Tag Archives: right hand patterns

Improvising with an Ostinato

Let’s play with a repeated pattern called an ostinato (a constantly recurring musical fragment). When improvising with an ostinato, you can play the ostinato in either hand, but let’s try one in the right hand.  Tune your harp or set your levers for the key of C; with your right hand, put finger 3 on g (just above middle c), finger 2 on a, and your thumb on the high d .

Practice playing these three notes in succession, either from the top down or the bottom up (see which you like best). When you can do this with a smooth, rippling motion, you are ready to add you left hand.

Use your left hand to play chords and single notes alternating below and above your right hand. Start simply, by “dropping in” single long notes, once per ostinato pattern.  When this is easy, try open chords (for example, d a d, or an octave plus the fifth) in the bass. Have more fun by crossing over to play closed chords, thirds or sixths in the treble.

It doesn’t matter what you play, as long as you like it. Strive to keep the right hand going smoothly as you let the left hand roam. Remember to use some repetition in your left hand to create structure (if you like it, do it again).

Give it a try–it’s fun!

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

Improvising Right Hand Patterns

We’ve spent a lot of time in this blog focusing on left hand vamps and patterns for improvising. That’s all good and well, you say, but what do I do with my right hand?  Let’s look at improvising right hand patterns today.

First, remember that simple is good ~ start with just a few notes. In fact, if you’re improvising with a new pattern, the first thing to do is to add a simple repeated note on every beat with your right hand. Sounds easy, right? But sometimes, even one note is enough to show us that our left hand needs a bit more practice.

Once one note is easy, expand to three. For example, if you’re playing a Dm chord in your left hand, you have the notes D, E, and F available for your right hand. They’ll always sound consonant. Once three notes is easy, expand to five. In our example, you would add G and A.

We’ve talked before about white strings, and how they always fit if you’re playing in the key of G, so next try using any white strings while you play G and D chords (you can play the D as a neutral chord, leaving out the F# third, if you want to avoid flipping your levers for now).

Here’s the way to make your doodling sound like music: if you hear something you like, play it again. Or play part of it, changing the ending. Or play the same rhythm with different notes. It’s structure that pleases our ears, so don’t be afraid of it.

Now let’s branch out a bit. We’ll put a really simple chord in the left hand–let’s say that neutral D chord (D and A, played together). Now play thirds and sixths (two notes simultaneously) in the right hand. When you hear something that sounds dissonant to you, just move on to something else.

Try “climbing the ladder” with alternating thirds: d f, e g, etc. Try it going down, too. Try seconds instead of thirds; d e, e f, g a . . . Try playing different rhythms, too (long short or short long).

Ready for something a little different? Try the following triplet pattern over the C chord (click on image for larger version):


Notice that while this pattern sort of works over the C chord, your ear would really love for you to change chords. Try changing to a new chord on beats 1 and 3, thus: C, F, G, C over the two measures of the pattern.

Now it’s your turn. Play with scale fragments and runs and repeated motifs. Keep your left hand simple and uncluttered with block chords, especially if you’re using more than one chord. Let your right hand experiment until you find patterns that make you happy. Repeat and vary them. They’ll become part of your personal style!

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