Three Disciplines of a Trustworthy Technique

This is the second in a series of posts focused on how to set - and achieve - goals. Be sure to check out the prior post and read on to the end of this post for a special invitation. 


Wouldn't you love to have a technique that you could trust? Fingers that wouldn't let you down, so that you knew that whatever you were playing, you could rely on them to do exactly what you wanted them to do?

There are three disciplines involved in creating that kind of dependable technique. Before you can start working on any of those, however, you need to understand that your technique is only as consistent as your mechanics.

Your technique starts with exactly how you move your fingers, how you hold your body, every physical movement and position necessary to playing your instrument. Mechanics are about consistency and efficiency, using your fingers exactly the same way each time so that there's no wasted movement or insecurity. 

Mechanics are not a “learn it once” kind of thing. They require daily maintenance, no matter what your level of study to embed the proper habits into your playing. Because working on mechanics requires a high level of focus, you should devote a separate segment of your practice time it. Ten minutes each day is likely all you need. 

But working on mechanics alone will not give you a trustworthy technique; you need to put those mechanics to the test.


Remember a time when you began learning a foreign language. First you learned some simple vocabulary. Then you began putting those words together with basic grammar. Your next task was to combine the vocabulary and grammar in a variety of ways to develop some fluency. This stage had a lot of repetition and drill. Finally, you used all those skills in conversation, where your familiarity with the elements you learned was tested. Your mastery of the language was developed through three disciplines: grammar, fluency drills, and conversation.

Technique study is very similar. Your mechanics are your vocabulary words, the basic building blocks you will use to make your music. Your technique grammar is a set of foundational skills. Fluency is achieved through practice of characteristic finger patterns. And in the same way that conversation practice tests your language mastery, we have etudes to test our technique development.

As harpists the foundational skills we need, our “grammar”, are scales, arpeggios and chords. Most of our music is made up of parts of the scale or parts of an arpeggio or chords, little, big chords or in between. When you can play those well, you have a solid technical foundation. 

But since music is more than just scales and arpeggios, you must also develop facility and fluency with the different combinations of fingerings that occur. That’s the point of those exercise books that we all love to hate. They provide you with ways to drill various finger patterns so your fingers develop agility and are able to respond nearly automatically to whatever situation they encounter. 

Etudes are the equivalent of our conversation practice. An etude provides a musical context to test our skill development. And like conversation practice, the more varied etude practice we do, the stronger our technique becomes.


To determine a meaningful goal focused on strengthening your technique, begin by choosing one of those three disciplines - foundational skills, fluency with finger patterns, etude experience. Since all of these are vital for a trustworthy technique, you will work on all of them, but choose the one you want to work on first.

Next decide what your goal is for that discipline and what tools and strategies you will use to achieve it. Keep in mind that your goal should always be directed toward attaining fluency, musicality and speed, not merely correct mechanics. Your daily mechanics drills should be separate from your technique goal.

Finally, give yourself a time frame. I suggest four to six weeks as a good time frame for a technique goal. This allows you to keep your vision focused and prevents your practice from becoming boring or one-sided. At the end of your time frame, you will switch to a goal in one of the other disciplines. You will see the most growth when you rotate between the three disciplines in this deliberate way.


I understand that setting goals can be difficult and that actually achieving the goals you set can be even harder.In order to help you with this process, I’m capping off this blog post series with a free online workshop called “Don’t Abandon Your Goals - Achieve Them! This is no ordinary webinar. This special online workshop will give you the chance to have me help you design your strategy, decide on your tactics and create a day-by-day working plan. By the end of the workshop you will know exactly what to do and how to do it to make your harp goals happen.

The workshop is scheduled for Saturday, February 1 at 1pm EST and will be the most interactive online event I’ve ever held. It’s about you, your goals and your harp happiness! Don’t miss it. Register now for the workshop


Next week: setting musicianship goals.


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