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Exercises

When I imagined being a professional musician, the rose colored etching in my mind did not feature me (or even include me) carefully crafting sets of exercises for students. Sure, I was familiar with exercises, mainly from playing the piano. Most were fairly easy to play, so I would start off each practice session by dashing through my assigned exercises for the week. This both got me warmed up, and unnoticed by me, also built my technical piano skills. (Of course, now I would tell my younger self to take a bit more time and care over the exercises, but so it goes.)

As a teacher, I view exercises as a problem solving approach. All kinds of techniques and elements can be incorporated in solo and ensemble repertoire, but some areas may need a more focused and graduated approach. I became intensely interested in this the first time I had a student make the switch from the lever harp to the pedal harp. On the one hand, you don't want to give students pieces with too many pedal changes, because this is overwhelming when you're brand new to moving pedals. On the other hand, if you're only moving a couple of pedals per piece, how are you ever going to get good at it? There's the sink or swim approach - just throw them into a piece with pedals all over the place! - but then they might, in fact, sink. What I wanted instead was something that would give students lots and lots of practice moving pedals while systematically covering all of the various types of pedal changes, and progressing from  the easier skills to the harder skills.

I figured, in my usual overly optimistic way, that I would just sit down and whip off a few exercises and that would cover it. But there was so much to it. What skills should I cover?  Was there a way to break down some of the more complex skills into steps? What was the best incremental order? I kept writing and revising and expanding and testing the finished exercises out on batches of students, only to make changes based on how well it did (or didn't) work. 

Along the way I started working on other exercises, all from the same basic premise, that of having a skill I wanted students to master through systematic and incremental exercises. My composing process is more streamlined now, but it's still slow, since I always test everything out on students, and it takes time for them to work through a draft of an exercise book, and then for me to make changes based on what I see, and test it out again on someone new. 

Publishing my Pedal Exercises book in 2016 felt like an Everest size accomplishment. It also felt like something I wanted to do again, which is I guess why people who climb mountains do so on a regular basis. I'm pleased to say that my Exercises in Harmonics book has just been released! I see students struggle with harmonics quite a bit. Some go to impressive lengths to avoid performing music that features prominent harmonics while others are content to simply make a face every time a passage of harmonics is coming up. So, you guessed it, I sat down and wrote 36 exercises that give students a chance to focus extensively on harmonics, starting simple and getting progressively more complex. (Well, actually I wrote around 100 exercises, but settled on these 36 after several rounds of revisions.) I also made a version of this book for the lever harp, with 28 exercises (as there are fewer keys to work through).

I have also have a few shorter sets of exercises available, for work in trills and scales. These both begin simply and build gradually. Click on a title to see a description, sample pages, and to purchase a PDF download.