Archive for the ‘harp’ Category

If you’re in the Phoenix area on the evening of June 7th, come out to the City of Gilbert’s Riparian Institute and enjoy a nature walk through the 110-acre preserve and listen to music by several members of the Mesa Symphony and yours truly. I’ll be playing harp and classical guitar near where the walk ends, but close enough to the parking area that you can simply walk over and sit down on one of the provided seats or settle in on the grass and have a listen if you don’t feel like taking the tour.

The nature walk starts at 7:00 p.m. at the east end of the public library. Check the Riparian Institute’s website for more information. There is a suggested donation of two dollars. I will be playing from 7:30 to 8:30 p.m. I hope to see you there!
Ariel Laurel Strong With Pedal Harp

Photo by David Weingarten, Goldeneye Photography.


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As delicate an instrument as the pedal harp seems to be, most people don’t realize that a harpist needs to have very tough fingertips to play one for any length of time. I’ve been working quite diligently on tone and technique lately, and the increase in practice time was giving me blisters on my fingertips, particularly on my left hand from plucking the heavy wire bass strings. In an attempt to get more practice in sooner, I’ve tried out some ideas that other players might find useful.

Taking a cue from the days when I needed to toughen up my feet for wildland fire season, I tried my old remedy of swabbing alcohol on areas that endure friction. The alcohol dehydrates and thickens the skin. It did help some, but not enough. It only extended my daily playing time between 10 and 20 percent. Another method of skin toughening suggested by a hiker friend, but which I did not try on my fingers, was to soak the blister-prone area in Epsom salts. I’d be curious to know if any harpists have tried this and what their results were.

Another technique I tried was to use a “liquid bandage” preparation on my fingertips. This allowed me to practice for between a quarter to a third longer before I got “hot spots” or blisters. The bandage layer does tend to wear out and peel off. This method could work well if someone had a moderate amount of time to build up to multiple hours playing per day, but I wanted faster results.

So, I VERY CAREFULLY smeared a thin layer of super glue on my fingertips where the skin contacts the strings. That worked extremely well and allowed me to play for several hours straight with no blistering at all. It more than tripled the amount of time that I could play at a sitting. I was amazed. I wore out before my fingertips did.

WARNING: Here’s the down side – pay close attention – this will only work if you are patient in preparing your fingers and let the glue dry thoroughly before touching your strings or anything else! Get impatient and you will have a mess, and could end up with your fingertips stuck together or any number of other problems. Consider yourself warned. Also, this is definitely not a use that the manufacturer would approve of…so do the above at your own risk.

I would use this method again if I needed to play for a long gig and my fingertip calluses were not properly conditioned, but I found that the glue does tend to crack and collect grime. Not particularly appealing, as the dried glue layer takes a number of days to wear off. In my opinion, your best bet is the traditional method of building up your calluses gradually and then maintaining them, but if you’re in a time squeeze the glue method does do wonders. Just be careful!

At this point, my harp calluses are built up to an acceptable level for most anything I want to do. The trick now will be maintaining them when I have to be away from the harp for an an extended period of time, as I am this week. I’m packing up my place in the Arizona high country in preparation for putting it up for sale. Next time I sit down to practice, I’ll see how my calluses held up to the time away.

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I am now a music teacher at Gilbert Music in Gilbert, Arizona.  Talk about timing – they did need another instructor, as their one classical guitar teacher is one slot shy of a full schedule.  In I walk, resume in hand…

I’ve been busy today getting all of my ducks in a row for a major promotional push. I got a local cell phone number this morning, my updated business cards are getting printed this afternoon, and I’m revamping my teaching methods and materials in light of my “Guitar Scale Meltdown” of several months ago. About all that’s left to do is get my flyer together (tonight’s big project) and then it’s pound the streets distributing them.

These days I’m practicing Christmas songs, my flamenco lesson materials, and some tunes for a new recording.  I’m back in contact with the sound engineer I worked with on the “Romanza” CD and ready to take a tour of his new studio (to me, anyway – he’s been there for several years) in another week in preparation to doing some recording in January.

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“LoRes” vs. “HiRes” mp3 Files
The only viable solution I could come up to the audio quality issues I was having over on mySpace was to re-upload the lower bit and sample rate mp3s for free listening/downloads. All of the variations I tried other than the 192 kbps bit rate developed the same annoying sound (described in the previous post) when converted to mySpace’s streaming format.

At least this way you can hear four of the cuts for free on mySpace, albeit at less than optimum audio resolution. If you like them, but not the compression quality, you’ve got the option of listening to short clips and/or buying the higher quality digital versions (sampled at 48.000 kHz, with a bit rate of 320 kbps) on my SNOCAP store. Or you can purchase the Romanza CD from cdbaby.com for the best audio quality.

