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.