves, so even if the notes aren’t perfect, try to get into the spirit of the music.

Keep going:

Don’t stop to correct mistakes, ever!

Find someone better than you and play duets together:

My piano sight-reading is better than it ever used to be and it is because I love playing duets with my dad! Duets are a fun way to improve sight-reading and playing with another person forces you to keep going no matter what.

If in doubt, leave it out:

It’s better to leave a few notes out here and there if it means the music will be more fluent and the dynamics and performance directions will still be there. If you spot a tricky passage looming, try and pick out the melody and the bass-line. As your sight-reading improves you’ll be able to put a higher percentage of the notes in.

Sight-read music you have heard before:

Who is your favourite band, singer or songwriter? Buy some of their sheet music and use it for sight-reading practice! The options are endless, there are musicals, shows, tv theme-tunes, even hymns if you’re into that sort of thing. Literally anything you enjoy. Knowing how it’s supposed to go will also make you want to keep going and at least get the melody correct.

Lastly, try not to think of sight-reading as something you have to do to pass your exam. It is so much more than that. It is a fun way to improve your musicianship and play with other musicians, it is so rewarding to put a piece you love on the stand and be able to have a go immediately.

Having said that, here are just a few extra tips for when you’re in the exam and faced with sight-reading.

In the Exam

Leave it until after your pieces:

I find it helpful to leave sight-reading until near the end of the exam, then you know you’ll be fully warmed up, and if you feel like the sight-reading goes badly it won’t affect your confidence for your scales and pieces, because they’ll be done already!

Notice the key signature!

A simple thing, I know, but please make a mental note of the key signature and stick to it! Forgetting your accidentals is frustrating and embarrassing.

Practice tricky bits:

You may only have 30 seconds, but have a go at any difficult passages, separate hands if you want. Don’t just stare blankly at the music for half a minute, have a go! The more you play during this time, the better (in my opinion).

Confidence!

Play it like you’ve played it lots of times before. If you make a mistake (and let’s face it, we all do) just act like nothing happened and carry on. Pretend that’s how you intended it to sound. Sight-reading is still a performance, so make it look and sound like one.

Dynamics, Rhythm, Performance Directions:

These aspects are just as important as the notes so bring them out as much as you can. Convince the examiner that you can do it.

I really hope these pointers are helpful for you and/or your students. If you have any other tips, please do leave a comment and share the wisdom. Personally I quite enjoy sight-reading but I realise that probably makes me a bit odd.

Duets anyone?

Ax

p.s. Don’t forget to pop your email in the box to subscribe to this blog and receive future posts in your inbox (never more than once a week).

p.p.s. Infographic made by Tim Egerton

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2017 Intentions

By the time I hit Publish on this post, it will be 2017. But for now, as I lie in bed with Spyder the cat sleeping on my lap, and a glass of Shiraz and various chocolate baked goods next to me, I’m enjoying the final few days of 2016.

But as well as relaxing and switching off, I’ve also been looking ahead to 2017 and thinking about what I’d like to achieve in this coming year.

As a general rule, I think New Year’s Resolutions are bad news as a ridiculously high percentage of them fail, which makes us feel like failures.

Not a good way to start the year.

I believe any day is a good day to set some goals and intentions for the future, but hey, it’s the new year, so instead of strict resolutions that are guaranteed to make me feel like an idiot when I fail, here are some intentions of things I’d like to work towards this year.

Quit my minimum wage, part-time job

So last August I freaked out about money, and started working in retail, part-time. Now, I want to schedule this post for Thursday, 5th January, that means I will be handing in my notice on Wednesday, 4th January. Scary! But (and I will probably dedicate a future post to this point) time is worth so much more than £7.20 an hour. Please know that I’m not saying my time is worth more than anyone else’s – everyone’s time is worth more than this.

I could teach a few more hours a week and make more, and I would be so much happier. Even just looking for other work would be a better use of my time. Don’t get me wrong, I love my coworkers, but I am not cut out for retail. I am a musician, and while I have this safety net I will always feel like I’m not doing myself justice.

I refuse to stay simply because I’m too scared that I need it. I will find something better. I will. I have to.

Practice the harp 7 hours every week

This may seem pathetically low to my musician pals who probably do two or three times that, but I’m starting easy so I can increase the hours once I’m back in the swing of it (see my above mini-rant on New Year’s Resolutions). Due to the nature of freelancing, daily practice targets don’t seem to work for me any more, I’m not going to practice for two hours before heading off to a gig to play background music all night. Instead I find it much easier to schedule in practice for the whole week, so I can see what the next seven days are going to look like at a glance. See also my previous post: How to Practice: Schedule it in

The trap I fall into (and please comment if this is you too!) is, if I don’t have many gigs coming up, or, if I only have background gigs for a few weeks, I ease off the practice.

That has to change in 2017.

As well as practising for upcoming gigs, I will be investing much more time into my YouTube channel and to generally building up my repertoire ready for competitions/auditions/potential recordings.

Watch out 2017 – I will be upping my game!

Keep hunting for more work, even in the good times

I may have mentioned this before, but it’s tempting to lay off looking for work when you have plenty of things in the diary. But what happens when empty months loom ahead and you don’t have any sort of safety net to fall back on? Pupils cancel, gig organisers find other players and suddenly your income dries up.

Potential nightmare.

In 2017 I will keep hustling, even in the busy times. Gigs and teaching will be my main focus. I’d rather sometimes be crazily busy if it means I have enough to see me through slower periods.

Sure, freelancing can be hard, but it’s also amazing and I am completely in love with it. I love being my own boss, having the power to find my own work and decide how much I earn. I’m not ready to give that up yet.

Here’s to a prosperous, exciting and rewarding 2017!

Ax

p.s. what goals and intentions are you setting for 2017? Leave me a comment and let me know. Also, pop your email in the box to subscribe and receive future posts in your inbox (never more than once a week).

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