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It seems that my mp3 compression and MySpace’s streaming process don’t mix well. Three of the four tracks sounded great on my computer, but developed an obnoxious high “buzz-hum” when they were processed for streaming by MySpace. I’ve taken them down until I can tinker around with the compression some more.

I will come up with a solution, eventually. Or at least a workaround. I don’t have much control over how MySpace processes their streaming audio…

For the moment though, you can hear any of the songs in 30-second clips on my SNOCAP store on MySpace (where I uploaded the “highest” quality mp3s, as described in the previous post), or 2 minute clips on CDbaby.com (lower resolution).

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Lots of homework last night and today…and with what I learned, I’ve now uploaded new and better quality free, streaming and downloadable mp3s on MySpace.

I used Apple’s iTunes to do the file conversion and am much happier with today’s files versus yesterday’s. The audio quality is a lot better – as good as it’s going to be using standard compression on harp audio, anyway. Harps and hammered dulcimers are fiendishly difficult to record well in the first place, with all of their overring and variations over the length of the soundboard. So, I’m satisfied with the result for the file type.

Technical details for the file conversion:
Software: Apple iTunes
Stereo Bit Rate: 320 kbps
Variable Bit Recording, Highest Quality
Sample Rate: 48.000 kHz
Smart Encoding Adjustments: Yes
Filter Frequencies Below 10 Hz: Yes

Now that I’ve gotten the techie part over with, I’m going to write some song notes over on Music by Ariel, so you’ll know a little bit more about what you’re hearing. Look for those over the next few days.

One of the fun things about playing old songs is learning all the stories and history that they carry along with them – tales of Henry the Eighth, Irish uprisings, displaced people hiding their identities or emigrating to flee famine or the Inquisition. (“No one expects the Spanish Inquisition!”) Ah, such is the stuff that songs are made of…

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I spent most of the day trying to find a way to make some of my music available on this blog – four full length songs for free. To make a long story short (the rant about hosting services is placed at the end so you can skip over it), I finally resorted to posting a photo link to the Romanza album in the sidebar, which will take you to cdbaby.com. There you can listen to some short clips of all of the cuts from the album.

But I wanted you to have access to complete songs! I entertained the idea for awhile of putting up a form and letting people request the files, but didn’t want to chain myself to emailing out files one by one. Not a good use of time.

So, I broke down and created a myspace.com profile and uploaded the four mp3s that have been searching for a home all day today. MySpace has a nifty little embedded Flash player and I also selected the option that will let you download the mp3 files to your computer. It’s an extra step, when I really wanted to make it a simple one-click link from this page to a file on my website, but hey, it’s free, right? This way, you can listen to full-length songs from the Romanza album.

Now, there are two options for listening enjoyment:

Four full length songs for free!


Short clips of all of the cuts from the album.


All four of these songs are in the public domain, so theoretically, I’m the only one losing money. However, I am convinced that my best option right now is to have as many people as possible hear what I do in the hopes that they will like it enough to buy the CD or to hire me. Then, I can make enough money to do a solo album!

Please share the four mp3s with your friends and let them know where you found them. If the music makes you feel good, as I hope it does, go ahead and buy the CD. I’ve put a hefty discount on multiple copies at cdbaby.com to make it easy and affordable to share them with friends and family. (Please don’t copy my CD. I really do lose money then! And so do the songwriters who wrote the other pieces of music on the album…)


My current web hosting service won’t allow .mp3 uploads (which is only one of several reasons why they may not be “current” for much longer). The .wav files that they do allow are huge. And, while I supposedly have 100Mb of available space, the file manager kept telling me that the 40Mb file I kept trying to upload puts me over my limit…even though prior to that I had used less than one percent of my allotment. My math is not that bad. I can only figure that it actually means that the file is too big, and exceeds some sort of individual file size limit, but that is not what it is saying. Sigh. Computers. ARGH!

I went over to SNOCAP, thinking that might be an option. They look like a good service, but I am unwilling right now to shell out yet another yearly fee to another service that may or may not be something I will actually use to sell music in the future. Cdbaby.com is tops in my book. I just wanted somewhere I could upload some files and let people access them, preferably on the server where I have my website and that I already pay lots of money to…Grrr.

I have absolutely no beef with wordpress.com for their file format limitations. They offer a great service; it’s free. My problem is with a server that I pay for and who hosts a multitude of other files that could pose security problems. I can only conclude that is the old copyright issue and bandwidth concerns. But they charge for bandwidth overages, too, so what gives?

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