When In Doubt: Play!

I love the word, “Play”. The musical meaning of it is “to perform”, but it means so much more. It’s a magical word that opens up doors.

Harpist Anne Roos playing at Somerset Folk Harp Festival
Having fun, playing harps in the exhibit hall at Somerset Folk Harp Festival

Doesn’t playing also mean having fun? Play involves many types of activities, from taking the ball in a sport, to frolicking with children, to a theatrical performance. Play is also making a maneuver in a game to take the advantage and win. And isn’t play simply moving freely without a care in the world, as the wind plays between the leaves?

I don’t mean to wax philosophical here, but I’m “playing”–Running every which way with this word.

Maybe this word means “noodling”. I led a workshop called “Noodling with Class” at the recent Somerset Folk Harp Festival. To a room filled to capacity, I presented to harpers and harpists of all levels when to noodle on the harp, how to noodle on the harp, and what noodling is, in the first place.

Anne Roos teaches harpists
Teaching harpists how to noodle at the Somerset Folk Harp Festival.

The most important key to successful noodling is: Don’t Stop! When the music stops, everyone thinks something is amiss.

I turn to noodling when the wedding minister signals me to play in the middle of the ceremony, and I have no music prepared. It’s for when the PowerPoint slide show won’t display and I’m asked to play something to stall for time at a business luncheon. And noodling definitely comes in handy when the rare accident happens at an event and I need to divert the guests’ attention away from the paramedics.

In other words, noodling comes in handy when I’m in doubt. What on earth should I play? How do I keep everyone happy? And how do I keep myself happy?

I noodle until I arrive back to the place where I left off, and I know I’m there, because I’m back “in the zone.” In other words, I’m not longer thinking of producing the right sounds, but instead, I trust my fingers and become the audience to my playing, just listening to the sound.

The sense of time escapes me, and I am completely absorbed in the sound of the harp. Have you felt this way with an activity that you play at? The world melts around you and you are inside of a bubble, playing.

At the Somerset Festival, I was prepared for my performance at the Friday night concert, memorizing the music that I’d perform. I had no idea what to expect. It was a packed house, with overflow seating outside the doors to the concert hall. I was the opener for the performance, with three other experienced harpers following me. We teach had 25-minute sets.

I started my set with Celtic tunes. Then, even on stage, I questioned my choice of music for the performance. All the other musicians planned to play their own compositions, and there I was, playing cover tunes (tunes that most people recognize). I dove into “Stairway to Heaven“, a sure crowd pleaser. As I began, I was thinking, “Should I have chosen something else?” and then….It was lost.

Anne Roos Performing at Somerset Folk Harp Festival
Playing “in the zone” on stage

I played a creative bridge, and I announced to the audience, “Those of you who took my noodling workshop know what I’m doing right now.” Some audience members giggled, I found my way back, entered “the zone”, and then stuck my landing, as gymnasts do when they finish their routines. I made a last-minute change to sight-read sheet music and stayed in that zone, taking a request form my cousin who attended the performance, and playing “Desperado“. Then, I finished my set with Gershwin’s “Love is Here to Stay“. (Sample all of these tracks on iTunes.)

Did I have doubts while on stage? Sure. Did I play and have fun? You bet! And after the show, audience members gleefully shared that they were singing and humming along to the songs I played.

Noodling is fun, Fun is infectious. Playing is infectious. Did playing save you from moments of doubt? Have you tried substituting doubt with letting loose and having fun?

Okay, so maybe you’re too nervous to have fun when something goes askew. Use play to get rid of nerves. Give it a try.

For musicians, Sam Anstice Brown delivers a musician’s hypnosis iPhone app that’s filled with suggestions for curbing stage fright and practicing better. And it’s not just for musicians, alone. Have a fear of flubbing when public speaking? Give it a go. I’m sure he’d agree with me that having fun dispels your doubts–Just listen to his freebie “buttocks” visualization!

Now I’m handing the reigns over to you. Share how play erased your doubts. Your comments don’t need to be about music, because I’d love to learn about how to apply play to other parts of my life. I’m sure our community of readers would relish hearing about how you’re accomplishing this, too.

Thank you for jumping into this conversation. (Visit my website for more good stuff, including links to my music, and join my email list. Sign up for a free download while you’re there, too! Please keep in touch!)



    • I’m glad you did, too! It was good to have a representative “harp dude” in the class. Hope you’re having fun with your new noodling skills 🙂

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