I’m not going to try to goad you into public performance. I believe that playing for your own pleasure is a worthwhile aspiration.
But I have often heard harpists (and other musicians too) use this as an excuse for some poor habits, habits which keep them playing at a lever lower than what is really achievable for them. For the most part, this is not a conscious choice to avoid hard work or difficulty. It’s more often based on a misconception about some of the things that are absolutely critical to playing well, even when that only needs to be good enough to please yourself.
Here are 7 things that every gigging harpist knows. They are skills and habits that are required for freelance work. You don’t have to take my word for it that these are essential. Ask any young harpist who has started playing for weddings.
How many of these habits do you need to acquire?
1. Develop a repertoire. You may not need an hour’s worth of music if you’re only playing in your living room, but you should have a few pieces that you enjoy that you can pull out and play whenever you feel like it. The benefit? You will always have music you can play that can improve your mood and give you energy and uplift when you need it.
2. Play it, don’t sweat it. At a professional engagement, you have to play the music. Perfection doesn’t matter. The bride won’t be counting the wrong notes you play, as long as it sounds like “Here Comes the Bride.” You learn to play the music, not just concentrate on fixing mistakes.
3. Be able to play through distraction. For some reason, cocktail party guests always want to have a conversation with you while you’re playing. What great practice in concentration and focus!
4. Go for variety. When you have to play for a long time, you learn how to incorporate a lot of variety in your repertoire. It’s not only good for the listeners, but it makes things more enjoyable for you too.
5. Handle those page turns. Do you take time out from the music to turn pages? That doesn’t fly when you’re playing for others. And you shouldn’t accept it in your playing and practicing, either.
6. Meet the deadline. Whatever the music you need for that wedding, it needs to be ready by the day of the wedding. Learn to set goals for finishing a piece and stick to those goals.
7. Learn how to receive a compliment on your playing. It’s important for any professional musician to be able to say “thank you” with a smile. It’s not just good business; it’s an important part of the musical communication between performer and listener. And it helps if you’re smiling when you’re asking for the check.