Answers to Your FAQs

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One reason I love teaching is being able to help students find solutions for their challenges. I should confess that I am a puzzle-fiend. I love crosswords, cryptic crosswords, sudoku, mystery stories, jigsaw puzzles, you name it, and the harder the better.

So it’s only natural for me to apply that puzzle-solving addiction to my teaching. Finding the crux of s student’s problem, and devising strategies and tactics for fixing it is my idea of time well spent.

Since I started blogging and coaching online, I’ve enjoyed a regular and growing stream of questions, and I noticed over time that the same questions cropped up. My list of these questions has been growing and I thought it might be useful if from time to time I shared these questions (and my answers) with you. So here, in no particular order, are three of these FAQ’s. Maybe one of them is yours!

FAQ #11 How long should I practice?
To answer that, you first need to answer this: what is your goal? Do you have a deadline? Or a dream? The size and time frame of your goal will tell us a lot.

Your next step is to determine how much time you actually have to practice. If your teacher recommends you do two hours of practice but you only have one hour you can devote to it, there is a conflict that we will need to resolve. Maybe there is extra time you can find n your schedule or possibly you will have to choose between your harp goals and some of your other activities.

Next write down the steps you need to take in order to achieve your goal or the milestones you need to hit, and approximately, based on your previous experience, how long each step might take you. That should help you determine how much you need to practice each day.

If you want an easier way to get a ballpark estimate, this works for most people:
1 hour a day is good for maintenance practice
2 hours a day will allow you to make progress
3 hours a day will lead to achievement

FAQ #8 Is it bad to memorize all my music in order to learn it?
Memorization is an essential skill for a musician, and it is one you should practice regularly, so per se, memorization is a good thing. But memorization takes the place of note reading (another essential skill) as a means to learn music, you are shortchanging yourself.

In most cases, I find that practicing note reading and sight reading regularly will help speed the learning process as much as memorization helps to secure what you’re learning. In short, if you have to memorize music because you don’t read well enough, you’re missing a very useful and necessary component of musicianship.

FAQ #19 How do I strengthen my fingers/hands?
This is really a harp-specific question, or at least I have to give it a harp-specific answer. Harpists are known for having strong hands and fingers; no matter how angelic we may look and sound, we are putting a fearsome amount of muscle into our playing.

My answer to this question will differ from other people’s perhaps, in that I don’t recommend any strengthening devices or special training strength you need. I have seen those lead to career-ending injury. It doesn’t matter how powerful your grip is if you can’t play any longer.

Instead. I recommend slow, careful and focused technical work at the harp. If you train your fingers to play the proper way, you will develop the strength that you need, in the precise, harp-specific ways that you need, without the risk of injury. There are plenty of exercise and method books that you can use.

The lesson to learn here? Practicing technique is the best way to stronger playing – it just makes sense.

Do you have a question to add to my list?

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  • Gretchen Cover

    Question 19 – If you work on core and/or general conditioning, it will help make your hands stronger and improve your playing. Yoga and Pilates are excellent for this. Cross training works wonders.

    I also highly recommend harpists read Anne’s “Kaleidoscope Practice.”


    • Pam Boyd

      Can you suggest an easy way to incorporate improv when changing from mode to mode? This would be in an application for therapeutic music.

      Thank you,


      • Anne Post author

        Quick answer, Pam – look for the chords common to both keys or modes. There will be 2 or 3 that will be the same in each and you can use those as pivot chords to help make a smooth transition. Does that help? Give it a try and let me know 🙂


    • Mary

      Will you do a short and sweet compare/contrast of the various methods of study for harp?


    • Anne Post author

      Thanks, Gretchen!!


  • Daniele

    Hello Ann, I need help!

    I’m in my 55 now and I began to play the folk harp 5 years ago (self taught). Before I played guitar, I was a singer, so reading the music is not really a problem.

    The BIG problem for me is reading music WHILE playing. I cant! I need to look at my hands at least sometimes to control everything but I can’t read and play at the same time. So I read music only while studying a new tune. I read some notes, then I play them trying to memorise the tune.

    I feel this is a problem, because if I could read-and-play I could play more tunes!
    Any suggestions? Thank you very much!



    • Anne Post author

      Hi Daniele, here’s the very brief answer: you will need to practice looking at the music. Try not looking at your hands while you play your scales and arpeggios – instead concentrate on learning how your fingers feel on the strings. Let them discover how to play by feel. The more you continue to watch your fingers, instead of letting them learn to play on their own (and instead of you learning to trust that they will do it!), the longer it will take to break the habit.
      Ps. I tried to send you an email with a longer answer, but the email was returned.


      • Daniele

        Thank you very much, Anne!

        I’m sorry for the mail but it works! Try the one I use now for this comment. Maybe the two providers don’t communicate…

        So, you think that it would be better to begin with simple exersises only looking at the music? I think they should be new ones not already known, so I should be obliged to read the music…

        I’m a little confused. Please tell me more!




        • Anne Post author

          Daniele, the exercises don’t have to be new – you just have to not look at the strings. You could even play just closing your eyes, so you were “feeling” your way around the harp. Or try playing small sections of your music (2 or 3 measures at a time) without looking. It’s really very simple – make sure that you spend part of your practice time not watching your fingers. Simple, yes – but it will be difficult at first. Changing a habit is never easy!


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