Harp Posture

Sitting at the Celtic Harp:
Harp Posture to Let You Play in an Easy,
Relaxed Manner and Avoid Injury


Why start with harp posture? Playing the Celtic harp, like playing any instrument, is an athletic activity that requires good posture. Because the harp is asymmetrical (it rests on one shoulder), it is crucial that you pay attention to the alignment of your body as you play. Doing otherwise means that you could end up with strained muscles and other issues that could easily be avoided.

I learned this the hard way.

My first floor-sized Celtic harp was too short for me, and I played with a lot of pain from over-rotating my shoulder. This required ongoing chiropractic intervention, which I could minimize only after if I had a teacher to help me with my harp posture and set-up. If you’re lucky enough to have a teacher in your area, please take advantage of the opportunity to
get expert help.

Regardless of which harp you play, you should be able to sit up straight and reach the middle of the strings without twisting or hunching your shoulders (or anything else). Here is a picture of good harp posture at a taller floor harp tilted to rest on the right shoulder.

K-harpNow let’s talk about the nuts and bolts of your Celtic harp posture. Look again at the picture. Notice that:

~ The harp comes to at least chin-to-ear height (this harp is taller than average)
~ The strings are roughly perpendicular to the floor, and
~ When my model’s arms are outstretched, her hands fall naturally near the middle of the strings.

The way to achieve this posture is to sit on your bench with your feet flat on the floor and your spine straight (imagine lengthening the back of your neck slightly to relax it, and the rest of your spine will naturally straighten and relax in that position).

For anything but a very small floor harp, put the harp at a distance and angle where you can reach it with your knees, and tilting it back onto your right shoulder will make the strings roughly perpendicular to the floor.

Keep your body aligned and move the harp until you can tilt it back without changing your upright posture. Remember, the harp must be adjusted to you, not the other way around!

What if my harp is smaller?

If you have a small floor harp or a lap harp, your harp posture is even more crucial. Some smaller harps can be played without tilting them back, and this may make it easier to sit up straight at the instrument.

Either way, if your floor harp is too short for you, and you find yourself crouching lower, try putting the harp on a small wooden box (I used to use a desk drawer, turned upside-down). If you have to play in public, you can always drape the box with a pretty piece of fabric.

I noticed that Kim Robertson uses a breakfast tray, draped in velvet, for one of her shorter harps! Sometimes, a milk crate is useful, if you need a lot of height. Put a pretty cloth over it and no one will know what it is!

It is far better to raise the harp than to shorten your stool to the point that your legs are cramped. It is crucial to have the harp high enough that good posture is possible.

A lap harp can have a shoulder strap or “knee bones” to help support it (I highly recommend the latter, though they do not fit all lap harps). If you use the strap, you need to make sure that the front of it crosses the base of the harp in a way that it supports weight, leaving your shoulder free of as much load as possible. The strap length will vary between sitting and standing. If you can’t use knee-bones on your harp, try to find a stool or table that can help support the harp while you’re sitting, so that the weight is off your shoulder entirely.

Below is a checklist to analyze your own harp posture. But remember, it is much easier for you to find the ideal relationship between you and your harp–one that will make playing both efficient and pain-free–with the help of a harp teacher.

Harp Posture Checklist

1. Your bench or stool is adjusted, and/or your harp is on a box, kneebones or a strap, so that you can reach all the strings easily.
2. Your harp is the right distance away so that when it leans on your shoulder the strings are roughly perpendicular to the floor and your knees are taking the weight of the harp. (Or your small harp remains upright and you move it comfortably close to you).
3. You back is straight; your neck and shoulders are relaxed (no hunching).
4. With your arms outstretched, your hands comfortably reach the middle of strings.
5. Neither arm has to cross the midline of your body to reach the harp, because the harp is somewhat diagonal to you (not perpendicular).

Not sure? If you can find a mirror, sometimes it helps to look at yourself and analyze your harp posture from the outside. Or have a friend take your picture with a digital camera. The results may be revealing!

Finally, remember to move. No position is comfortable if it’s inflexible. Holding tension anywhere is what creates issues in our bodies, so remember to keep breathing and think about being fluid as you play. If your position feels at all precarious or cramped, you will not be able to move freely, so this is the final test of a good working posture.

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