How to Feed (or Find) Your Free Spirit – and Still Get Practice Done

Does this sound like you?

You love playing the harp but you aren’t sure you like practicing. You want to play well and make progress but sometimes practice feels like a chore that you dread. You make a practice schedule one day and break it the next. You wonder if you simply lack the self-discipline to play the harp. 

The truth is you don’t need massive self-discipline to play the harp. You just need a system that works – for you.

The description above may or may not sound like you, but it is a fair summary of my own harp experience. I never enjoyed practicing when I was a student and that’s putting a good slant on it. Actually as a young person I hated practicing. I was forced to come to terms with it in my college years; you can’t go to a music conservatory and not practice. As a professional harpist, it is no longer an issue because I have responsibilities and deadlines related to my playing that make practice not only necessary but deeply important to me.

None of that changes the fact that I am by nature more of a free spirit than a disciplined worker. The practice systems that I have developed for my own use and for my students are ones that have helped me stay on track and get back on track from time to time. But in my soul, I am a free spirit who loves to play, who finds more joy in playing through a new piece than slogging through one awkward and difficult measure, who has learned that just because I change my plan frequently doesn’t mean I don’t have one.

Being a free spirit doesn’t mean you don’t care about the quality of your playing. You still want to see improvement and feel progress. This is a common dilemma for us free spirits. We think we are bad harpists if we aren’t working systematically and creating plans and goals. Playing the harp well is important to us; we just have difficulty figuring out how to make progress without regimenting our playing. We aren’t lazy harpists. We just need to know how to keep our free spirit nature nourished.

If you aren’t the free spirit type, you might still enjoy the strategies below. They will encourage you to find the fun in your practice and stay connected to the music, not just the notes.

3 Ways to Feed Your Free Spirit

  1. Choose one thing to do every practice day this week. Let’s look carefully at the terminology. “Choose” means to select something you want to do, not necessarily something you must do. And only choose ONE, no more. You can do more, but only you will only commit to one thing. Think in terms of action not accomplishment. This isn’t about a future goal; it’s about today. For instance, plan to “Spend 10 minutes a day on this piece” not “Get this piece up to tempo this week.” Then just do that one thing every day that you practice. Anything else you do is icing on the cake.
  2. Choose a time to just play. Playing for fun isn’t bonus time or a reward for good behavior. This is something that is necessary for a musician’s soul. To keep progress happening you don’t want to make it a regular substitute for your practice but it is an essential daily addition to your harp diet.
  3. Build a “progress sandwich.” What’s a progress sandwich? Choose 2 pieces that you love to play and one thing – a passage, an exercise, an etude, a piece – that you want to do focused work on. Then make a sandwich, putting your fun pieces on the outside like the bread and your focused work on the inside. You get to ease into your work and reward yourself afterward. You can even make it a “club” sandwich with an extra layer of “bread” and “meat” in the middle if you’re extra hungry.

One Way to Find Your Free Spirit

If you aren’t a free spirit by nature, you can still sample life on the other side. It’s as simple as playing one piece every day just for the pleasure of making music. Don’t practice the tricky spots or worry about wrong notes or fingering. You can fix all that another time. Just let the music flow and enjoy it.


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