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I offer lessons in:

  • Accompanying
  • Adult Piano Methods
  • Arranging
  • Pedal Harp
  • Lever Harp
  • Basic Music Theory
  • Intermediate Music Theory
  • Early Childhood Piano
  • Beginning Piano
  • Intermediate Piano
  • String Orchestra
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    Mary RadspinnerOffering private lessons in
    Milwaukee, Wisconsin
    About MeContact MeBlog

    Free Printables
    Posted by Mary Radspinner - February 8, 2016 - 10:12 AM

    I have a website with free printables for you. The URL is and just click on the category you wish. Enjoy!!

    Choosing your Harp Teacher
    Posted by Mary Radspinner - August 22, 2015 - 9:46 PM

    If you own a folk harp, should your teacher be a pedal harpist, a lever harpist, or a combination of both? The following ramblings are thoughts that came to me upon hearing this question.

    In our experience, some pedal harp teachers do not know how to string a folk harp. Some will insist on putting a pedal bass wire on a Dusty string harp, for instance. Or – if they put a string on a folk harp, they put it on incorrectly and it breaks. At this point they insist the harp is poorly built and something is wrong with it. Some will insist on pulling very hard into the palm, thus distorting the sound. Also, we have had experience with pedal harp teachers who try to teach their adult folk harp students pedal repertoire, as if they were in training for orchestral work. They are not aware of the repertoire available for the older beginner.

    And now that I start thinking about this question, I have memories of customers calling and being near tears because they want to quit. Harp is not fun. Why – because they bought a beautiful folk harp and their teacher is a strict pedal harp instructor with no knowledge of the folk harp world in terms of repertoire, tension, manufactures of harps, types of wood, and they teach, as I said before, as if their students are destined to be an orchestral harpist. Additionally, many pedal-only teachers insist their older students keep their elbows very high, because they have no experience with the older human body and its changes, and these students express pain which is ignored. The hand position and arms are not adjusted accordingly.

    Going back to stringing a harp, in one instance, a pedal harp instructor at a college did not know how to order strings for the college pedal harp at all. It was very frustrating for us, because we have seen many a recent graduate with a master’s degree become a college instructor just because they have a master’s degree, and they have no concept of how to teach, order strings, or deal with beginners. Experience is so very important, and makes all the difference in the world as to whether or not the student, no matter what age, continues with joy or quits because of frustration.

    I teach my students the typical hand position of keeping the thumbs high, relaxing the fingers (not holding fingers 3 and 4 tightly into the palm while playing 1 and 2); and pulling into the palm, and the thumbs goes over the second finger. This creates a warm tone. I also have them squeeze the strings, because to me, that is the way to get the best tone and also makes a connection to the brain.

    It took me three years to comfortably make the transition from pedal harp to lever harp. I had to learn that less is better. At first I was very self conscious because I wasn’t playing as many notes as when I played pedal harp, and I didn’t seem to be working as hard. But with folk harp, because the instrument is so resonant, I finally became comfortable with letting the beauty of the timbre speak for itself. I think the folk harp has more of an ability to sing, and we must adapt to that, work with the instrument and not get in its way.

    That being said, I still feel that knowing pedal harp technique is important. I have seen many folk harpers playing with technique that shows a lack of knowledge about tone and phrasing. Since the folk harp has a voice of its own, knowing how to bring that out is important. Playing with poor hand position can sometimes bypass the importance of tone and phrasing, and to play without that is to me, to play without spirit and life. It’s just a shame. And on a very subtle vein, it can be irritating to the listener. Playing without preparing for the next phase is a thoughtless way to come to any instrument. I believe that every student benefits when taught to prepare, or place, in advance for the next phrase or group of notes. At our store we have received hundreds (many hundreds) of CDs that were sent to us in hopes we would add them to our inventory. When you take a listen to CDs, you can always tell who is playing with thought as to phrasing and tone, and who is not. It is subtle and hard to explain, but the mind of the listener discerns a well taught player from someone who is not mindfully approaching the strings.

    The above refers to nylon or gut strung harps. Placing and squeezing the strings would not apply to wire harp. –Mary Radspinner

    Improv on Red River Valley
    Posted by Mary Radspinner - August 22, 2015 - 9:44 PM

    Red River Valley is well known as a cowboy song. I like to play David Sullivan’s arrangement of the tune from his book, Celtic Harp on the Prairie, which also gives history of the tunes. The song actually originated in New York as a commercial tune written in the 1890’s called In the Bright Mohawk Valley. The chorus and the verse are similar to each other, and this song lends itself to a simple improvisation.

    One way to improvise is to play the rhythm of the melody using different notes. If improvisation is new to you, chord member notes are the first choice. What is a chord member? In a G chord for example, chord members are G, B and D.

    Here we offer 3 PDF downloads: 1 – lead line with chords; 2 – worksheet with instructions and chord member names given for each measure (print as many as you want); 3 – example of a final version. Enjoy this lesson, or use it with your students! The PDFs are below – RRV1 – RRV2a and RRV2b. Click here to see the original article where you can download the music and work on it.

    Play Harp Without Stumbling
    Posted by Mary Radspinner - August 22, 2015 - 9:41 PM

    Is it a challenge for you to make it through a tune without stopping?

    In many cases when working on an arrangement, all goes smoothly until the melody becomes developed and the tunes goes off the beaten path. At this point the student becomes lost in a world of fingerings and complications. It’s frustrating for the student, who wants to play smoothly and lyrically but also wants to play interesting arrangements that are beautiful.

    A possible solution for you might be to divide your practice into distinct focus groups:

    1 – Melody

    2 – Chord names

    3 – LH 4th finger placement

    First and foremost, it is important to focus on the melody. Be able to play it through smoothly; try singing or humming it. Try to say the chord names while you’re playing the RH – even say the name slightly before the downbeat. Secondly, focus on the 4th finger of the LH – think of it as leading or making way for the melody. Be able to play it without hesitation. After steps 1 and 2, you are ready for step 3 – a basic yet beautiful arrangement. Remember that if it flows and sings, it is simply beautiful. When you feel comfortable with the simplicity, try step 4, which is a slight elaboration of the melody.

    I’ve taken “Star of the County Down” and divided the written music into focus groups. Print out each of the 4 pages and work on them in order for the best results. You can link to the original article here, where you can download the music and practice it.

    The first page centers around the melody without LH, but with the chords. You are encouraged to say the names of the chords while playing the melody. Chord names are provided.

    The second page emphasizes the melody with the chord tonic, which is notated along with the chord symbol. After you are very familiar with the melody and saying the chords, try adding just the tonic of the LH, and be sure to have your 4th finger in place slightly before the downbeat, showing preparedness, since your LH prepares the way for the melody.

    The third page utilizes all you have learned thus far, for a simple yet pleasant arrangement of this lovely tune.

    The fourth page is a slight elaboration of the melody, creating interest for both player and audience. Because you are now very familiar with lessons 1 – 3, you can now focus on a more developed melody with confidence.

    Enjoy the path of learning and music!

    Mary Radspinner

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    4 postings total

    Free Printables
    February 8, 2016
    Choosing your Harp Teacher
    August 22, 2015
    Improv on Red River Valley
    August 22, 2015
    Play Harp Without Stumbling
    August 22, 2015
    View All Blog Postings