Why Being a Better Harpist Isn't Good Enough

​Is one of your New Year's resolutions to become a better harpist? 

If so, you're not alone. When you think about it, music studies are bound to attract the self-improvement type. Practicing music requires you to be courageous, to face your mistakes, to self-correct over and over again. It's about improvement and progress. But I don't want you to waste a single minute trying to be a better harpist. 

The problem with trying to be a better harpist, or a better musician of any ilk, is that you’re already doing that. Each day you practice you are taking another step toward being the harpist that you want to be. Your goal of becoming a better harpist is already in progress, and it likely was last year too.

The question to ask yourself is how can you make the right kind of progress this year, so that you can feel confident about being able to play the music you want? The answer to that question will give you a much more powerful and realistic goal. 

BHAG versus VTUG

If you’re up on current self-improvement and goal setting trends, you have probably heard of a BHAG. BHAG stands for Big, Hairy, Audacious Goal. This is the kind of goal that the motivational speakers want you to set, a goal that seems so huge that even if you get only halfway there, you will be miles ahead of where you initially thought you could go. 

In contrast, striving to be a “better” harpist is something I would call a VTUG: a Vague, Tentative, Unclear Goal. It doesn’t project a clearly identifiable outcome, a finish line that will allow you to know you have achieved “better” harpist status. Seeking to be “better” isn’t good enough because there is no measurable result.

I don’t believe you have to choose a BHAG as your harp goal, although if the idea excites you, then you should go for it. I believe, though, that your harp resolution or goal for this year should be one that pushes you to a new level of musical understanding or harp playing. What you need is a HHUG: a Harp Happiness-Upping Goal. To be a motivating and achievable goal, your HHUG needs to be in one of three areas, meet at least one of three criteria, and have one important qualification.


First, your goal needs to be specifically related to one of the three areas of music study: Technique, Musicianship and Repertoire. What would be the most powerful lever to make big changes in your playing? Do you need to strengthen your technique, either overall or in a specific way? Do you need to develop your understanding and application of music theory or aural skills concepts? Do you need to build, improve or begin creating your repertoire? Don’t worry if you think you need improvement in all those areas. We all do. Just choose one for now, with the understanding that by developing one of those areas, the other two will be positively impacted as well.

Second, be certain that your HHUG meets at least one of these three criteria. It must have either a very clear end point, a due date or an acid test. Without one of these in place to serve as a finish line, you won’t know when you’ve run the race; you’ll just keep running until you give out.

An end point could be a tempo marking, the end of an etude book or memorizing a piece of music. A due date could be a performance or an exam date. An acid test could be testing your technical progress by learning that piece you’ve always wanted to learn but was beyond you. Another example would be putting your musicianship skills in action by joining a harp ensemble.


Most importantly, your goal must be something that matters to you, that excites you, that lights up your soul. It doesn’t matter how important your goal would be for any other harpist. It only matters how important it is to you. How will your HHUG create more harp happiness in your life? What is exciting to you about it? When you identify the goal that makes you want to jump out of your chair and rush to the harp, you’ve found the right goal for you. 

And I can guarantee it’s not just being “better.”

This blog is Part One of a four-part series to help you focus your HHUG. Each week we will look at specific goals in each of the three areas and the strategies you can use to achieve them. So start thinking about the goals that excite you, and be sure to catch next week’s blog post: Three Paths to a Trustworthy Technique.


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