Archive for the ‘music’ 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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All of the hours that I’ve spent practicing recently are starting to pay off. I can hear a real difference in the strength and clarity of my playing over just a month or so ago. My tremelo, in particular, has gotten stronger and cleaner. Some of that is due to changes I’ve made in my right hand nails.

I’m still fiddling with my nails to find just the right compromises in length and shape to support both classical guitar tone production and make flamenco rasgueos punchy. It’s a bit tricky, but I’m almost to a solution that minimizes string click in very precise nail/flesh techniques like tremelo (in which I need to have my nails fairly short and place my fingertip with a combination of flesh and nail on the string) and still leaves enough nail length for decent rasgueos. I have not been able to find a way to use longer nails for tremelo – as in a nail only technique – and still maintain the tone quality I want.

One major improvement is that I’ve gotten better at getting the acrylic nails to stay on and minimize the separation between the natural nail and the acrylic overlay. What seems to work best for me is to do the fills on a weekly basis. Over the course of a week, no matter how carefully I prepare my nails, I get some separation between the nail and the acrylic. I now suspect this has more to do with skin oils, showers, and doing dishes, than my previous theories of poorly prepared pytergium and Dremel overuse.

The nail doesn’t grow out all that much in a week, but by carefully grinding back a small amount of acrylic near the base of my nails, I can get beyond the area that has separated. Then, I fill just as I would normally. If I go longer than a week, the separated area gets to be too large and I risk having the nail tear or the acrylic part pop off from additional water getting into the gap.

I did not have good luck with trying to lift the edge of the nail and glue it back down with epoxy. It’s hard to make enough of a gap to get the glue in without further damaging the underlying natural nail, and I’m concerned that it might lead to potential hygiene problems as well. I could never be sure if the gap was adequately dried and disinfected before gluing, and felt it might lead to nail fungus problems.

On the down side of my recent modifications, it is tricky to grind that small of an area back without occasionally nicking your cuticle or nail bed with the Dremel. You need to very careful and really take your time to take it down gradually. Good lighting is a must, and for all of us geezer guitarists, magnifying lenses are quite handy.

One other refinement to my nail routine is that I have changed which grinding bit I use on my nails. I started out using a small, fine-grain tapered bit, but with experience and confidence have gone to a larger, coarser, cylindrical bit. The larger bit lets me take down the acrylic layer faster and cover a larger area when doing the final shaping which leads to a smoother finish over the surface of the nail. When I started out, it would have been too hard for me to control the larger bit, but now it minimizes the time spent and the heat buildup on both the nail (another potential source of separation) and the tool.

After several months of tinkering with my nail routine, I finally have an SOP (standard operating procedure)! Hopefully, this will provide some ideas for those of you who have commented on your own nail trials and tribulations on previous “Guitar Nails” posts.

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I get this funny feeling that I’m supposed to be teaching guitar in the East Valley…

Today, I went back to pick up my business cards and part of the text had been clipped off, making a reprint necessary. Okay. It meant an extra trip and I had several other stops planned for after that to deliver said new business cards, but I adjusted my plans accordingly. I was told that the reprint would be done this afternoon and to call to see if it was done.

I did. The copy center staff was busy, but another salesclerk checked and said that the cards were ready. I ignored the little voice in the back of my head that said, “You know, she might have seen the other box – the bad box – and assumed that the order was done.” I made another trip across Gilbert…

My intuition was right. The cards weren’t actually done; she had seen the misprinted box. I was polite and went out to my car to steam. I was mad at myself for not listening to my intuition and I wasn’t all that happy about the store’s lack of attention to detail, either. Alright. I decided to adjust my attitude and said to the Universe, “I’m listening. Is there something else I’m supposed to learn or do or see here?”

I looked across the parking lot and saw a sign that, given where I had parked on previous trips, I had not seen before. “MUSIC & ARTS.” Hmmm. Sounds like something worth investigating further.

What do you know? A music store – a nice, big, new one with quite a few teaching studios, too. When I walked through the door the salesperson asked what had brought me in.

“I was over at the office supply store and saw your sign. I’m a guitarist and I thought I’d take a look around,” I replied. (I like to scout things out first…)

“You don’t happen to teach do you?” she asked. No, I’m not kidding. “We really need a guitar teacher…” Those were the very words right out of her mouth not one minute after I walked in the store.

