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The Art Of Practice By A Professional Harpist

Yinuo Mu Melbourne Symphony Orchestra

“How do you get to Carnegie Hall?”

“Practice, practice, practice.”

The origins of the famous Carnegie Hall joke remains vague but its truth rings loud and clear. And Yinou Mu, the principal harpist of the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra, can attest to that. Her musical journey began at the age of five and after racking up hundreds of thousands of practice hours over the next two decades; she found her place in landmark concert halls including New York’s Carnegie Hall and Boston’s Symphony Hall.

So if there is anyone who truly understands the art of practice, it is Yinuo. woman with drive recently sat down with her for a crash course.


Stop Endlessly Repeating Yourself

“When I was younger, I thought a practice meant repeating something until it became better or easier. If a piece was not working, I would play it ten times at a slower pace and then build up speed. It would eventually work after a few days but I do not have that kind of time now. I have learnt that you do not get good results just by pounding away at something. A perfect practice is what yields perfection. So I find a different, more efficient approach.

For instance, I was taught to play the harp a certain way and as a child, my music teacher would hand me a music score with the fingering already marked out for me to follow exactly. But some techniques do not work for my hands and I struggled with those. Then it occurred to me that a much better way of practising would be to change my approach and technique. Now I only follow finger markings on pieces that work for me and find my own style around the rest.

My approach to practising new pieces changes according to the nature of the piece. Some pieces can be learnt in a few repetitions and others by mastering a new technique. Then there are pieces that are really difficult to learn. I break these down into small chunks to make it easier to remember, and tackle one section at a time. It is about pacing yourself and building memory.”


Put In The Hours – Even If You Have Talent

“Even the most talented people have to put in the hard work. People think of Mozart as a prodigy but he also spent many hours studying music scores and composing it in his head. All the great musicians did their work when they were younger. There is no such thing as practising for ten minutes and expecting fabulous results. Talent is enough to get you somewhere but to excel you have to go the extra mile.”


Keep Your Practice Evolving

“There should never be an end to your practice. It is very easy to get complacent so you have to set yourself different challenges. I recently watched Jiro Dreams of Sushi and was very inspired. It is about Jiro Ono, an 85-year-old sushi master who runs a Michelin three-star restaurant in Tokyo, and who is still striving to make the perfect sushi. No matter how long you have been doing something, you can always be better. It is a terrible feeling to feel like you have come to the end of the road.”


Always Aim For Perfection

“It is important to aim for perfection even if it does not happen every single time. You do not want to settle for mediocrity. If you accept “good enough”, you will never reach a higher level.”

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