We don’t even know that we’ve put them on… Creative handcuffs close slowly. Unnoticeable until they’re tight on our hands. They’re invisible. They’re inside us.
What does it take to unlock them?
For me … it takes PLAY.
But what does that mean? Well, I’m always drawing things like this for my students:
And this is not for kids. My students are adults, many of them professionals. For me, music never stops being a game.
Once I tried to describe it to a friend: “It’s the difference between handing someone a piece of sheet music and saying PLAY THIS, and handing someone a few notes and saying PLAY WITH THIS.”
The word ‘with’ is the word of human experience. With you. With power. With conviction. With love. With passion. With fun. With amazement.
Play WITH this.
It’s what I do on stage – and it’s what teach at Hip Harp Academy, my online school for Harpists.
I teach my foundational course Hip Harp Toolkit in the FALL because when the holidays come, musicians are playing a LOT – whether they’re playing actual “Holiday” music or Celtic, Latin, Standard … whatever. Holidays just offer harpists waaaaay more opportunities to play.
Professional musicians get hired for parties. Impassioned amateurs play for their families.
And it can be stressful… or boring … to build a repertoire, to learn new music, or to play the ‘same old same old.’
OR … the need to create a new repertoire can be an incredible opportunity to learn to play WITH music so you can sit down with any simple melody and play the game of music WITH it.
In the course I teach how to create improvised arrangements but …
What I’m really teaching is the GAME of playing music
When most musicians hear the word “arrangement” – they think of someone else’s written arrangement that they learn to play, like any other piece of written music.
But in the GAME of arrangement you get a 5-part Blueprint/Formula/Structure – call it what you will, it’s all those and it’s like a GAMEBOARD – that you can play any way you want over and over in the moment.
The GAME is to NOT write it down, NOT try remember it, NOT try to get it ‘right’ – but to let it spin out differently each time based on how the GAME works: basic ideas you learn over the 10 weeks of the course.
It’s a very different kind of PLAY than most musicians are used to.The hardest part is letting go of what you THINK you're supposed to do Click To Tweet
And the sense of liberation is amazing … once people get it. The hardest part is letting go of what you THINK you’re supposed to do – and to simply PLAY. This is the kind of thing I often hear around week 3:
“But this is just FUN! And it sounds so great!” or …
“But wait, you mean I don’t HAVE to remember what I did the last time??? I can just make it up each time? But that’s so FUN, so EASY!”It becomes a LIFETIME of playing WITH. Click To Tweet
Does that mean that anyone can do it? Yes.
Does that mean that – if it’s that easy – there’s no point developing your ear, your technique, your experience? No.
And that’s what makes it so deeply worthwhile. It becomes a LIFETIME of playing WITH.
It means that ANYONE can play the game. ANYONE can have fun, and sound like they ‘know what they’re doing’ (so long as they’re doing what they know – which part of what I teach you in the course!).
And it means that the more you play the more resources you discover in yourself, the more fluent you become, the richer the palette of ideas and emotions you have to play with.
It also means that the FUN, the JOY, the sense of FREEDOM begins immediately – it’s not something you have to be ‘good enough’ to achieve. And it never ends, because it grows with you. The same way a wonderful game is fascinating when you first learn to play it, and becomes more and more fascinating the longer you do.
If you play the harp come learn to play the game of music with me!
(Some of the content in this post was originally published 9/23/2015, updated 10/20/2017 and 9/24/2019)
Harp Players! Get Creative.
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Deborah Henson-Conant's "Hip Harp Academy" online learning community is open for self-paced learning yearlong. DHC personal guides each class in the Academy once a year. Access to each guided class is limited to students who register before the 2nd week of class. Registration for the Fall Guided course, "HIp Harp TOOLKIT" is currently closed.