Mastery or Fluency?

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Deborah Henson-Conant

Photo by Andy Alt

That hippest harpist Deborah Henson-Conant wrote a great blog post recently about mastery. She pointed out that the heralded “10,000 hours to mastery” isn’t what most adult learners are interested in. (By the way, you can read about the 10,000 hours in Malcolm Gladwell’s book Outliers: The Story of Success .) What they want, DHC writes, is fluency. And I totally agree.

I believe your mastery of the harp is the achievement of your personal goal, whether that’s playing in your living room, or your church, or joining a harp circle, or anything else. And that absolutely requires fluency.

So we agree that what students want is fluency. How do we get there?

Learning as an adult is far different from learning as a child. When children take music lessons, the curriculum is thorough, deliberate and carefully crafted to teach them OVER TIME how to learn and, eventually, to teach themselves.

Adult learners need a far different method. They have a lifetime of experience, perhaps even an extensive musical background. But even if they are new to music, adult students have two important characteristics that differentiate them from child students: they have a far greater level of motivation, and they are more likely to be frustrated by slow progress. I have found this to be especially true with musicians who take up the harp in adulthood. The physicality of the harp often makes the technical learning curve very slow, and these students want to play the harp now, not in 10,000 hours from now.

10,000 hours is very fine if you’re ten years old. But can adults accelerate the process?

Absolutely!

As DHC wrote in her blog, it’s all about fluency. Concentrating on attaining fluency is exactly where you need to start. And fluency is attainable through developing technical facility and musical literacy. Technical work will enable your fingers, hands and eyes to work together quickly and confidently. Musical literacy will come from working on repertoire-building pieces and extensive sightreading.

The goal of your practice should be to make connections quickly: connections between notes and strings, between patterns of notes and your fingers, between written music and sound. Daily practice will strengthen and deepen these connections.

To develop technical facility: Use slow, concentrated technique builders to grow the correct habits of finger movement and muscular support. Use fast (increasing speed as you are able) patterned exercises to develop automatic eye and finger response to visual patterns. Be sure work in all octaves of your harp, until you can shift registers quickly and seamlessly, reading notes above and below both staves.

To develop musical literacy: Study repertoire pieces, one at a time, learning carefully with great attention to detail. Sightread as much music as you can daily, hands separately and hands together.

Set up your practice plan to work faster and go further. The key to success is not to settle for slow and steady progress, but to push yourself, or have your teacher or coach push you, to the level of playing you desire. And it won’t take 10,000 hours for you to get there.

 

Have your seen the new Coaching page at Harp Mastery? Check out the Mastery Consultation and the Mastery Growth Program and see if one of them is right for you. And during the month of August, you can take advantage of my $99 Practice Organization Special!

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