Permission to Play

Life is full of shoulds; your harp playing shouldn’t be. But I bet it is.

Do any of these sound familiar?

I should practice scales.
I should finish this piece before I start a new one.
I should warm up before I start playing.
I should learn this piece my teacher gave me, even though I don’t like it.
I should practice this piece slowly even though it’s driving me crazy.

I think we can all agree that there are some aspects of music learning and practice that aren’t fun. Taking every piece from start to finish in a week is a lovely dream, but music doesn’t work that way. Like most things that are worthwhile, learning music requires an investment of time and effort.

But it also requires a sense of satisfaction and fulfillment. If your practice brings you only frustration and discouragement, you won’t get anywhere. Feeling that you have accomplished something gives you the energy you need to persist. 

One of the key concepts in all things related to Harp Mastery® - our courses, our workshops and our instruction - is harp happiness. My definition of harp happiness is not just the pleasure you experience playing the harp, but more profoundly, the confidence and joy that comes from being able to play the music you want the way you want. 

I see too many harpists caught in the harp quicksand, not making progress, not finishing their pieces, not having the guidance and support they need to achieve harp happiness. They often practice more and accomplish less, start more pieces, and finish fewer of them. The result is that many of these once hopeful harp students begin to believe that playing the harp the way they want is beyond their reach. 

There is a pattern here. These students, sensing that they need to do something to fix the situation, usually double down on their efforts. They create practice schedules and research effective practice routines.  They watch videos to help them learn their pieces. Sometimes they see some progress, but more often, the results they want still don’t show up. 

The tragedy in this situation, as I perceive it, is that the progress, satisfaction and joy - the harp happiness - that is missing is very easy to find, but most of the students are looking in the wrong place. All they really need is to know that some of the things that they want to do are okay. 

Following the rules and the shoulds is commendable because they help us develop the foundational skills we need to play the harp well, but there are always exceptions to the rules. If the rules seem to be holding you back, I suggest that you ask your teacher if there is another way. Sometimes all you need is to know you have permission to break the rules. Most often you will find that some of things you thought you should do, really aren’t critical, or may even be limiting your progress. Of course, there are some rules that you need to follow, so be sure to get some reliable advice.

Here are some of the permissions I give my students.

If a note, a chord or a measure is all that is stopping you from playing the piece, you have my permission to change it.

If there are only a few passages in your piece that actually need drill work, you have my permission to play the rest of the piece and only practice what you must.

If you enjoy starting your practice by playing your favorite piece, or working on an etude, or beginning with the hardest spot, or practicing in short bursts or longer stretches of time,  you have my permission to design your practice routine however gives you the most energy and focus.

Most importantly, you have my permission - not that you needed it - to play music you love. There is so much wonderful music and life is so short. Play music you love every day and revel in harp happiness. 

Do you remember when Glinda, the Good Witch of the North in the movie The Wizard of Oz, told Dorothy that she had the power to return to Kansas with her all the time, in her ruby slippers? Well then my friend, click your heels three times and say, “I have permission to play!”


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