Research has shown that it is beneficial to use a variety of learning approaches in order to make practice more interesting, engaging, and effective, as long as the correct technique is chosen to target the specific problem. In addition to the approaches introduced in my previous articles - Establish an Organised Practice Schedule; Isolate Identified Problem Areas; Employ the Visual Learning Mode; and Utilize the Aural Learning Mode, the fifth learning approach Explore the Kinaesthetic Learning Mode from my research has been summarised in this article.
Explore the Kinaesthetic Learning Mode
It is clear that the majority of the practice techniques are primarily designed to exercise the body and the brain via the kinaesthetic learning mode. However, each of these techniques has a specific function or functions, which make them unique and useful depending on the technical need required. Some possible functions of the different techniques are described as follows:
In order to establish a correct finger placement use Blocked Chords Practice and Hand Shape Practice; or Fast Movement Practice for the training of precise execution of cross-unders, cross-overs and transporting movements.
In order to encourage a smooth playing of a passage use Slow Practice, which is a technique highly supported by numerous harpists such as Renié, Lawrence, Salzedo, and Balderston, to firmly develop good articulation and posture, and hence produce quality tone before speed is increased. The soft and fast playing of the Spiderfinger Practice helps to develop suppleness and agility. Lieberman explains that “musicians are encouraged to practice by touching lightly on the note at first, and then try repeating the piece of music with slightly more finger/arm weight, and more until clear tone can be achieved.” (Lieberman 1991, p.34) On the other hand, Eyes Closed Practice helps to overcome a technical anxiety. It promotes smoothness of a line or a series of movements by redirecting visual energy into a kinaesthetic one.
To enrich the physical and mental memorisation of the parts, Repetition Practice can be used in conjunction with Separate Hand Practice or Pedal Alone Practice, which are helpful to tackle isolated technical spot. Octave Changing Practice, which is done by placing a sequence written in a very low or high register to a more comfortable one until the notes and fingering are learned, is also helpful for the same purpose.
To strengthen the fingers along with aural reinforcement use Accent Practice and Altered Rhythms Practice, which are also useful for speeding up sections of technical difficulty. Moreover, Left Hand Strengthening Practice and Unison Practice are helpful if one wishes to develop the strength of both hands at the same time, while getting more familiar with the parts.
Glossary of the Practice Techniques & Tools mentioned in this article:
Place strong accents on certain notes when practising. For example:
· Dotted notes
· On-beat notes
· Off-beat notes
· The first note of every group of 3 notes, then every 5 notes, 7 notes and 9 notes (other numbers if it is musically appropriate)
· On the groups of notes that are technically more demanding.
This practice technique is effective when used in conjunction with Altered Rhythms Practice in order to develop even tone and firm strength in all fingers.
Altered Rhythms Practice
Alter the rhythm of the passage, e.g., using dotted rhythm instead of even quavers, to develop note evenness, build up finger strength, and speed up sections which are technically demanding. This can also be used in conjunction with Accent Practice and Fast Movement Practice.
Blocked Chords Practice
Play a group of notes or arpeggiated chords as unbroken chords to reinforce placing and to secure hand shapes.
Eyes Closed Practice
Heighten motor coordination by eliminating one of the senses while playing a small technical spot with eyes closed, or with eyes looking forward without looking at the strings.
Fast Movement Practice
Isolate the problematic spot and deliberately exaggerate the speed of the required technical movement. For example, the jumping and placing, including cross-unders and cross-overs, of notes or arpeggios at a much faster speed. This technique is effective in conjunction with the use of Slow Practice and Altered Rhythms Practice.
Hand Shape Practice
Position the hands in the air according to the note or chord patterns, then grab the strings immediately.
Left Hand Strengthening Practice
Have the left hand playing the right hand part in order to strengthen and increase the left hand’s versatility to play. This may also boost aural memorisation of the musical line.
Octave Changing Practice
Moving a passage written in a very high or low register to a more comfortable register until the notes and the fingerings are learned.
Pedal Alone Practice
Develop secure feet coordination by practising the pedal changes alone in rhythm. A variation of Pedal Alone Practice is to play one hand only while executing the pedal changes. This is also very useful when used in conjunction with memorisation works.
Repetitively practice the same music, section, or fragment.
Separate Hand Practice
Practice the parts hands separately to secure playing and develop fingers independence.
Playing softly and lightly on the strings at a fast tempo.
Build a firm foundation by playing the piece accurately in a much slower tempo while counting subdivision beats.
Have the right hand and left hand play the same part an octave apart.
Even though there are a variety of practice techniques it is important to recognise that the choice is very much dependent on the response of the individual player, as well as the technical and musical demands of the repertoire. Therefore, harpists are encouraged to experiment with different practice techniques and should constantly evaluate their approaches in order to get the best possible results.
- Balderston, S. (2000). The Art of Practicing. United States of America: Suzanne Balderston.
- Klickstein, G. (2009). The Musician's Way: A Guide to Practice, Performance, and Wellness. Oxford: Oxford University Press Inc.
- Lawrence, L., & Salzedo, C. (1929). Method for the Harp. New York: G. Schirmer, Inc.
- Lieberman, J. L. (1991). You Are Your Instrument. New York: Huiksi Music.
- Marson, J. (2005). The Book of the Harp. Buxhall, Stowmarket, Suffolk: Kevin Mayhew Ltd.
- Renié, H. (1966). Complete Method for the Harp. Paris: Alphonse Leduc.