Method or Madness

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harp method“What method do you play?”

It’s part of the human condition to label, sort and divide. Classifying things makes them easier to understand.

We feel a bond with others that share our views. We form clubs and associations. We develop deep loyalties. We separate the sheep from the goats.

But labels can also cause misunderstanding and divisiveness. As a musician, no matter what instrument you play, you are almost certainly on one side of some fence. One of the biggest “fences” is the one between the partisans of different methods.

There are different methods, different schools of playing for every instrument, from banjo to bassoon. The statement “he plays well, but he’s the other method,” although it expresses a natural feeling, only serves to strengthen walls instead of build bridges. 

What a method is

At its essence, a method for any instrument is a unified philosophy of sound production. It aligns the technical requirements, the mechanics of playing, with the musical result desired. Its aim is to match all the physical actions necessary to playing so that, taken together, they foster agility, fluidity, tone and musicality.

What a method does

When you study and practice a specific method, any method, you gain technical and musical advantages. First, you have the benefit of the experience and wisdom of the master player and teacher who devised the method. You are learning a proven system which will shorten your learning curve. You will have a system for progress and growth that is a clear path to mastering the technical requirements of your instrument.

You also have a solid resource for fixing problems as you encounter them. The method will provide you with the solution for whatever technical difficulty may arise.

The method is also the touchstone for your core attitude toward your instrument. Your sound, your tone, your musicality are all in some degree informed by the particular method you use.  While a method may seem to be simply a choice of technique, you may also have a more personal feeling about the philosophy of the method. It’s a matter of taste, not right or wrong, more like vanilla, chocolate, or pistachio.

What if I don’t have a “method”

You don’t have to subscribe to a method to play well, of course. You can have no particular method to your playing madness, or you can, as many musicians do, combine elements from several different methods to enrich and facilitate your playing.

But you must always give attention to the essential technical points for playing your instrument. For us harpists, some of our main areas of concern are our fingers, thumbs, wrists, arms and elbows. Give consideration to how all these pieces fit together and you will develop your own personal method.

More important than method

There is no one “right” method for any instrument. Because people have different physiques, attitudes and tastes, we actually need a variety of methods. And the good news is that all those methods work; just browse YouTube and watch fabulous performers displaying their virtuosity, all using different methods.

Music is more important than method. A method provides a path to the music; it is not the destination itself. The music is the reason that we develop our technique, with a method or not, in the first place. And when you are using your chosen method to serve the music, you have found the magic.

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