Tag Archives: hand position

Stop Harp Buzzing

Buzzing is the bane of many a beginning harper. It’s especially hard to play “note-y” chords in the bass, because those strings, whether wire or wrapped nylon, vibrate in wider patterns. You can see them moving for a long time. So what is a harper to do to stop harp buzzing?

First, check for hand position. Notice if you’re catching that vibrating string with a fingernail. If so, change the angle of your fingers so that you will avoid the nail. Usually, students are placing from above, or sideways, making it all but impossible to avoid buzzing. The answer is to place from below. Keep your fingers down after they close open your hand right to the notes and replace them without “breaking the plane” with the top of your hand, and a lot of buzzing will disappear.

Another way to think of it is this: are your fingers closing and opening below your knuckles? Or are you allowing your hand to twist or pull out of it’s good harp hand position?  If you buzz, stop immediately and figure out which finger is hitting which string at which point as you place, and adjust that finger’s position.

The second thing to check is timing. Often, buzzing happens because you’re over-anticipating when you place. Yes, you want to place in advance, but at exactly the right time. Place just before you’ll play, and with deliberateness. Hesitation will always create buzzing, as will sloppy placing of a group of notes as less than a unit.

Finally, play the passage very slowly, changing your hand position ever so slightly until the sound is clean. Now do it again, and if it’s still clean, figure out just what you did to get that sound. Remember, you are ultimately the only one who can determine what fine adjustments in your finger angle or approach will allow you to “land” the notes without buzzing.

Once you know what to do, practice it until you do it automatically. You will get it, I promise.

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This post is adapted from material that I originally published in the ezine, Notes from the Harp.

Harp Hand Position Tricks

Harp teachers everywhere emphasize the critical key elements of hand position. You know the drill: thumbs up, fingers down, all closing into the palm every time, and so on.  But how about some harp hand position tricks to help as you try to practice?

As a teacher, I enjoy the creative challenge of coming up with colorful ways to help my students remember the feeling of good hand position on a physical level, since of course I’m not there to watch them practice and keep adjusting their hands. A few tricks that help tremendously are playing in front of a mirror, checking your hands against pictures, video-taping your playing so you can watch it, and using things like sticky tape on certain parts of the hand to alert you to when you’re doing something unproductive like bending out your wrist or not closing your fingers all the way.

But what I’d really like to talk about today is the power of metaphor. Take “thumbs up” for instance. In order to remember what that should look and feel like, it helps to have an image to conjure up. Christina Tourin talks about a little dove keeping its head up, instead of sleeping. I’ve heard Suzuki teachers call that open space between thumb and index finger the “strawberry space,” reminding the student that a big, fat strawberry could nestle there. My current favorite image is rope climbing; you can’t imagine doing that without your thumbs up, can you? If you pantomime climbing the rope, you will open and close your hands just as you would ideally do playing the harp.

Closing your fingers? Imagine closing around a butterfly: you don’t want to hurt it by clamping but you need to keep it from flying away. (And double-sided tape on your palm can let you know that you’re making contact every time).

Fingers pointing down? Imagine that if your fingers were longer, they could brush the soundboard like it was the fur of an animal.

Elbows raised, but not too far? Imagine a shelf at lower rib height and “rest” your right elbow there (left can be more at waist level). Of course, for this one check with your own teacher because these guidelines are hotly contested by different schools of harp technique.

Think up your own helpful metaphors, and have fun as your technique improves!

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This post is adapted from material that I originally published in the ezine, Notes from the Harp.

Harp Hand Position: Easier Octaves

Do you struggle with octaves, especially when they come in fast succession? For the left hand, we have open-handed technique to make octaves easier, but what about the right hand?

Instead of using standard harp hand position, with a high thumb and low fourth finger, drop the thumb a little. Now round the space between finger and thumb into a C shape (the same shape you would use to make an OK sign, just with a different finger). If you keep this shape as you play, you can much more easily play octaves up and down the harp ~ try it and see!

I also learned from my workshops with Alfred Rolando Ortiz that Latin American harpists use an open-handed technique for the right hand as well as the left. Not only are the fingers up and the hand open, but there is that same curve to the fingers that allows them to close fingers 4 and 1 (or 3 and 1) like crab pincers.

I’ve been experimenting with this technique on octaves and large chords, and I have to say it’s a far easier way to play them fast. This isn’t to say you need to abandon your traditional technique (as Ortiz would be the first to point out), but it’s a great tool for your technique toolbox. The bottom line for me with hand positions is effectiveness and lack of tension, and this one is a winner on both counts.

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This post is adapted from material that I originally published in the ezine, Notes from the Harp.