“As a matter of fact, I do.”

I got the tour, the details, and I’m going back to deliver a resume in a little bit. Then, it’s wait to have an interview with the manager. Keep good thoughts. I should know fairly soon, and right in time for the peak lesson signup season of December – January. (All those new Christmas guitars.)

The whole string of events that led to becoming a teacher at Gilbert Music revolved around my carrying my guitar into a coffee shop to keep it from getting too hot in the car. Conversation with one of the counter guys, a drummer, led me to Gilbert Music. That and several other strange little “coincidences” have fueled a running joke with F1 and F2 about how all I needed to do was just carry my guitar around with me everywhere and doors would open. Now, with Music & Arts, it seems that I don’t even need to carry the guitar around…

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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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It’s been over a week since I last posted, so I thought I’d do a brief update at least…

I spent most of last week in Phoenix job-hunting and apartment-scouting. I’ve got a line on a guitar teaching position at a music store, which I will know more on at the end of this week, and I’ve narrowed the search area considerably for housing. Good progress and the weather was gorgeous. And, as always, it was a joy to see my friends.

Despite my dismal practice record of late, I got a Tangos and a Sevillanas vocal at my guitar lesson. I nearly made myself hoarse practicing the vocals on the way back to Flagstaff and I’ve gotten them memorized already because of that. Best of all, the lesson seemed to turn around the musical block I’ve had going for weeks and I’ve been practicing every day since. Funny. Practice really does seem to make a difference…

I’ve been back home for a couple of days now and have gotten the “Music by Ariel” site up and running with Drupal. Flamencophile now has blogs, a calendar, and a forum operational. It’s still in development and behind schedule, but it’s progressing. I’m roughly on track with my novel edit, too, only about two days behind my schedule, and I’m hoping I can get caught back up by the end of the week.

My exercise program has been wavering a bit, but is not forgotten. Lifting boxes and the amount of driving I did last week has been a little hard on my legs, so I’m still at the earlier level and taking it all very easy. I expect that to continue until I actually get settled in Phoenix. I have lost two more pounds in the last month, however, so my old rate of weight loss seems to have returned, which makes me quite happy. I’ve still got some more to go, but at this rate I’m within a month of having lost 40 pounds. Yeeha!

While I was gone, the temps took another dive into the 20’s. My maple tree turned red and dropped most of its leaves while I was in Phoenix. The aspens up on the San Francisco Peaks are turning golden and I hope to take a drive up that way in the next few days before it’s back down to the Valley for another round…

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Whew! Been busy packing and practicing , writing and web designing. There’s just a lot happening right now. My brother’s wedding is tomorrow. And, I picked up a little side work as an instrument tech with my surveyor friend for Sunday.

We’ve got a boundary and topo to do on Hart Prairie, up on the north side of the San Francisco Peaks. That is going to be cool! Literally and metaphorically – for one thing, it’s at about 9,000 feet in elevation. Hart Prairie is a gorgeous area any time of year, but in the autumn it is truly spectacular. I noticed just today on my trip into town to accompany the flamenco dance class that the leaves are starting to turn in Flagstaff. I’ll take my camera with me on Sunday and see if I can find some good shots of autumn aspens. I’ll post any good ones here.

Every so often, I have a nostalgic moment or find myself dragging my feet about moving. I keep telling myself that it’s likely temporary and I remind myself of all the very real benefits of what I plan to do this winter. It should be an interesting and productive time. It will also be a big adjustment living in an apartment in a big metro area again after more than a decade in “the boondocks,” where my trip to the mail box entailed a drive through pine forests and open prairies over four miles of washboard and red cinder Forest Service road. It’s all trade-offs, decisions made on an intuitive sense that Phoenix is where I need to be and music is what I need to be doing.

I’ve learned to ask myself the crucial question, “If not now, when?” While packing two nights ago, I ran across a box of mementos that contained greeting cards from the last decade or so–a birthday wish from my dad from before dementia took away his memory, a note from my ex-husband from a time before the disintegration of our marriage, and congratulations on my graduation from Fire Academy signed by all my old fire buddies, including the young cadet who died just a few moths ago. It was a poignant reminder that disease, dysfunction, and death are the great dividers. To not live my life to the fullest right now would be to deny a number of very difficult and painful lessons from the past few years.

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