This is a guest post from Shelley Fairplay, a professional harpist, performer, teacher and ensemble-leader based in Wales, UK. Shelley was one of the first students in Hip Harp Academy, is a member of my “Harness Your Muse” mentorship and has used that mentorship program to develop her own show, called “Three Strands” and then developed a wonderful, comprehensive online harp school called “Start Harp.”

Shelley’s “Start Harp” online harp school has now become a companion-program to “Hip Harp Academy.” It provides the harp technique that powers students’ work in “Hip Harp Academy,” and is specifically for adults who are starting harp for the first time – or RE-starting. It has 3 levels that support total beginners up to Intermediate players.  


Here are some thoughts on my experience ….

I took Deborah’s first ever online music course BLUES HARP-STYLE back in 2012, when she was first developing it.  I went on to also take “Hip Harp Toolkit,” “Baroque Flamenco” and then joined the “Harness Your Muse Mastermind.” I was both curious as a student and in a teacher mind-set, could I learn harp online? (I was working full time as a harpist as I had graduated with a masters in  music 2006 and teacher trained in 2007).

When I joined Hip Harp Academy I was both curious as a student and as a teacher: could I learn harp online? ~ Shelley Fairplay Click To Tweet


What did these courses mean for me as a player?

I had hit a wall when playing background music, I was simply playing the written music I had been playing for years and it had become so ‘normal’ to me I was almost on autopilot, dare I say it out loud?

Yes, I was almost bored and couldn’t imagine my harp life carrying on in that way. By the end of “Hip Harp Toolkit” I felt renewed excitement at every page turn, wondering what opportunities the piece I knew so well would offer for improvisation, extension, interludes etc.

Suddenly it all felt FUN and CREATIVE again, just like when I was playing and exploring music as a child.

I had hit a wall… I was bored… But after Hip Harp Toolkit I felt renewed excitement at every page turn, wondering what opportunities the piece I knew so well would offer now! ~Shelley Fairplay Click To Tweet

Deborah enabled me to ditch written music when performing. I had point blank refused to perform without written music all my life, but here is the fascinating thing: by learning to improvise and understand harmony more, I no longer felt afraid of ‘forgetting’ the music, as there was always SOMETHING I could play. 

Guess what? Once the fear had gone so did forgetting the notes… interesting right?! This breakthrough was enabled by knowledge worked on in “Hip Harp Toolkit” and then ‘happened’ during a “Harness Your Muse” session.

[Note from DHC: I well remember the perilous ‘no music-stand’ session where I kept taking Shelley’s music-stand away from her. She’d look daggers at me and pull it back … and I kept pulling it away again. Honestly, it was one of the scariest moments I’d had as a coach – but I knew she knew the music even if she didn’t remember each individual note –  and all I had to do was show her what she DID know.  Once she was able to connect with how the pieces worked, she was able to recreate the music from a kind of mental blueprint instead of needing to try to see the notes in her head and then read them – and by the next day – no joke – she was playing without a music stand]

I Created My First Show 

I created my first ever show that was true to ME during my first year in “Harness Your Muse” (“HYMM”):  ‘The Three Strands; Passion, Sorrow and Joy’.

Suddenly I was not just playing a collection of well know harp repertoire pieces at concerts, I was playing a show. It now felt like truly performing and sharing music MY WAY on MY TERMs. HYMM helped wash away all those anxieties we can build up over the years, when we are compared to others or trying to copy others.

All the courses in Hip Harp Academy I took influenced a change in content in my performing and recordings, I now look to all styles of music for influence, write and perform more of my own music and best of all DO NOT WORRY about what I am playing, simply try to be true to what I love and share it, and I really believe this leads to a deeper audience connection.

It now felt like truly performing and sharing music MY WAY on MY TERMs. ~Shelly Fairplay Click To Tweet


 What did these courses mean to me as a teacher?

The group courses let me truly see how well beginner students can inform advanced players. I had always felt this but somehow Deborah allows this to happen like no other!

Reminded me of the beauty of one note and/or one single melody line, and how important it is to let these be seen whatever our level! This is a superpower of a beginner that needs to be highlighted and something advanced players MUST always remember.

Deborah has a unique ability to find the ‘gold’ or ‘super power’ in every individual playing, watching this and learning how to be better at this myself was deeply inspiring as a teacher.

It showed me the power of being able to repeat THE SAME lesson over and over and over again in an almost meditative way … which leads to seemingly effortless memorization! DHC describes this as “Letting the music get to YOU, instead of you trying to get the music.” 

Of course it’s hugely important to consciously connect with one’s learning but this component of approaching music like a ‘practice’ also goes in deep and is very powerful too.

Best of all, the Academy taught me, as a teacher, that online learning with fellow harpists truly works! The access to materials at any time, support in email, live chats and Facebook was invaluable and the live group chats were always invigorating and inspiring.

In fact, it was so inspiring that I took two years out of one-to-one teaching to create my own online music school for complete beginners to intermediate harpists – START HARP!

Deborah finds the ‘gold’ or ‘super power’ in every individual player. Watching this was deeply inspiring as a teacher. ~Shelly Fairplay Click To Tweet


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